Georgia will have “zero tolerance” of Abkhaz militarization, President Saakashvili said in response to Russia’s withdrawal from a treaty imposing sanctions on the breakaway region.
Speaking at a session of the National Security Council the Georgian leader warned that Russia would be “fully responsible for all the consequences” that might follow, what he called, Abkhazia’s militarization.
Officials in Tbilisi stress that Russia’s withdrawal from the 1996 CIS treaty poses a threat because, apart from financial and trade sanctions, military cooperation with Abkhazia is also banned under the treaty.
“Member-states of the CIS will prevent the sale or supply in the conflict zone by their citizens or from their territories or through the use of vessels or airplanes flying their flag, of arms, relevant technical devices of all types and spare parts, ammunition, military transports and equipment,” the treaty reads. It also bans training of Abkhaz military personnel, as well as “recruitment of their [CIS member states'] citizens and sending them to the conflict zone for participation with any military entities existing there.”
“Today I want to stress the position of the Georgian authorities,” President Saakashvili said. “We are declaring a policy of zero tolerance towards the deployment of armed forces, military hardware, military instructors and mercenaries in Abkhazia. We are declaring a policy of zero tolerance towards the militarization of Abkhazia."
He said the Russian move was “an extremely dangerous provocation,” which aimed at destabilizing the entire Caucasus region. “Georgia will spare no efforts to prevent this type of scenario,” Saakashvili said.
He also said Russia’s decision was more than just aimed against Georgia; it was, Saakashvili said, a Russian “demarche” against the western powers in general, specifically calculated in response to their recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
“Russian officials at all levels have been warning us that they planned to respond to the United States and western [policy] towards Kosovo by [undertaking actions] in respect of Georgia, in respect of Abkhazia,” he said. “This is what we were directly told when we visited Moscow [in February].”
President Saakashvili said a day after meeting his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on February 21: “The Russian side indicated clearly that it would not recognize either South Ossetia or Abkhazia.” On February 27, the Russian Foreign Ministry, however, strongly denied assuring Tbilisi that Moscow would “never recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia.”
Speaking at the NSC session on March 7, President Saakashvili said the timing of Russia’s decision to withdraw from the 1996 CIS treaty, ahead of a NATO summit in Bucharest in early April in which Georgia hopes to get an invitation to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP), was “not a coincidence.”
“We should continue our course towards integration into the North Atlantic alliance, towards preparing for the NATO summit in Bucharest,” Saakashvili said. “It is not just a coincidence that these actions [by Russia] are undertaken just now ahead of the Bucharest summit. Georgia should not be derailed from its strategic course.”
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on March 6 after a NATO foreign ministerial council in Brussels that “no decisions have been taken” on inviting Georgia to join the NATO MAP. He said discussion on the matter would continue until the Bucharest summit.
Meanwhile, Georgian lawmakers from the ruling National Movement Party said Parliament was expected next week to pass a strongly worded statement condemning Russia’s move to pull out from the CIS treaty, calling it “an annexation.” Speaking in Parliament on March 7, MP Kote Gabashvili, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, called for consultations with the opposition to achieve cross-party consensus on the matter.
A group of opposition parties, meanwhile, is preparing for a protest rally outside Parliament on March 9. The event has been totally overshadowed by the latest developments in Russo-Georgian relations, with little or no media coverage devoted to it.