Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 149

The Georgian government claims to have restored “constitutional order” in the upper Kodori Gorge — the sole Georgia-controlled part of breakaway Abkhazia. As a result of a special operation by police and army units, the Kodori-based paramilitary group “Monadire” (Hunter) and its chieftain, Emzar Kvitsiani, have largely been neutralized (see EDM, July 25, 27, August 1). But complete success still seems a long way off. On July 31 Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili told a news conference that the special operation is ongoing.

Subsequent developments in Kodori suggest that neutralizing Kvitsiani’s uprising was not the only goal of the Georgian operation. Preparations are also underway to relocate the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile to Kodori following Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili decree on July 27 (TV-Rustavi-2, July 27). The presidential decree aims at making the strategically important region “Abkhazia’s temporary and legitimate administrative center.” Kodori is just 30 miles from Sukhumi, the Abkhaz capital. A considerable number of well-equipped Georgian special units that had entered the gorge during the special operation have not left the area.

This scenario has prompted media speculation that the authorities in Tbilisi somehow encouraged Kvitsiani’s declarations of defiance to provide a pretext for bringing troops and the exiled government to Kodori (Kviris Palitra, Resonansi, July 31). Okruashvili told Rustavi-2 television on July 28 that authorities in Tbilisi had warned Kvitsiani and his squad to leave the gorge one week ahead of the special operation, but Kvitsiani had turned down the ultimatum.

The deployment of the exiled government and additional troops in Kodori has apparently broken the status quo in Abkhazia that had been created by the May 19, 1994, ceasefire agreement signed by the Georgian, Abkhaz, and Russian sides in Moscow. For the last 13 years this arrangement had allowed Russia and the Abkhaz separatists to lay the socioeconomic and political groundwork for incorporating the region into Russia.

Tbilisi’s latest move has apparently created additional political and military problems for the Russia-backed Abkhaz separatists. During the past week Abkhaz and Russian officials, including Abkhazia’s self-styled “president,” Sergei Bagapsh, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have harshly called on Tbilisi to withdraw its troops from Kodori and to allow monitoring of the gorge. (Itar-Tass, July 29, rian.ru, July 31, NTV, August 1). Bagapsh, for example, declared “I’m stating with full responsibility that in the event of quartering the so-called Abkhaz government in Kodori we [Abkhazia] are freed from the responsibility for any previously achieved agreements and will take all necessary measures for protection of our sovereignty and security” (strana.ru, August 1). Bagapsh said that the “countermeasures will be tough.”

On July 28 the Abkhaz shelled Georgian positions in Kodori. No casualties were reported, and the Georgian troops did not retaliate. Most Georgian officials dismissed Bagapsh’s harsh rhetoric as only aimed at intimidating Tbilisi (24 Saati, July 29). The attack on Kodori seems politically counterproductive for the Abkhaz leaders, who are seeking international recognition of their independence. However, the resumption of hostilities in Abkhazia will play into Russia’s hands and could potentially draw Georgia into the turbulence affecting the North Caucasus. About 300 North Caucasus mercenaries reportedly have already arrived in Sukhumi (Rosbalt, July 31).

The latest developments in Abkhazia are an additional headache for international organizations and the Western community, particularly the United States, which is largely perceived as the Georgian government’s main ally. Matthew Bryza, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, visited Tbilisi July 31-August 1 to discuss bilateral cooperation and the Kodori events with top Georgian officials. Bryza explicitly underlined the effectiveness of the special operation in Kodori (TV Rustavi-2, July 31; Kavkaz Press, August 1). This suggests that Saakashvili’s steps with regard to Kodori and Abkhazia were likely cleared with the United States. At a news conference on July 31, Bryza hinted about possible U.S.-Russia cooperation in the settlement of ethnic conflicts in Georgia (Resonansi, August 1). At a news conference on August 1, Givi Targamadze, chair of the parliamentarian committee for defense and security, said, “Georgia is acting in partnership with the United States” (TV-Imedi, August 1).

Saving Saakashvili’s regime, which so far has turned out to be the most durable product of the U.S.-supported “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space, appears to be vitally important for the U.S. administration. Therefore, it is quite natural that Washington is concerned about the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, which had been one of Saakashvili’s main pre-election promises. At the same time, the United States is concerned about maintaining stability in Georgia to ensure alternatives to Russian transportation routes for energy shipments to the West. In this case, some analysts argue that the United States might agree to keep the Georgian internal conflicts in a “frozen” state at least temporarily (Georgian Times, July 27). Some analysts described Bryza’s visit as a U.S. attempt to subdue Saakashvili and his team after their victory in Kodori. (Resonansi, August 1).