Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 86

On April 28 Tbilisi officials clarified the understandings reached last week in Moscow regarding Russian military bases in Georgia. Foreign Affairs Minister Irakly Menagarishvili and Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze presented two demands in Moscow. First, the full evacuation and handover of the Vaziani and Gudauta bases by July 1, 2001, in accordance with the decisions of the November 1999 summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the accompanying Russian-Georgian bilateral agreement. Second, the evacuation and handover of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases by 2003–a step not required, but supported in principle by the OSCE’s summit in accordance with Georgia’s wishes.

The latest talks resulted in a signed protocol obligating the Russian side to: repatriate or dismantle, between August and December 2000, the combat hardware which exceeds the lowered ceilings–153 battle tanks, 241 other armored combat vehicles and 140 artillery systems–mandated by the adapted treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE); move all remaining combat equipment from Vaziani and from Gudauta, and from the two Russian repair plants in Tbilisi to Akhalkalaki and Batumi during the same period; submit by September 2000 a schedule of the withdrawal of remaining equipment and troops from Vaziani and Gudauta; and completely disband and hand over those two bases by the end of June 2001. Russia “takes note of” the readiness of OSCE member countries–meaning the main Western powers–to provide financial assistance toward offsetting the cost of the withdrawal.

In return, Georgia agrees to facilitate logistically the removal of Russian troops and equipment from her territory; to present proposals in response to the Russian side’s concerns regarding the security of the withdrawal operation; and to consider the bill of expenses which the Russian side will submit in connection with the withdrawal operation. Georgia rejected the Russian feelers concerning a possible extension of the Russian military presence at Akhalkalaki and Batumi for up to ten or fifteen years, even if it were done under the guise of joint use of those bases. Moscow refused Tbilisi’s demand that those two bases be disbanded by 2003 and introduced into the protocol a point on follow-up talks toward an agreement for long-term Russian-Georgian “military cooperation.” That Russian idea–which dates back to 1994, and which Georgia initially considered–would imply massive Russian military assistance to Georgia in return for legalizing the Russian bases in Georgia.

Moscow and Tbilisi agreed to draw up lists of military installations associated with the Vaziani, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases; to negotiate over the apportionment of those installations; and to discuss the future use of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases by either side or both sides. These stipulations contain the seeds of further wrangling. Hundreds of ex-Soviet military facilities are strewn across Georgia, and most of them are officially counted as part of one of the four bases, even if located far away from them. Some of those installations are abandoned, others are decaying, but some are still functional and can be rehabilitated by either the Russian or the Georgian military, depending on who controls them. Moscow makes no secret of its wish to keep the Russian troops and arsenals in Akhalkalaki and Batumi for as many years as possible. It will, therefore, try to pressure Georgia into legalizing those two bases, and will also try to count some of the dispersed installations as “parts” of Akhalkalaki or Batumi and thus susceptible of retention by Russia, rather than as part of Vaziani or Gudauta and thus subject to being handed over to Georgia.

Gudauta poses the special problem of being located in Abkhaz-controlled territory. The Russian side disclaims any intention of allowing Abkhaz forces to take over the base. However, in the wake of the Moscow talks, Abkhazia’s leader Vladislav Ardzinba publicly threatened that his forces would take over Gudauta if the Russian troops withdraw from it. And that could in turn cause another outbreak of Abkhaz-Georgian fighting, Ardzinba openly warned, to telling silence from the Russian “peacekeeping” command in Abkhazia. Should Abkhaz forces inherit that base, Moscow would bear the political responsibility inasmuch as it was the Russian troops who armed the Abkhaz and handed them the control over that part of Georgia in the first place. Russian combat aviation and paratroopers based at Gudauta were in fact actively involved in hostilities against Georgia during the “Abkhaz”-Georgian war.

To deal with the problem of Gudauta, the Georgian side favors organizing an international monitoring and security escort for Russian convoys when they evacuate that base. Moscow for its part would prefer organizing an escort of Black Sea marine infantry [marines], to be sent in from Russia especially for this operation. With the Abkhaz stretch of the Russia-Georgia railway destroyed in the 1993 war, Russia and Georgia contemplate sea lifting the Russian troops and military property out of Georgia via Poti by ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Meanwhile Georgia’s deputy defense minister, Grigol Katamadze, led a delegation to Lithuania last week in order to study that country’s experience in organizing the withdrawal of Russian troops. Specifically, the Georgian military command is interested in technical aspects of how the Baltic states drew up the timetables for the evacuation of military convoys, the closure or handover of bases and the monitoring of the Russian side’s adherence to deadlines. In January of this year Katamadze was on a similar mission in Estonia. In both countries, the Georgian delegation also studied their effort to introduce NATO standards in the Baltic militaries.

In a discrete epilogue to the Moscow talks, Russia returned to Georgia a consignment of U.S.-made uniforms for the Georgian military and a batch of commercial samples of military equipment which Georgia had exhibited at a Romanian arms fair. Russian authorities had impounded the samples and the uniforms at a Moscow airport at the end of 1999, amid a propaganda barrage claiming that Georgia was supplying the Chechen insurgents. Few remember today that the Chechen legion of Shamil Basaev, armed and trained by Russian military intelligence, had operated against Georgia out of the Gudauta base (Black Sea Press (Tbilisi), Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Iprinda, April 24, 26, 28; Kommersant, April 26; BNS, April 26; see the Monitor, November 22, 1999, February 9, April 6; the Fortnight in Review, December 3, 1999, January 21, April 14).

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