A convoy of some 550 vehicles transporting an estimated 10,000 tons of pure alcohol — stopped at the Russian border with Georgia in late July — has since then apparently grown to 2,000 vehicles. (Itar-Tass, August 21; see Monitor, July 31) Press reports indicating that the convoy was preparing to break through Russian border check points at Nizhny Zaramag and Verkhny Lars in Ossetia were denied by Georgian state minister Niko Lekishvili on August 21.
The original convoy of some 550 vehicles was allegedly smuggling pure alcohol that was destined for the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz. The convoy was halted by the Russian border service in late July after weapons, including anti-tank missiles, were fired at border officials. Following a return fire from border service positions, a "cease-fire" of sorts was arranged, and the convoy remained halted at the border, pending the assessment of "full" customs and excise duties by the Russian border and fiscal authorities. Border officials charged that the convoy was organized by leaders of the "underground vodka business" based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in Vladikavkaz.
The revelation that the convoy has remained at the border for three weeks, and that it has quadrupled in size during this time, would seem to be something of an embarrassment to both the Russian and the Georgian governments. That the convoy, which apparently originated in the Black Sea port of Poti, managed to traverse much of Georgia without difficulty, and that it arrived at the border by traveling along a south Ossetian military road, underscore the Georgian government’s continued inability to establish control over much of the country’s transportation and military infrastructure. When asked why the Georgian government had not taken stronger actions against the smugglers during this three-week period, Lekishvili responded only that: "It is necessary to thoroughly study the situation".