Georgia Ready to Move On Abkhazia?

by Sean Paul Kelley on 7/27/2006 · 12 comments

Actions like these have consequences:

The official Abkhaz government will be moved from Tbilisi, where it has operated in exile, to the Kodori Gorge, which borders the country’s separatist region of Abkhazia, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said July 27. Saakashvili added that Georgia wants a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.

After more than four years of American training, via GTEP, perhaps the Georgian Army may soon be set loose on Abkhazia, the ancient Colchis where Jason sought the Golden Fleece and Joseph Stalin tended garden.

Saakashvili has been very, extra clear about one thing since he was elected: he wants to see Georgia unified. After first toppling the self-styled president/chief/mafia don named Aslan Abashidze (aka Babu) of a wannabe separatist region, Adjaria–which, of all the God forsaken places I visited in 2003, inspired at least one funny story–perhaps Saakashvili is poised to move on Abkhazia. He’s spent the last three years threatening South Ossetia. But Abkhazia is a much richer prize. And would infuriate the Russians to boot.

This would make sense, as we are negotiating an airbase deal in Azerbaijan, and will supposedly place elements of NMD radar somewhere in the Caucasus. Having a clearly unified BTC corridor in the Caucasus from Batumi to Baku is in the oil security interests of the United States, if not necessarily that of the United States as a whole.

If Saakashvili can pull this off (and I think he might just be able to) he then may not have to use force against South Ossetia. A succesful demonstration of Georgian military effectiveness (I know, I know) against Abkhazia might well be enough. That the Russians aren’t going to rescue them would be clear and that U.S. power in the region was in the ascendant would be obvious for all to see.

The real question is what Pootie-poot will do? It’s long been my belief that the Russian position in the North Caucasus would unravel if Russia cannot remain the dominant player in the Caucasus. And I’m not sure Pootie-poot can afford another foreign policy reverse. He may be popular with the Russian people (it’s really just the stability they like and the high oil and gas revenues) but the Russian foreign policy security establishment elite–including some members of the Siloviki are grumbling about the West’s persistent encroachment.

Is an unstable Russia really worth estimated but clearly marginal gains from Trans-Caucasian and Trans-Caspian oil?

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Nathan July 27, 2006 at 8:19 pm

As is my wont, I am inclined to believe that whatever US role there is in the Caucasus, it is moreso about simple projection and enhancement of power rather than simply oil. (Though oil is a part of that.) BTC oil’s going to Europe and the single largest investor in the project was, if I’m not mistaken, not an American company. But, having that pipeline up and running without interference certainly does limit Russia’s ability to control the flow of energy from Central Asia.

You are quite right though that the big question is what Russia will do. Skimming through some of the articles on EurasiaNet and Eurasia Daily Monitor, I cannot help but find somewhat convincing the Georgian claims that Russia put Kvitsiani up to all this. But, on the other hand, the status quo was serving Russia well enough and it didn’t need to do anything to upset the situation.

Laurence July 28, 2006 at 6:35 am

Here’s a Russian analysis, by Sergei Roy at

Apparently Saakashvili has chosen to embellish his psychiatric anamnesis by picking a few thousand blood feuds. That would be his business, of course, if this strange predilection did not have international repercussions. By bringing a sizable military force into the Kodori Gorge, the Georgian side has broken the 1993 Moscow agreement that stopped the war between Georgia and Abkhazia; it has also violated the exercise of the peacekeeping mandate by the Russian troops stationed there, and disrupted the work of UN observers.

The most sinister aspect of this military venture, though, is the fact that the current situation is reminiscent of what happened in 1992. At that time Eduard Shevardnadze brought Georgian troops into Abkhazia on the pretext that he wished to disband and arrest certain “criminal elements” — supporters of the ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. We know what that ended in — one of the bloodiest conflicts on FSU territory. Now Saakashvili claims that he only wishes to deal with another batch of “criminals,” the Svans. That’s what he says. What he has done is different: he has brought his troops right up against the positions held by Abkhaz units. Throw a match in there — or a stray bullet — and the place will go up in flames.

So what — just another local conflict, you might say; and you would be dead wrong. This is not 1992, this is 2006. Eighty percent of the population of Abkhazia are now Russian citizens, with Russian passports to prove it, and the Russian foreign ministry, as well as the defense ministry, have stated in no uncertain terms that Russia will defend its citizens with every means at its disposal. Look at the other, Georgian side, and you will see that those troops have been trained by US officers, their arms and equipment come from NATO, and they are very likely accompanied by US advisors. If anyone starts anything here, US and Russian officers will be looking at each other across a frontline.

The consequences of that might be worse than calling a man a fool in Svaneti.

BTW such a war scenario is central to the plot of Gary Shteyngart’s novel ABSURDISTAN (actually set in Georgia)…

Laurence July 28, 2006 at 7:39 am

Speaking of pipelines, RFE/RL published a nice map online, which includes Georgia:

Laurence July 28, 2006 at 7:40 am

Hmm, the graphic didn’t come out in the above posting, so here’s a link to the map:

Levan July 29, 2006 at 9:36 am


Interesting Article by Mr. Roy. I would say its quite neutral considering Russians ,Psycho, attitude to Georgia and other post-soviet States. I am interested who asked (ordered) these medical institutions to evaluate Georgian President Saakashvili’s mental health??? Maybe russian FSB?

Dmitrios July 30, 2006 at 6:08 am

From Johnson’s Russia List, 2006-#171
28 July 2006

From: Timothy Blauvelt
Subject: On Sergei Roy, JRL #170
Date: Fri, 28 Jul 2006

In believing in the verisimilitude of the supposed psychological analysis of Mikheil Saakashvili that has been circulating in Georgian opposition newspapers and elsewhere, Mr. Sergei Roy has fallen victim to an obvious hoax, one most likely perpetrated by the intelligence services of one of Georgia’s northern neighbors: “The mysterious assassination of Mr Saakashvili” ( and “The spurious ‘Psychiatric’ assessment of Mr Saakashvili” (

That this report, purportedly originally written in English, is a fake should be clear from the very title to any first-grader who happens to be a native speaker of English: “Mikhail Saakashvili: A Psychological Study of the Character.” In any case, as a friend pointed out to me, much of the “analysis” involved could pretty much be applied to any world leader..

Mr. Roy’s historio-ethnographic digression on Svaneti has omitted a more recent chapter: In the post-Soviet period Svaneti had become a particularly dangerous place, a lawless safe-haven for local criminal groups that thrived on contraband in the conflict zone and robbed anybody and anything that moved. Shortly after the Rose Revolution, in March 2004 the Georgian Interior Ministry carried out a similar “anti-criminal action” and in the space of several hours eliminated these criminal groups when they refused to give themselves up peacefully ( (#26), ( Following that operation, Svaneti has become incalculably more safe and tranquil, and hosts thousands of tourists and backpackers from around the world every year (I myself spent a week strolling around the valleys of upper Svaneti without any protection shortly after that operation, in the summer of 2004).

Lastly, although we still do not have full information about the forces used in Kodori Gorge, at this point it seems most likely that the operation was not in violation of the 14 May 1994 Agreement on Cease-fire and Separation of Forces ( The agreement states that there shall not be heavy military equipment within the established security zone. Kodori Gorge is north east of the security zone, and by entering via Svaneti Georgian troops (it is also not clear if they were entirely Interior Ministry police or if Ministry of Defense troops were involved) did not traverse that zone ( Further, “heavy military equipment” is defined in the agreement as artillery and mortars of a caliber exceeding 80 mm, tanks and armored vehicles. Again, we do not yet have full information, but from currently available reports it seems that Georgian hardware was comprised of KAMAZ trucks, Niva utility vehicles and Kalashnikov assault rifles (all of Russian rather than NATO manufacture, obviously) (

As to Mr. Roy’s assertion that the Georgians in the Kodori operation “are very likely accompanied by US advisors,” well, Mr. Roy is free to continue to use his imagination to make up anything he pleases.

Timothy Blauvelt
Tbilisi, Georgia

Major John August 2, 2006 at 9:33 am

Uppity Georgians – who do they think they are?! They should just listen to their Russian betters and kiss off whatever territory Moscow says to lose.


Sean-Paul August 2, 2006 at 9:48 am

Not much different than what we did to the Hungarians in the 50s or the Czechoslovakia in 68. Not much different than what we did with Rwanda or Darfur. Again, just answer the question: is it in our long-term interests to have an unstable Russian Federation. Or lemme rephrase that: is it in our long-term interests to have instability from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean? I’d be much more comfortable with a stable Russian sphere of influence that includes Georgia and the Ukraine than massive instability.

Major John August 2, 2006 at 1:28 pm

How about stable and free countries as opposed to “Russian stability”? I think Georgia and the Ukraine have quite had enough “Russian stbaility” in their history…

M Breward August 5, 2006 at 6:07 pm

While Russia is not the best of neighbors, I strongly believe that it is in Gerogia’s best interests to maintain good relations with them. That is the most pragmatic thing to do. We Cnadians do the same with the US. We do not agree with the US on many things, and the US often uses its economic might to interfere in Canadia policy. Still, we maintain good relations with the US because that is in out long-term interests. I beleive that Georgia needs to do the same with respect to its relations with Russia. While it may be difiicult, Georgia needs to learn how to – it is part of becoming politically mature.

Dmitrios August 8, 2006 at 3:24 am

OK, now imagine that Canada is not the 2nd largest country on earth, but about the size of West Virginia. Now imagine that large parts of the American political elite, including the generalitet, think that allowing Canada to exist as an independent coutry was a mistake that should be corrected. Imagine that US secret services and military arm Quebec separatists, help them to ethnically cleanse the Anglos, and then support and encourage them to declare independence. Then they start issuing US passports to nearly the entire population of Quebec, and claim that it is in America’s interests to protect its citizens. Now what kind of advices would you like to hear about being politically mature?

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