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Aug. 05, 2004
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Georgia Bursts the Banks
// Mikhail Saakashvili Announces Sea Blockade of Abkhazia
Friendship of Nations
Yesterday, Georgia and Abkhazia were on the verge of starting a new war. Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili gave orders to sink all vessels, including ships with Russian tourists on board, entering the Abkhazian port of Sukhumi without the permission of Georgian authorities. In response, Abkhazian authorities accused Tbilisi of state terrorism and the RF Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Georgia that, any attempts upon the lives of Russian citizens will receive a fitting rebuff.
Tourists Non Grata

Mikhail Saakashvili made his sensational announcement late Tuesday night. The Georgian president said, I have given an order to open fire on all ships that violate our territorial waters. Saakashvili emphasized that his words were first of all related to Russians. "In those places where Georgian blood was spilled, where they played soccer with the severed heads of Georgians, you cannot unfold chaise lounges. When the situation in Abkhazia is finally settled and when all of those tragic chapters are a thing of the past, Russian tourists will be the most welcome guests in Abkhazia. Please, come then, and spend your money.

But now, if you want to come to Sukhumi by sea, you should be aware that a Georgian warship a few days ago opened fire on a ship that had violated our sea border by entering the Sukhumi port," he said.
Saakashvili was referring to an incident a few days ago when a frontier guard opened fire at a Turkish dry cargo ship heading into the Sukhumi port. The ship was damaged but found shelter at the port, where it still remains. The Georgian patrol boat returned to neutral waters, where several Georgian military vessels are keeping watch.

After that, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned all countries that, by order of the president, the ports of Abkhazia will be closed until complete regulation of the conflict in Abkhazia is attained and any vessel headed to those ports must first go through inspection at the port of Poti and receive appropriate clearance. The president, though, was very clear about who this practical blockade of Abkhazian banks was directed against.

An Eye for an Eye

Saakashvili's announcement provoked a very strong negative response in Abkhazia. First, Abkhazian First Vice Prime Minister Astamur Tarba called Saakashvili's words a demonstration of state terrorism and mentioned that the structures managing the security of the sea zone of the Abkhazian border were commanded to take adequate measures in relation to Georgian military ships. Then Defense Minister of the unrecognized republic Vyacheslav Eshba assured journalists that the Abkhazian navy will do everything it can to provide for the safety of vessels arriving in Abkhazia. He clarified, We are ready to include the army with them, should a need for that arise. Head of the Abkhazian Security Service Mikhail Tarba added that, Abkhazian aviation would also be brought to bear against the violators.

Russia's response was just as harsh: Statements like that show that Tbilisi is beginning to lose proper view of the reality of today's world, a Foreign Affairs Ministry representative said. He also warned Tbilisi, Any attempts to damage or take the lives of Russian citizens will be rebuffed. Such demarches, if realized, will be taken as a hostile act with all consequences arising from that.

Therefore, all sides have entrenched their positions, leaving no way to retreat. The Georgian president has sworn to sink ships with Russian tourists. Abkhazia promised to sink Georgian ships in return. And Russia made known that any incident involving its citizens will be taken as a hostile act from Georgia. Those kinds of statements are usually followed by a declaration of war on the aggressor.

Therefore, this time not only Georgia and Abkhazia, but Russia as well, are on the verge of a new war in Transcaucasia.

Navy Power of Georgia and Abkhazia

Georgia's navy has 30 ships at its command. The main forces are made up of missile boats Dioskursia (class Combattante II, received from Greece in 2004, armed by two Exocet MM38 cruise missiles with 49 km. range) and the Tbilisi missile boat (206MP Vikhr, given by Ukraine in June 1999, is equipped with P-15M cruise missiles with 80 km. range). Besides that, the navy has two 106K Vydra storm-boats, received from Bulgaria, three 1400M Grif patrol boats, 4-5 1398B Aist boats, 15-20 patrol boats of different kinds received from Turkey, Greece, USA, Germany, and Romania.
According to unofficial information from media sources, Georgia's navy may also possess a 1241 Molnia missile boat with P-15M missiles and two small 1124 Albatros anti-submarine boats.
Georgia's military manpower is no more than 2000 people, commanded by Vice Admiral Gigla Iremadze. The main base of the fleet is located in Poti. The boats are maintained at shipbuilding facilities in Poti and Batumi, and at the Balaklava Metallist shipyard.

Because of the vast variety of ships from different countries, which are hard to maintain and provide parts for them, the fleet is not highly efficient.
Georgia's fleet has no experience in carrying out fight operations, but a number of ships took part in practice battles of the Black Sea basin countries.
The military fleet of Abkhazia, by official information, has Komsomolets Abkhzii and Sukhum motor ships, Raduga-5 and Raduga-8 boats, a self-propelled barge and a few other boats. These originally civilian vessels have been equipped with artillery and unguided missiles.
According to Georgia's State Border Security Department, the Abkhazian Navy is in reality much more powerful and has a 205P Tarantul patrol boat, six 1400M Grif patrol ships, 12 Nevka hydrofoil boats and 7-10 boats of other modifications. The Abkhazian Navy has three divisions with headquarters located in the area of Sukhumi lighthouse. The main Naval bases are Sukhumi, Ochamchira and Pitsunda. Manpower consists of 100-150 people.
Abkhazian sailors have experience from the war of 1992-1993 (they landed their troops several times and blocked the opponent's sea communications.)
Lately, Abkhazia has strengthened security along its shoreline in preparation for the possibility of sea troops landing.

Andrey Kokoshin's Car Fired On in South Ossetia

Yesterday, Chairman of the Duma Committee on CIS and Compatriot Relations Andrey Kokoshin arrived in Tskhinvali, where he met with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, who commands the CIS peacekeeping force. When the car with the Russian delegation was passing through the conflict zone, it was fired at in the area of Sarabuki village. Kokoshin said that the shots came from a subdivision of Georgia's Ministry of the Interior.

Georgia's Ministry of the Interior told a Kommersant reporter that, in his opinion, nothing serious had taken place by Sarabuki village, and all the hysteria in the Russian media is premeditated informational sabotage supported by Russian officials. A Ministry of the Interior spokesman also called the report of the attack on Ossetian villages by Georgian troops and firing on the Russian delegation headed by Andrey Kokoshin a fib.

However, a Kommersant source in the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the fact that the skirmish in Sarabuka area did take place. According to him, it was provoked by the Ossetian party. He said the shooting was done mainly into the air, and nobody was hurt.

Vladimir Novikov, Tbilisi; Oleg Zorin

All the Article in Russian as of Aug. 05, 2004

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