Battle for Batumi

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part A (Russia)
March 30, 2004, Tuesday


SOURCE: Kommersant, March 29, 2004, p. 10

by Gennady Sysoev

In fact, Moscow supported Adzharian authorities in the opposition
between Tbilisi and Batumi. It can be explained not only by Moscow’s
striving for confirmation of the role of guarantor of Adzharian
autonomy and for defense of Russian citizens, who live there. To all
appearances, Adzharia should play a key-role in the counter game,
which Russia tries to carry out in the region in order to resist the
growth of influence of the US.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined Russian position
concerning the opposition between Georgian and Adzharian authorities
at the very beginning of the present conflict. “There are some
grounds for supposing that Tbilisi plans to use force. Georgian
authorities should understand that it can have severe and
unpredictable consequences for Georgia. In case of the crisis,
Georgian authorities will bear the whole responsibility for it,” the
official representative of Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

So, in fact, Moscow began to support Adzharian authorities in the
opposition between Tbilisi and Batumi. Moreover, this position hasn’t
been changed by yesterday’s parliamentary election in Georgia.

Besides, Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze became a regular visitor at
Moscow. He was in Moscow for over a week last November during “the
rose revolution” and warned the Kremlin about guileful plans of new
Georgian authorities concerning Adzharia. Mr. Abashidze tried to
persuade Russia to support Adzharia in the probable armed conflict
between Tbilisi and Batumi during his visit to Moscow.

Moscow defended Adzharia and its leadership not because of its
special affection for the Georgian autonomy, but because of its
strategically important position in the region. Adzharia is the basic
exit to world for Tbilisi. Another way passes through Abkhazia, which
declared its independence, and it is practically inaccessible for
Georgian authorities. In fact, the loss of Adzharia will block the
entry to the Black Sea and connection with turkey for Tbilisi (a
small part of Georgian border near Poti is situated between Abkhazia
and Adzharia and that’s why it is vulnerable). So, Moscow can get a
powerful instrument of influence on Tbilisi if it establishes special
relations with Adzharia and its leader.

However, it isn’t the most important thing for Moscow. The main thing
is that, to all appearances, Adzharia should play a key-role in the
counter-game, which Russia tries to carry on in the region in order
to resist the growth of the influence of the US.

The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline should be
over by the end of next year. It is a thing of key-importance for
Washington in its strategy in the region. The oil pipeline should
become an axis of US military and strategic construction, which
includes Central Asia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Some Central Asian republics have already placed their territories at
the disposal of US military bases. As for Georgia, Americans don’t
intend to construct bases there. In any case, their official
representatives say so. However, it isn’t necessary for them. The US
has an opportunity for using Georgian territory for needs of its
armed forces if it is required. At that, one shouldn’t ask Tbilisi
for any special resolution, because the necessary infrastructure and
legislative basis already exists. The US would like to establish an
analogous scheme in Azerbaijan. The negotiations about it are being
carried out.

The strengthening of US military presence in the region is being
accompanied with cutting down of presence of Russia there. In
accordance with Istanbul agreements, Moscow has already removed its
two military bases in Georgia. As for other two bases in Akhalkali
and Batumi, Russia’s Western partners and Georgian authorities remind
Russian President Vladimir Putin of the necessity of their removal.
If this process is carried to its conclusion, Armenia, the key (to be
more precise, the last) ally of Russia in Transcaucasia, will blocked
and cut off from Russia. Moreover, Russian bases in Armenia will lose
their military significance and sense.

In this situation, Moscow should have started a search for any
counter-game. It seems that it found this variant.

When Yuri Luzhkov came to Batumi at the very height of the
opposition, his circle explained the sense of his unexpected visit by
the following fact: Yuri Mikhailovich decided to check how the
agreements about construction of several objects in Adzharia by
Moscow builders were being realized. A lot of people doubted those
explanations than.

Highway Batumi-Akhalkali (Georgia) – Gyumri (Armenia) is among other
objects, which Moscow builders intend to construct in the region. To
all appearances, it should become a shank of the construction, which
Moscow wanted to create as a counterbalance to US one. The highway
would allow Russia to avoid the cutting off of Armenia, provide an
entry to sea for Russia’s ally, cut oil pipe-line Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
and give the opportunity for the control of the latter.

There are Russian military bases in all three key-points of the
highway – in Batumi, Akhalkali and Gyumri. At that, the authorities
in Batumi are Gyumri are absolutely loyal to Moscow and Javakhetia,
an ethnically Armenian region in Georgia with administrative center
Akhalkali, is under the control of Armenia. In case of Tbilisi’s
total control of Adzharia, the strategic significance of highway
Batumi-Akhalkali-Gyumri would lose its sense.

That’s why the result of the struggle for Batumi is very important
for Moscow (however, for the US too). Of course, it isn’t so
important that it could plunge Russia and the US into a new
confrontation. The control of Adzharia will allow the US to construct
its system in the region for a long time. However, it will allow
Russia, at least, to participate in this construction.

Translated by Gregory Malyutin