Russia has warned that Tbilisi’s possible “reckless” decision to demand pull out of peacekeepers from Abkhazia might lead to more tensions in the entire Caucasus region.
“While considering the possible ceasing of the peacekeeping operation in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone, the Georgian leadership should understand that such a reckless step will inevitably trigger the aggravation of the situation and ‘unfreezing’ of the conflict, triggering situation to spiral out of control in the entire Caucasus [region],” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 17.
He added that in that case “the entire responsibility will lie on the authorities in Tbilisi and on those, who close a blind eye on the danger of the course followed by them [officials in Tbilisi]” – apparently referring to Tbilisi’s western allies, in particular the United States.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that it had been notified by the secretariat of the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS) that Georgia was requesting for holding bilateral consultations with Russia no later than July 30 to “elaborate decision on changing the format of the mandate of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces” in Abkhazia.
Russian peacekeeping troops are stationed in Abkhazia under the CIS aegis.
Tbilisi has cited in its request that Russia deprived itself of right to perform peacekeeper’s role in the conflict zone after series of unilateral measures that Tbilisi thinks violate its sovereignty and territorial integrity. These measures include Russia’s April 16 decision to establish official links with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia; sending of additional troops to Abkhazia in late April and sending of Russian Railway Forces to Abkhazia to repair railway infrastructure there.
On June 17 the Russian Foreign Ministry has again justified its decision to send extra peacekeepers to Abkhazia with an aim to prevent Tbilisi’s alleged plans to resort to force.
“Under the current situation, the presence of Russian peacekeepers has once again made it possible to stop escalation of tension in the conflict zone, as well as has thrown cold water on the ‘hotheads’ of some Georgian politicians, who have been planning blitzkrieg against Abkhazia,” it said.
President Saakashvili said in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV on June 9 that Georgia had prepared the ground to officially demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops from Abkhazia after formally notifying about it to the CIS secretariat. He, however, did not specify when the demand would be made.
Saakashvili also said that Georgia had the right to demand Russian troop withdrawal at any time. Tbilisi’s western partners, he said, were aware of the situation.
An influential figure within the Saakashvili’s administration, Giga Bokeria, who is the deputy foreign minister, said on June 10 that Georgia would “raise the issue” of the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia “in the nearest days,” if Russia refused to rescind its recent measures in respect of Abkhazia.
Georgian Foreign Minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, said on June 17 in a response to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement that it was Russia’s “behavior and plans” that cause tensions in Abkhazia.
“Neither the Georgian side nor the Abkhaz side represents the source of increased tension,” she said. “The only country escalating the situation by its actions and plans is Russia.”
She also said that Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia, “which do not bring anything positive to the existing situation,” represent “one of the major and important sources” of tension.
“[The Russian peacekeepers’] absence can not bring about something negative,” she continued. “On the contrary, its replacement by a real security system will be the very precondition for the launch of a real peacekeeping process.”
In a separate statement the Georgian Foreign Ministry said “unlike Russia” Tbilisi was adhering to norms of international standards while tacking the problem. “At the same time, the international community considering Russia as a party to the conflict unequivocally supports the peace initiatives of the President of Georgia and the Georgian side’s well-balanced political position and activity,” it said.