Skip to comments.Georgia wants Russian bases out
Posted on 04/23/2005 12:57:56 AM PDT by Lukasz
The events of recent months show very clearly that the question of withdrawal of the two Russian military bases stationed in Georgia has become a priority of Tbilisi's foreign and internal policy for 2005. Since the two states concerned have deeply divergent positions on the subject, and since Tbilisi has been using uncompromising rhetoric, tension in the Russian-Georgian relations may rise further in the nearest future.
Presently, Russia has two military bases in Georgia (excluding Abkhazia): one in Batumi in the south-western part of the country, and the other in Akhalkalaki in the south. According to the commitments which Moscow made during the Istanbul OSCE summit in November 1999, the problem of the bases' withdrawal was to be solved through a bilateral Russian-Georgian agreement in 2000. However, this did not happen, as negotiations were stuck in an impasse as soon as they began in the summer of 2000. Officially, the essence of the problem is the cost and the timetable of the bases' withdrawal. However, the bases should be viewed in a much broader context, as one of the instruments of Russia's eroding influence on countries of the region (Washington is increasingly committed to co-operation, including military co-operation, with Georgia and Azerbaijan; the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that bypasses Russia is to be launched in 2005; the pro-Russian regime of Aslan Abashidze has been toppled in Georgia's Ajaria in May 2004, etc.). The bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki are situated in a strategic part of the region, forming a line along the Turkish border running from Batumi and Akhalkalaki to Giumri in Armenia, and until recently they have been one of the most important instruments of Moscow's policy towards Georgia and the entire region. For Tbilisi, on the other hand, liquidation of the bases is one of the greatest challenges of the state's security policy, after the unsolved conflicts over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, the existence of Russian bases is a de facto obstacle to Georgia's possible membership in NATO.
After the "rose revolution" in November 2003 the new leadership declared that ensuring a withdrawal of the Russian bases was one of its most important objectives, but until recently no specific action had been taken to this end. Intensive bilateral talks on the subject began only a few months ago. Negotiations took place alternately in Tbilisi and in Moscow, and they were quite intensive with meetings taking place every 2 or 3 weeks (previously, successive rounds of talks took place every several months). The bases were also among the main subjects discussed during the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to Tbilisi on 17th and 18th February. Irrespective of the intensive talks, the Georgians have taken a number of steps which were perceived as hostile in Moscow, while internally they were represented as proof of the authorities' firm policy. On 19th February president Mikheil Saakashvili called on the European Union to support Georgia on the issue by pressing Moscow, and his appeal was repeated on many occasions by other leading Georgian officials. On 26th February the Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze warned Russia that since there had been no progress in the process of the Russian bases' withdrawal, Tbilisi considered the possibility of deeming them illegal and initiating a blockade. Finally, on 10th March the Georgian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution demanding withdrawal of the bases. In the resolution, it obliged the government to take decisive measures to force Russian troops out of Georgia to 1st January 2006 in case no agreement is reached with Russia concerning the timetable of withdrawal by the 15th of May 2005. The parliament's resolution caused outrage in Russia and sparked protests of the local people in Akhalkalaki (the region has an Armenian majority) who oppose the withdrawal because the base is the greatest employer in Javakhetia and, the local Armenians believe, a guarantor of security. When commenting on the resolution, Georgian officials did not preclude measures such as cutting off of electricity and water supply, or blocking the bases, but they emphasised that Tbilisi's objective was not to force a withdrawal of the bases by the end of the year, but rather to make Moscow commit to a specific and inviolable deadline of withdrawal, which must be completed not later than 1st January 2008. It should be remembered that the minimum period needed to liquidate the bases according to the Russians is three years (assuming that withdrawal starts in mid-2005, it would be completed six months after the deadline set by the Georgians, at the earliest). In return for accepting this "short" timetable, the Russians are demanding that Georgia (or its allies) pay the costs of withdrawal and creation of new places of dislocation in the Russian Federation. In this atmosphere, the successive rounds of negotiations, including the most recent one on 14th and 15th April in Tbilisi, have produced no breakthrough. Both sides blame each other for the fiasco of negotiations, pointing to the various "additional conditions" set by the other side as the cause of failure.
What is Tbilisi's stake?
The question of the Russian bases' withdrawal was first raised during president's Shevardnadze's rule, but the present tempo and the exceptionally strict approach adopted by Georgia's leadership are certainly a novelty. From the point of view of the Georgian authorities, the fact of key importance, in addition to the obvious benefits in terms of state security, is that if they prevail, this would be a success of similar magnitude as the successful revolution in Ajaria in May 2004. It would stop the rapid loss of popularity of the new leadership - one and a half years after the "rose revolution" the government has the support of not more than one third of all citizens (compared to 90 percent in the first months after president's Shevardnadze's resignation). There is a clearly visible internal policy dimension to everything the Georgian leadership does concerning the withdrawal of Russian military bases. However, presenting an ultimatum to Moscow in a situation in which the two states disagree deeply on the subject may have difficult-to-predict consequences for the state's stability, and will certainly cause further deterioration of the already bad Georgian-Russian relations, especially since Tbilisi has made its negotiating position almost completely inflexible by attaching such great significance to the withdrawal issue in its internal policy.
Yes, Georgia is BULLDOG country. Get them reds out.
Russian bases in Georgia???
Does Cynthia McKinney know??
Force the Russians out, increase US presence in Georgia, and start drilling!
tell 'em to move to Florida.
Since this government has the support of less than 1/3 of the people, I don't think the government has the strength or stability to do much of anything right now. South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Russian bases... nothing. Maybe they will make some noise for domestic consumption, or at the prompting of allies who are giving them money. Zzzz.
When it comes to Georgia and surrounding areas, the amount of strategic force applied because of oil is just unreal -- it totally overwhelms all other considerations. Is it necessary to remove the Russian bases to secure the oil pipeline? If so, perhaps we will see very serious effort in this direction, because of massive money and support from allies.
OK, whatever is important for oil pipeline security, that is where you should expect strong action next.
Russia is continually attacked from Georgian territory, the pansiki gorge (islamic terrorists), yet another largely uncontrolled region. There have been some attempts to clean it out. If the area is quelled, perhaps there would be less need for the bases.
You forgot the 3rd base.
I apologize for my false implication that Russia's concerns about Pankisi gorge incursions should be linked to these bases.
Russian bases are placed in Batumi and Akhalkalaki. ==
Bases will be out. Russia just negociates better conditions for withdrawal.
Georgia is a sovereign Country now and it has rights to decide which troops can be there and which aren't.
Russia has a legit interests to make sure that soldiers who are pulled out of Georgia will not end up sleeping on the open field, but it should offer a definite time table for withdrawing from Georgia.