Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Department for International Military Cooperation, led a delegation that included four other Russian generals on a visit to Georgia from January 4-8. The delegation visited Russian military bases in various parts of Georgia and conferred with Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and other officials on the future of those bases and on bilateral military cooperation. A concluding "working protocol," signed by Ivashov and Georgia’s chief of staff, Lt .Gen. Zurab Meparishvili, envisages talks on handing over 10 Russian military bases and/or facilities to the Georgian military in 1998. The Russian delegation suggested that some additional Russian military installations, which are currently undermanned and underfinanced, can be earmarked for joint Russian-Georgian use. The Georgian side, however, is seeking the eventual handover of 42 Russian military installations, apart from those controlled by Russian border troops, which pose another set of problems.
Ivashov and Nadibaidze signed a draft plan for military cooperation in 1998, subject to Russian defense minister Igor Sergeev’s approval. Sergeev is due to visit Georgia in February to finalize the two agreements.
The sides failed to agree on: the handover of Georgia’s due share of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet; rental fees for land areas used by the Russian military since 1992; and reimbursement for armament and other property taken out of the country by the Russian military without Tbilisi’s agreement in 1992 and afterward. Tbilisi estimates the value of those assets at a whopping $10 billion, much of it accounted for by aviation of the former Transcaucasus Military District. Ivashov declined to discuss any of these issues.
The Russian delegation visited autonomous Ajaria and the Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki district (Javakhetia) for talks with local leaders on the future of Russian bases in those two ethnic areas, situated near the Turkish border. Tbilisi’s relations with the Ajar and the Javakhetia Armenian leaders have been uneasy recently. Those local leaders do not exactly share the central government’s aspirations to be fully independent of Moscow and to gradually rid the country of Russian troops. The Russian delegation for its part emphasized publicly that the local "population" insists on the retention of Russian troops there. (Prime-News, Kavkazia Press, Russian agencies, January 4-8) It is in these two areas that Tbilisi may have to settle for joint Russian-Georgian use of military installations, lest Moscow activate a potential ethnic card, as in Abkhazia, in order to maintain its military presence and political leverage over Georgia.
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