Colonel-General Gennady Troshev, commander of Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, inspected Russian troops in Georgia on September 13-15 and held talks with the leadership in Tbilisi. On September 14 the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, conferred with Georgia’s leaders, against the backdrop of an American-led military exercise near Tbilisi. Each visit in its own way reflected the essence, respectively, of Georgian-Russian and Georgian-American relations.
Troshev toured Russian military bases, which Moscow insists on retaining in spite of Georgia’s Western-assisted efforts to send the Russian troops home. In Tbilisi, a blustery Troshev refused to discuss with President Eduard Shevardnadze and with Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze the subject of troop withdrawal. Instead, he repeated the discredited accusations that Georgia serves as a haven for and supply route to Chechen forces. At the same time, Troshev rehashed an earlier Russian offer to arm and equip Georgian troops, provided that Tbilisi signs a treaty that would legalize the Russian military presence in the country. The Georgian leaders did not rise to that bait, which has in any case lost any lure, now that Western countries have begun supplying Georgian forces. “It is a pity that Georgia looks toward NATO and not toward Russia,” was Troshev’s public response.
Shelton, who spent only a few hours in Tbilisi, announced that the United States plans to continue and diversify military assistance to the country. Shelton’s discussions with Shevardnadze, Tevzadze and parliamentary leaders focused on military reform and modernization of Georgian forces in accordance with Western standards. The U.S. European Command has recently drawn up recommendations for Georgia’s military reform. Those recommendations will become a “programmatic document for the Georgian army,” Tevzadze stated during Shelton’s visit. The Georgians asked the Americans, furthermore, to send a group of military advisers to Tbilisi and to increase the number of places available to Georgians in U.S. military schools. Shevardnadze expressed gratitude for the assistance already received from, and planned by, “the world’s most advanced military.”
In a broadcast to the country on September 18, Shevardnadze described as vital the assistance provided by the United States to the Georgian border troops and coastal guard. He only “wished that Georgia’s military relations with Russia were as beneficial as they are with our American partners and friends.” Announcing NATO Secretary General George Robertson’s upcoming visit to Georgia, Shevardnadze obliquely advised Moscow “not to be surprised by other countries’ interest in Georgia’s stability, security and development.” That has become an international interest “in light of Georgia’s geopolitical function as a linchpin in Eurasian transit routes.”
The two generals’ overlapping visits illustrated not so much the Russian-American “regional competition” as they did Georgia’s own choice of partners (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Itar-Tass, Kommersant daily, Trud, September 14, 15; Tbilisi Radio, September 18; see the Monitor, June 26, July 19, August 2, 4, 9, September 15; Fortnight in Review, July 7, 21, August 4).
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