The First Deputy Commander of Russia’s border troops, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Manilov, and the commander of the Caucasus Border Troop District, Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Bolkhovitin, have openly come out against a political agreement to defuse a Russian-Georgian border incident. Russian deputy prime minister Valery Serov had agreed with Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on December 9 that the Russian border post Upper Larsi would be moved back to its original location in Russian territory. (See Monitor, December 10)
But on December 10, Manilov and Bolkhovitin in parallel statements insisted that the border troops command is within its rights to maintain the post at its new location, which they both described as "Russian territory." And on December 11, Manilov cited a resolution adopted by the Russian Supreme Soviet unilaterally in 1993 as the basis for the command’s claim. The two generals termed the entire matter a "Russian internal affair," unaffected by the Serov-Shevardnadze agreement. Manilov had been in Tbilisi with Serov when that agreement was reached.
The generals announced that the Russian border post has been reinforced by having the Sigma spetsnaz unit deployed there. They described Georgia’s protests as aimed mainly at undermining the position of Russia’s border forces commander, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, who had authorized the forward move of the border post. And they professed readiness to return the post to its original location only if so ordered by Russian president Boris Yeltsin or by the Russian government. (Russian agencies, December 10-11)
In Moscow yesterday, Serov told a briefing that the agreement reached in Tbilisi has avoided a potential "tragic clash" on the border. But Serov also took the position that the agreement is not in itself executory, and would take effect only if Yeltsin so orders.
These qualifications put Yeltsin on the spot and will, again, test the political credibility of the Russian president and government. Moscow has repeatedly failed the credibility test in Georgia by breaching top-level understandings on Abkhazia and on various security issues. Despite this record, Tbilisi has always exonerated Yeltsin of responsibility for the breaches, blaming subordinate officials instead. Tbilisi feels that this border incident has been orchestrated primarily as a means of pressure with a view to influencing Georgian decisions on oil transit and on Abkhazia.
If so, the Russian move has boomeranged, reinforcing Tbilisi’s resolve to withhold ratification of military agreements with Moscow and to seek the withdrawal of Russian border troops from Georgian territory. State Minister (equivalent of prime minister) Niko Lekishvili yesterday described the Russian border troop command’s position as "disloyal to say the least" and announced that Tbilisi is considering the introduction of high rental charges on Russian military bases in Georgia. The charges may be so high that they could turn Georgia from a debtor to Russia into a creditor, Lekishvili warned. (Russian agencies, December 11)
Chechen Representative to Abkhazia Appointed.