Tbilisi’s initiative to invite foreign diplomats to upper Kodori Gorge for a fact-finding visit is “a dangerous and untimely” move, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an information note on September 26. Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia have also condemned the decision.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on September 25 that it is holding consultations to arrange a trip to Tbilisi-administered upper Kodori in breakaway Abkhazia for a group of foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia.
“This move [of the Georgian authorities] is unfortunately in a line of official Tbilisi to legalize state of affairs in upper Kodori Gorge, which has been created after invasion carried out by the Georgian armed forces,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Georgia sent its troops to upper Kodori Gorge in late July to crack down local rebel warlords. As a result of the operation, Tbilisi replaced its previously nominal control over Kodori with the actual presence of central government authorities in the area, triggering concerns in both Moscow and Sokhumi.
The Russian and Abkhaz sides are calling for the withdrawal of Georgian army troops from the gorge, while Tbilisi insists that only police forces are stationed there. Georgia has agreed to the monitoring of the gorge by UN observers only, without the involvement of Russian peacekeepers currently stationed in the Abkhaz conflict zone.
“We think that there is no need to carry out ‘excursions’ for diplomats in the Kodori Gorge, instead it is essential to carry out a serious, professional monitoring of the area with the participation of the UN observers and peacekeepers,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on September 26.
Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Shamba said on September 26 that the Abkhaz side is categorically against the visit of foreign diplomats to upper Kodori Gorge, Apsnipress news agency reported.
“We categorically do not recommend anyone to visit the upper Kodori Gorge. This is especially in regard to international observers,” Shamba said.
President Saakashvili also plans to visit upper Kodori Gorge in late September, though no exact date has been announced.
“Saakashvili’s planned visit is one more provocation staged by the Georgian authorities,” Shamba said.