Thousands of Georgians marched on the streets of central Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, chanting anti-Russian slogans to defy Moscow’s newly proposed deal to join Russian-Abkhazian forces under one command.
Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, declared its independence in early 1990s and fought a brutal secessionist war with Georgian army with backing from Moscow. Georgia, with no outside help and marred by two separatists wars – the other one was with South Ossetia, also backed by Russia – had to succumb to pressure and sign a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement allowing Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zones.
Negotiations led nowhere and former President Saakashvili’s attempt to retake the rebel region of South Ossetia in August 2008 was rebuked by Russia’s iron fist. Russian troops driving deep into Georgia with an excuse of protecting Russian citizens – Moscow had distributed Russian passports to South Ossetians and Abkhazians – stopped short of invading the capital Tbilisi to overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili. The Russian tanks were eventually stopped by appeals from Western powers and personal brokering of President Sarkozy, whose meddling in was later considered devastating for Georgians. Under the agreement, the victorious Russian troops withdrew with Kremlin recognizing the two breakaway regions as independent states. A few other Oceanic states on Kremlin’s payroll came onboard supporting Medvedev’s (Putin’s) government in giving acknowledgement to separatist regions.
Abkhazia happens to be a strategic point for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. After consolidation of territorial gains in Crimea, Ukraine’s province where Russian fleet operated, Moscow is firm in further strengthening of its leverage of South Caucasus, especially given the fact that a number of pipelines and shipments carrying Caspian hydrocarbons and other commodities to the West are going through Georgia.
Georgians think, and rightfully so, that Moscow’s plan to join separatist Abkhazian and Russian forces under one command is the next move by Kremlin to annex Abkhazia. Many perceive the plan as a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the potential joining of Georgia to NATO. Georgia which already signed the Association Agreement with Europe spent tremendous political efforts to bring NATO to Georgia. However, the new, seemingly ineffective Georgian government recently sacked the overly pro-Western Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania – followed by resignation of some other pro-Western ministers – to signal Russia it would behave.
This Saturday’s rally in Tbilisi organized by the Georgian opposition called the Russian government to refrain from its annexationist policies and withdraw from Eastern Ukraine. They also chanted slogans against the Georgian government for being a passive observer as Moscow readied to annexed what is an internationally recognized part of Republic of Georgia.
Stretched as they are, Russian forces have been committed to the battle of Ukraine where President Putin seeks to establish a Novorossiya, subjugated to Moscow. So, with pro-Russian Abkhazian forces, Russia would need not expand its military manpower in South Caucasus, allowing the separatist nationalists to take care of potentially resurgent Georgia.
The opposition party “United National Movement” which organized the protest is led by the former pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili. In regards to the new move by Moscow, he was quoted saying that the Georgian government was “bowing its head and trailing the [Russian] bear”.
Signing a military pact with Abkhazian separatists is also a stern message to Moldova which also signed the Association Agreement with Europe and has a breakaway region of its own. Transdnistria is also ruled by pro-Russian separatist authorities backed by Moscow. It is widely believed that Moscow also actively but tacitly supports the Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenian armed forces in early 1990s, by supplying Armenian army with subsidized rates. In a quest to reestablish a new Russian dominion where USSR once existed, President Putin recently went as far as signaling to the Kazakhstan government that their country should be as much worried about policies affecting Russian interests.