In Tbilisi on September 15, Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze signed a treaty giving Russia long-term use of military bases in Vaziani, Akhalkalaki, and Batumi. In a joint statement, the sides agreed to seek a political settlement in Abkhazia by peaceful means, but also through "joint steps against aggressive separatism" if necessary. The statement also endorses the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian refugees now in Georgia, and the return to Georgia’s South Ossetia region of refugees currently in Russia’s North Ossetian republic. The sides also signed agreements on: restoring and coordinating railway traffic between Russia and Georgia, including Abkhazia (implicitly reaffirming Georgian sovereignty there); authorizing Georgia to use in Russia the "immobilized rubles" withdrawn from Georgian circulation in connection with the introduction of Georgia’s national currency; and Russian electrical power supplies to Georgia and technical assistance in restoring Georgia’s power generation and transmission system. At the concluding news conference, Shevardnadze said that Russia now "resolutely supports Georgia’s territorial integrity…and words will be followed by action" to help restore that integrity. Chernomyrdin, however, was silent or evasive on that subject. The leaders also avoided public disagreement over the routing of early oil from Azerbaijan. (16)
Georgia has been pressured into the military basing agreement by the need for Russian support in settling the conflict with Abkhazia, whose secession from Georgia was originally supported by Russia. Shevardnadze has linked the grant of basing rights with firm pledges of Russian support for Abkhazia’s return in a federalized Georgia. Whether those pledges will be redeemable after the grant of long-term basing rights is far from certain. Several thousand Russian troops remained at those bases after the disintegration of the ex-USSR’s armed forces. The basing agreement legalizes and prolongs Russia’s troop presence in Georgia, fronting on Turkey. The specific terms of the basing agreement have yet to surface. The banking, electric power, and railway transport agreements are sweeteners for the bases, and are of major importance to Georgia in its economic predicament.
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