Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze told the country during a radio broadcast that the Russian border troops’ recent seizure of the Ukrainian ship Almaz and its crew in Batumi, Georgia "amounted to piracy." Shevardnadze apologized to Ukraine in the name of the Georgian government for the Russian action on Georgian territory. (See Monitor, Western Region section, December 16) The Georgian parliament’s defense and security commission chairman, Revaz Adamia, and the commander of Georgian border troops, Maj. Gen. Valeri Chkheidze, stated that the Russian border troops’ action in Batumi has undermined prospects for Georgian ratification of the 1994 treaty with Russia on "joint protection" of Georgia’s borders. (Radio Tbilisi, December 16; Interfax, December 15-16) The Russian authorities released the crew and the ship on December 15, after having detained them incommunicado for 11 days, but the captain is still being held.
It appears, moreover, that Tbilisi faces more problems with Russian border troops. A delegation representing Russia’s Stavropol krai arrived yesterday in Batumi for direct talks on bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Ajaria, which is a part of Georgia. Strangely, the delegation included Maj. Gen. Vladimir Gorodinsky, the commander of Russia’s Caucasus Special Border district. (Interfax, December 17) In the Almaz incident, the Russian border troop command had dealt with the Ajarian authorities behind Tbilisi’s back. The command seems to be engaged in a policy of encouraging the Ajarian authorities to enter into direct relations with Russia.
At Georgia’s opposite end, in South Ossetia, Russian border troops are blocking the transit of passengers and goods at the Georgian-Russian border in either direction. The Georgian side of that sector is "protected jointly" by Russian and Georgian border guards. The latter are powerless to change the situation, which Tbilisi considers to be an "economic blockade." (Iviria, December 12)
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