It was in Georgia that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov presented an unreconstructed face of Russian policy in the South Caucasus. His visit marked, on the whole, a regress in Russian-Georgian relations. Ivanov resisted Tbilisi’s demands for the gradual removal of Russia’s four military base complexes from Georgia. He publicly argued in Tbilisi–as he had in Moscow just prior to the visit–that those bases serve Georgia’s as well as Russia’s interests. The first part of this argument recalled the Soviet government’s practice of defining the interests of constituent republics; and it prompted Georgian officials to remark that Moscow has yet to adjust to the fact of Georgia’s independence. Ivanov, moreover, called for creating a “legal basis to Russian-Georgian military cooperation”–a phrase usually denoting Moscow’s demand that Georgia confer basing rights on Russian troops. And he stonewalled Tbilisi’s longstanding proposal for the creation of a joint commission that would negotiate the removal of Russian armaments and bases.
Ivanov only consented in principle to the creation of a commission that would discuss “the whole range” of disputed security issues, including Russia’s quest for military basing rights. Georgia has long ago appointed its side of the would-be joint commission; Russia has yet to do so.
Ivanov, furthermore, seconded the Russian Defense Ministry’s demands that Georgia cede to Russia a part of Georgia’s quota of conventional weapons under the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). A partial transfer of Georgia’s entitlement would enable Russia to maintain excessive armament levels in the South Caucasus and to maintain, instead of removing, its bases in Georgia. The Tbilisi government opposes such a scenario. Ivanov carried a letter from Russian President Boris Yeltsin containing such demands to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. The Georgian president refused to disclose the specifics of the letter.
In the aftermath of the visit, Shevardnadze had to remark–in a broadcast to the country–that Yeltsin’s message and the talks with Ivanov “reflect Russia’s old attitude of not wishing to give up its influence in Georgia and the [South] Caucasus” (Radio Tbilisi, Prime-News, Itar-Tass, September 6-7; see the Monitor, August 31; The Fortnight in Review, September 10).
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