On March 29, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry notified Georgia that the Russian side is prepared immediately to hold negotiations on two sets of military issues: implementation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation summit’s resolutions regarding Russian forces in Georgia and, coupled with that, issues of bilateral military cooperation as well as “providing a legal basis” for the Russian bases in Georgia. The Russian side designated Ilya Klebanov, a deputy prime minister responsible for the military industry, as head of the Russian delegation to the talks with Georgia. A twenty-two-strong delegation of Russian General Staff officers was to arrive in Tbilisi on April 3 for a week-long round of talks. The agenda was to include the immediate handover to Georgia of fourteen Russian military installations, out of a list of forty-four installations drawn up last year by the two defense ministries.
On April 3, however, the Russian side decided to postpone the talks without advance notice, explanation, or a substitute date. One would-be justification, coyly suggested by the Russian side, was Georgia’s insistence on her right to take over a certain Russian military airport. That unnamed airport is almost certainly Vaziani, part of a Russian military base which represents a latent security threat to nearby Tbilisi. The OSCE’s November 1999 summit’s decisions require Russia to evacuate the Vaziani and Gudauta bases by mid-2001 and to settle with Georgia, within the same timeframe, the future of the two other Russian bases–those of Batumi and Akhalkalaki.
The Russian side seems set to challenge the OSCE’s decisions by interpreting them in its own way. Because those decisions form part of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, Moscow claims that it is obligated only to remove from Georgia the hardware and manpower limited by that treaty. It asserts that it may retain the bases themselves, their fixed installations and the Russian forces on those bases within CFE ceilings. Moscow is ready to hand over to Georgia only some disused installations and some of the numerous civilian facilities attached to Russian bases. Those installations, now in a ruined state, consist mainly of Soviet-era housing, schools and health facilities for the military and the dependent families. The Russians insist specifically on retaining the Vaziani and Gudauta bases and airports, on the pretext that these facilities serve the needs of Russian troops stationed elsewhere in Georgia. Moscow claims that Gudauta is indispensable to Russian “peacekeeping” in Abkhazia and that Vaziani is just as indispensable to supplying the Russian bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki. As regards the latter two bases, Moscow proposes to discuss legalizing them in a status-of-forces treaty with Georgia, rather than their evacuation. As a sweetener, Moscow proposes to sign with Georgia a military cooperation treaty whereby Russia would help arm and equip the Georgian forces.
The Georgian government does not accept negotiations on these terms. Tbilisi adheres to the OSCE summit’s decisions which require Russia to vacate Vaziani and Gudauta. The summit conference, moreover, clearly indicated support for Georgia’s goal to rid herself of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases as well. Russia’s offer of “military cooperation” with Georgia may have been topical in 1994-95 when first made, and when Georgia was internationally isolated. But those offers are a nonstarter at present, when Georgia has military cooperation programs well underway with Western countries and Turkey and plans to apply for consideration as a candidate for NATO by 2005. Moscow’s handling of the military talks with Georgia presage–as in the case of Moldova–pressures on the unwilling host country and a test for the OSCE (Itar-Tass, Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, March 29-30, April 3-4; see the Monitor, November 22, 1999, February 9; Fortnight in Review, December 3, 1999, January 21).
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