Owing to rising tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze has canceled a visit to the U.S. and the UN scheduled for this week, according to presidential officials. Shevardnadze yesterday told the country on radio that the planned Abkhazian Supreme Soviet elections seek to "legalize the expulsion" of Georgians from Abkhazia. He also said that the Russian peacekeeping operation, while ensuring the ceasefire, "in practice leads not to a political settlement but to consecrating the results of ethnic cleansing." Recalling that Russian regular troops fought on the Abkhaz side against Georgia in the 1992-93 war, Shevardnadze urged Russia to observe Georgia’s territorial integrity "not only in words but also in practice," to end its ties with the "Abkhaz separatist regime" except for conflict-mediation purposes, and to recognize that Abkhazia’s residents are legally citizens of Georgia. He implied that Tbilisi might renew the Russian peacekeepers’ mandate and deal with Russia as a "strategic partner" if those conditions were met.
Shevardnadze’s is the latest in a series of warnings that Tbilisi might seriously reappraise its relations with Moscow if the latter continues to freeze the existing situation, which favors Abkhazia. Last week Shevardnadze accused Moscow of providing material support, including arms, to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania told the chamber that Tbilisi would "comprehensively review" its military agreements with Russia, including the agreement on bases, if the South Ossetian and Abkhazian elections proceed "under protection of Russian bayonets." Russia’s Foreign Ministry publicly rejected Zhvania’s criticism. It also advised Abkhazia "not to hurry with the elections" and urged both sides to sign a Russian draft on principles for settling the conflict. (Interfax, BGI, Iprinda, September 18 through 23)
Tbilisi has warned at several stages during the past year that it would terminate the Russian peacekeepers’ mandate if their partiality toward Abkhazia continued, and has also implied that its future military relations with Russia depend on a satisfactory settlement of the two regional conflicts. These latest warnings are more explicit, and suggest a move to prepare public opinion for a policy change. They have also been accompanied by an effort to establish military assistance relationships with countries outside the Russian orbit (see recent issues of the Monitor). The growing probability of an early end to Boris Yeltsin’s presidency may be removing one of the last factors inhibiting a Georgian reappraisal of relations with Russia, coinciding as it does with the near-exhaustion of Tbilisi’s patience with Moscow’s behavior.
Controversial Document Imputed to Nazarbayev.