Thursday 14 July 2011

Some thoughts arising from Alexander Rahr's Interview "Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not return to Georgia‏"

By Metin Sonmez

Q. You used to say that recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia was a “cowboy” deed. What do you think now, was it an emotional decision or a strategic political step?

A. That's a very interesting question, but I have no answer to it yet. We don't have full information about the events which took place in 2008. Russia has been supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia for 18 years of the conflict with Georgia.

Most of the 1990s, especially when Shevardnadze-protege Andrei Kozyrev served as Boris Yeltsin’s Foreign Minister, Russia’s policy was by no means pro-Abkhazian, a CIS-blockade being imposed along Abkhazia’s River Psou border with Russia.

An excerpt: "Under Yeltsin, in 1994, (immediately after the end of the Georgian-Abkhazian war), Abkhazia was subjected to a severe economic and political blockade. According to these sanctions, no Abkhazian man aged from 16 to 65 could legally cross the Russian-Abkhazian border along the River Psou. The list of what could be taken in and out of the blockaded republic could be written on a scrap of paper. Even ordinary antibiotics, without which no medical institution could function, were prohibited.

Yeltsin's Russia seemed to be carrying out an experiment on a country that had suffered enormous loss of life, one whose economy and infrastructure had been completely destroyed. The Russian Foreign Minster at the time, Andrei Kozyrev, tried to do all he could to force President Vladislav Ardzinba to become part of Georgia again. But the severe blockade, which lasted until Vladimir Putin came to power, did not break the will of the Abkhazian people to build their own independent nation. It was under President Putin that relations with Abkhazia began to improve gradually." (Lesson to the West: Abkhazian independence is a fact by Inal Khashig).

We all know that it was Georgia that started the 1992-93 war. Sunsequently, Boris Yeltsin, together with Georgia, placed Abkhazia under a regime of sanctions. Indeed there are reasons to believe that Yeltsin actually gave Shevardnadze the green light to attack Abkhazia on 14th August 1992 in the first place.

Excerpt: "Moreover, there were other indications that Russia (Yeltsin) knew of Shevardnadze's plan and was prepared to look the other way. Commenting on the unruly nature of the Kartvelian forces, Shevardnadze remarked that he was against sending his troops into Sukhum: 'I wanted our military units to go around Sukhumi and move to Gagra... When I spoke to Yeltsin on the next day [after the beginning of hostilities], he told me: "The generals can get out of control and you, as a smart man, should know it."'['The Georgian Chronicle', Monthly Bulletin, January-February 1993, p.7.]

Guram Odisharia says (in "Absence of Will" documentary film): "At first the Georgians were better armed. The Russian government gave us a whole tank division. But then they started to arm the Abkhaz too."

As you know many volunteers from the North Caucasus (Circassians, Chechens, Abazas...) came to Abkhazia to fight against Georgia, but they were Russian citizens, and Georgia have always made capital out of this; indeed they are still trying to show that actually the war in Abkhazia was a Russian-Georgian war (rather than a Georgian-Abkhaz one).

Dodge Billingsley, explains this situation very well: "Abkhazian units, which included diaspora-Abkhazians from Turkey, Syria, Jordan as well as North Caucasians, were much better prepared to fight together for a common cause. The presence of outside volunteers on the Abkhazian side prompted Georgia and many external observers to conclude Russian complicity in favour of Abkhazia. Many in Georgia and elsewhere feel that the war was really a Russian-Georgian conflict. This is a complicated issue. Technically, all volunteers from the North Caucasus were Russian citizens. The real question, however, centres on motivation and how the volunteers saw themselves. There were many indications that Chechen assistance to Abkhazia was stimulated by independent aspirations related to a pan-Caucasian federation rather than any Russian plot. The best known Chechen to fight against Georgia, Shamil Basaev (now deputy to Chechen's President Maskhadov), stated that 'as long as the small Abkhazian people suffered in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, his units would help them, but in the event of hostilities between Russia and Georgia, the volunteers would fight on the Georgian side'[30]." (Military Aspects of the War. The Battle for Gagra (The Turning-point), by Dodge Billingsley)

It might also be appropriate to adduce Basaev's interview at this point:

Some western scholars also contribute to Georgia's black propoganda with their scribblings. Take, for example, Antero Leitzinger (Political historian and researcher for the Finnish Immigration Service) who writes so: "When the Soviet colonies had nevertheless declared independence in 1991, militant Muslims like the Chechen Basayev brothers, and some of Hikmatyar's "Afghan Arabs", were invited by the GRU to join an "Islamic cause" on behalf of Abkhazia against Georgia. Although the war of 1992-1993 was depicted as a war of independence for the traditionally Muslim Abkhazians, the Basayevs and other Muslim volunteers soon found out, that this was far from the truth. The so-called Abkhazians were old-time Communists who refused to accept democratic changes. Instead of gaining more autonomy, Abkhazia - just like Karabakh and Transdnestria - became practically operated by Russian secret services, and engaged in international arms trade and training of terrorists." (Roots of Islamic Terrorism: How Communists Helped Fundamentalists)

First Basaev and other North Caucasian volunteers did NOT come to Abkhazia in support of any "Islamic cause" but only to offer assistance to Abkhazia under the auspices of the "Confederation of the (Mountain) Peoples of the Caucasus". (Basaev's above-interview and Billingsley's piece contribute a useful antidote here.) Hikmatyar's "Afghan Arabs" claim is simply too risible to merit a response. By the way Mr. Leitzinger says that Abkhazians are "traditionally Muslim", but everybody properly acquainted with the region knows that the majority of Abkhazians within Abkhazia are Orthodox Christians (about 75%) — so much for the "Muslim Abkhazians" of Abkhazia. I am not sure what the author means by the phrase "so-called Abkhazians"; probably he is following the absurd claim proposed by some Georgians that "real Abkhazians are Georgians and modern Abkhazians (Apsuas) came to Abkhazia in the 17th century from the North Caucasus", but basically, as one can easily see, Georgia and its backers have no compunction about distorting history to serve their self-interest, and, unfortunately, such self-interest is based on lies. Can one imagine Mr. Leitzinger calling Circassians "so-called Circassians" or referring to "so-called Chechens"? Of course not, because his and his country's self-interest does not allow him to use such phrases, whereas he can easily distort Abkhazian’s or anyone else’s history. On this basis, I think one could fairly employ the term "so-called historian" of anyone who is ready to alter history for their own self-interest...

So it is simply wrong to say that Russia has been supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia for 18 years of the conflict with Georgia.


Q. Because of Kosovo… as revenge?

A. No. Russia might have waited several months and gone through international courts to achieve recognition of the republics, as the EU experts proved that the initiator of the conflict was Georgia. In this case their independence was more legitimate. South Ossetia was defending itself from Georgia, but what about Abkhazia? Its independence was recognized as well.

It was very clear that after S. Ossetia Georgia's second target would be Abkhazia. The 1994 Moscow Accords which formally marked the ceasefire in the Georgian-Abkhazian war delimited a demilitarised zone. Despite this, Saakashvili decided in the spring of 2006 to introduce an armed force that he disingenuously described as a 'police-force' into the Upper Kodor Valley, the one part of Abkhazia over which the Abkhazians had not reestablished control when they achieved their military victory at the end of September 1993, on the pretext of establishing order in an area previously controlled by a local Svan strong-man named Kvitsiani; this Valley was part of the demilitarised zone. No sanctions were taken against Tbilisi by the international community as a result of this blatant infringement of the 1994 ceasefire-agreement. Between May 2006 and the expulsion of these troops on 12 August 2008, when the Abkhazians finally brought the whole of the Kodor Valley back under their control, much money was invested in the district by Tbilisi in order to demonstrate what benefits might flow from Georgian benevolence. The region was restyled 'Upper Abkhazia', the so-called Government of Abkhazia in Exile was transferred to a new headquarters in the village of Chkhalta, where the Abkhazians found a 'NATO Information Centre' along with a sign boasting 'Our Goal Is Near' when they entered the valley after the Georgian forces had fled in disarray, and a branch of Zugdidi Bank (with cash-dispensing machine) was set up in neighbouring Azhara. A landing-strip was constructed, and a HUGE amount of weaponry (largely American, Israeli, Ukrainian) was taken up and stored there — for what purpose has never been explained. All of this ordinance was captured by the Abkhazians and removed to Sukhum, where it was briefly put on display together with trophies from the military base at Senaki in neighbouring Mingrelia, similarly abandoned by Georgian forces in their own headlong retreat when they realised the Abkhazians had crossed the border over the R. Ingur and were heading for that base. Also captured was a computer on which were found telling photographs depicting US military instructors giving lessons to Georgian troops in how to construct improvised bombs which can be seen at (end of page).

See also the documentary film ''Georgia - Crisis in the Caucasus'', by Journeyman Pictures (September 2008), which clearly shows everything.

In this documentary Colonel Christopher Langton, who has served as both deputy head of the UN's mission in Abkhazia and as Britain's defence attaché in Georgia refers to: "...its [the West’s] assistance to Georgia and the fact that Georgia abused that friendship by using weapons and equipment given to them for illegal purposes."

CHRISTOPHER LANGTON: I remain convinced that the Georgians attacked Tskhinvali before Russian units moved from North Ossetia into South Ossetia.”

Q. But the Georgian action came after a series of incidents which shrewd observers of the Kremlin say may have been designed to provoke the Georgians into a war they couldn't win.

CHRISTOPHER LANGTON: “I don't know if 'trap' is the right word, but I would certainly say that a number of things had been going on which would have definitely provoked Saakashvili into some type of action at some time, and they did, so the provocation was deliberate – I'm in no doubt about that.

Of course, one might talk about provocations against Georgia just before August 2008, but, at the same time, we should not miss the enormous provocations against Abkhazia which took place for years after the 1992-93 war and were committed by such Georgian government-backed terrorist-organisations as The White Legion and The Forest Brothers, through to the Georgian government-sponsored assault FROM THE KODOR VALLEY by a group of Chechens under Ruslan Gelaev in 2001, and the aforementioned introduction of troops into the Upper Kodor Valley in 2006.

Unfortunately, the West preferred to turn a blind eye to these things and to many other provocations organised by GEORGIA.

Basically, Abkhazia (like S. Ossetia) has been defending itself from a Western-backed Georgia for more than 18 years. This, then, is the answer to the question "What about Abkhazia?"

Metin Sonmez

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