A dictum, popularly if apocryphally attributed to Stalin as his rationale for liquidating political opponents, postulated: “No man, no problem.” Russian troops on the Georgian border seem to have applied to local circumstances a variant of that dictum. “No village, no problem,” the Russian command may well have reasoned in destroying the Georgian village of Pichvni.
In a surprise operation last winter, Russian airborne troops seized Pichvni, located just inside Georgian territory, but suddenly claimed by Russia (see the Monitor, May 18, June 6). The village had belonged to Georgia since 1920. After 1991, Moscow and Tbilisi agreed to refrain from unilateral actions on any portion of the common border while a bilateral commission negotiated the border delimitation and demarcation in all sectors. The Russian military nevertheless made its unilateral move in Pichvni. The troops harassed the residents–Georgians, not Chechens–until they had to abandon their village, fleeing to Tbilisi.
Pichvni is located not far from Shatili, site of a Georgian border post and of the OSCE’s monitoring group in the Chechen sector of the Georgian-Russian border. That multinational group is mandated to respond to any destabilizing developments. However, the OSCE is not known to have reacted to Russia’s military action. It seems that Tbilisi did not lodge an official complaint. Caught up in the presidential election campaign and not wanting to exacerbate relations with Russia, the Georgian government kept the incident tightly under wraps. It was not until May that the incident became known, triggering a political backlash in Tbilisi.
According to the Moscow newspaper Segodnya, Russian troops recently burned down Pichvni “inadvertently” during combat practice. That practice caused a fire which destroyed all the houses in the village. “The problem no longer exists because the village has disappeared,” the daily reported (Segodnya, July 27). The villagers, now with nowhere to return, have added to the mass of refugees generated by Russian military operations in Georgia earlier in this decade.
Coincidentally in Azerbaijan these days (AzerHabar, July 25-August 1), a Western team is producing a film on French novelist Alexandre Dumas’ 1858 Caucasus travelogue. One lapidary observation in that travelogue reads: “Quand la Russie envahit, elle detruit” [“When Russia invades, she destroys”].
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