Russian pressures on Georgia in connection with the North Caucasus war have acquired a new and more dangerous dimension. Official propaganda has until now claimed that Georgia–along with Azerbaijan–is being used by “international terrorism” for supplying and reinforcing Chechen forces (see the Monitor, October 5-6, 21, November 8, 12; The Fortnight in Review, October 22, November 19). The latest accusations, however, have it that Chechen forces themselves are using Georgian territory for sanctuaries and staging areas. The Russian side is not producing any evidence to back up such accusations, yet the accusations proliferate, leaving the impression that they may be designed to justify some Russian military operation on Georgian territory.
On November 22, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed that Chechen guerrillas and international “terrorists” who support them are freely crossing the Chechen sector of the Georgian-Russian border in both directions–an accusation that implicates the Georgian authorities. On November 23, the Russian military command in the North Caucasus charged that the Chechen abductors of the Russian General Gennady Shpigun–a hostage since March of this year–have taken him to a “safe heaven” in Georgia. Also on November 23, Russian authorities claimed to have intercepted at Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport a weapons shipment destined for Chechen guerrillas. In actual fact, the tiny shipment of samples belonged to Georgia’s Defense Ministry, and was being flown by British Airways from an international military exhibition in Romania to Georgia via Moscow, with due observance of Russian customs procedures. The preceding week, a U.S. Defense Department shipment of uniforms to Georgia via Moscow’s Domodedovo airport had been portrayed by the Russian authorities as being destined for Chechen forces.
On November 24, Russia’s intelligence agencies claimed that Chechen forces are setting up–or, in some versions, have already set up–a satellite communications facility and an information center on the Georgian side of the mutual border. On November 26 the first deputy head of the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces, Colonel-General Valery Manilov, claimed that Chechen forces have set up a military hospital on the Georgian side of the border for the treatment and recovery of “terrorists.” On November 29, Boris Berezovsky personally charged that Chechen armed units were crossing the Russian-Georgian border.
Literally on a daily basis, the Georgian government is being forced to respond to these accusations. President Eduard Shevardnadze, State Minister [equivalent to prime minister] Vazha Lortkipanidze, the Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries, the border troops’ command, and Georgia’s Moscow embassy are rejecting the accusations as fictitious, slanderous, and deliberately crafted as part of a “disinformation” campaign. Concern is mounting in Tbilisi that Moscow may be inventing pretexts for a military operation on Georgian territory. Such an operation could well aim at reintroducing Russian troops in Georgia under the guise of “hot pursuit” of Chechens, but in reality in order to change Georgia’s pro-Western policies. (Itar-Tass, RIA, Izvestia, Nezavisimaya gazeta, Segodnya, Vremya MN, ORT, Prime-News, Kavkazia Press, Iprinda, Georgian Television, Tbilisi Radio, November 22-30).
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