The Georgian-Abkhazian conflict was inflamed yesterday: four Russian peacekeepers were kidnapped by armed men. According to some sources, the men belonged to the White Legion, a Georgian terrorist group, but others say they were members of the Forest Brothers group. A search was immediately started, which allowed investigators to find the kidnappers at once. The exchange of the kidnapped people is being negotiated now. Several days ago, a post manned by Russian peacekeepers near the settlement Primorskoye of the Galsky district was fired upon by unknown people. Some of the gunmen were captured during the firefight. The captured gunment are likely to be exchanged for the kidnapped Russian peacekeepers.
A large number of small and medium-sized bandit groups are operating in the security area, and the White Legion and Forest Brothers are the largest among them. The groups were created with Georgia’s participation. Different structures and the budget of the country provided financing for the groups, and money was transferred via secret transactions. Then, the authorities abandoned the White Legion, as they were unable to control its leader, Zurab Samushia.
Zurab Samushia used to work in the structures of Georgia’s Defense Ministry, but left the defense structure in protest. Most likely, Georgia’s special services will now require Samushia’s help, the way Chechen guerrilla Ruslan Gelayev had been expected to provoke a new Georgian-Abkhazian war.
We may also say the same about the Forest Brothers organization with Dato Shengelia at its head, which is aiming to restore Georgia’s jurisdiction over Abkhazia. Once, Zurab Samushia said in an interview: “The White Legion is an orderly, numerous, and very mobile organization. The movement has never been a representative of any public structure and never does anything contradictin international rights.” It was also stressed that Zurab Samushia himself was responsible for all operations of the White Legion, and he was ready to appear before any court and answer for the Legion’s activity since its very founding, as soon as all Abkhazian people receive Georgian citizenship.
The Forest Brothers and White Legion organizations have been connected with the events of May, 1998, which resulted in numerous victims and another mass exodus of refugees from the Galsky district. A protocol “On fire cessation, separation of the armed units, and guarantees for the prevention of violence” was signed, according to which both White Legion and Forest Brothers were to have been disbanded. It is clear that the resolution was neglected then. Moreover, after 1.5 months, after another act of terrorism directed against Russian peacekeepers, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russian peacekeepers would probably be withdrawn from the area if such accidents are repeated. Russian diplomats said that no unauthorized armed forces can operate in the area controlled by Russian peacekeepers. They also criticized both parties of the conflict: Abkhazia created no conditions for the return of the refugees to the Galsky district, and Georgia did not prevent the penetration of terrorists into Abkhazia. The RF Foreign Ministry also criticized Georgia’s parliament, which supported the White Legion militants and declared that the White Legion and Forest Brothers organizations “were not connected with or controlled by Georgian special services.” After several years, the situation does not seem to have improved a bit
The groups are based in the Kodorsky Gorge, although the may change their location according to the situation. The location of the Kodorsky Gorge is very convenient for such groups, as it is close to Abkhazia’s border. The woody area is a safe shelter for Georgian, as well as for Chechen, guerrillas. Several highways lead to Sukhumi from the gorge, and it takes a maximum of one hour to get to the town from there.
Until now, no Abkhazian armed groups or collective peacekeeping forces have been present in the Kodorsky gorge. Its northern part, where Svans live mostly, used to be controlled by Georgia. Abkhazia connived at the situation, as no active provocation has been observed from Georgia. However, the situation has changed recently. The gorge has become the central base for the struggle with Abkhazia’s forces.
Georgian guerrillas want to destabilize the situation with the unofficial support of Tbilisi and demonstrate that Russian peacekeepers can not control events in Abkhazia. Eduard Shevardnadze stated several times already that he would like UN and NATO forces to settle the Abkhazian problem the same way it had been done in Kosovo and Macedonia. Washington can support Shevardnadze’s wish, especially against the background the US-led active anti-terrorist operation and redistribution of the influence spheres in Central Asia and other parts of the world. Such is the situation in Georgia now: joint Georgian-Turkish training, US specialists in Georgia, etc.
The scenario is not good for Russia, as Moscow has interests of its own in Abkhazia. First of all, geopolitical interests. Second, the largest military aerodrome, where the Russian military base was stationed some time ago, is situated near Gudauta. Third, Abkhazia still remains a wonderful resort zone with warm-water ports in Sukhumi and Ochamchira, where many Russians prefer to spend vacations even despite the martial law. Fourthly, Abkhazia is also important for Moscow from an economic point of view. The largest railway and highways go via Abkhazia to join Russia with Tbilisi and Yerevan. Now, the roads are not used, although the economies of Russia, Abkhazia and Georgia would profit after the recommencement of traffic.
Under the present-day conditions, Abkhazia will hardly make concessions to Tbilisi and agree to allow 240,000 Georgian refugees into the country. Abkhazians make up 100,000 people in the composition of the unrecognized republic. The number of Armenians and Russians is approximately the same. Chechen groups under the command of the infamous Chechen guerrilla Shamil Basayev took the Abkhazian side in that war.
Nowadays, Chechen groups are on the side of Georgian militants, which seems to be extremely strange, as Chechens have recently been against Georgians, fighting with Abkhazians. Probably, money is a driving factor here. Thus, the destabilization of Abkhazia’s situation is probably connected not only with Shevardnadze’s wish to establish control over Sukhumi but also with US attacks against terrorist bases. Georgia’s president is expecting to draw the attention of the UN and NATO to the problem through his special services in order to isolate Russia from the process. The kidnapping of Russian peacemakers is a part of a large-scale political intrigue in the Caucasus.
Dmitry Litvinovich PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/03/19/38447.html