Eurasia Daily Monitor

September 16, 2009-Volume 6, Issue 169

*Russia signs military agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia


by Vladimir Socor

On September 15 in Moscow, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov
signed agreements on military cooperation with the "defense ministers"
(Russian citizens Kishmaria and Tanayev) of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On the same occasion Russia's Border Guard Service command, subordinated
to the Federal Security Service (FSB), announced that border guard units
have been fully deployed to Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and that the
Russian coastal guard is taking over the protection of Abkhazia's
maritime "border" in the Black Sea.

These agreements and deployments defy the French-brokered,
European Union-endorsed armistice documents of August and September
2008, which had required the withdrawal of forces to positions they held
prior to the outbreak of the war. Russia, however, has violated the
armistice de facto through the continued stationing of substantial
forces in both territories. The September 15 agreements, moreover, endow
those violations with a Russian "legal" veneer (and even an Abkhaz and
South Ossetian "legal" veneer, from Moscow's standpoint). Russia's
Defense Ministry has provided summaries of the agreements for Russian
media (Interfax, Itar-Tass, September 15).

The military cooperation agreements with Abkhazia and South
Ossetia will run for 49 years, with automatic prolongations by
successive five-year periods afterward. Under these documents, Russia
shall "build, use, and improve bases and other military infrastructure"
in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian ground troops' strength will
amount to 1,700 in South Ossetia and another 1,700 in Abkhazia, apart
from border troops and the coastal guard. Additionally, the Russian
military will be in charge of "air space security and control" (which
Russia had imposed already by June 2008 de facto).

The main bases and headquarters will be located [as they already
are] in Tskhinvali and Gudauta. (Russia had accepted in 1999 an
obligation to evacuate the Gudauta base in 2001, but the OSCE failed to
ensure its implementation). Russia will also be in charge of "organizing
inter-state military transportation" (apparently denoting Russian
discretionary use of the railroad, ports, and roads for military

The Russian military will also be in charge of "coordinating
confidence-building measures." This point seems to imply Russian
supervision of Abkhaz and South Ossetian responses to the E.U.-proposed
confidence-building measures along the respective demarcation lines.

The Russian military will create "joint groups of forces" (a
Soviet/Russian term denoting minor allies under Russian command) in the
two territories, in peacetime and wartime. Russia will equip and train
Abkhaz and South Ossetian troops, as well as seconding Russian military
and technical specialists to serve with those local troops. Under this
framework agreement, Russia will enter into follow-up agreements with
Abkhazia and South Ossetia regarding "military-technical cooperation"
(i.e., arms deliveries) and other technical aspects.

Concurrently with the defense ministry's signing ceremony,
Russia's coastal guard command made public some of its ongoing
activities and plans for Abkhazia. Lieutenant-General Viktor Trufanov,
Deputy Head of the Russian Border Guard Service and head of its coastal
guard, announced that more than 1,000 border troops are currently
serving in Abkhazia (a similar number is reported for Russian border
troops in South Ossetia). Trufanov's briefing focused on the maritime
mission for Abkhazia, which is now getting under way there.

Ships and boats from the Russian coastal guard's Black Sea-Azov
Sea division have been assigned to protect "Abkhazia's waters." Their
declared role is to intercept and detain "intruder ships from Georgia,
off the coast of Abkhazia" as part of a general mission "to guarantee
the security of the Russian state and the Abkhaz state." The Russian
side claims to be "acting in accordance with the law" (unspecified).
However, Russian law does not apply here; Abkhaz law cannot exist; and
international law recognizes Georgian sovereignty.

The Russian command intends to complete by November the basing
arrangements for coastal guard ships and boats at Ochamchire, in the
southern part of Abkhaz-claimed territory. It also plans to install a
shore-based radar with 100 percent coverage of the waters. Work to
upgrade the Soviet-era naval base at Ochamchire had begun last October,
but was delayed by underfunding when the economic crisis hit (Itar-Tass,
Interfax, September 15).

In mid-August, a Georgian coastal guard boat intercepted a Turkish
commercial vessel bound for Abkhazia with a contraband cargo of fuel
products. The incident was resolved in early September with Turkey
through diplomatic channels. Moscow and Sukhumi reacted vociferously to
the Georgian move and continue to protest to this day, although the
interception took place on the high sea. In this light, Russia's stated
goal to fend off Georgian ships "in Abkhaz waters" sounds implausible
and misleading. Russia's real goal appears to be protection of
third-party shipping engaged in illegal trading with the unrecognized
Abkhaz authorities.

--Vladimir Socor