The Weekly Tripwire - Issue 21
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Dec.'17 / 17:07

“Russian ambassador” to Tskhinvali Marat Kulakhmetov briefing local authorities on the forthcoming Russian presidential election, December 18, 2017. Photo: screengrab from TV Ir

December 18-29

Karasin rails against Georgia-NATO defense cooperation - the U.S. lists Russia’s aggression against Georgia among global challenges - Khajimba wants constitutional changes - Moscow fills 2018 Tskhinvali budget - Putin’s election in Tskhinvali - Bibilov sees Chaika - Helicopters for Tskhinvali - New Russian point man for Georgia’s occupied regions - Georgian Prime Minister eager for talks with Russia - Georgia signs trade monitoring contract with SGS - Permanent infrastructure established for Tskhinvali military base - Abkhazia exercises - New EUMM head appointed.

Dispatch from Moscow – Karasin rails against Georgia-NATO defense cooperation: In an interview for Interfax news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin made it clear once again how intensely he dislikes Georgia’s relations with its Western partners. “There is a full-speed development of the NATO military infrastructure in Georgia, and multimillion supplies of the newest weapon systems to Tbilisi are planned: the French anti-air systems and American anti-tank missiles, while the U.S. is launching a program of military training of Georgian soldiers,” complained Karasin, adding that Moscow was “carefully observing” Georgia’s defense cooperation with the West.

Western Voices – The U.S. lists Russia’s aggression against Georgia among global challenges: The new United States National Security Strategy speaks of the Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 among Moscow’s actions that challenge the U.S. and the existing world order. “With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to violate the sovereignty of states in the region. Russia continues to intimidate its neighbors with threatening behavior, such as nuclear posturing and the forward deployment of offensive capabilities,” reads the NSS.

Sokhumi Happenings – Khajimba wants constitutional changes: The Russian-backed Sokhumi leader Raul Khajimba made a speech in the region’s “parliament,” mentioning his intention to “continue the constitutional reform” in 2018. Khajimba wants to gain for the “president” the right to call early elections and dissolve the legislative branch in certain cases, while the latter’s consent will be required for an appointment of a “prime minister.”

Tskhinvali Happenings – Moscow fills 2018 Tskhinvali budget:
The Russian-backed authorities in Tskhinvali have adopted their 2018 budget. 85.9 percent of all Tskhinvali revenues – 6.6 billion Russian rubles out of the budget’s 7.67 billion - come from Russia’s financing of the region. 

Russia’s Network – Putin’s election in Tskhinvali: “Russian ambassador” in Tskhinvali Marat Kulakhmetov and the region’s Russian-backed leader Anatoly Bibilov are scrambling to mobilize voters in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia for the March 18 re-election of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a meeting with Tskhinvali leadership, Marat Kulakhmetov informed them that “the Russian embassy” had been tasked with conducting the Russian presidential election in the region and detailed the assistance he required from the locals. Bibilov said “about 98% of South Ossetian citizens are also Russian citizens,” and that every resident of South Ossetia who was also a citizen of the Russian Federation had “an obligation to come and vote in the election.” 

Russia’s Network – Bibilov sees Chaika: Tskhinvali leader went to Moscow last week, meeting with several Russian officials. One of them was the Russian Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika, who said he expected “continuation of a fruitful Russian-South Ossetian prosecutors’ cooperation” in the coming year.

Russia’s Network – Helicopters for Tskhinvali: Russian Civil Defense and Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov also met with Bibilov, promising him to provide Tskhinvali emergency service with equipment, including two helicopters. Training of the locals so that they can maintain and use the aircraft is also planned. 

Russia’s Network – New Russian point man for Georgia’s occupied regions: Igor Koshin, the former governor of Nenets Autonomous Okrug – a region in the far Arctic reaches of the Russian Federation – has a new job. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has appointed him Deputy Minister for North Caucasus with a specific function to look after the affairs of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

View from Tbilisi: Prime Minister eager for talks with Russia
– Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili says he wants “to considerably intensify the Geneva [International Discussions] format, to raise the representative level of the format and widen its mandate.” Kvirikashvili also said his government intended to actively engage in Abashidze-Karasin talks.

Georgia signs trade monitoring contract with SGS: The Revenue Service of Georgia signed an agreement with a Swiss SGS testing and inspection company regarding cargo monitoring between Georgia and Russia. The contract is a part of the 2011 agreement between Tbilisi and Moscow that envisioned establishment of a trade monitoring mechanism between the two countries in exchange for lifting Tbilisi’s veto on Russia’s WTO membership. Russia has not signed its own contract with the company so far.

The Military Aspect – Permanent infrastructure established for Tskhinvali military base: A brand new dormitory for 32 families of the Russian military base servicemen has been opened in Tskhinvali. Twenty other pieces of infrastructure are to be finished in Tskhinvali and Java in 2018, including “houses, soldiers’ and officers’ dormitories, schools, educational blocks, warehouses for material and technical support, cynological town for accommodation of dogs, as well as storage spaces, canopies and hangars for military vehicles.”

The Military Aspect – Abkhazia exercises: Hundreds of Russian troops in Abkhazia are holding drills at the firing grounds of Gudauta, Nagvalou and Tsebelda. One exercise last week involved 600 troops with 100 armored vehicles, while another – 500 troops with 50 armored vehicles.

New EUMM head appointed: European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia has a new head - a Danish career diplomat Erik Høeg, who had been the acting head of EUMM since September. He is replacing Kęstutis Jankauskas of Lithuania.

On the Line – 83rd Ergneti IPRM
: Another meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism took place in the occupation line village of Ergneti. Military exercises and impact of the installation of new fences, barbed wire and signs on freedom of movement and livelihood opportunities for local communities were among the issues discussed, while the security situation along the line was assessed as “controlled.”

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