Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 38

The October 18 issue of Obshchaya Gazeta carried an interview conducted in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Asked whether a group of Chechen fighters led by the well-known field commander Ruslan Gelaev was in fact present in the Kodori Gorge region of Georgia, Shevardnadze responded: “There is not a single Chechen there. The Kodori Gorge is closed, and we will give it up to no one. The Gorge connects the North Caucasus with the Black Sea. Incidentally, the helicopter carrying observers of the UN was shot down over territory not controlled by Georgia. Russian peacemakers are located about two kilometers away from that spot.” As for the Gelaev unit, Shevardnadze commented: “The Gelaev group is moving to the north. It has a single goal–at any cost to break into Russia or Chechnya.”

Asked where the Gelaev detachment had come from, Shevardnadze answered: “I don’t know. I did not have contact with them. As for Gelaev himself, you [Russians] raised him up, like all the rest.” The Georgian president chose to end on a relatively optimistic note: “I still think that President Putin and I will find common language.” The army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda reported on October 18 that Shevardnadze and Putin had held a key telephone conversation two days previously-initiated by Shevardnadze–and that the two had agreed to speed work on the drafting of a new broad-scale Russian-Georgian treaty.

Writing in the no. 42 (October 17) issue of Moskovskie Novosti, leading military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer observed that any broadening of the “counterterrorist operation” against the Chechen separatists into the Republic of Georgia boded poorly for the Russian army, “which is not in the least introducing order into Chechnya.” “Moscow simply lacks the strength,” Felgenhauer stressed, “to broaden the front in the Caucasus and, simultaneously, in Central Asia and Afghanistan.” It appeared, he went on, that both Shevardnadze and Putin now understand the pressing need to avoid “a new ‘big’ war in Abkhazia.”