President Eduard Shevardnadze embarked yesterday on a visit to the United States in spite of mounting Russian pressures on Georgia. Those pressures are currently taking three main forms: fomenting trouble in Abkhazia, digging in at the Gudauta military base and accusing Georgia of collusion with Chechen and “international” terrorists as a possible prelude to a Russian “antiterrorist” operation within Georgia. The Georgian government is taking political steps to defuse these threats.
In the last days of September, the central Georgian government and the Abkhaz authorities jointly succeeded in defusing a war scare, the second of its type in the space of a month. Moscow had again charged that Georgian guerrillas and Chechen rebels were about to attack Abkhazia. On September 27-28, however, Shevardnadze and Abkhazia’s would-be prime minister Anri Jergenia conferred in Tbilisi in order to lay the war scare to rest. For their part, top Georgian military and security officials conferred with their Abkhaz counterparts, in an effort to monitor the situation jointly and prevent any outbreak of hostilities. Abkhazia’s self-styled defense minister, Vladimir Mikanba, to all intents and purposes denied that Georgian and Chechen armed groups had appeared in the Kodori Gorge or anywhere near Abkhazia. The Abkhaz leaders’ reaction showed that, at present, they share Tbilisi’s fear of Moscow’s ability and willingness to orchestrate another armed clash between them.
Also in the final days of September, the Georgian army’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Joni Pirtskhalaishvili, and the internal affairs minister, Lieutenant-General Kakha Targamadze, traveled to Moscow for talks with their respective counterparts, Generals Anatoly Kvashnin and Boris Gryzlov. The two Georgians presented counterevidence to Moscow’s allegations about Chechen “camps” and “bases” in the Pankisi Gorge. The two Georgian generals ruled out–as does Georgia’s political leadership–any authorization for a Russian “antiterrorist operation” on Georgian territory. At the same time, they presented Georgia’s own plans to maintain order on its territory, though not guaranteeing it in the secessionist regions.
The Russian government, meanwhile, is in violation of its international obligation to close down and vacate the Gudauta military base. Although the deadline had expired in July, Moscow insists on extracting Georgian approval for part of the Russian garrison and part of the heavy weaponry to remain stationed at Gudauta. European Union and NATO representatives in Brussels were quoted on October 1 as saying that it would be “politically inconvenient” to remind Moscow of that obligation while seeking Russia’s cooperation in a global effort against terrorism.
On September 30, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov’s representative for negotiations with Moscow, Ahmed Zakaev, publicly appealed to Shevardnadze to act as a mediator in the Russian-Chechen talks, which President Vladimir Putin had offered in his September 24 address. On October 1, Shevardnadze accepted the offer on the condition that the Russian side consents to using his good offices (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Georgian radio and television, Interfax, September 28-30, October 1-2).
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