Georgian defence chief accuses Russia of lying about Abkhazia base

Rustavi-2 TV, Tbilisi
31 Mar 06

Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili has accused Russia of
"lying" about the closure of the Russian military base in Gudauta,
Abkhazia. In a live interview with Rustavi-2 TV on 31 March,
Okruashvili said that the Gudauta base was still in active service.

Okruashvili also said he hoped that the Russian "so-called"
peacekeepers would leave South Ossetia by the end of 2006. Commenting
on the Russian import ban on Georgian wine, Okruashvili suggested
that the ban could eventually cost Russia dearly.

The interview began with Okruashvili's comment on the signing of the 31
March agreement on the time scale and procedures for the withdrawal of
Russian bases and other military assets from Georgian territory. The
minister said that Russia had been procrastinating over it for a long
time. "Active negotiations started in early June [2005]. As I have
said, we spent almost a year to agree some meaningless details. The
process had been delayed, but fortunately it ended today. In the
near future, there will be several serious NATO and other summits in
Europe, so apparently the Russians did not want to find themselves
in an awkward situation and be accused of failing to fulfil their
international obligations. That's why we worked on this document so
fast during the past two weeks," he noted.

Answering a question about possible complications with Azerbaijan
because of the planned transfer of the military hardware to the Russian
base in Armenia, Okruashvili said that this issue was "not of principal
importance" for Georgia. "Two thirds of the hardware will be taken to
Russia and one third will be transferred to the Russian military base
in Armenia, but this is not of principal importance for us. Russia
is not going to donate this hardware to the Armenian government and
its armed forces. Russia will deploy it at its military base," he said.

"I have said that the signing of today's agreement launched the main
stage of the process of ending Russia's military presence in Georgia.

By the main stage I mean that this agreement will close only two
bases, but the question of the third base [in Gudauta] remains. For
years, they have been lying to us and telling us that it was closed,
but this is not so. Just three days ago, an armed group of Abkhaz
bandits attacked the Russian military base in order to seize weapons.

Several Abkhaz were wounded by Russians there. This once again shows
that the base is not closed. It still has quite an active component
of military servicemen, with their arms and helicopters. Naturally,
we want the international community to take a principled position,
so that the actual situation is exposed and this base is closed just
as the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases will close," Okruashvili said.

"In addition, we still have [Russian] peacekeepers, these so-called
peacekeepers who don't quite fit this title, in Abkhazia and South
Ossetia. These peacekeepers are not the subject of today's agreement,
but the Georgian parliament has launched separate procedures with
respect to them. The Georgian government is working on this issue
too. I hope that by the end of this year, the procedures with respect
to at least one of these uncontrolled areas will be finished and the
peacekeepers will leave South Ossetia," he noted.

At the end of the interview, when asked about his opinion on the
Russian import ban on Georgian wine, Okruashvili said: "Generally,
my attitude towards Russia's current policy towards Georgia is well
known. However, I am a political official and I do not have the
right to express my subjective views about them openly. However, it
is sometimes quite difficult to force middle-ranking or low-ranking
state officials to treat our neighbours with sympathy when they
[Russians] are creating such absurd problems for us. I do not want
someone to think that I am referring to an analogy, but there was a
time when Georgians, loaded with money they easily made in Moscow,
would encounter North Caucasian bandit groups while travelling back
to Georgia. Then a Georgian traveller would be offered to buy a brick
for 10,000 dollars [implying that otherwise the brick would smash the
traveller's car]. So, I do not want the Russians to find themselves
in a situation when they will have to buy every brick from us for
the price of 100 boxes of wine," Okruashvili said.