The whole majority of unsettled military and political issues in Russian-Georgian relations was discussed at bilateral consultations in Moscow, February 19. Georgian delegation to Moscow was headed by foreign minister I.Menagarishvili.
At the meetings in Russian Foreign Ministry and Industry and Science Ministry was considered the question of withdrawal of Russian military from Georgia, dislocated on military bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The Shevardnadze government again demanded from Russia to leave the bases within two years, which is considered by Moscow to be impossible. Russia still insists on longer dead-lines (up to 9 years). Recently, the negotiation process was obviously affected by the Bush administration, which is interested in the situation normalization and increasing US influence in Caucasus.
Last week, US deputy Secretary of State on strategic security, S.Redmaker came to the city of Tbilisi and discussed with Eduard Shevardnadze the question of basing US military aircraft in Georgian territory during the planned offensive against Iraq. For these aims, it is supposed in particular to use Vasiani base, from which Russian Air Force sub-units were withdrawn about one and a half year ago.
While supporting US military action against Iraq, the Georgian president stressed his position was shared by most of Georgian citizens (according to the poll, about 80 percent). In exchange for the bases, Shevardnadze asked Washington to increase pressure upon the Kremlin to as soon as possible withdraw Russian troops from the country. In the prospect, according to some “leakage” from Pentagon, Vasiani base could be included into the system of US Air Force military bases.
One of the reasons, why Americans are interested in Caucasus region, is that they want to protect pipe-line system aimed for transportation of Caspian oil to the West. The Bush administration considers the pipe-line security to be one of top-priorities of its fight against international terrorism. To protect Baku-Tbilisi-Jeykhan pipe-line, which is 1740 km long, quick-reaction forces are planned to be created, called “South-Caucasian Anti-Terror,” with participation of Georgian and Azerbaijanian special force armed and financed by the US. The quick-reaction forces must be equipped with up-to-date communication facilities (to keep in touch with anti-terrorist centres of the US and NATO), as well as with reconnaissance and observation devices and transport means. These forces developed in the region will be practically a base station for constant US military presence.
One more issue discussed in Moscow, which seriously complicates Georgian-Russian dialogue, is CIS peace-keepers presence in Abkhazia. The question is about Russian soldiers dislocated in Gudaut base. The Shevardnadze government demands to withdraw Russian soldiers from Gudaut and to send soldiers from other countries instead. The question was one more time raised at the beginning of this year, while only February 17, Georgian Security Council passed a decision to prolong Russian peace-keepers mandate till July 1. At the same time, Shevardnadze stressed the had compromised thanks to George Bush who promised to produce a model of just settlement of Abkhaz issue.
Experts do not expect some progress will be reached during the consultations. Though, US influence upon the situation in Caucasus Region cannot be ignored. This was shown in particular by the agenda of bilateral negotiations planned by Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov for February 26 in Baku.
Sergei Ivanov intends to discuss with Azerbaijanian leadership the issue of Russian military equipment withdrawal from Georgia to Armenia. Russia would like to receive the President Aliev agreement to this manoeuvre, while the Azerbaijanian leadership is against Armenia’s military force built-up, considering this to make difficulties for Karabakh conflict settlement. Probably it is time for Russia to address to Mr Bush for assistance. Probably he would help to reach an agreement with Baku, as he did with prolongation of the peace-keepers mandate?
N.Novoselov MiK Information Agency
Translated by Vera Solovieva
Read the original in Russian: http://world.pravda.ru/world/2003/5/73/208/7304_Georgia.html
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