Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 199

On October 26-27, some Russian military hardware and soldiers left the Gudauta military base for Russia. In Moscow, Defense Ministry officials hastened to announce that “the process has been completed” and the base “terminated.” The officials claimed that Russia has thereby fulfilled its dual obligation under the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and the decisions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe signed in 1999. Both documents had required Russia to repatriate the CFE treaty-limited weaponry and to close the base, in consultation with Georgia and under international observation, by July 1, 2001.

The partial withdrawal notwithstanding, none of those obligations have been complied with as yet. Six hundred Russian soldiers remain stationed at Gudauta, officially to “guard” the remaining military stockpiles and ensure Russian possession of the nearby Bombora strategic airfield. On October 26-27, Moscow reaffirmed its intention to retain Gudauta and Bombora by redesignating the base as “peacekeeping,” and transferring it from the jurisdiction of Russia’s airborne troops to that of Russia’s ground forces. The planned transfer simply reflects the Russian Defense Ministry’s policy decision, taken earlier this year, to replace airborne units with motor-rifle units in Russia’s “peacekeeping” operations, including the one in Abkhazia where Gudauta is.

Notice of the partial evacuation was not given to Georgia or the OSCE, and was not observed by the representatives of either. Georgia’s Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries pointed out that no one knows what materiel was moved to Russia and what remains at the base. On October 27, the two ministries described that procedure as “odd” and called for a complete withdrawal and closure of Gudauta, “necessarily” under international observation by OSCE inspectors.

Russia’s Abkhaz allies are warning that they would seize Gudauta with the remaining military stockpiles in the event of a full evacuation by Russian troops. Moscow is using this argument in the hope of forcing Georgia to accept continued Russian use of the base.

Earlier this month, some materiel from Gudauta was handed over to Abkhaz forces. With just one month to go before the OSCE’s year-end meeting, Moscow apparently hopes to appease the organization with a half-measure and to remain in control at Gudauta afterward (Prime-News, Tbilisi radio, Interfax, Russian Television “Vesti” program, Ekho Moskvy, October 26-29; see the Monitor, September 21, 25, October 3, 12, 23-25).