Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 9

Vladimir Putin’s elevation to the presidency of Russia seems to have lent a fresh impetus to the intimidation campaign against Georgia and Azerbaijan. From January 7 onward, the Russian military and the intelligence agencies began accusing those two countries of condoning the creation of Chechen “jump-off points” and “bridgeheads” on Georgian and Azerbaijani territories, in preparation for a “protracted war” against the Russian forces in Chechnya. They allege, moreover, that Chechen leaders are freely circulating in Georgia and Azerbaijan and that Chechen commanders are recruiting supporters or “mercenaries” in the two countries. The allegations, widely disseminated by the Moscow media, remain wholly unsubstantiated in spite of their gravity.

Tbilisi and Baku are responding with indignant denials, coupled with reassurances that Georgia and Azerbaijan are interested in upholding the territorial integrity of states and in suppressing terrorism, because they themselves have been targeted by secession movements and terrorist groups. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and National Security Ministry, in separate statements, not only refuted the charges but described them as deliberate misinformation, serving “warmongering” goals and possibly aimed at dragging Azerbaijan into the conflict. Baku’s statements, moreover, reminded Russia–and, indirectly, international opinion–that Azerbaijan is separated from Chechnya by more than 200 kilometers of Russian territory in Dagestan. The statements asked the Russian government to “stop the escalation of anti-Azerbaijani propaganda.”

In Tbilisi, the Foreign Affairs and State Security ministries called on the Russian authorities to “desist from anti-Georgian provocations, which have acquired a permanent character.” The Georgian ministries renewed invitations to Russia to send an inspection team to Georgia and, also, to join the monitoring team of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the Georgian side of the border opposite Chechnya, so as to ascertain that Georgia is in no way hosting or assisting Chechen forces. President Eduard Shevardnadze sounded the same message in his January 10 address. Those Georgian invitations to Moscow have been standing since November–for an inspection team of Russia’s Federal Border Service–and December–for Russian monitors to join the OSCE’s monitoring team. Moscow, however, has failed to respond to either invitation. That refusal seems to leave Moscow free to continue its campaign of accusations irrespective of the actual facts on the ground.

On January 11, Georgian television screened a video film–shot with a hidden camera–showing Russian soldiers outside the Russian military base at Vaziani handing out a large consignment of weapons and ammunition to unidentified, presumably Chechen men. The Georgian authorities had long warned Russian counterparts that corrupt Russian officers in Georgia are selling arms to the Chechens. Georgian security forces impounded the consignment which was en route toward Chechnya (Itar-Tass, ORT, Russian Public Television, Turan, AzadInform, ANS-TV, Prime News, Kavkasia-Press, Georgian TV, Tbilisi radio, January 7 through 12; (see the Monitor, October 5-6, 21, November 8, 12, December 2, 13, 21, 1999; January 7, 2000; The Fortnight in Review, October 22, November 19, December 3, 1999.).