Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 15

On July 14 in Vienna, the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reviewed Russia’s performance in complying with OSCE decisions on a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia. Those decisions, taken at the OSCE’s summit in Istanbul in November 1999, are in effect two demands. First, that Russia close down, and withdraw the troops from, the Vaziani and Gudauta bases by July 2001. Second, that Russia reduce, by December 2000, the combat hardware at the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases and two Russian-owned tank repair plants in Tbilisi to the ceilings set by the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Under the adapted CFE treaty, Russian combat hardware in Georgia must be cut down to 153 battle tanks, 241 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, and 140 artillery systems. Russia has a choice of repatriating the excess hardware or scrapping it in Georgia. Thus far, the Russian side has not taken any meaningful steps toward compliance. The evacuation of treaty-limited equipment and of some troops from Vaziani and Gudauta was to have begun on August 1.

At British initiative and in agreement with Moscow’s delegation, the Vienna meeting resolved to set up an international fund which would defray a large part of Russia’s expenses in closing the bases and evacuating or scrapping the excess armaments. The United States has pledged US$10 million toward the costs of disposing of the CFE-limited armaments this year. The Russian side has in principle consented to U.S. and OSCE monitoring of that disposal by evacuation and/or scrapping. But Moscow at this stage does not accept international financing and monitoring of the withdrawal of Russian armaments and troops which fall within CFE ceilings. This fact adds to the existing, fairly ample evidence that Russia will try to retain part of the forces stationed at the Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases. Moscow currently seeks to browbeat Tbilisi into accepting a transfer of the Gudauta base to Russia’s “peacekeeping force” in Abkhazia and leasing the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases to Russia under a bilateral treaty. Some in Moscow count on the Abkhaz, the Ajar and the Javakheti-Armenian local leaderships to obstruct the withdrawal of Russian troops from the three bases.

At its session, the Permanent Council urged Russia to live up to the OSCE summit’s decisions and timetables. But Moscow is clearly dragging its feet and seems to look for potentially destabilizing means of retaining a military presence in Georgia–just as it tries to do in Moldova with the assistance of Transdniester’s leadership.