Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 205

Lt. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian General Staff’s International Military Cooperation Directorate, told a Moscow briefing yesterday that Russia plans to resume "military-technical cooperation" with Georgia. Moscow had suspended cooperation because of the Georgian parliament’s refusal to ratify the agreement on Russian bases in Georgia. However, Moscow has now decided that resumption of the program "could stimulate an early ratification of the agreement," Ivashov said. Moreover, Moscow has granted Tbilisi’s demand that both sides, not just Moscow, nominate the new commander of Russian "peacekeeping" forces in Abkhazia. Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze will screen and interview candidates for the post. Ivashov suggested that the decision was made at the October 29 meeting of CIS countries’ defense ministers. (Interfax, October 31; see Monitor, October 30, and Central Asia section below)

The "military-technical cooperation" evidently implies the transfer of Russian hardware and other equipment to Georgian forces. Modest in scale yet crucial to a Georgian army that is being built from scratch, the program had been presided over by former Russian defense minister Pavel Grachev and his Georgian counterpart, Vardiko Nadibaidze, and rested in large measure on their close personal relationship. Grachev’s ouster and Tbilisi’s series of indignant protests against Moscow’s policy in Abkhazia apparently caused Moscow to suspend the program briefly.

The bilateral agreement on Russian military bases in Georgia was signed in 1994, but Shevardnadze has steadfastly conditioned Georgian ratification on Russian support for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. He and the parliament recently warned that Russia’s military presence in Georgia lacks a legal basis and, absent ratification, Georgia may terminate it. Tbilisi has been highly critical of the commander of Russian "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia, Lt. Gen. Vasily Yakushev, who has opposed Georgian proposals to task his troops with securing the repatriation of Georgian refugees. Shevardnadze has also threatened to terminate the mandate of that force if it continues shielding Abkhaz gains.

Moscow’s concessions as announced by Ivashov are modest but significant, and mark a switch from stick to carrot. They seem to reward, at least for the moment, Shevardnadze’s gamble of appearing to offer ratification of the agreement on military bases in exchange for tangible Russian military support. But mutual mistrust will in any case probably continue to permeate the relationship through its ups and, mostly, downs.

Moscow’s Call for Collective Response Finds Few Takers.