Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
April 7 2004
Georgia: Officials Blame Nation’s ‘Enemies’ For Tbilisi Bomb Blast
By Jean-Christophe Peuch
Prague, 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) — Georgian law-enforcement agencies
have launched an investigation into yesterday’s bomb attack that
purportedly targeted the commander of the Russian armed forces in the
General Aleksandr Studenikin was slightly injured last night as he
was walking from the Russian forces’ headquarters in Tbilisi to his
home near the base.
Studenikin’s deputy, General Andrei Popov, said Studenikin sustained
only minor injuries to his arm, leg, and face. “The life of the
Russian forces’ commander is not under threat. He successfully
underwent surgery, and he is currently recovering at [the Russian]
military hospital,” Popov said.
Studenikin was reportedly hit by pieces of concrete as a
remote-controlled bomb tore off the wall of a building he was walking
by. The 49-year-old Studenikin has been in charge of Russian forces
in the Transcaucasus since September 2003. Prior to that date, he
fought in Chechnya.
This is the first time since Georgia regained its independence in
1991 that Russian troops stationed in the country have been the
target of an apparent politically motivated attack. The kidnapping
and murder of Russian Colonel Igor Zaitsev in 2002 has been generally
linked to shady business dealings.
Russia’s Georgian-based forces are garrisoned in the autonomous
republic of Adjaria and in the predominantly ethnic Armenian region
of Samtskhe-Djavakheti. Tbilisi has been demanding that Moscow comply
with a 1999 international agreement and vacates the Batumi and
Akhalkalaki bases as soon as possible.
The election of Mikheil Saakashvili as Georgia’s new leader in
January gave new impetus to negotiations on a possible time frame for
the Russian withdrawal. Georgian officials say they are optimistic an
agreement can be reached soon.
The Russian Defense Ministry on 29 March said it has halved its
presence in Georgia to 2,000 troops over the past few months. These
figures, however, are impossible to verify.
Georgian and Russian media today are speculating on the possible
motives for the purported attack against Studenikin. The most widely
cited possible reasons include the tense situation in Adjaria, the
ongoing Russian-Georgian cooperation against transnational crime, and
the war in neighboring Chechnya.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. However,
Georgian Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili yesterday
pointed to alleged “enemies of Georgia” opposed to a rapprochement
with Russia. “This act is a provocation organized by forces who do
not want the [political] situation in the country to remain stable
and Russia and Georgian to normalize their relations,” Merabishvili
Merabishvili described the blast as an “act of terrorism,” although
he said the perpetrators probably did not intend to kill Studenikin.
“Everyone believes the aim of this act was not to kill but rather to
sow fear,” he said. “But that doesn’t change anything. We’re happy
nobody was killed. But this incident in itself is very serious, and
we take it very seriously.”
Merabishvili said Saakashvili, who is currently on a visit to
Brussels, ordered him to personally supervise the investigation.
Echoing Merabishvili’s comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Aleksandr Yakovenko today said the attack was aimed at disrupting the
ongoing rapprochement between Tbilisi and Moscow. “This criminal act,
perpetrated in the center of [Tbilisi], fills us with deep
indignation,” he said. “There is no doubt its aim is to undermine the
development of Russian-Georgian relations. We demand that an
exhaustive investigation be conducted so that the culprits are
searched for and sentenced.”
Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze, who is currently on a
working visit to Moscow, today said the investigation has already
brought “concrete results.” Pointing at the situation in Adjaria,
Baramidze blamed the attacks on “forces eager to destabilize the
political situation in Georgia.” He gave no evidence to back up his