Imperial servant at the head of the state: Eduard Shevardnadze’s uneasy relations with Russia
in Cornell Svante and Starr Fredrick (eds.), “Guns of August, Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008”, New-York, ME Sharpe, 2009
French Institute of Anatolian Studies (IFEA), Caucasus observatory head.
Associated researcher at the CERI
“Four centuries of resistance!” – so proclaimed thousands of leaflets distributed in Tbilisi by young Georgian activists during the August 2008 war with Russia. Analyzing Georgian-Russian relations solely in terms of resistance is understandable when Russian tanks were 40 km away from the country’s capital, but a more balanced assessment requires a more nuanced understanding of the question. The relationship between a local polity and an external center of power attempting to establish its domination is by necessity more complex, definitely equivocal, and essentially unstable.
Throughout history, local rulers have made deals with empires, and their dependence has never been total. Phases of military conquest and crude repression have tended to be followed by a “hegemonic stage,” in which the dominant power seeks to co-opt local elites. This has even been known to end in a growing dependence of the imperial power on the local ruler. An eagerness to control the Caucasus and its central country, Georgia, has been a leitmotiv of all Russian empires. It was in the Caucasus that imperial pride and dreams of greatness were nurtured, and where Russia took refuge in order to deflect frustration away from its continuous resentment vis-à-vis the West.
Today’s Russia again considers itself something akin to an empire. After a short period of hesitation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, having failed to invent a new identity for itself, reverted to the old ideal of empire. But the modern Russian empire is strikingly more fragile than its predecessors, because it tries to carry out a rather difficult, if not impossible, task, namely, to make a long abandoned political model viable in a totally new environment. As long as Russia sticks to this line, it will be condemned to great fragility. And as long as Russia is fragile, its relationship with the surrounding world – and especially with its immediate neighbors – will tend to be uneasy and troubled.
Being a hegemonic and nationality-based empire, the Soviet Union rehabilitated and in certain respects reinforced the role of local actors. The Soviet experience was formative for those who took on the ambivalent and dual role of acting simultaneously as community leaders and imperial servants. In the 1990s, during the era of Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, Georgia was led by Eduard Shevardnadze, a former high-level Soviet official, who had presided over Communist Georgia in the 1970s before being brought to Moscow by Mikhail Gorbachev, who made him Soviet Foreign Minister. Shevardnadze was a perfect example of a man who sought to reconcile in one life many different roles. Georgian-Russian relations under his presidency and that of Yeltsin in Russia vividly illustrate all the ambiguities and difficulties of a post-imperial conflict.
A tumultuous start: Georgian Independence without state and Russian Empire without policy
The roughly two years spanning the fall of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the end of the Abkhaz war, from January 1992 to September 1993, illustrate several core aspects of Russian-Georgian relations after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, indeed setting the stage for the coming decade. The West dismissed with total indifference the radically anti-hegemonic regime of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The main Western priority at the time was to guarantee stability on the territory of the dissolving nuclear empire. But once the shock of disintegration was over, both Russia and Georgia came back to their classical national projects: for Russia, the restoration of an Empire or at the very least a zone of influence; for Georgia, the construction of a nation-state. Inevitably, their interests clashed again; the regime of Eduard Shevardnadze, presumed by many to be loyal to Moscow, turned out to be as attached to the idea of independence and sovereignty as its predecessor, the Gamsakhurdia regime, had been. Russia, in order to impose its hegemony, had somehow to punish this new regime. Yet during this period it became clear that no serious political force in Georgia would ever be so obedient to Moscow as to abandon its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In spite of the tense relations, it would be unfair to argue that Russia was unilaterally initiating all the processes that developed in Georgia and its breakaway territories. At least in the beginning of 1990s, Russia was subjected to internal turmoil, which left it reacting to events in Georgia rather than initiating them. Even then, Russia was never unresponsive, because it had never, even in the worst times, abandoned the idea of maintaining a special influence outside its borders. Georgian opposition to Gamsakhurdia would certainly have existed even without Russia, yet Russia’s role in his overthrow was by no means significant. Likewise, some sort of ethnic conflict in Abkhazia was in all probability unavoidable, but without Russian involvement the outcome of these events would in all likelihood have been very different.
There are now many indications that Russia backed the coup that ousted Zviad Gamsakhurdia from the presidency in December 1991-January 1992. Moscow viewed Gamsakhurdia as a Russophobe and as a danger to Russia’s dominance over the entire Caucasus. Gamsakhurdia, whose term in office was characterized by serious mismanagement of both domestic and foreign affairs, was strongly attached to the idea of a “Common Caucasian Home.” This was a rather utopian idea of a “United Caucasus” that would challenge Moscow’s domination of the region. The first fruits of this idea were already apparent with the sealing of an alliance between Gamsakhurdia and Jokhar Dudayev’s independent republic of Chechnya. Gamsakhurdia attended Dudayev's inauguration as President in 1991 and when Gamsakhurdia was overthrown, he chose Chechnya as his place of asylum. While he resided in Grozny, Gamsakhurdia also helped to organize the first “All-Caucasian Conference” which was attended by independent-minded groups from across the region.
The Georgian opposition to Gamsakhurdia was a strange alliance between defeated communist apparatchiks, anti-Gamsakhurdia nationalists, and organized crime chiefs known as the “criminal authorities.” Moscow supported this heterogeneous opposition both financially and technically, while the Russian military stationed in Georgia supplied it with weapons. Exiled former Georgian communist leaders, such as Akaki Mgeladze, had initiated the alliance between former communists, the outlawed Mkhedrioni militia, and some units of the National Guard under the command of Tengiz Kitovani. In his memoirs, published in 1999, Mkhedrioni chief Jaba Ioseliani described Kitovani’s close relations with Russian generals.1
Once Gamsakhurdia was overthrown, power was vested in the Military Council made up of former Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua, Kitovani, and Ioseliani. The putschists used the anti-Gamsakhurdia nationalists such as the National Democratic Party, the Party of National Independence, and the Popular Front to provide some moral legitimacy for their coup but never offered them a share of power. They established a bizarre political assembly called the State Council, Sakhelmtzipo Sabcho, with representation of all existing political parties except Gamsakhurdia’s followers. No elections were held until October 1992, and the Assembly, which was a simple agglomeration of existing parties, had neither a structure nor real power. Actual power rested in the hands of armed groups and militias under Ioseliani and Kitovani’s authority. Even though the international community recognized Georgia’s independence, Russia’s military continued to back the new government.
All rulers seek a minimum of legitimacy. It is for this reason that the Military Council, which had become extremely unpopular for its brutal repression of the Zviadists, invited Eduard Shevardnadze to return to Georgia in March 1992.2 Shortly thereafter, Shevardnadze joined Ioseliani, Sigua, and Kitovani to form the Presidium of the State Council. All four were given the power to veto decisions of the State Council. Parliamentary elections were held in October 1992, and Shevardnadze was elected Chairman of Parliament, which remained the highest position in the state until the adoption of a presidential constitution in 1995.
From the very beginning, a large portion of Georgian society was critical of Shevardnadze. Zviad Gamsakhurdia continued to enjoy substantial support, especially in the western part of the country, and Shevardnadze’s past led to the firm belief that he was closely tied to Russia, some seeing him as nothing more than a Russian figurehead. This opinion was reinforced in June 1992, when Shevardnadze signed a cease-fire agreement on the South Ossetian conflict with Boris Yeltsin in the resort of Dagomys, close to Sochi in the Russian North Caucasus. Following the agreement, Georgian Forces that were in a dominant position in the Tskhinvali region and were blockading the secessionist stronghold there retreated, and joint Russian–Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping battalions were set up to patrol the conflict zone. The agreement was clearly advantageous for Russia, given that Ossetian and Russian battalions were acting in concert, and it turned out to be very negative for Georgia. The document, officially called the “Agreement on Principles for the Settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict between Georgia and Russia,” produced a quadrilateral Joint Control Commission (JCC), consisting of Russian, North Ossetian, South Ossetian, and Georgian sides tasked to supervise the implementation of the agreement. This four-sided body was by no means acceptable to Georgia. Besides the presence of Russia as a biased broker, it included two Ossetian delegations, while Georgia was represented only by its central government. Hence both the political representation and the peacekeeping structure ruled out any possibility of parity from the very beginning. Not surprisingly, Shevardnadze’s critics considered this move as a betrayal of the national interests of Georgia in favor of Russia.
In fact, reality was much more complex. No doubt, Eduard Shevardnadze’s entire political career had been connected with the Soviet Union. He was a classically ambivalent figure, who knew how to take advantage of his local resources to gain a privileged place in an imperial system, but who also could use his imperial credentials to assert his power at the local level. As in many post-colonial transitions, be became the imperial servant who transformed himself into a post-imperial national leader. But in the beginning of the 1990s, Shevardnadze’s Russian credentials were ambiguous. Earlier, he had been closely associated with Gorbachev’s political team, but by 1992 this grouping had already been marginalized. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and Russia was ruled by factions, symbolized by Boris Yeltsin, that in the past had opposed Gorbachev. Moreover, Russia’s orthodox communists and the military and security communities hated Gorbachev and his circle even more than Yeltsin and his allies did, holding them responsible for “the loss of half of Europe,” the “surrender of Afghanistan,” and, finally, the destruction of the Empire. Shevardnadze himself had a small circle of allies in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, chiefly persons he had promoted when he was minister, men like Andrei Kozyrev and Igor Ivanov, who both ended up as ministers themselves. Yet most members of the new Russian political elite were hostile to Shevardnadze. Indeed, whatever political capital he may have accumulated as Minister of Foreign Affairs during Perestroika was more exploitable in the West, where he had enjoyed the image of a liberal minister who was among those chiefly responsible for ending the Cold War. To encourage Georgia’s fresh start, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and German Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher visited the country just as clashes between pro- and anti-Gamsakhurdia forces were breaking out.
Georgia was breaking the wall of international isolation that had surrounded the country under the successive rule of Gamsakhurdia and the Military Council.3 Yet Western interests in the region were still very limited compared to those of a weakened but still very visible Russia. Later claims by Russian officials and some Russian and Western analysts that Russia suffered a “severe humiliation” at the hands of the West in the beginning of the 1990s does not hold up to serious analysis. Indeed, events demonstrate that the West accepted almost everything Russia undertook in the Caucasus in the name of stability. The West strikingly lacked any willingness to get involved in the region. America’s presence was very limited, and the administration of George H.W. Bush validated and even welcomed the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which from the very beginning Russia defined as a zone of its own particular interest. It is revealing that the term “near abroad” emerged during the presidency of Yeltsin, not Putin’s.
Moscow had total freedom of maneuver during the wars in Abkhazia (August 1992-September 1993) and Mountainous Karabakh (from 1991 to May 1994).4 Russia’s conduct in these wars received no serious criticism or condemnation from Western countries. The West was happy that Russia was unable to intervene in the Balkans, one of the West’s top priorities at that time, and was therefore disinclined to criticize Russia for its role in the ethnic cleansing and mass killings that occurred in Abkhazia in 1992-1993, and which were committed either by Russian citizens involved as “volunteers” or by Abkhaz secessionists whom the Russian military had armed and trained.5
In April 1993, speaking to the Georgian parliament, Shevardnadze had to recognize that in Abkhazia Georgia was in fact facing Russia.6 In fact, the conflict in Abkhazia and Russia’s growing involvement on the side of the Abkhaz had already nullified any hopes that may have existed of a partnership between the two countries. Georgians’ distrust of Russia was even greater now than it had been during the Gamsakhurdia period.
Russia more and more actively involved itself in the war. The first official reactions from the Kremlin and President Yeltsin’s office were not anti-Georgian and emanated benevolent neutrality. At the start of the Abkhaz war there was no consensus in Russia as to how it should be treated. Nor, for that matter, was there any consensus on the identity and orientation of the new Russian state. Those most opposed to Georgia were the military, conservative communists, and nationalists, whose influence was steadily expanding.7 In a manner that would recur during the war in Chechnya, Yeltsin decided to leave the issue of Abkhazia to those who with a “special interest” in it. Neither willing to confront the military nor an assortment of North Caucasian nationalists, pro-Soviet restorationists, and “red and brown” patriots, the Kremlin allowed itself to be dragged into a policy of active support for the Abkhaz secessionists. Abkhazia was Yeltsin’s first significant concession to the conservatives; many similar steps were to follow, including the war in Chechnya and the rampant evolution towards authoritarianism. The Abkhazia war also signaled a return to imperial notions of regional politics.
Under the ideological and moral influence of its nationalists, Georgia decided not to join the CIS, even after the removal of Gamsakhurdia. But the significance of this move was more symbolic than real, since Russia’s influence in Georgia was no less powerful than in any other CIS member state. Despite its financial and moral decay, the Russian army was still the most powerful military force in Georgia. It was the main supplier, both by smuggling and by legal transfers, of weapons to all belligerents and militias, including both Abkhaz and Ossetian separatists, as well as to the Georgian regular army. The headquarters of the Russian Transcaucasian Military District (ZAKVO) were still in Tbilisi, and Georgia’s border with NATO member Turkey was controlled by Russian border guards. In addition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Aslan Abashidze, the leader of the autonomous Black Sea province of Adjara, closed the administrative border with the rest of the country and with the help of Russian troops prevented the central government’s forces from entering Adjaran territory. This established Abashidze’s authoritarian, semi-separatist regime within the region, and created long-term problems between the regional government and the central authorities of Georgia. Near Batumi Russia stationed a military contingent which for several years became a kind of private army for Abashidze. Many Adjaran youths served in the Russian army’s border forces as a way of avoiding conscription into the new national army.
1993-1995 : Russian Hegemony and Pax Russica
By the end of the war in Abkhazia, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev declared at the UN General Assembly that “Russia realizes that no international organization or group of states can replace our peacekeeping efforts in this specific post-Soviet space.”8 This was a clear announcement, paradoxically expressed by the minister considered the most Western-oriented in Russia’s recent history, that Russia’s main priority was to restore its hegemony over the post-Soviet space. Lacking resources and facing internal chaos, Russia could fulfill its new doctrine only by sustaining its military bases and by supporting various separatist movements, especially in less loyal neighboring countries like Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and to some extent also, Ukraine. The objective of this support was not the independence of the rebellious provinces. Instead, by making itself the sole “peacekeeper” in the conflicts which Moscow has itself fuelled, Russia could dominate the newly independent states and prevent their rapprochement with the West. Thus, the strategy of “peacekeeping” in the post-Soviet space became “a neo-Byzantine version of piece keeping,” in Paul Goble’s words. Unfortunately for the independence of post-Soviet states, no international actor has tried to impede this process. On the contrary, international organizations like the UN (in the case of Abkhazia) and the OSCE (in the case of South Ossetia and Karabakh) de facto endorsed the role Russia had arrogated to itself. Yet a relatively minor effort by the international community could have deterred Russia, which at this time depended on foreign funds for its survival.9
Georgia became the most striking manifestation of Russia’s new interventionist policy in the post-Soviet space. In effect, Russia showcased its regional ambitions in Georgia, which in the 1990s was easier to do because of the Georgians’ radical and often unrealistic approach to regional issues. Georgia’s military defeat in Abkhazia resulted in the near total collapse of Georgian statehood. Civil war erupted in Western Georgia, where a returning Gamsakhurdia and his followers achieved several victories in the fall of 1993, after which they started their advance towards the capital. Humiliated and defeated, or “on his knees” as Russian analysts and politicians liked to say, Shevardnadze was forced to accept the “aid” of Russian troops and of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Only thanks to this was Georgia able to stop the Zviadists’ progression and thereby retake control of the major communication arteries of their country.10
At the end of 1993, thus, Georgia had to swallow the bitter pill of Russia’s peace terms. Despite fierce debates in the Georgian parliament, Georgia entered the CIS on October 21, 1993, and in February 1994, even joined the Collective Security Treaty, the security organization that Moscow was building as a kind of post-Soviet version of the Warsaw Pact. Shevardnadze had also to sign a military agreement on “the status of the Russian troops in Georgia,” according to which Russia was to maintain four military bases in the country. These were in Vaziani, just outside Tbilisi; in Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia; in Batumi; and in Gudauta, Abkhazia – in addition to the headquarters of the ZAKVO in Tbilisi and the Border Guards along the Turkish frontier. Boris Yeltsin visited Georgia in the beginning of February 1994, to this day the only visit of a Russian president to the sovereign Republic of Georgia. The visit resembled a review by a Roman Emperor of one of his newly subjected limes. Russia obtained not only the right to maintain its military bases in Georgia, but also acquired unprecedented influence over the appointment of the three “power ministers” in the Georgian government, that of Defense, Interior, and Security (the former KGB). On February 4, Yeltsin and Shevardnadze solemnized a treaty on Friendship and Cooperation which sealed Russia’s de facto protectorate over Georgia. Regarding Abkhazia, Georgia had to endorse a humiliating “joint appeal” with Russia to the Council of the Heads of States of the CIS to send a peacekeeping force to Abkhazia.11 Two months later, in April 1994, the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships signed the Moscow Peace Agreement, entrusting to the Russian Federation the mandate for Peacekeeping. The agreement also implied the return of more than 250,000 Georgian Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their homes, but this point of the document was never implemented.
Georgia’s subjection to Russia had a very negative impact on Georgia’s already timid cooperation with the West. The only form of cooperation with the West that Russia initially permitted Georgia to pursue was humanitarian and financial aid.12 Russia jealously supervised every move of the Georgian law enforcement and security forces and was careful to prevent links between them and their Western counterparts. Indeed, when an American Embassy employee, CIA officer Fred Woodruff, managed to establish close links with the Georgian president’s security service in 1993, he was killed under circumstances that have yet to be clarified. Vardiko Nadibaidze, a Russian army general of Georgian origin and deputy commander of ZAKVO, was appointed Minister of Defense in February 1994.13 Meanwhile, Igor Giorgadze, an experienced KGB officer and veteran of the Afghan war, became Minister of State Security and grew in influence thereafter. The third Russian protégé whose career leaped forward was Shota Kviraia, who was named Minister of Interior. Although a Russian nominee, he was a rival of Giorgadze’s, thus extending into post-Soviet Georgia the traditional Soviet/Russian rivalry between the Ministry of Interior and the KGB.
With both its security and defense in the hands of Russian appointees, the Georgian government took no steps to move closer to NATO for several years. But despite this “good conduct,” Georgia failed to receive any benefits from Russia in terms of steps toward the restoration of its territorial integrity. There were two direct meetings under Moscow’s aegis between Shevardnadze and the leader of the Abkhaz secessionists, Vladislav Ardzinba: one meeting in Tbilisi mediated by Russian Minister of Defense Pavel Grachev, and one in Abkhazia arranged by Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs following Kozyrev’s demise. Yet both ended in failure, officially because of Abkhaz intransigence.
As far as the rebuilding of Georgia’s military was concerned, Russia offered some time-worn military equipment and promised to train Georgian officers in Russian military academies, but actually admitted only a small number. Russia even failed to deliver the twenty million rubles in aid (approximately $3 million at that time) promised in the 1994 treaty. In spite of all this, Georgia tried even harder to gain Russia’s benevolence as a necessary step towards resolving its most significant problem, to reestablish its territorial integrity. But for various reasons having mainly to do with its domestic politics, Russia had no intention of abandoning Abkhazia. A bluntly anti-Western nationalism was gaining momentum in Moscow, and political leaders were disinclined to defy the military, who were emotionally and economically committed to keeping Abkhazia under their firm control.
Hoping that Russia, confronted with ethnic separatism on its own territory, would became more understanding of Georgia’s separatist problems, Shevardnadze publicly endorsed Russia’s invasion of Chechnya in December 1994 and authorized Russian military jets to use Georgian airspace. The Georgian leadership naively believed that the active involvement of the Chechens in favor of the Abkhaz secession from Georgia would influence Russia’s position on Abkhazia now that the Chechens had become Russia’s bitter enemies.
Georgia’s deferential behavior towards Moscow in these years sometimes verged on the absurd. One incident that comes to mind was the improvised baptism in Tbilisi of Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, conducted in person by the Catholicos (Patriarch) of the Georgian Orthodox Church, with Vardiko Nadibaidze taking the role of a happy godfather.14 Yet Grachev was the person most frequently accused of being the main culprit behind Georgia’s defeat in Abkhazia. Indeed, Shevardnadze himself had stated on Georgian TV shortly after the defeat that “we lost the war to a Russian general, we lost the war to Pavel Grachev.” Years later after losing power, Shevardnadze declared the following to the Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty: “Do you remember General Grachev? He called me and said, ‘I’ll help you. But I have to bring two more divisions into Abkhazia.’ I believed him and agreed. My defense minister and security minister were right next to me. They resigned to protest my decision. And Grachev changed his mind later on: ‘We can’t leave Abkhazia, because then we’d lose the Black Sea.’”15 Grachev also distinguished himself during the war in Abkhazia by accusing Georgians of painting their aircraft with Russian insignia and bombing their own cities.
This period of indenture to Russia was also marked by the absence of real stabilization, in spite of the often-heard claim that, thanks to the Russian protectorate, Georgia had at least gained peace and stability. If the main Zviadist armed groups were eliminated shortly after Gamsakhurdia’s death, many smaller groups continued to threaten security in Mingrelia, which until 1995 was far from pacified. Only after Shevardnadze launched a campaign of national reconciliation did the situation improve in Western Georgia, but the process of reconciliation was not completed until after Saakashvili came to power. In the rest of Georgia, political assassinations were frequent and many prominent politicians became victims of violent crime.16 The newly reinforced ministries of State Security and Interior had marginalized the various militias, especially the Mkhedrioni, who lost ground in 1994-1995. But these two ministries now became the major threat to the rule of law and respect for human rights. Police and KGB officials, working in close partnership with criminal groups, became deeply involved in international drug trafficking, racketeering, embezzlement, and other destabilizing forms of corruption..
1995-1999 :Drifting Apart
As early as 1995, Shevardnadze had realized that the evolution of Russian internal and external policies would exclude the possibility of a profitable partnership between Moscow and Georgia. Shevardnadze himself was increasingly under attack in Russia perceived as one of the main gravediggers of the Soviet Union, an unpardonable sin for a Russian political elite increasingly dominated by revanchism. Hence the quasi-vassal relationship failed to bring any real benefit to Georgia. On the contrary, Russia kept trying to weaken Tbilisi through its continuous support for the secessionists and its numerous attempts to undermine Georgian sovereignty. Underscoring the fragility of the Georgian state, new centrifugal tendencies fuelled by Russia appeared in Adjara and Javakheti, with its large population of Armenians.
In this context, Georgia could only welcome the slow awakening of the West, chiefly of the United States, to their country and region. The Pax Russica of 1993-1994 in the Caucasus had been a cold shower for decision-makers in Washington. The latter were becoming increasingly aware of the strategic importance of the Caucasus, as well as the importance of the energy resources of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Even if these resources were underexploited at the end of the Soviet era, or had fallen into disuse, the idea of a new east-west energy corridor that did not cross Russian territory was being formed. Moreover, such a corridor could itself provide timely support for the new sovereignties in the region.
Thus, the independence and stability of the countries situated between Turkey and China’s western frontier was in the interest of the United States. But before 1995, American involvement in the region remained weak, as were forces in America advocating a more active U.S. engagement there. It will be recalled that President Clinton’s first term was marked by a “Russia-first” strategy, while the peripheral countries of the post-Soviet area received much less attention.
Shevardnadze clearly understood this emerging opportunity. Although he had his hands tied by militias and Russian-controlled security services, he prudently started moving towards emancipating himself from Russian tutorship. Thus, he began promoting a group of young and promising Western-educated politicians inside the ruling Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG). Within a few years, these became the most active and visible faction of the party. He also surrounded himself with overtly pro-Western advisors, and initiated the formation of parallel, and thereby competing, security services. A key example was his Presidential Guard, trained by American specialists.17
The failed assassination attempt against Shevardnadze on August 29, 1995 marked a turning point. Shevardnadze had already adopted a new constitution, which provided more substantial powers to the presidency as opposed to the nationalist-dominated parliament. The parliament, even though it symbolized Georgian democracy, nevertheless blocked the passage of many crucial laws and was constantly embroiled in making what amounted to rather childish accusations against the president. Shevardnadze gained considerable moral authority from having survived an attack on his life, which all agreed had been initiated from Moscow. For the first time he alluded in an interview directly to “some obscure forces in Russia”18 that were trying to destabilize Georgia and derail the great energy project, that is, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline (BTC) – in which Georgia was so actively participating. In a subsequent interview, Shevardnadze claimed that President Yeltsin himself had warned him of the “serious trouble” that could arise if he continued to support alternative ways of bringing Caspian oil to European markets.
The prime suspect in the attempt on Shevardnadze’s life, Igor Giorgadze, precipitously left the country on a Russian jet chartered for the purpose, whereas Ioseliani was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. Only a few months earlier, Kitovani had been arrested on his way to Abkhazia, accompanied by a few hundred armed followers and a Russian colonel. The objectives of Kitovani’s march remain unclear, but the maneuver was probably intended to use the hope of recovering Georgian control over Abkhazia as a means of plunging the country into a new round of instability.
American involvement became more active with the realization of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. Russia vehemently criticized BTC, but so did certain Western experts, who denounced it as being a solely political project designed to damage Russia and, at the same time, reinforce America’s position in the region. As late as the late 1990s, many of these experts continued to write about the “absurdity” of the BTC project, referring to its purported lack of economic feasibility and the alleged absence of sufficient quantities of oil in the Caspian. Subsequent events have made it clear that this criticism was itself politically motivated, and far from disinterested. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the idea of a pipeline stretching from the Caspian via Turkey to Western markets was very much supported by Ankara as well. Indeed, Süleyman Demirel brought up the idea as early as in spring 1992, and the first memorandum on what became the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was signed in Ankara on March 9, 1993, in the midst of the fighting in Abkhazia and Karabakh. The final agreements were also signed in Turkey in October (Ankara) and November (Istanbul) of 1998. Thus, the independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan vis-à-vis Russia had become as crucial for Turkey as for the U.S. and the other BTC partners, including Azerbaijan, Norway, and Great Britain.
Another factor that fostered Shevardnadze’s drift to the West was the weakening of Russia caused by the Chechen conflict. Despite the terrible cost in lives it inflicted and also paid itself to keep Chechnya under its control, Russia practically lost the first Chechen war of 1994-1996. The disastrous war in Chechnya resulted in de facto Chechen independence, creating a quasi-state in Chechnya that was interested in a neighborly relationship with Georgia, its only link to the outside world. The pragmatic and moderate Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov took steps to improve Georgian-Chechen relations, which had been significantly strained when Chechens had fought for the Abkhaz during the war in Abkhazia. The Chechen vice-president Vakha Arsanov, then Maskhadov himself, paid visits to Georgia. The latter publicly presented Chechen apologies for the events in Abkhazia, and made a commitment to severely punish any Chechen who would henceforth participate in any action against Georgia; the Chechen leadership was particularly deeply interested in building a road from Chechnya to Georgia in order to end its isolation from the outside world. Georgians welcomed the initiative publicly, but did little, being worried that Chechen instability would spread south across the border.
Shevardnadze’s pro-Western shift was far from a linear process. When Shevardnadze again narrowly survived an assassination attempt in February 1998, the process appeared threatened.19 Then in October 1998 a military mutiny sprang up, during which rioters from the National Guard were clearly awaiting instructions from Moscow. Constant provocations were also taking place in Javakheti and Adjara. For example, in August 1998, several dozen armed local Armenians in Javakheti forced Georgian armed units to turn back from scheduled joint military drills with the Russian base at Akhalkalaki.
With the appointment of Boris Berezovsky as Executive Secretary of the CIS, Russia became more proactive in the region. Berezovsky promoted the idea of an alternative pipeline from the Caspian shores to Russia via Georgia and breakaway Abkhazia. To go forward this would require a resolution of the Abkhaz problem between Russia and Georgia. He also introduced some Russian companies into Georgia, in order to extend Russian influence there by means other than the military.20 At the same time, there were further attempts to pull Georgia into a fresh Abkhaz trap. For example, during the May 1998 conflict in Gali, the southernmost part of Abkhazia, Georgian authorities were given guarantees concerning their probable recovery of the Gali region, but were again misled.21
1999-2003 : A new vicious circle in the Georgia-Russia relationship
At the end of 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, Georgia’s foreign relations presented a picture of extreme contrasts. On the one hand, the country had become among the leading beneficiaries of U.S. foreign aid per capita globally. On the other, its biggest neighbor and former overlord was vigorously trying to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty through acts of destabilization and to extend its own influence there. One side was financing the formation of the country’s military forces by an impressive influx of money and specialists – in 2001-2002, American aid to the Georgian army represented two-thirds of the country’s military budget. Meanwhile, the other side sought to prevent Georgian nationals and citizens living in Russia from sending their savings home to their families. In fact, there is a certain irony to this picture in that the former is a culturally and historically alien “Anglo-Saxon” superpower, while the latter supposedly a “spiritually and sentimentally” close Orthodox brother.
The second Chechen war began short after Yeltsin and his informal circle, known as “the Family,” appointed a new prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Russia fought this war with no less cruelty than the first, but it presented a noticeable contrast to the first war in terms of the Russian government’s motivation and determination. This time Moscow demanded that Georgia offer its airspace to the Russian air force and that it allow Russian border guards to control the Georgians’ side of the Chechen-Georgian border. After asking for a day’s delay for reflection, Shevardnadze refused Russia’s request. He saw a serious risk that the Chechen conflict might be expanded onto Georgian territory. Besides, bitter experience had taught the Georgian leadership that additional Russian troops on Georgian territory could be used as a Trojan Horse. Georgia’s refusal infuriated the Russian leadership, and Georgia became the target of Russian verbal and, later, physical attacks as Russian jets bombed the Georgian side of the border. Moscow accused Georgia, moreover, of serving as a transit country for global Islamist networks that were sending forces into Chechnya, and also of supplying weapons to the Chechen rebels.
Russia never presented any credible evidence on Georgia’s alleged involvement on the side of the Chechens. But the accusations served to exonerate the Russian army for its failures during the first year-and-a-half of the operation. It was also useful to Moscow to have tarnished Georgia’s international reputation by endlessly representing it as at best a failed state that could not secure its borders, and at worst as a rogue state in league with terrorists. Russian accusations sometimes went to ludicrous extremes, as, for example, when Moscow claimed that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in the Pankisi gorge.22 Russian military spokesmen regularly announced the presence in Pankisi gorge of hundreds, if not thousands, of jihadi fighters, especially Taliban. Russian aircraft bombed several Georgian mountain villages, on one occasion causing casualties, and Russian civil authorities unilaterally redrew the Chechen portion of the Russian-Georgian border, advancing the line deeper into Georgian territory.23
Russian comparisons between the situation in Pankisi and Peshawar in the 1980s or Qandahar in the 1990s were hyperbole, but the situation in Pankisi was far from ideal. Among the 12,000 Chechen refugees in the valley, there were several hundred fighters and even some foreign Islamist combatants. However, their attitude was rather low-key. Criminal groups, some of them with combat experience in Chechnya, were a bigger problem. They were responsible for most of the abductions and drug trafficking that flourished in the valley. These groups were involved in a sort of criminal joint venture with corrupt Georgian interior ministry officials, and served as “subcontractors” for drug deals and the extraction of ransom money. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and its police pretended not to control the valley, blaming the “Chechen fighters” for the lawlessness there. In reality, the police were themselves involved in kidnappings and drug trafficking, with local bands acting as implementers. The senior police official in charge of the Ministry’s anti-terrorist department was dismissed for such activities, revealing that complicity permeated to the very top levels of government.
September 11, 2001 changed the game, as it enabled Russia to redefine the war in Chechnya as a struggle against international terrorism, and to ape America’s military intervention in Afghanistan and then Iraq. In the process, Georgia became a vivid illustration of what Russia’s revived ambitions as a great power meant in practice.24 Not surprisingly, Moscow opposed Georgia’s request to the OSCE to create a border monitoring mission on the Chechen portion of its border with Russia. This would have not only put a stop to Russian allegations but might also have proven that the goal of all such accusations was to justify some future military intervention on Georgian territory.
In the end, Moscow’s exaggerated claims that the Pankisi valley had become one of the world’s most dangerous centers of terrorism led to disastrous consequences not for Georgia but for Russia itself. By constantly alluding to the presence of Al-Qaeda or Taliban elements in Pankisi, Russian leaders aroused America’s interest in this region. Foreseeing a Russian military intervention in Georgia “to bring order” and “fight terrorists,” the U.S. in April 2002 pre-empted Russia by announcing a significant bilateral military cooperation program with Georgia, called the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP). The State Department announced this $64 million project as a response “to the Government of Georgia’s request for assistance to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and address the situation in the Pankisi Gorge.” In the GTEP framework, between 150 and 200 American military trainers were supposed to arrive in Georgia. Russia could scarcely oppose a counter-terrorist operation directed against targets that were impeding its own war in Chechnya and for which it had itself been asking for some time, however much it resented the fact that a contingent of American military trainers would soon arrive in Georgia. In the end, Russia got what it least wanted: an American military presence close to its borders. These developments strongly reinforced the Russians’ conclusion that Shevardnadze had become hopelessly pro-American, and consequently an arch-enemy of Russia.
Apart from the Chechen war, many other issues during Shevardnadze’s last term in office contributed to the mounting tension in Russian-Georgian relations. Georgia’s efforts to build an independent and sovereign state deeply irritated Moscow, as did the unresolved state of affairs in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia was unwilling to concede anything. Seeing no evolution in Russia’s position, the Georgian leadership grew ever more dissatisfied with the conditions that Moscow had imposed on these areas in the early 1990s. In particular, Georgian leaders increasingly viewed Russia’s military presence on Georgian soil as a destabilizing element. The long process of ridding the country of Russia’s military presence began with the adoption, in April 1997, of a new law that called for Georgia to take full control of its national borders by the end of 1999. Russian maritime border guards were the first to leave, in the summer of 1998, and a year later Georgia took control of its border with Turkey. Critically important assistance from Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States enabled Georgia’s Department of Border Control Forces to assume these responsibilities effectively.25
In 1999, Tbilisi for the first time mustered the courage to announce its intention to close the Russian military bases on its territory. To this end, Georgia first left the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty in April 1999. Then in September 1999, Zurab Zhvania, the Chairman of Parliament and Shevardnadze’s then heir apparent, declared that the day was close when Georgia would be free of the “foreign military presence.” At the OSCE summit in Istanbul two months later Russia was told to dismantle two of its military bases in Georgia and to find a solution for the remaining two before July 2001.26 Long and difficult negotiations took place on the fate of the two remaining bases. Ten rounds and two years of negotiations later, Russia was still insisting on a period of fifteen years and on hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to enable it to build accommodation for the evacuated military and their families. In parallel, Russia was pushing Javakheti Armenians and some local political groups close to Russia to support the continuance of the base in Akhalkalaki and to blackmail the Georgian government with possible revolts.27
In spite of these difficulties, the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul marked a high point in the diplomacy of the Shevardnadze era. The process that followed revealed clearly that Russia was less concerned with the preservation of its decaying and militarily ineffective bases in Georgia than with impeding Georgia’s steady rapprochement with NATO. It was therefore no surprise that U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s offer to cover part of the cost of removing the Russian bases was met in Moscow with silence.28
Most observers interpreted Georgia’s decision to close Russian bases on its territory as a major blow to Moscow’s interests in the Caucasus. Georgia’s action would have ended nearly two centuries of Russian military presence there, broken only by the brief period of independence in 1918-21. Russia responded by requiring all Georgian citizens working in Russia or visiting there to get visas. Even though most Jihadi fighters in Chechnya arrived via Central Asia and not Georgia, Moscow rationalized the visa regime as a step to keep out foreign terrorists. Had Russia really wanted to stop the inflow of foreign fighters, it would have had first to stamp out corruption in its own law enforcement bodies, which turned a blind eye to such movements – for a price. The decision on visas was part of a long-standing Russian plan to use the Georgian Diaspora in Russia as a tool for pressuring Tbilisi. It had been hatched by Sergey Ivanov, at the time head of Russia’s National Security Council and a notorious hawk in regard to Georgia.29 Ivanov in turn had picked up the idea from one Felix Stanevski, a former Russian ambassador in Georgia, who argued from the very beginning that Georgia was inevitably Russia’s enemy, and that Georgian elites were, so far as almost genetically, Russophobes .30
The idea behind Russia’s new visa law was that without the money sent by Georgian expatriates in Russia, Georgia would be driven to bankruptcy and Shevardnadze’s government would collapse.31 But it turned out that the entire project was based on erroneous data. The Russian political elite wrongly assumed that “millions of Georgians”32 lived in Russia and that their remittances were supporting the rest of the Georgian population. In reality, only half a million Georgians lived in Russia; this represented barely one-third of the numbers of Armenians or Azerbaijanis. Also, the authors of the measure underestimated the readiness of their own corrupt lower officials to make deals to enable Georgians to stay in Russia. In the end, the visa law had only a modest impact on Georgia.
But Russia’s visa legislation had one very damaging consequence for Georgia. For “humanitarian reasons,” the visas were not required of residents of Georgia’s secessionist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By this move, the Kremlin was clearly challenging Georgia’s territorial integrity.33 Today, with hindsight, it is easy to identify this as the first step in Russia’s effort to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The next step was to be the broadside distribution of Russian passports in these regions.
Saving “Private Shevardnadze“: Moscow’s paradoxical attempt to help the Kremlin’s foe to keep power during the Rose Revolution
It may appear illogical that in November 2003, when the Rose Revolution was on the lip of succeeding in unseating Shevardnadze, it was Russia that attempted to prop up the rule of Edward Shevardnadze, even though Russians despised him for his role in the collapse of the USSR and his later apostasy to Georgia. But suddenly the preservation of Shevardnadze’s presidency became Moscow’s immediate priority in Georgia. Putin hurriedly sent to Tbilisi his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Igor Ivanov. His stated task was to resolve the crisis and preserve Shevardnadze’s presidency. This erratic move suggests the great disarray in Russia’s Caucasus policy at the time. With no larger strategy, Russia blindly supported the one person who might have been desperate enough to accept Russian backing. The Kremlin doubtless recalled the events of 1993, when the defeated Georgian army was fleeing Sukhumi. Shevardnadze, who was at the mercy of raiding secessionist and Zviadist bands, was rescued by the Russian military. Now, a decade later, a powerless Shevardnadze would have again been forced to accept Russian hegemony, abandon his pro-Western political orientation, forget about NATO and the EU, and appoint Russian nominees to key security positions.
It is worth noting parenthetically that Moscow has frequently chosen to back desperate losers. In 2004 and 2009 the Kremlin backed the besieged leader of the Moldovan Communists, Yuri Voronin, even though Voronin subsequently failed at times to play his assigned role of obedient vassal. Moscow also extended help to Uzbek President Islam Karimov after the brutal repression of a revolt in Andijan in 2005. Karimov had become an international pariah, so the tactic to offer support appeared expedient in binding Tashkent closer to Moscow. But Karimov, too, was quick to throw out the script that Moscow had assigned him, and seized the first opportunity that arose to once again diversify his foreign policy.34
Whatever Moscow’s doubts about Shevardnadze, they paled to insignificance compared with its loathing of what have come to be known as “color revolutions.” One of the main theses of Putin’s “sovereign democracy” and “vertical of power” is the ideological assertion that Western-style liberal democracy cannot work outside of the geographical zone where it arose. Such Kremlin ideologists as Vladislav Surkov and Gleb Pavlovski invoke this argument to denigrate the chances of success for liberal democracy outside the Western world. According to their logic, any attempt to establish a democratic system beyond the borders of the Euro-Atlantic world cannot be “natural” and must therefore be the result of a Western conspiracy, and an intrusion into the natural order of things symbolized by Russia.
Obviously, then, the successful grafting of democracy onto a post-Soviet country would pose a fundamental challenge to Moscow’s world view. No wonder that Russian leaders depicted the Rose Revolution not as an expression of popular will but as the playing out of an American plan for regime change. Russia’s insistence on the American sponsorship of the Rose Revolution found some echo in the Western media, which greatly overestimated American support for Mikheil Saakashvili in November 2003.
Some circles in the U.S. supported the Rose Revolution from the very beginning, among them the Open Society Institute and the Project on Transitional Democracies. But the State Department clearly wanted Shevardnadze to continue in office until the end of his term. During the summer of 2003, former Secretary of State James Baker, a personal friend of Shevardnadze, traveled to Georgia to persuade Shevardnadze to distance himself from a new political group, the “Alliance for a New Georgia (ANG),” which had been formed by some highly controversial figures from the worlds of government and business. The purpose of Baker’s mission was to avoid the instability that could result from a rigged victory by the ANG. Only later did the Americans come to support the Rose Revolution, when they effectively backed its efforts to fight corruption, restore the state’s authority, and so forth. It was doubtless attractive for Washington to be able to speak of an “American-sponsored success story” but such support that occurred later was by no means forthcoming during the revolution itself.
The support Shevardnadze garnered from Russia and its regional allies, including his own former rival Aslan Abashidze, was not enough to maintain him in power. Neither the state power structures nor the president himself were prepared to use force to suppress the movement demanding Shevardnadze’s resignation. The president resigned on November 23. Igor Ivanov subsequently tried to present himself as one of the architects of the peaceful solution to the crisis.
During the ten years of Shevardandze’s leadership, Georgia moved from a condition of quasi-domination by Russia to become one of the largest beneficiaries per capita of aid from the United States. The country paid a high price for its attachment to independence, however. Under Shevardnadze, Georgia lost control of Abkhazia and a significant part of South Ossetia. Two major assassination attempts threatened the president, while society was wrecked by two mutinies and countless plots to destabilize the government. Without underestimating the local dimensions of each of these crises, it is not difficult to discern the hand of Russia in all of them. Successively, Shevardnadze sought to reckon with this threat by engaging successfully in a policy of deference, then a policy of balance, and overall by taking a very cautious approach to Russia’s interests. Yet all of these failed to avoid the effects of a Russian policy that can best be described as “all stick and no carrot.”
All the problems relating to Russia that Georgia has had to bear under Saakashvili’s leadership were already present during the presidency of Shevardnadze. Clearly, the personality of any given Georgian leader is not the main determinant of bilateral relations between the two countries. Shevardnadze was lucky enough to face a relatively weak and chaotic Russia, but he also failed to build a strong and modern state. A more solid Georgia, free of a corrupt state administration, could have resisted Russian pressure more efficiently. The years that followed the Rose Revolution showed that a solid economy and a solid state structure can resist even stronger pressures than those of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Russia’s energy blackmail of 2001, probably the most effective weapon that Moscow could deploy against Georgia, might have been less devastating had the Georgian bureaucracy been less corrupt and if Georgian officials were not themselves benefiting from the situation. Georgia needed not only a wise and experienced leader who perfectly understood its adversary, but also very deep societal and cultural transformation.
1 Jaba Ioseliani, Sami Ganzomileba, Tbilisi: Azri, 1999. Later Kitovani initiated war in Abkhazia, when despite an order coming from President Shevardnadze to deploy troops only along the roads, his battle units entered the town of Sukhumi. In 1995 Kitovani, together with a colonel of the Russian army, attempted another march on Abkhazia. He was arrested on his way to Abkhazia by the Georgian police. After his release in 1998, Kitovani moved in Russia and lived under the protection of the FSB. He periodically appeared in pro-Kremlin Russian media as an “expert” on Georgian affairs.
2 In the quest for a providential leader who would have been acceptable for the majority of Georgian society, non-Zviadist nationalists first tried to convince the representative of the Georgian royal family living in Spain – Jorje Bagration Y Mukhrani – to come back to the country. After the refusal of the latter, they had to support Shevardnadze’s candidacy.
3 It should be recalled that George H.W. Bush’s adminstration tacitly endorsed the Russian sponsored coup against Gamsakhurdia.
4 For example, the only serious factor that played in the process of elaboration of the American position in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, were the efforts deployed by the Armenian Diaspora, which through its lobby in Congress obtained the adoption of amendment 907, which banned American public economic and military aid to Azerbaijan.
5 There is much evidence of the direct involvement of the regular Russian armed forces in fighting against the Georgian army, such as the Russian military plane downed in Sukhumi in winter 1993, or the capture of several acting officers of the Russian Army by the Georgians as prisoners of war.
6 A few days after the fall of Sukhumi, Shevardnadze, sharply criticised in the Georgian parliament, declared that the capture of Sukhumi by rebels was planned and elaborated by the Russian officers stationed in Gudauta military base.
7 Through the 1990s, Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials were used to opposing “democratic and reactionary Russias”. Georgia was officially at war with the “reactionary Russia,” whereas the “democratic Russia” was supposed to be supportive of Georgia. This dual nature of the Russian elite was partly a fiction of Georgian politicians who wanted to see a part of Russian establishment in their camp. Unfortunately for Georgia, Russian liberals had no word in Moscow’s policies towards the “near abroad,” with the topic being more or less consciously abandoned to the hawkish conservatives.
8 “In Russia’s shadow,” Time, October 11, 1993
9 In 1994 Russia had received $12 billion in direct financial aid from the IMF and the World Bank.
10 In his desperate address, Shevardnadze also called on his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to secure Georgia’s main transit roads.
11 The Council of the Heads of States of the CIS responded positively to the joint appeal, demanding that CIS member states send their troops to Abkhazia. In the meantime Russian troops stationed in Abkhazia (troops that actually participated in fighting against the Georgian army) received the status of CIS Peace-Keeping Force in Abkhazia.
12 Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs even suggested to the UN in the summer of 1994 that it allocate funds for financing its mission in Abkhazia.
13 Nadibaidze didn’t even speak Georgian properly and was clearly not the person who could build-up a modern- style Georgian national army from scratch. While serving at ZAKVO, he was in charge of supplies.
14 The same awkwardness characterized Georgian attempts to capitalize on the emotional level recalling that Primakov had spent his childhood in Tbilisi; that Kirienko (Russian prime minister after Chernomyrdin) was born in Sukhumi; and that Igor Ivanov had a Georgian mother.
15 Argumenty I Fakty, July 2, 2005.
16 Thus Giorgi Tjanturia, the leader of the National Democratic Party, and Soliko Khabeishvili – Shevardnadze’s close friend and the president of his foundation – were the two most famous examples of assassinated politicians. Giorgi Qarqarashvili, former defence minister, was also targeted, but he miraculously survived his injuries.
17 In 1995, according to a close collaborator of Shevardnadze, Igor Giorgadze had already alerted Russia that Georgian secret services were on the brink of being totally controlled by the Americans.
18 Shevardnadze TV interview, August 29, 1995.
19 The president survived again, and while all fingers again pointed at Russia, Primakov publicly made ironical remarks about the assassination attempt.
20 For example, he backed the Russian company Industriya to buy Georgian Manganese mines in Tjiatura. The memorandum was signed but the company failed to pay the determined amount.
21 As a result, 40,000 Georgian returnees to Gali became refugees for the second time and more than 100 people were killed.
22 At the end of 2001, Igor Ivanov, based on dubious information from a supposed driver of the leader of Al-Qaeda, declared that Osama Bin Laden was possibly hiding in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Half-joking and half-mockingly, Shevardnadze launched a checking operation in the valley, starting from the house of Ivanov’s family (the latter’s mother is originally from Pankisi).
23 Russia sent a paratrooper division to the Itum-Kale district of Chechnya in the winter of 2000, which took control of the border with Georgia. The paratroopers occupied a Georgian hamlet of Pitchvni where they established their post.
24 See Thornike Gordadze : « Géorgie : l’Irak du pauvre » (Georgia : Irak for the poor), Le Figaro, 21 October 2002.
25 The American contribution was the most important. In 1999, Georgia received several combat helicopters from the U.S. The amount of American aid to this department attained $50 million. This was the first case of successful cooperation between the two countries in the military domain.
26 Russia decided to choose the Vaziani and Gudauta bases for tactical reasons. Vaziani was a military air-base close to Tbilisi and under the Soviet regime it was designed for control of the southern airspace (in the direction of Turkey and the Middle East). It had no strategic importance for the control of Georgia. Gudauta was in Abkhazia and the Georgians had no possibility to verify if the base was really closed and, in fact, despite Russian commitment, Gudauta base has never been dismantled. It continues to be used in 2009. Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases are of no big military importance either, but they were situated in more “sensitive” regions of Georgia (Adjara and Javakheti), where in case of need they could have been used to destabilizes Georgia. Moreover, these two bases were closed in 2007 with no resistance from Russia, because seeing Abashidze ousted from power in Adjara and state control reinforced in Javakheti, keeping them was becoming an unaffordable luxury.
27 Some groundless rumors about the probable opening of Turkish military bases in Armenian populated regions of Georgia were spread by some “trustworthy sources,” provoking local Armenians’ indignation and protest. By the same manner, Abkhaz children and women were suggested to lie down on the railway close to Gudauta, in order to prevent the evacuation of the Russian base.
28 This possibility was raised by William Cohen during his visit to the South Caucasus in July 1999.
29 Segey Ivanov is famous for his sharp phrases on Georgia. As a symptomatic illustration of this tendency one could quote his (at that time already Russian Minister of Defense) comment on Georgia’s desire to join NATO : “Georgia can join any international organisation it wants, even the league of Sexual minorities,” see Vremya Novostej, September 20, 2002.
30 The former ambassador reiterated his vision in a recent interview to the radio station Ekho Moskvy on April 25, 2009.
31 Stanevski stated many times that Russia was the greatest supplier of financial aid to Georgia, introducing a rather strange approach and definition of “economic aid”: he proposed categorizing as aid the money that Georgians working in Russia sent annually back to Georgia.
32 See interview of Sergei Ivanov to Vlast’ January 2002
33 Initially, some Georgian analysts and politicians talked about the possible positive consequences of the Russian decision. They naively believed that the residents of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region would have been obliged to come to Tbilisi to obtain Russian visas and that move would have had an unexpectedly positive effect on the reintegration of the separatist provinces.
34 Even the tiny and almost totally controlled Abkhazia defied in 2004 a unilateral and blunt attempt of Moscow to impose a KGB officer as a de facto president of the breakaway region against the more popular, and supposedly more independent minded Sergei Bagapsh.