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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Georgia-Russia Spy Rift

I spent a lot of time in Georgia nearly every year between 1993-2001 (things got a bit busy elsewhere post 9-11), and most of that time in the disputed separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The recent hubub regarding Russian spies in Georgia is basically more of the same, although Georgia's recent incarceration of Russian officials and subsequent hand-over of said individuals to the OSCE is without precident.

Since Georgia declared independence in 1991, there have always been Russian spies in Georgia, or politely said, a strong Russian influence in Georgia. The Caucasus have been a flashpoint for super-power politics since the Soviet Union failed and lost its grasp of the region, and Georgia is right in the middle of it all--not least of which because of Georgia is now a central link in the oil supply corridor from the Caspian Sea to markets west.

But before oil flowed through the Baku Ceyhan Pipeline, much Georgian-Russian angst centered on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (There used to be three separatist enclaves in Georgia but a couple years ago Aslan Abashidze, the defacto ruler of Adjhara, gave up and relocated to Russia proper. Until the end he enjoyed good relations with Russian military units based near the regional capital, Batumi, and the Turkish border, and thwarted then President Shevardnadze's attempts to remove Russian forces from Adjhara. Abashidze's partnership with Russian forces was considered a linchpin of his success in staving off Georgian initiatives of resecuring Adjhara and its vital sea ports on the Black Sea.)

Anyway, back to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgians claim that neither separatist region would be separatist at all if it weren't for Russian support, and Georgian officials have more or less constantly demanded Russian peacekeepers in both regions leave "Georgian territory" in exchange for international peacekeepers--or no peacekeepers at all. Georgians have also insinuated, and even spoken plainly, that if the Russians were out of the way, Georgian forces would retake Abkhazia and South Ossetia with no problem.

However, the Georgian military, although the benefactors of US military training aid, would be hard pressed to retake Abkhazia on their own. More on this later...

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