Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 123

Russia’s “peacekeeping” troops in Abkhazia and Abkhaz authorities celebrated jointly on June 23 the fifth anniversary of the deployment of the Russian contingent in what is officially termed the “Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone.” In a special message, Russian President Boris Yeltsin congratulated the troops for “fulfilling their mission in a region [Abkhazia] adjacent to Russia, ably representing Russia’s national interests.” That candid remark underscored the actual role of the “peacekeeping” contingent as an instrument of Russian policy in the region.

The Russian command and Abkhaz leaders organized a joint festive rally in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi, where the Russian command has all along been headquartered. The commander, Major-General Sergei Korobko, Abkhazia’s leader Vladislav Ardzinba and the would-be Internal Affairs minister Sergei Shamba called for an open-ended continuation of the Russian “peacekeeping” operation in its present form. Ardzinba termed that operation “a symbol of the Russian-Abkhaz friendship.” Interviewed in today’s issue of the Russian Defense Ministry’s daily newspaper, Korobko condemned as “terrorism” the local Georgian resistance in the Gali district and rejected as “fictitious” the objections leveled by official Tbilisi against the Russian operation. Those objections “aim to obtain the removal of Russian peacekeepers from the region and their replacement with an international contingent.”

In Tbilisi, Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili reviewed the five-year record of the Russian contingent at a special press conference yesterday. Noting the troops’ “initially positive” role in separating the parties to the conflict, Menagarishvili went on to discuss the Russian contingent’s failure to fulfill its stated mission. It refuses to assist in the repatriation of Georgian refugees ethnically cleansed from Abkhazia, did not prevent the outbreak of hostilities in May 1998 in the security zone under its control, and is not advancing a political settlement through its presence in Abkhazia. Other Georgian leaders–such as the chairman of the parliament’s defense and security committee, Revaz Adamia–pointed out, as they have for several years, that the Russian contingent in effect cements the Georgian-Abkhaz separation line into a de facto border and contributes to encouraging Sukhumi’s intransigence. Menagarishvili and other officials confirmed Tbilisi’s intention to pursue political negotiations with Sukhumi and to redouble diplomatic efforts toward internationalizing the peacekeeping operation.

The Russian contingent has operated without a mandate since at least the spring of 1998. Georgia has declined to authorize a renewal of that mandate but has not exercised its right to demand its termination. Tbilisi does not seek to expel the Russian troops; it aims to obtain an international mandate for a genuine peacekeeping contingent which would, alongside Russian troops, include contingents from other countries (Itar-Tass, Prime-News, Georgian TV, June 23-24; Krasnaya zvezda, June 25).