On February 13 the Parliamentary Committees on Defense and Security and Foreign Affairs recommended that the Parliament adopt a resolution instructing the government to demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
This decision was made after State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava, Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili reported to the Committees on Defense and Security and Foreign Affairs on February 13 about the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone and the performance of the Russian peacekeepers.
“In the resolution on the peacekeepers, the Parliament, I think, will also instruct the government to submit a detailed plan on the peacekeepers’ withdrawal within a month,” Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security Givi Targamadze told Civil Georgia after the hearings.
Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze instructed on February 13 the Committee for Defense and Security to prepare a draft resolution on the peacekeepers, which will be discussed during a parliamentary session on February 15.
Below are short summaries of reports by State Minister Khaindrava, Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili and Defense Minister Okruashvili.
Khaindrava: Russian Peacekeepers Pose Threat
In his report to the parliamentarians Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava focused on the non-fulfillment of those legal decisions which serve as the basis of the peacekeeping operation in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
The Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF), uniting Russian, Georgian and Ossetian battalions, was set up and stationed in the conflict zone based on a June 24, 1992 agreement signed by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then-Head of the Georgian State Eduard Shevardnadze in Russia’s resort city of Sochi. A detailed mandate for the joint forces was outlined later in 1992 in agreements signed in frames of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) – a quadripartite negotiating body involving the Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian sides.
Khaindrava said that the JPKF mandate was amended several times, which did not work in favor of the Georgian side: once in 1997 when maintenance of rule of law was removed from the mandate and a second time, in 2001, when the zone of responsibility of JPKF was defined.
“As a result of this amendment, a 12 kilometer portion of the Tbilisi-Kutaisi central highway comes under the JPKF zone of responsibility,” Khaindrava said.
Khaindrava said that officially the South Ossetian militaries should not be represented in the JPKF. “Residents of North Ossetia should be in the Ossetian battalion but the reality is absolutely different,” he said.
Khaindrava said that disarmament of illegal armed groups and demilitarization of the region is a major task for the JPKF.
“I declare that not a single of these provisions has been fulfilled. This was clearly demonstrated by a military parade in [the South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali on September 20, 2005, when the entire world witnessed not only armed groups, but also military hardware marching in [Tskhinvali],” Khaindrava said.
He said that there are at least 11 agreements between the sides envisaging timeframes for demilitarization, but none of these have been fulfilled.
“It is a purposeful policy of preventing the demilitarization of the region; on the contrary, militarization of the region is underway and the region is turning into an iron fist,” Khaindrava said.
He said that the operations of so called Opolchentsi - uncontrolled militia groups - pose a serious threat to peace.
“There were even cases of confrontation between Opolchentsi and Kokoity’s administration and case of casualties were reported as a result of these confrontations,” he said.
Khaindrava noted that the JPKF fails not only to disarm these “uncontrolled groups” but also to prevent military exercises of then South Ossetian militias.
“18 military exercises have been held by the Russian militaries for these groups in the past 18 months,” he said.
“Today, the headquarters of the JPKF [located in Tskhinvali] is a training ground where about 500 young residents of Tskhinvali are undergoing military exercises annually,” Khaindrava added.
He also said that dismantling military fortifications is also being neglected by the JPKF. “There are at least four agreements about this, but none of them have been fulfilled,” Khaindrava said.
He also said that Russia can not be regarded as an impartial mediator in the conflict.
“40-45 thousand people received Russian passports in a period of 18 months; this means that an average of 80 passports have been issued per day,” Khaindrava stated.
“We are witnessing support of separatism by Russia… Russian peacekeepers pose a threat to Georgia,” he added.
He said noted that construction of a new road via the Ossetian village of Zari is currently underway, which will enable the South Ossetian side to link Tskhinvali with the north region and the Roki pass, by-passing the Georgian villages north of Tskhinvali.
“By this spring construction of this road will be completed and I assure you that this is done in order to impose a blockade on the Georgian villages [in north of Tskhinvali], which will no longer be needed for the South Ossetian side after this new road is built,” Khaindrava said.
He said that Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov is financing the construction of this by-pass road.
Bezhuashvili: Russia Hampers Tbilisi's Peace Plan
In his report, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili focused on the international efforts which have been carried out by the Georgian authorities over the past 4 months in order to secure international support for Tbilisi’s peace plan over South Ossetia.
Bezhuashvili said that Georgia’s peace plan has been approved by the UN, OSCE, European Union, NATO and the U.S. Senate. He noted that during the OSCE summit in Ljubljana last December, Russia, along with other OSCE member states, also supported this peace plan; however, he said, Russia later radically changed its stance.
“Russia launched activities to hamper this peace plan,” Bezhuashvili said.
Bezhuashvili said that recently “a very dangerous tendency” has emerged in the Russian policy. “They [the Russian officials] state that Russia will protect the interests of its citizens… This is a clear threat of a use of force,”
“However, it is still necessary to continue a dialogue and consultations with Russia, regardless of the Georgian Parliament’s decision,” the Georgian Foreign Minister said.
He said that Tbilisi will propose a detailed plan for demilitarizing the South Ossetian conflict zone at a session of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC) in Vienna on February 20-21.
He said that if the JCC approves this plan, which includes concrete stages and timeframes for this demilitarization process, the presence of the JPKF in the conflict zone will be essential to implement this plan.
He also said that Georgia’s western partners are calling for caution while deciding whether to demand a withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers or not.
“We fully understand that we should be careful, as there are numerous risks. But I tried to assure our foreign partners that these risks are under the control [of the Georgian authorities],” Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili said.
Okruashvili: S.Ossetia Turned into a Military Camp
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili briefed lawmakers at a parliamentary committee hearing on February 13 about the details of the armament and forces available to the South Ossetian side.
“During the past two years the Tskhinvali region has actually turned into a military camp,” Irakli Okruashvili said.
He said that the list of the South Ossetian armament includes: 26 T-55 tanks; 57 infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1 and BMP-2; 36 armored vehicles BTR-70 and BTR-80; 17 armored reconnaissance vehicle (BRDM); 6 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) Grad BM-21; 8 self-propelled howitzers 2S1 codenamed "Gvodzika" (Carnation); 2 field guns MT-12; 3 field guns D-44; 4 field guns D-30; 21 antiaircraft guns ZU-23; 19 self-propelled anti-aircraft missile systems IGLA and STRELA, as well as several 60mm and 120mm mortars.
He said that all these armaments were delivered to South Ossetia by the Russian side, which is a violation of existing agreements.
Okruashvili noted that the South Ossetian side can mobilize a total of about 5,500 troops, including reserve forces.
According to Okruashvili, the unrecognized republic’s Defense Ministry forces include upto 2,260 servicemen; the Interior Ministry – 1,100; Security Committee – 100; illegal militia groups – 2,100.
The Defense Minister submitted illustrated materials of the fortifications which, according to him, are numerous in the conflict zone.
Irakli Okruashvili reiterated that the North Ossetian battalion, which is part of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, is fully composed of South Ossetian residents - in violation of the existing agreement.
“Constant rotation of the so-called 'North Ossetian battalion' is being carried out, during which residents of South Ossetia are taken to Vladikavkaz [capital of North Ossetia], where they undergo training for further service in the peacekeeping battalion,” Okruashvili said.
He said that South Ossetian militia groups have recently purchased man-portable, anti-aircraft STRELA missile systems from the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki in south Georgia.
He also accused a Russian officer from the Tbilisi-based Headquarters of the Russian Troops in the Trans Caucasus of illegal arms trade in breakaway South Ossetia.
“Several days ago STRELA-type missiles were delivered to Tskhinvali from the [Russian] military base in Akhalkalaki. This is one of the most dangerous weapons. These missiles were sold by Semyon Konstantinovich Levkovich for USD 10,000 each. This person [Levkovich] is currently working in the GRVZ, which is the Headquarters of the Russian Troops in the Trans Caucasus, and is chief of the mobilization department there. He is personally engaged in trading this kind of weapon… These weapons have identification numbers… and the numbers, which have been erased, can be restored and prove that they are owned by the Akhalkalaki military base. Also, I want to say that about 20% of the equipment from the Akhalkalaki military base is formally enlisted to the Russian peacekeepers [stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone],” Okruashvili said.