Rezonansi, Tbilisi, Georgia
Aug 29 2008



Russian military bases in Java, Gudauta and Ochamchire.

Moscow has already unofficially confirmed that Russian military bases
will be stationed in 'independent' Abkhazia and South Ossetia

by Lili Khmaladze


A Russian military-diplomatic source told Interfax [news agency] that
Russia is likely to station military bases in Ochamchire, Gudauta
[Abkhazia] and Java [South Ossetia], the places where the military
bases were stationed during the Soviet period. According to the same
source, it is possible that paratroopers, aviation and air defence
systems will be stationed in Gudauta, ships of the Black Sea fleet in
the port of Ochamchire and a mountain rifle brigade in Java.

It is geopolitically important to Russia to station military bases in
Georgia. It will dock its ships in Abkhazia and will be in a better
position to put pressure on Tbilisi from Tskhinvali. Furthermore, it
cannot be ruled out that military settlements will be established in
the vicinity of the bases, which is likely to be especially painful
for Abkhazia.

Are these plans devised by Moscow feasible and what are the possible
consequences? Irakli Sesiashvili, expert in military issues, talked
about it in conversation with Rezonansi.

Russian bases: negative repercussions

Irakli Sesiashvili: "Russia is already seizing the territories where
it will station its military bases. It will try its best to have the
first military checkpoint [to confront] NATO placed far from the North
Caucasus. Russia is doing all of this because it has no intention of
ceding Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia, it makes every effort to
resist this.

"From political viewpoint, we should not expect it to relinquish these
regions. Currently, the final stage is under way when it is making its
intentions official.

"There is another negative aspect to the stationing of the military
bases. When there were military bases in this region during the Soviet
period, there were so-called 'military towns' on their territories
where officers' families lived. When the new bases are set up,
contractor soldiers will serve there and their wives and children are
likely to move there as well.

"The Russian colonization has never brought about anything positive
for anyone. Soon, there will be no local population left in these
regions. They will be completely russianized. The gene pool, culture
and language of these nations will be seriously harmed. The time will
come when the Abkhaz and Ossetians will rebel against russianization
(the latter are less likely to do so).

"As for Russia's interests in this region, it does not care about
either [South] Ossetia or Abkhazia. Russia has its own plan. [Abkhaz
separatist leader Sergey] Bagapsh and [South Ossetian separatist
leader Eduard] Kokoyty effectively mean nothing to it. Russia is
employing a systemic approach towards these regions and is trying to
use them according to its needs. It definitely needs the Black
Sea. After leaving Ukraine's area of water, it does not have a place
to dock its military ships and Abkhazia is a suitable region [to this
end].

"As for Tskhinvali [South Ossetia], Tbilisi is close to it and it is a
good means of putting pressure [on Georgia]. Tskhinvali is in effect
the second frontline.

"These bases are likely to be staffed with Russia's elite armed units
since it is possible that they will be used for engaging in combat
operations here. Furthermore, we are talking about Russia's open
border with NATO. I cannot rule out that strategic missiles will be
stationed at these military bases.

"As regards Russia's real reason for stationing military bases on
Abkhaz territory, this territory is of geostrategic importance to
it. Especially given its direct contact with NATO's border. This is
why arming these regions and creating maximum security zones there
represent a priority to Russia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be
large 'nests' with weapons where 80 per cent of the population will be
in military service."

A risky step

Giorgi Tavdgiridze, expert in military issues, gave a different
assessment to the opening of the Russian military bases. He said that
this is a political argument in response to NATO's attack. He rules
out the extermination of the local population's gene pool on the
territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and believes that the presence
of the Russian bases on these territories will cause poverty and
intensify looting.

[Khmaladze] How would you assess Russia's plans on stationing military
bases in the separatist regions?

[Tavdgiridze] Russia is trying to "boost" economic development in
these regions with this step. These bases will have no military value
whatsoever because they are stationed quite far from each
other. Should they restore the railway in Abkhazia, this region might
acquire military value but the Georgian side will eventually get hold
of a military base in Java.

One thing is clear: we have lost the war and have to prepare for a
future war. All steps that Russia has taken so far indicate that it
has blocked all routes of peace talks to our country. It is not
interested in diplomatic relations with Georgia and wants not only to
incorporate Abkhazia and South Ossetia de facto but to swallow them
completely. The construction of the military bases is one of the steps
taken to this end. I have to note, however, that this is quite a risky
step on Russia's part as this effectively means leaving hostages on
these territories. Nevertheless, at the same time, it is a step
forward on the military front for Russia.

It is unfortunate that any kind of diplomatic negotiations with Russia
are pointless and the restoration of the territorial integrity will be
protracted for as long as Russia maintains military bases on Abkhaz
and South Ossetian territories.

We effectively have to start everything from scratch. We have to
observe Russia's and Abkhazia's reaction. To tell you the truth, I
have not noticed the Caucasian pride in Ossetians. The Abkhaz,
however, are the ethnic group which has proved several times with its
actions that it wants to be independent and sides with Russia because
it helps it in achieving this goal. Abkhazia will now be an
independent nation where four Russian bases will be stationed. I have
to remind you that, in reality, a military base still remains on the
territory of Gudauta. It would be interesting to see if freedom-loving
Abkhaz will tolerate the Russian boot.

[Khmaladze] What will change for the local population once the bases
are stationed?

[Tavdgiridze] One cannot surprise Tskhinvali with a crime
situation. In effect, this entity has failed to become established,
they did not have an internal structure. The South Ossetian leadership
was engaged in criminal score-settling. Thus, the situation here will
remain unchanged with its poverty and lack of education.

As for Abkhazia, it has to be said that even dreams about business and
development of tourism are now over. Impoverished looters whom we have
seen on Georgian territory before will settle there.

US, German military bases are commercially profitable. They facilitate
the development of infrastructure. Their high salaries are spent in
nearby areas. The impoverished Russian officers cannot trigger
economic development. Several dozens of people could find employment.

We have to strengthen our economy and army now. We have to change the
strategy of state building. We have to know that Russians are our
enemies. Also, we have disloyal and ungrateful citizens - Ossetians
and Abkhaz - who will not become our friends unless something changes
in them, and it is up to us to manage and achieve this as well.

We have to respond to an enemy appropriately. There will be gangs made
up of Ossetians, Abkhaz and Cossacks. It is now time for reasonable,
purposeful actions. The story continues. The society must devise a
well-calculated strategy rather than slogans.

Response to NATO

[Khmaladze] Do you think that the stationing of these bases will
affect demographics in Abkhazia in reality?

[Tavdgiridze] We have to save Abkhazia from russianization. This is a
Caucasian nation and Georgia lays claims on being a defender of
Caucasian ethnic groups - it has always fought for this. We should not
let more than 10 years pass before we regain these regions. I do not
think that the number of Russian soldiers stationed in these regions
will be large enough to cause elimination of ethnic groups
there. Should Armenians be employed as soldiers there, conflicts might
occur.

Assimilation takes years and if we give them so much time, we will not
even be able to have any claims afterwards.

[Khmaladze] What does Russia really want to achieve by stationing
these bases?

[Tavdgiridze] Russia cannot build its bases and cannot provide its
officers with accommodation. If it were so easy to construct bases, it
would not have ceded its positions in Vietnam. This is PR and we are
used to it. That is to say, in reality, these bases will not be what
they say they will be. Russia will start something - there will be
shacks and obsolete tanks there. It is unrealistic that they will set
up new air bases. Russia has acquired two additional freeloaders,
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which will burden the Russian budget.

This is a Soviet and post-Soviet policy, that is to say,
muscle-flexing. The argument cited by Russian politicians is that the
United States is surrounding Russia and Russia has to respond to
it. The stationing of bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be
Russia's foreign policy argument.

I think that we should not give an additional trump card to
Russia. Georgia is the only responsibility for the United States and
Europe. Our politicians have turned it into a responsibility and they
have shouldered it. However, if we make this responsibility heavier,
the West will not last long.

Our society must elaborate a realistic action plan and we have to act
promptly without waiting for some hero who will save us. If we fail to
do so, there will be 10 bases in Georgia, not three.

[translated from Georgian]