President Eduard Shevardnadze announced on December 21 that Russian border troops have completed the handover of a major sector of the Georgian-Turkish land frontier to Georgian border troops. The sector, in the Akhalkalaki district, lies between the Georgian-Armenian border sector to the east and the administrative border of Georgia’s Ajar Autonomous Republic to the west. Akhalkalaki’s predominant Armenian population had both favored the retention of Russian border troops and signaled some unhappiness with the entry of Georgian border troops. Nevertheless, the change proceeded without incident.
The Russian border troops are scheduled to complete the handover of the entire land frontier to Georgian troops by July 1, 1999 and to withdraw from Georgia by that date. The withdrawal began on December 21 with units bound for Russia’s Volgograd region. The transfer of control in the Ajar sector will be as delicate a matter as it was in Akhalkalaki, but the precedent apparently set here is encouraging. The Abkhaz sector of the frontier is the thorniest.
Shevardnadze meanwhile has encouraged Turkey to play a more active role in South Caucasus security affairs. Receiving in Tbilisi a delegation of a Turkish-Georgian friendship society, the president was cited as welcoming Ankara’s constructive influence in the region and suggesting that Turkey can exert a positive influence on the Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations. Shevardnadze announced that Georgia plans to facilitate cross-border cooperation with Turkey in the wake of the Russian withdrawal (Radio Tbilisi, December 21; Turkiye (Ankara) cited by Turan, December 23).
BABAIAN SPEAKS HIS MIND IN YEREVAN.