Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 227

The Russian government has explained its decision to impose a visa regime on travel between Georgia and Russia, which came into effect on December 5. It says it has proof that the Georgia has turned into the main base for the transfer of mercenaries, material and financial aid into Chechnya in support of separatist rebels there. Moscow claims that Chechen rebels bases are operating in the Pankiisk Gorge, an area of Georgia along its border with Chechnya in which around 6,000 Chechens live. Since the beginning of the latest war in Chechnya last year, another 6,000 Chechens have moved into the area–refugees from the fighting in Chechnya–and the Kremlin has charged on a number of occasions that some 1,000 Chechen rebel fighters are located in the area. The Georgian authorities have denied these claims, saying that they allowed only women and children from Chechnya to enter the country. The Monitor’s correspondent visited the Pankiisk Gorge in June of this year, and found that a significant percentage of the refugees from Chechnya were men of draft age. He also noted how at the entrance to the village of Duisi, the Pankiisk Gorge’s “capital,” local residents and Chechen refugees jointly manned an armed checkpoint.

It is worth noting that the Georgian authorities themselves admitted at the end of last week the presence of the armed groups in the Pankiisk Gorge. This became evident after two Spanish businessmen and a local merchant were kidnapped in the area. According to the Georgian law enforcement authorities, the three are being held in the Pankiisk Gorge. Meanwhile, troops have been concentrated in the area. However, given that the Chechens in the area are well armed, the authorities are trying to initiate negotiations, and have already main contact with the kidnappers (Segodnya, December 4).

Meanwhile, inside Chechnya, federal authorities killed Adam Chinaev, the breakaway republic’s interior minister. Chinaev’s death occurred on December 3, when a car in which he was traveling was stopped at a checkpoint. The car’s occupants allegedly resisted and were killed (Russian agencies, December 3). In general, the situation inside Chechnya remains tense. Chechen rebel fighters continue both to place mines on roads along which military columns move and to fire at Russian positions. According to a source in the Chechen administration, thirteen Russian soldiers were killed and more than twenty wounded over the period of December 3-4. In the Leninsk region of Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, a car belonging to the city military command was blown up, wounding two servicemen. Meanwhile, several dozen rebel fighters broke into the home of Djohar Mayor Bislan Gantamirov in the village of Gehki while he was away. The rebels reportedly waited several hours for Gantamirov, who is also deputy head of the Chechen administration. When he did not show up, the intruders ransacked his home and beat up the head of the village administration. After the incident, Gantamirov questioned the competence of those charged with maintaining law and order in Chechnya. Gantamirov has charged that a majority of Chechnya’s policemen sympathize with the rebels (Associated Press, December 4; Russian agencies, December 5; see the Monitor, December 1).