As expected, and for lack of immediate alternatives, Georgia approved a routine six-month extension of Russia’s “peacekeeping” mandate in Abkhazia. Since its inception in 1994, that Russian operation has been using a CIS flag of convenience. At this summit, however, Moscow was no longer able to put a plausible multilateralist cover on that operation. Although Russia attempted to portray the mandate extension as a collective CIS decision, it was unable to specify the decisionmaking procedure or to name the approving countries.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze consented to the mandate’s extension in a bilateral meeting with Putin, declined to include the issue of a political settlement of the conflict on the summit’s agenda and pointed to two non-CIS forums as suitable for those negotiations. Those forums are the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Friends of Georgia group of countries, in which the main Western powers counterbalance Russia’s influence. Tbilisi is redoubling its efforts to internationalize the framework of negotiations with the Abkhaz authorities.
The status of Russian army troops in Tajikistan is now officially changed. They will no longer be labeled “CIS peacekeeping troops,” but simply “Russian forces stationed in Tajikistan.” Last year, the Dushanbe government conferred basing rights on those troops under a bilateral treaty with Russia. The troops consist mainly of the Russian army’s 201st motor-rifle division, subordinated to the Volga Military District and reinforced by auxiliary units. The force, some 8,000 strong, is being reduced slightly in the context of its change of status and the handover of some installations to Tajik government troops. Russia has stationed thousands of border troops in Tajikistan since 1992. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan contributed token units for a few years, enabling Moscow to put a thin CIS mantle on the operation. But two years ago already, the Kazakh unit shrank to a mere 200 and Kyrgyzstan withdrew its unit altogether.
Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov, who owes his power to the Russian troops, said during the summit that the Russian army troops change of status–from “CIS peacekeeping operation” to “Russian base”–makes no difference in practice. Rahmonov explained that the peacekeepers had been Russia’s in the first place and that the troops had all along been subordinated to the Russian national authorities, not to any CIS authorities. Rahmonov’s words amount to an admission that the CIS label had been fraudulent from the onset. The only change, however minute, is that Moscow’s appointment of a Russian commander of those troops will no longer be rubber-stamped at CIS summits (Itar-Tass, RIA, June 19-21).
Moldova never agreed to put a CIS sanction on Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation there. That operation is currently down to three battalions, and Moldova has the legal right to terminate it. Apart from those battalions, Russia unlawfully stations in the same area 2,500 troops of the ex-Soviet 14th Army which do not have a peacekeeping mandate. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe requires Russia to withdraw those troops completely by December 2002. Moscow is looking for ways to keep that force in place and hopes to legalize its presence, either by securing a peacekeeping mandate, or by browbeating Moldova into accepting the troops as “guarantors” of an eventual political settlement in Transdniester (see the Monitor, June 20; Fortnight in Review, June 22).
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