Russian military complain about difficult life in Georgia

Channel 3 TV, Moscow
28 May 05

[Presenter] While our politicians are discussing with Georgian
authorities the deadline for withdrawal of the Russian [military] bases
[from Georgia], the everyday life of the Russian military in the once
friendly state is gradually switching to a state of siege. Moscow has
forgotten about them, while Tbilisi is in a hurry to vacate the place
for American bases, which will not spoil the investment climate. See
a special report by Ivan Volonikhin.

[Correspondent] Russia's 12th military base in Batumi today has
about 1,000 personnel, 70 tanks, 150 armoured personnel carriers,
500 lorries, tractors and trailers and 120 artillery systems including
famous Grad rocket launchers.

All this military equipment was made 16-17 years ago but is still in a
very good condition. Insisting on an immediate pullout of the bases,
the Georgian authorities evidently hope that the equipment will
not be taken to Russia, because this task would be too difficult,
troublesome and costly.

But the Russian military assert that they will take everything,
including two memorial T-34 tanks.

[Mikhail Mulin, captioned as commander of the 3rd battery of the
artillery battalion] If we left these weapons and equipment, we would
never know what would happen to the Georgian government and what they
might do with it.

Armoured vehicles are lined up for tens of metres. There are enough
weapons for an army of an African state behind the barbed wire fence.

The vehicles have been motionless for several years. Basically,
they could go to Russia if filled up and provided with batteries,
but they will be transported by sea aboard a big assault ship. The
reason is that there are not enough drivers.

More than half of the manpower of the base are local contractors. New
conscripts from Russia cannot get to the base for more than a year,
because the Georgian government does not issue entry visas to them.

[Mulin] There practically no conscript soldiers. I have five officers,
five conscripts and five contract soldiers in my battery.

[Correspondent] And how many people do you need?

[Mulin] There should be 54 conscripts.

[Vladimir Timoshenko, captioned as chief of staff of the artillery of
the base] My three-year-old son once said: Daddy, we are Ukrainians
with Russian passports living in Georgia. Who we are?

[Correspondent] Lt-Col Timoshenko and his family cannot choose the
route for travelling to Ukraine or Russia on their own. Since the new
administration came to power in Ajaria, all travel details have been
determined by Tbilisi officials.

[Olga Timoshenko] We must go to Tbilisi first, then return to Batumi
and travel to [the Russian port of] Adler.

[Correspondent] The Gonio training ground occupies about two sq.km. of
land near Batumi. Between doing various exercises, tank driver Zaza is
ringing his wife by mobile phone to ask her about the menu for dinner.

[Passage omitted: Georgian contract soldier says he will go to Russia
and continue to serve in the Russian army after the base pullout]

The tanks are not allowed to go beyond the training ground so that
the windows in nearby houses did not shutter and foreign investors
were not frightened off.

[Gela Vasadze, captioned as Batumi deputy mayor] You should agree
that foreign military in a resort area hinder the investment climate.

[Correspondent] Nobody has ever seen a Russian tank in the city of
Batumi. But a pretext for a conflict will always be found if someone
wants it.

[Russian soldier in Georgian police custody, speaking off camera]
I have no right to answer.

[Correspondent] This video footage was shown by all Georgian television
channels for several days. Four Russian soldiers were accused of
hooliganism and arrested. They were released later as no concrete
charges could be brought against them.

[Pte Aleksandr Yeliseyev, captioned] Acts of provocation are
common. They ask soldiers to sell them cartridges and film the scene
on camera, or ask for an interview and then misinterpret your words.

[Correspondent] The Georgian officials are competing in who will
create more obstacles for the Russian military. Supplying food from
Russia has been prohibited. The hospital has found itself in a state
of siege. The list of medicines medics are allowed to buy locally
has been shortened. The personnel has been strongly recommended not
to provide medical aid to the local population though about 50 per
cent of doctors and nurses are locals.

[Makhmud Karamirzayev, captioned as hospital head] On 1 May I was
officially notified that our licence for buying group A medicines was
annulled. These are drug-containing medicines without which any kind
of surgery is impossible.

[Correspondent] The fort D, built several centuries ago and once
used by the British army, is now one of the biggest arms depots in
the Caucasus. Hundreds of thousands of artillery shells, cartridges
and firearms are stored there. Several wagons were recently shipped
from there to a Russian base in Armenia. The Georgian authorities
did not give permission for seven months.

[Vladimir Belov, captioned as deputy commander of the 12th military
base] The ammunition shipped by trains to Armenia is a small part of
what is still here.

[Passage omitted: Lt-Col Belov, who served in Batumi for 20 years,
is packing his personal belongings; he says that he is ready to leave
but does not want to be treated as an occupier]