Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 99

In the run-up to the Conference to Review the Operation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Moscow is urging the 1999-adapted treaty’s ratification despite its own non-compliance with its commitments. The continued functioning of its base at Gudauta in Georgia is one of a number of unfulfilled Russian commitments that are prerequisites to ratification of the adapted treaty.

As part of its 1999 commitments, undertaken at the Istanbul OSCE summit and enshrined in the CFE Final Act, Russia was to close the Gudauta base, evacuate the personnel and equipment, and hand the base over to Georgia by July 1, 2001. However, Russia retains the base to the present day, albeit with a reduced garrison; and has unilaterally re-labeled the garrison as “peacekeeping.”

Moscow claims officially in one and the same breath that: a) the Gudauta military base was closed on schedule and b) Russian “peacekeeping” troops are using the base and are entitled to keep it. While absurd in itself, this argument apparently seeks international acceptance of the stationing of at least some Russian forces in Georgia and Moldova, as long as such forces are labeled “peacekeeping.” Russian diplomats claim this implicitly with regard to Gudauta while discussing explicitly a solution along those lines with some Western diplomats regarding Transnistria.

According to Moscow-supplied data, some 400 Russians — about half of them active military personnel, the remainder being military retirees and dependents — are stationed at Gudauta, along with some combat and transport helicopters, various military vehicles, a fuel storage area, and some other facilities. Moscow has provided no data on suspected stockpiles of arms and ammunition or the content of container-type structures at the base. The Bombora airfield, which is part of the base complex, is still in use by the Russian military.

Gudauta is located inside Abkhaz-controlled territory, where Russian-armed Abkhaz authorities can frustrate any international inspection at the base if so instructed. The CFE Treaty (1990 original and 1999 adaptation) provides for an elaborate inspection mechanism by the state-parties, but this does not operate in any of the secessionist enclaves. Hiding behind the Abkhaz, Moscow has periodically said that it is up to Georgia to guarantee the safety of any international arms control team that would wish to inspect Gudauta. However, Moscow is plainly stating that it would allow an inspection under OSCE aegis if it concludes that the base is “closed” and duly authorized for continued use by “CIS peacekeepers.”

That “peacekeeping operation” itself lacks any legal basis on the international or bilateral level. Moreover, under the 1994 armistice terms forced by Russia on Georgia, the “peacekeepers'” deployment is confined to a strictly delimited security zone (12 kilometers on either side of a demarcation line), whereas Gudauta is more than 100 kilometers distant from that deployment zone. Thus, Russia’s use of the base is illegal on multiple counts and de facto a military grab of territory.

In the last two years, German diplomacy wishing to see the CFE Treaty ratified has attempted to promote some kind of compromise solution over Gudauta. (In a similar spirit, Berlin and some others would be content to certify Russian compliance in Moldova even if Russian “peacekeepers” remain stationed in Transnistria). Germany, Russia, and Georgia have created a group to work out the modalities of an observation mission to Gudauta. However, Moscow remains uncooperative, seeking a one-time, non-intrusive inspection, without a follow-up process, and predetermined to close the issue. After Russia’s representative to the group, Ambassador Lev Mironov, passed away earlier this year, Moscow did not replace him. Tbilisi has repeatedly called for resuming the working group’s discussions on sending an observation mission to the base.

Georgia will regard Gudauta as closed when Russia evacuates all personnel and materiel from the base and other parts of the base complex, multinational observation missions with unrestricted access confirm the complete evacuation, and the base and other facilities are legally transferred to the Georgian side. Tbilisi seeks a legal handover, recognizing that a physical handover would be impossible at this time in view of Abkhaz de facto control of the area.

Meanwhile, the stationing of Russian “peacekeepers” at Gudauta is simply a continuation of the functioning of that base in contravention to Russia’s 1999 commitments, an integral part of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty. It also contravenes the CFE Treaty’s stipulation that troops may not be stationed on the territory of another country without the latter’s consent.

In Brussels, a NATO high-level task force on conventional arms issues has confirmed the alliance’s collective position that Russia needs to fulfill all of its 1999 commitments, including those regarding Gudauta and withdrawal of troops from Moldova, as conditions for ratification of the CFE Treaty. In the latest session of the OSCE’s 30-country Joint Consultative Group in Vienna, all 22 JCG member countries that are also NATO members issued a joint statement expressing that position, voiced by the United States delegation on their collective behalf. Georgia and Moldova joined the 22 countries’ statement. However, some ideas circulating within the European Union risk undermining that position.

(OSCE documents, May 16-18)