Georgia, Russia Still Lack Mutual Understanding

While Georgia prepares to host the first U.S. military instructors and President Shevardnadze commits to the country’s European choice in the Brussels, tensions between Georgia and Russia continue to increase.

Russia accuses Georgia for preparing military actions against its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia is afraid, that Georgia will use American-trained antiterrorist battalions against these breakaway regions.

Members of the Russian State Duma demand dispatching of 400 additional Russian peacekeepers to Abkhazian conflict zone (at present there already are 1700 Russian soldiers) and disbursement of humanitarian aid to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian MPs also propose President Putin to raise the issue of Russia’s involvement in antiterrorist operation in Pankisi gorge.

These demands are represented in the statement, which was prepared at the State Duma committees on CIS, Foreign and Defense Affairs meeting and adopted by the Duma on March 22.

Chairman of the Foreign Issues Committee of the Duma, Dmitri Ragozin, calls upon the government of Russia to employ means of economic pressure over Georgia.

Kidnapping of four Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone on March 18 triggered new confrontation between Georgia and Russia. The kidnapped Russian solders were exchanged in two Georgians later.

Moscow and unrecognized government of Abkhazia blame for this accident the Georgian partisans. Russia claims that guerrilla groups have connections with the official Tbilisi. On March 21 the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, in which the government of Georgia is accused for harboring terrorists.

But as many Georgian politicians believe, in fact statements of the Georgian President made during his visit to Brussels of March 18-19 and Georgian-American military cooperation rankles the Russian side. During the visit, Eduard Shevardnadze has confirmed that Georgia aspires to join to the NATO and the EU.

The same is confirmed in the reciprocal statement of the Georgian Foreign Ministry. “Certain forces and politicians in Russia are irritated with US military assistance to Georgia. This has become a reason for recent statements of the Russian officials against Georgia” – says the protest statement of the Georgian Foreign Ministry, issued on March 22.

Georgia rejects information on preparations for military operations against South Osetia and Abkhazia. Foreign Affairs Ministry of Georgia calls these accusations absurd.

Georgian Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburdzania says that US military assistance to Georgia is not connected to Abkhazian conflict. “Georgia stays loyal to its international obligations to resolve the conflict in peaceful ways,” Khaburdzania said on March 21. Similar statement was made by the Georgian Minister of Defense, who said Georgia would prefer the peaceful way of resolving the Abkhaz conflict if only because “it is cheaper.”

In the past month this is already a second tide of Georgian-Russian tensions. The first one emerged in the end of February, when the US intention to send 200 military instructors to Georgia was revealed.

That time too the State Duma adopted rather hard statement against Georgia. The statement did not exclude possibility of recognizing independence of Abkhazia and South Osetia.

By then President Putin defused tensions when stated at the Almaty CIS Summit on March 1 that there is nothing tragic in presence of the American soldiers in Georgia.

On March 20, the Parliament of Georgia adopted a statement , which condemns anti-Georgian propaganda by the Russian official circles. The statement expresses regret [of the Georgian side] with incorrect interpretation of the US assistance to Georgia by the Russian State Duma.

On March 22 the Georgian Parliament had to react in reply to recent statements of the Russian officials. Chairperson of the Georgian Parliament Nino Burjanadze called upon her Russian colleagues to meet and hold consultations.

Burjanadze announced that she would definitely discuss recent tensions between Georgia and Russia with her Russian colleagues during her upcoming visit to Russia. Georgian Parliamentary delegation participates in the Parliamentary summit on fight against terrorism.

By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia