Georgian Forces Move into Abkhazia

The world situation remains normal: full of armed conflicts. Only a few of these attract the attention of the world's mass media. The border lands of the former Soviet empire are one area that remains a source of of instability.

While the world's attention has been focused on the IDF's offensive against Iranian—backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, another military operation has been underway in the Caucasus.  The Voice of America reported last week that Georgian forces moved into the strategic Kodori Gorge area of the so—called breakaway province of Abkhazia in pursuit of rebel leader Emzar Kvitsiani.

Abkhazia declared independence in the early 90s, even though it is within the traditional borders of Georgia.  Since the break, it has been under the watchful eye of Russian 'peacekeepers,' whose interest is more attuned to maintaining financial and smuggling interests rather than keeping the peace. The de—facto unrecognized Abkhazian government has also set up its own system of customs regulations and visa requirements that restrict cross—border movements of Georgian citizens.  Of course, Russia allows traffic to move freely across its own border with Abkhazia.

On July 25, Georgian troops crossed into the Kodori Gorge, which has historically been loyal to the Georgian central government. Their mission was to capture Kodori warlord Emzar Kvitsiani and his nephew Bacho Arghvliani.  According to Georgia Today, the largest weekly English language newspaper in the country,

...Kvitsiani and 60 of his associates are entrenched in the forest near the village of Azhara.  The information says that law—enforcement agents have Kvitsiani and his gang surrounded.  The same sources say that the five—member group, chaired by Erik Elba and consisting of security members from the de—facto Abkhazian president's team remains in the gorge.  It is said that these people along with certain Russian generals have met with Kvitsiani.  [....]  The Prosecutor General's Office has started a criminal investigation against Kvitsiani and his associates accusing them of treason, illegal arms dealing and maintenance, and being involved in the formation of illegal armed groupings.

The article makes continuing references to Georgian forces that consist of 'law enforcement agents' and that the incursion is a 'special police operation.'  However, there apparently has been one civilian casualty because of bombing carried out by military helicopters on Chkhalta, the home village of Kvitsiani.  This could have only been done by Mi—24 Hind attack helicopters from the Georgian armed forces.  Sources in the country also tell AT that large numbers of army troops are, in fact the core of the operation.  Also, the picture in the Georgia Today article shows a Georgian soldier wearing Turkish camouflage pattern fatigues, which is common in several units of the Georgian Army.

It is sometimes difficult to determine the cause of these tensions, given the often confusing tribal and provincial loyalties and the cults of personality in this part of the world.  Nevertheless, a seasoned observer can provide clues as to how it developed.

Several local security battalions had been formed in the early 90s by then—President Eduard Shevardnadze, who had earlier served as Mikhail Gorbachev's Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The units were designed to not only provide provincial security, but to give an economic and social boost to the local populace courtesy of the central government.  When Shevardnadze was ushered out of the Statehouse in 2003 during the Rose Revolution, these units were seen as an unwanted link to a Russian—dominated past and were scheduled to be disbanded by the new government of President Mikhail Saakashvili.  Upon hearing of the intended inactivation of these units, the citizens in the gorge were fearful of a power vacuum resulting in possible Russian 'peacekeeper' and Abkhazian interference.

The inactivation of these units was later delayed, but ultimately, the Defense Minister suspended them from conducting further operations, which some suggest set the conditions for Kvitsiani's rebellion.  Also, it remains unclear whether Russia is behind the small rebel band, or whether it is simply locally generated, or a combination of both.  Saakashvili's government was initially weak in filling the void in the Kodori area for a time.  The current operation in is now seen as decisive by showing that any rebel group will not be allowed to dominate the Gorge.

The timing of the operation in Kodori is perhaps related to a statement of support by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  On July 24, OSCE delegation head Bertrand de Crombrugghe, reinforced the strong international backing for Georgian territorial integrity, including resolving both the Abkhazia and South Ossetia border disputes in Georgia's favor.

So far there have been no reports of any Russian troop movements in Abkhazia in response to the Georgian incursion, although Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia will maintain order.  In South Ossetia, there also appears to be no reaction from the small 600—man Russian garrison.  However, the large Russian troop contingents in North Ossetia and Armenia to the south bear watching.  Also, Russian—supported Abkhazian separatists vow to use force if Georgian President Saakashvili does in fact establish the Abkhazian government—in—exile in the Kodori Gorge.

The military offensive and the intent to set up the Abkhazian government in exile may be the bargaining chip that Saakashvili has planned all along.  If he can force the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the OSCE bargaining table, he is well on his way to having Georgia's traditional boundaries restored after centuries of Imperial Russian and Soviet domination.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.

The world situation remains normal: full of armed conflicts. Only a few of these attract the attention of the world's mass media. The border lands of the former Soviet empire are one area that remains a source of of instability.

While the world's attention has been focused on the IDF's offensive against Iranian—backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, another military operation has been underway in the Caucasus.  The Voice of America reported last week that Georgian forces moved into the strategic Kodori Gorge area of the so—called breakaway province of Abkhazia in pursuit of rebel leader Emzar Kvitsiani.

Abkhazia declared independence in the early 90s, even though it is within the traditional borders of Georgia.  Since the break, it has been under the watchful eye of Russian 'peacekeepers,' whose interest is more attuned to maintaining financial and smuggling interests rather than keeping the peace. The de—facto unrecognized Abkhazian government has also set up its own system of customs regulations and visa requirements that restrict cross—border movements of Georgian citizens.  Of course, Russia allows traffic to move freely across its own border with Abkhazia.

On July 25, Georgian troops crossed into the Kodori Gorge, which has historically been loyal to the Georgian central government. Their mission was to capture Kodori warlord Emzar Kvitsiani and his nephew Bacho Arghvliani.  According to Georgia Today, the largest weekly English language newspaper in the country,

...Kvitsiani and 60 of his associates are entrenched in the forest near the village of Azhara.  The information says that law—enforcement agents have Kvitsiani and his gang surrounded.  The same sources say that the five—member group, chaired by Erik Elba and consisting of security members from the de—facto Abkhazian president's team remains in the gorge.  It is said that these people along with certain Russian generals have met with Kvitsiani.  [....]  The Prosecutor General's Office has started a criminal investigation against Kvitsiani and his associates accusing them of treason, illegal arms dealing and maintenance, and being involved in the formation of illegal armed groupings.

The article makes continuing references to Georgian forces that consist of 'law enforcement agents' and that the incursion is a 'special police operation.'  However, there apparently has been one civilian casualty because of bombing carried out by military helicopters on Chkhalta, the home village of Kvitsiani.  This could have only been done by Mi—24 Hind attack helicopters from the Georgian armed forces.  Sources in the country also tell AT that large numbers of army troops are, in fact the core of the operation.  Also, the picture in the Georgia Today article shows a Georgian soldier wearing Turkish camouflage pattern fatigues, which is common in several units of the Georgian Army.

It is sometimes difficult to determine the cause of these tensions, given the often confusing tribal and provincial loyalties and the cults of personality in this part of the world.  Nevertheless, a seasoned observer can provide clues as to how it developed.

Several local security battalions had been formed in the early 90s by then—President Eduard Shevardnadze, who had earlier served as Mikhail Gorbachev's Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The units were designed to not only provide provincial security, but to give an economic and social boost to the local populace courtesy of the central government.  When Shevardnadze was ushered out of the Statehouse in 2003 during the Rose Revolution, these units were seen as an unwanted link to a Russian—dominated past and were scheduled to be disbanded by the new government of President Mikhail Saakashvili.  Upon hearing of the intended inactivation of these units, the citizens in the gorge were fearful of a power vacuum resulting in possible Russian 'peacekeeper' and Abkhazian interference.

The inactivation of these units was later delayed, but ultimately, the Defense Minister suspended them from conducting further operations, which some suggest set the conditions for Kvitsiani's rebellion.  Also, it remains unclear whether Russia is behind the small rebel band, or whether it is simply locally generated, or a combination of both.  Saakashvili's government was initially weak in filling the void in the Kodori area for a time.  The current operation in is now seen as decisive by showing that any rebel group will not be allowed to dominate the Gorge.

The timing of the operation in Kodori is perhaps related to a statement of support by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  On July 24, OSCE delegation head Bertrand de Crombrugghe, reinforced the strong international backing for Georgian territorial integrity, including resolving both the Abkhazia and South Ossetia border disputes in Georgia's favor.

So far there have been no reports of any Russian troop movements in Abkhazia in response to the Georgian incursion, although Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia will maintain order.  In South Ossetia, there also appears to be no reaction from the small 600—man Russian garrison.  However, the large Russian troop contingents in North Ossetia and Armenia to the south bear watching.  Also, Russian—supported Abkhazian separatists vow to use force if Georgian President Saakashvili does in fact establish the Abkhazian government—in—exile in the Kodori Gorge.

The military offensive and the intent to set up the Abkhazian government in exile may be the bargaining chip that Saakashvili has planned all along.  If he can force the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the OSCE bargaining table, he is well on his way to having Georgia's traditional boundaries restored after centuries of Imperial Russian and Soviet domination.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.