Georgia unleashed an express war

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
July 16, 2004, Friday

SOURCE: Kommersant, July 16, 2004, p. 10

Vladimir Novikov, Alexander Gabuyev

The latest round of talks within the framework of the Joint Control
Commission in Moscow yesterday ended with nothing to show for it.
Georgia has finally released the Russian relief aid it sezied. CIS
Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo and Stephen Mann, the US
president’s travelling trouble-shooter, have visited Tbilisi.

The envoys of Moscow and Washington envoy never expected to meet each
other in Tbilisi. Both tried hard to make out that their visits were
planned diplomatic events. Rushailo pointed out repeatedly that he
regularly tours CIS capitals and “has just visited some Central Asian
countries.” Mann repeated over and over that he is not visiting
Georgia alone, but “also Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss
Nagorno-Karabakh settlement there.” Needless to say, the
representatives of Moscow and Washington claimed in practically
identical terms that their visits to Tbilisi had nothing to do with
the situation in South Ossetia. Mann only said on the subject of
South Ossetia that he had exhaustive information on the state of
affairs and reiterated that “the United States supports a peaceful
solution to the problem.”

Rushailo was more communicative. After meetings with President
Mikhail Saakashvili and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania he said that he
had come to meet new leaders of Georgia and specify the date of the
next CIS summit in Kazakhstan. Rushailo left the positive news for
the end of the news conference. Rushailo said, “Emphasis in the talks
with the president of Georgia was made on facilitation of integration
with neighbors, first and foremost with Russia.”

A day before Rushailo’s visit, however, Saakashvili was in London and
made quite different statements there. “The West should continue
putting pressure on Russia,” he said. “We have to show Russia that
Georgia will not be pushed around.” Should the West follow the
advice, according to Saakashvili, “several thousand people in South
Ossetia will join Georgia within six months.” Saakashvili even
boasted that “the Georgian special forces trained by NATO instructors
are better than any Russian unit.”

Georgia Express 2004 exercise, an element of the British program of
military assistance to the Tbilisi regime and of the NATO’s
Partnership for Peace Program, began on July 3 as though to confirm
Saakashvili’s words. The exercise is taking place at the Vaziani base
near Tbilisi, where almost 170 British and 230 Georgian servicemen,
supported by two helicopters, have until July 18 to capture a village
overrun by hypothetical guerrillas and protect journalists from
terrorist attacks. Iraqi Shiites were chosen for the hypothetical
enemy. This demonstration of strength must have had its effect. The
South Ossetian government Tskhinvali is seriously afraid of an

Meanwhile, the confrontation in Ergneti between Russian troops
escorting relief aid to Ossetian villages and the Georgian financial
police continued. Tbilisi went on claiming that the shipment must
clear customs. Saakashvili eventually said that by way of exception
he himself would pay the Finance Ministry. The convoy was about to
continue on its way when the Ossetian side kicked up a scandal. The
Ossetians demanded peacekeeping contingent commander Svyatoslav
Nabzdorov to prevent the Georgian police from escorting the convoy.
Leaving Ergneti, the trucks were supposed to cross the territory of
Georgia before making a turn into South Ossetia, and Nabzdorov could
not very well forbid the Georgian police from escorting the shipment
on the territory of Georgia. It was a dead-end, and the sides got
down to thoroughly unproductive negotiations again.

Translated by A. Ignatkin