The Washington Times
May 10, 2004
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili leveraged his widespread support
to rid his country of a long-standing problem. Aslan Abashidze held
undemocratic sway over the region of Adzharia for more than a decade
and appeared to be fossilized into the political scene. Mr. Abashidze
fled Adzharia on Thursday – without a shot being fired by Georgian
The United States welcomes this development. It is backing a pipeline
that will transport oil from the Caspian Basin to the Georgian capital,
Tbilisi, and off to international markets. This project is central to
President Bush’s efforts to diversify global sources of energy. The
departure of Mr. Abashidze, who had resisted central authority from
Tbilisi, helps to secure Georgia and therefore the project. It could
also help prevent unrest from spreading to Georgia’s potentially
volatile neighbors, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The other prominent protagonist in the Abashidze drama has been
Russia. Russia has two military bases in Adzharia, which the Georgian
government wants removed faster than the Kremlin would prefer. The
Georgian government claims a retired Russian general was running
Mr. Abashidze’s renegade militia. That man, Lt. Gen. Yury Netkachyov,
appears to have been acting as an independent mercenary, but the
association surely was embarrassing to the Kremlin. In the end,
Russia played an important role in helping the Georgian government
overcome its Abashidze problem.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Saakashvili spoke over
the telephone about two to three times in the days preceding
Mr. Abashidze’s flight, said Georgia’s ambassador in Washington,
Levan Mikeladze. The day of his departure, Russian security chief Igor
Ivanov dropped in on Mr. Abashidze, and the pair left for Russia. By
playing this constructive role, Moscow surely bolstered the good will
and trust of its neighbors, a move that could pay dividends.
“The clear message from Washington was not to use force,” said Mr.
Mikeladze, adding that the dialogue with Mr. Putin “helped to avoid
a [military] confrontation.” Had the Georgian government brought in
firepower, Mr. Abashidze probably would have appealed to Moscow to
move its troops in Adzharia against Georgian forces.
Mr. Saakashvili will help set up a temporary council in Adzharia
until legislative elections are held next month. He has significantly
bolstered Georgia’s cohesiveness through diplomatic dexterity and
firm leadership. Moscow should also be commended for gracefully
ushering out Mr. Abashidze.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress