Georgia on the brink of another civil war of another civil war]

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
March 15, 2004, Monday


SOURCE: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No. 50, March 15, 2004, p. 3

by Yuri Simonian, Anatoly Gordienko

In Moscow yesterday, Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze stated that
today could see an armed clash between Georgian special troops and
the Adzahrian autonomy’s resistance forces; he requested assistance
from the Russian military. Speaking at a news conference in Moscow,
Abashidze reported that he has called on the Russian president, the
Duma, and the Federation Council to take all available measures to
prevent the conflict between Tbilisi and Batumi from sliding into
bloodshed. The Adzharian leader said that one possible form of
intervention by Russia could involve airlifting Russian peacekeepers
stationed in Georgia to the territory of Adzharia, so they could
place themselves “between peaceful people and the armed forces of
invasion, to prevent blood being shed.”

In Adzharia itself, anxious expectation prevails: everyone is
expecting an armed incursion by Georgian government troops. On
Saturday, Abashidze said that around 100,000 people from various
districts of Georgia were set to march into Adzharia on Monday. Among
them are some with military training, but at the head of this vast
column would be some women – as a human shield, followed by regular

>From Moscow, Aslan Abashidze issued a public appeal to the
international community. He said: “I want our voice to be heard by
the highest international organizations, in Europe and worldwide,
including the Council of Europe and the UN Security Council, and our
neighbors – Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and the
governments of the leading European nations, in order to stop a force
which will leave grave consequences behind it.”

Meanwhile, the situation in relations between Georgia and Adzharia
continues to escalate with every passing hour. Television broadcasts
in Batumi showed footage confirming that the administrative border of
Adzharia has been taken under the control of armed formations loyal
to Aslan Abashidze. This cordon, created overnight, is substantial –
as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili himself discovered for
himself: on Sunday morning, he was simply denied permission to enter
Adzharia. The president’s motorcade was stopped by armed men at a
checkpoint on the Choloka River. Moreover, as sources at the Georgian
State Chancellory told us, there was even some gunfire involved. The
shots were fired into the air; but President Saakashvili decided not
to tempt fate, and his motorcade rapidly departed in the direction of
the port city of Poti, to the north of Batumi.

This report of the incident involving the president’s motorcade on
the Choloka River has been confirmed by the leadership of Adzharia.
Batumi Mayor Georgi Abashidze, son of Aslan Abashidze, told the media
yesterday that the president of Georgia may visit Adzharia at any
time – but he should not do so in the company of special troops.
Batumi claims that President Saakashvili was accompanied to the
Adzharian border by tanks and armored personnel carriers, as well as
buses carrying up to one thousand armed Georgian special troops.

After encountering such a welcome, President Saakashvili reached Poti
and called an urgent news conference, attended by Prime Minister
Zurab Zhvania and the leaders of Georgia’s security ministries and
agencies. Judging by reports coming in from Poti yesterday,
Saakashvili has no intention of “being liberal” with Batumi any
longer. This was indirectly confirmed in Tbilisi by Chief of the
General Staff Givi Iukiridze, who told the media that the Armed
Forces of Georgia have been placed on alert by order of the head of
state. Preparations for war are also under way in Adzharia: according
to the Georgian media, by midday Sunday there were tanks and armored
personnel carriers on the streets of Batumi, and weapons were being
distributed to civilians. The situation is also escalating directly
on the border of Adzharia. Large numbers of troops, tanks, and other
military hardware are concentrated along both sides of the border.

President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia has also appealed to Russia.
At his news conference yesterday, he stated that he has received
reports of the Russian military base in Batumi “offering military
hardware to the Adzharian authorities, but refusing to assign
troops.” In connection with this, the Georgian president requested
the Russian leadership to “take the situation in Adzharia under their
personal supervision, and not permit mistakes to be repeated.”
Addressing the governments of the world’s leading nations,
Saakashvili called on them to see that “not a single Russian tank
leaves the Batumi base.”

Translated by Gregory Malyutin