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  • Norbert Strade
    * *_The JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION_ Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume 5, Number 83 ANNEXATION AND MILITARIZATION OF ABKHAZIA CONTINUE APACE By Vladimir Socor Thursday,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2008
      Eurasia Daily Monitor

      Volume 5, Number 83


      By Vladimir Socor

      Thursday, May 1, 2008

      Russia has again challenged Georgia and the West in Abkhazia, this time
      with military action. Its first challenge had been President Vladimir
      Putin’s April 16 decree, authorizing direct official relations between
      Russian government bodies and the secessionist authorities in Georgia's
      Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions (see EDM, April 18). This unilateral
      move amounted to official “legal” recognition in terms of Russian law,
      formalizing Russia’s de facto annexation policy in the two territories.

      This move is now being followed up with overt militarization and
      cross-border acts of aggression in Abkhazia.

      On April 20 a Russian MIG-29 fighter plane shot down a Georgian unmanned
      aerial reconnaissance vehicle (UAV) over the Gali district in southern
      Abkhazia, deep inside the internationally recognized Georgian territory
      and airspace. The Israeli-made, Georgian-operated UAV is an unarmed
      drone, merely a flying photographic and video camera, used by Georgia ‘s
      Internal Affairs Ministry to ascertain Russian military movements in
      Abkhazia. The drone transmitted in real time the images of the Russian
      plane approaching and firing an air-to-air missile at the UAV. Posted by
      Georgian authorities on you.tube, the film corroborates Georgian radar
      data tracking that same MIG-29 as it gained altitude over the
      Russian-held Gudauta military airfield, flying over the Gali district
      and then turning north into Russian airspace. Georgia immediately
      proposed to Russia to exchange radar and any other data on the incident.
      As of April 30 the Russian side had not responded (Georgian Ministry of
      Foreign Affairs statements, April 21, 26, 30; Russian Ministry of
      Foreign Affairs statement, April 29).

      Moscow claims that any one of the new NATO member countries with
      residual MIG inventories might have staged the incident in order to
      provoke Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov told this tale
      to the European Union during high-level meetings on overall EU-Russia
      relations on April 29 and 30 in Luxemburg (Interfax, April 29, 30). This
      claim brings a slight variation to the master theme that Georgia fires
      at Georgian targets in order to accuse Russia, as Moscow insisted after
      the Russian air attacks in March and August 2007 over Abkhazia and South
      Ossetia, respectively.

      Unwittingly contradicting Moscow‘s version of the April 20 incident,
      Abkhaz authorities were quick to claim that they had themselves shot
      down the Georgian UAV (Apsnypress, April 21). Although inherently
      absurd, this claim could have prompted international inquiries to Russia
      about its illegal arms deliveries to Abkhaz proxy forces, inside the
      internationally recognized Georgian territory. Such inquiries have yet
      to come, however.

      By shooting down the UAV, Moscow almost certainly aimed to reduce
      Georgian (and, by implication, Western) ability to monitor the next
      Russian military moves into Abkhazia, which have been underway since at
      least April 29. On that date Russian convoys of artillery, armored
      vehicles, and additional troop units crossed the internationally
      recognized Russia-Georgia border at the Psou River, into the
      secessionist territory. Moscow has announced that its troops opened and
      are manning a number of new “border checkpoints” on what Moscow
      described as a Russian-Abkhazian border, which is actually the
      Russian-Georgian border in international law (Interfax, April 29, 30).

      Moscow claims, as Lavrov told the EU in the Luxemburg meeting, to be
      “preventing bloodshed” and “protecting Russia’s citizens” in Abkhazia,
      in response to Georgian troop deployments in the upper Kodori Valley.
      The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), however,
      indirectly refuted that accusation by announcing that it had not
      observed any such Georgian troop deployments. UNOMIG monitors the area
      alongside Russia’s own “peacekeeping” troops. On the whole, Moscow
      portrays its latest military moves as an increase in its “peacekeeping”
      operation. Russia did not prenotify, let alone request consent from, the
      legally sovereign Georgian government or any international organization.

      These moves violate multiple international legal norms and specific
      agreements. Russia’s “peacekeeping” operation is nominally a
      Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) operation, an illusion accepted
      for convenience by the UN. Although this cover does not make the Russian
      operation a legal one in any sense (the CIS has no authority to mandate
      peacekeeping operations), any additions to the operation would
      necessitate approval by CIS countries’ heads of state, at least on
      paper. Aware that it could not muster such approval, Moscow has moved
      unilaterally, thus discrediting both the CIS in its purported
      peacekeeping role and the UN for its acceptance of that pretense.

      Furthermore, Moscow is now openly erasing an internationally recognized
      border through military force. It also exacerbates its continuing breach
      of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) by augmenting the
      Russian heavy weaponry in Abkhazia, which is also Georgian territory
      from that treaty’s point of view. Russia has deployed “unaccounted-for
      treaty-limited equipment” (UTLE) in Abkhazia and other secessionist
      territories for the past decade, above treaty ceilings and beyond
      international verification. Some of that hardware (as well as lighter
      weaponry) has been placed at the disposal of unlawful secessionist
      forces. Russia also holds onto the Gudauta base and is apparently using
      it, despite Moscow’s 1999 commitment to vacate the base by 2001.

      International and Western organizations have, on the whole, tacitly
      tolerated Russian militarization measures in Abkhazia from the 1990s to
      now. These organizations and leading Western nations will risk their
      credibility if they continue such tolerance after Moscow‘s latest,
      overtly military moves.

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