Russia sends reinforcements to Abkhazia

Three days after sending in troops to South Ossetia, Russia has deployed more forces in Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia, effectively opening a second front in its military operation in the former Soviet republic.

"The force consists of more than 9,000 troops and more than 350 armoured vehicles," said a spokesman for Russia’s peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia. He described the deployment as "strengthening of the peacekeeping contingent" in the region. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in Abkhazia since 1994 following a conflict where the coastal region broke away from Tbilisi’s control.

Peacekeepers commander in Abkhazia, General Sergei Chaban, said he had issued an ultimatum on Monday to Georgian forces in the Upper Kodori Gorge, a demilitarised part of Abkhazia, to disarm or face an attack. Georgia had moved in troops and artillery in the region two years ago in violation of the 1994 ceasefire agreement with Abkhazia.

"If the ultimatum is rejected all necessary enforcement measures will be used," said the Russian commander. Russia has continued to build up military pressure on Georgia even as its President Mikheil Saakashvili reportedly pleaded for peace. The Russian Air Force has established full superiority in the Georgian airspace, Russia’s deputy chief of General Staff General, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said at a Moscow news briefing on Monday. Russian warplanes carried out more strikes against Georgian targets, including an aircraft factory where Georgia’s Su-25 warplanes were assembled. Russian warships deployed off Georgia’s Black Sea coast have sunk a Georgian gunboat, when four gunboats entered the zone of blockade, said General Notovitsyn.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is leading a mediation mission to Georgia, said he had obtained Mr. Saakashvili’s agreement to sign a peace plan and would now take it to Moscow. However, later on Monday, Georgian forces resumed bombardment of South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, and Russian positions in the region, killing three Russian peacekeepers.

Casualties rise

Russian military losses in South Ossetia have risen to 18 men killed, 14 missing and about 50 wounded, said General Nogovitsyn. Russia has also admitted losing four warplanes. The Deputy Chief of Staff said that contrary to Tbilisi’s claims some Georgian forces remained in South Ossetia, even as they suffered considerable losses.

U.S. military aircraft on Sunday transported 800 Georgian troops serving in Iraq, along with "about 11 tonnes of cargo, back to Georgia," said General Nogovitsyn, adding that Russia would deploy additional forces to offset these Georgian reinforcements.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev vowed never to relinquish Russia’s strategic hold on the Caucasus and that Russia had to intervene militarily to stop Georgia’s "disgusting aggression" against South Ossetia.

"Russia has historically been a guarantor of security in the Caucasus," said Mr. Medvedev at the Kremlin. "We have never been and will never be passive onlookers in the region," he added. At a meeting with Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Monday, Mr. Medvedev said "a major part of operations" in South Ossetia had been completed. Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin slammed the West for supporting Georgia its aggression against South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, a row has broken out between Russia and Ukraine over the latter’s support for Georgia in the current crisis. Ukraine said it may not allow Russian warships patrolling in the Black Sea to return to their base in Sevastopol.

[Source: By Vladimir Radyuhin, The Hindu, 12Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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