Smoke & Mirrors?

by Nathan Hamm on 8/1/2006 · 1 comment

At EurasiaNet, Igor Torbakov nicely summarizes Russian anxiety over Georgia’s recapture of the Kodori Gorge.

Many Russian policymakers and analysts believe that Georgia’s Kodori operation is part of a multi-staged plan to bring the breakaway province of Abkhazia back into Tbilisi’s fold. In a statement posted July 28 on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, spokesman Mikhail Kamynin contended that the large-scale Georgian military deployment indicates that Tbilisi is “striving to build a bridgehead for the forceful solution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.”

Tbilisi’s intention to restore the main road running through the gorge and to modernize the Kodori airfield can be regarded as a crucial step toward turning the gorge into an important outpost for the central Georgian government to continue pressuring Abkhazia, analysts contend.

Torbakov notes at the end of his article that not all in Russia share the belief that Georgia is preparing to retake all of Abkhazia. Some point out that the recapture of the region has created domestic political pressures for President Saakashvili, while others think that Georgia’s plan is to simply continue irritating Russia and Abkhazia. They might be on to something.

Georgia certainly is playing as if it holds a strong hand, dictating terms to Moscow for resumed monitoring of the gorge. But, despite projecting an image of strength, Georgian forces may have displayed “less than stellar” performance in the field.

U.S. military personnel in Georgia described the Georgian troops’ performance to one Washington analyst as less than stellar, noting that morale among the Georgian servicemen was not good and that at one point the operation was halted due to “inclement weather conditions.”

The Russian newspaper “Vedomosti” on July 28 likewise quoted unnamed “experts” as saying the Georgian military is not yet professional enough to conduct large-scale operations.

Former Kodori Governor Kvitsiani, who managed to evade the advancing Georgian troops and whose current whereabouts are unknown, was particularly scathing. He said in video footage broadcast on July 30 by the independent Georgian television channel Imedi that claims that his fighters were surrounded were “laughable.”

Contrast this with Vladimir Socor’s more positive take of the operation.

All in all though, the chances for intensification of the conflict may be farther off than they appear.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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