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Abkhazia - August 2008

In western Georgia, there were reports in August 2008 that Russian forces had entered the Black Sea port town of Poti, a key oil terminal. The deputy head of the Russian armed forces' General Staff, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said at a Moscow press conference that Russian peacekeepers were carrying out intelligence operations in Poti. Russian commanders have said their purpose now is to demilitarize conflict areas and assure security for residents following looting. But late Thursday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told foreign reporters that a column of more than 100 Russian tanks and other vehicles was moving from western Georgia toward the country's second-largest city, Kutaisi, nearer the center of the country.

On Thursday 14 August 2008 Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the recognition of the republic's independence was the main condition for opening talks with Georgia. According to the ministry, the recent meetings of the UN Security Council showed that the international community would not guarantee Abkhazia's security if Georgia resorted to military aggression against the country. "Georgia's actions backed by misleading information disseminated by major US and British mass media have confirmed that Georgia has been considering the way of resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict using force," the ministry declared. With this in view, Abkhazia finds it necessary to keep the Russian peacekeeping contingent on its territory.

On Wednesday 13 August 2008 there were reports that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had decided to denounce an agreement on the Russian peacekeeping mission's presence in Abkhazia and declare the Russian armed forces in the Abkhaz region occupation troops. The decision of the Council of the CIS Heads-of-State dated September 19, 2003 on positioning Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) in the conflict zone in Abkhazia provided for the possibility of automatically calling an end to this peacekeeping operation in the event any party to the conflict should make the corresponding claim. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tbilisi's demand to cease peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia, which are carried out in full compliance with international law, appeared as nothing but an attempt to lay groundwork for a new military undertaking, only this time against Abkhazia. Moscow considers it impossible to decide the fate of the peacekeeping operation without taking into account the opinion of the Abkhaz side. The positioning of the CIS CPF in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone is supported by the UN Security Council, which is expressed on numerous occasions in its resolutions, including Resolution 1808 of April 15, 2008.

On Wednesday 13 August 2008 Georgian troops said they had pulled out of the last small section of Abkhazia they had controlled, leaving the area in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. Georgia's Deputy Defense Minister Baku Kutelia said that Russian forces had already been pulled back from Zugdidi to Abkhazia.

President Viktor Yushchenko, back from a visit to Georgia to offer support in its confrontation with Moscow, introduced tougher regulations on the movements of Russian warships based in his ex-Soviet state. On August 13, the president issued a decree ordering Russia to advise 72 hours in advance of any movement by its ships, aircraft, and personnel based in Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities would be empowered to alter its travel plans. A statement issued after a meeting of the National Security Council said the presence of foreign warships "poses a potential threat to Ukraine's national security, particularly if parts of Russia's Black Sea fleet are used against third countries".

In Moscow, the Interfax news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry sources as saying that the new regulations were "politically motivated" and "lacking a serious nature. They contradict all the agreements between Russia and Ukraine concerning the Black Sea Fleet." Under a 1997 agreement, Ukraine agreed to lease harbor space in the Crimean base of Sevastopol until 2017 -- as an exception to a provision in the post-Soviet constitution barring foreign bases from the country.

Putting further pressure on Georgia, separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, west of the main war theater, launched a push early on Tuesday 12 August 2008 to drive Georgian forces out of the Kodori Gorge -- the only area of that province under Georgian control. "The operation to liberate Kodori Gorge has started," Abkhazia's self-styled foreign minister Sergei Shamba is quoted by Reuters as saying. "Our troops are making advances. We are hoping for success." Abkhazia insisted that the Russian military, which sent 9,000 troops and 350 armored vehicles to the province in recent days, was not involved.

The Georgian Defence Ministry said the operation was launched at 0600 Moscow time on Tuesday. Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba said that, before Tuesday, the Abkhazian Air Force and artillery had been delivering missile and bomb strikes on military targets in the upper part of the Kodori Gorge. Units of regular troops and reservists of the armed forces of Abkhazia are taking part in the operation on Tuesday. "Georgian troops are fully blocked in the upper part of Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge," said Mirab Kishmaria, Abkhazia's Defence Minister. "We offer a humanitarian corridor for all of them to leave. If the Georgians don't use this opportunity, an operation for their elimination will begin."

Russia also announced its troops had left the Georgian town of Senaki, having secured it from attacking South Ossetia. "Russian peacekeepers and military units attached to them have been taking action to prevent Georgia from shelling South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers," a spokesman for the Defence Ministry said. Another objective of the operation was to prevent 'a build-up of additional volunteers and reservists' mobilised to continue military operations in the breakaway republics. Moscow denied reports of Russian peacekeepers entering another Georgian city, Poti.

A spokesman for the Russian navy said that although the Black Sea Fleet has approached the conflict zone, it is not going to block Georgian ports because Russia is not at war with Georgia. The purpose of the deployment of Russian Black Sea fleet vessels near the coast of Abkhazia is to facilitate the protection of Russian citizens in the region, support the Russian peacekeeping contingent, and provide humanitarian aid to civilians in the conflict zone, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a telephone call with Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk. During the conversation, held on Ukraine's initiative, an open exchange of opinions on the situation in South Ossetia took place.

As of 11 August 2008 an additional nine thousand Russia paratroopers and more than 350 armored vehicles were expected to be deployed to Georgia's breakaway province Abkhazia, to bolster Russian troops that are permanently based in the region.

On Monday 11 August 2008, Russian forces entered the Georgian towns of Senaki and Poti. Both Senaki and Poti are over 30 kilometers into "Georgia Proper" and just beyond the "Restricted Weapons Zone" that had been established by UN peacekeepers.

Russian forces took control of Senaki, Georgia's largest airbase, about 40km from the border with Abkhazia. The Russian Defence Ministry said the troops were taking 'preventative action' at the base in the town of Senaki. For the first time since Georgia launched a military offensive against South Ossetia, ground forces belonging to the Russian peacekeeping contingent had begun operations inside the borders of Georgia proper. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said Russia had launched preventive military operations near Senaki to avert possible further attacks on South Ossetia. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze later said Russian troops had captured the Senaki base, but the report has not been confirmed by Moscow.

The Defense Ministry justified the operation in Senaki, which lies outside the so-called security zone along the de facto Abkhaz boundary, by a need to avert new attacks on the other breakaway region of South Ossetia. "Russian peacekeepers and support units are carrying out an operation aimed at... preventing Georgian forces from regrouping to carry new attacks on South Ossetia," a ministry spokesman said. "Senaki is one of the places where such actions were under way." The Russian troops later withdrew from Senaki, Russian and Georgian officials said, with Tbilisi saying its military base there had been destroyed.

Russian troops entered Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti, an oil and cargo shipping center, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said on Monday. "According to our information, Russian troops have entered Poti, as well as being in Senaki and Zugdidi," he said in a televised address. The Russian Defense Ministry denied reports that Russian troops had entered the Georgian port Poti.

Ukraine wants Moscow to agree to a deal restricting the use of Russia's Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet in armed conflicts, a top Ukrainian diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Konstyantyn Yeliseyev, said on Monday 11 August 2008. Two Russian warships - the Moskva missile cruiser and Smetlivy patroller - returned to the Russian port of Novorossiisk on Sunday evening, 10 August 2008. The Moskva had been docked at the Sevastopol base before its deployment near Georgia.

A group of ships from Russia's Black Sea Fleet including the flagship Moskva guided missile cruiser arrived on Sunday 10 August 2008 in the eastern part of the sea near the Georgian border. The Moskva, accompanied by a patrol vessel and supply ships, travelled from the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea. The ships joined three large landing craft that earlier arrived in the area from Sevastopol and the Russian port of Novorossiysk. A spokesman for the president of Georgia's breakaway republic, Abkhazia, earlier said the local administration and peacekeepers had asked Russia to reinforce its naval presence near the Abkhazian coast after Georgian warships attempted to approach the coastline.

The Ukrainian side considered that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation cannot take part in the events surrounding Georgia. On 10 August 2008 the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that "The Russian side acts in accordance with international law, in particular, with the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine of 1997 and with the Agreement between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on the Status and Terms of the Presence of the Black Sea Fleet on the Territory of Ukraine, primarily with the provisions of its articles 6 and 8. We would like to note that nothing in the said treaties empowers the Ukrainian side to determine the forms of conduct by the Russian fleet of its activities. The aim of the operation of Russian naval forces off the coast of Abkhazia is to provide conditions for protecting Russian citizens in the region, rendering support to the Russian peacekeeping contingent in case of an armed attack on it, and lending humanitarian aid to the civilian population in the conflict zone. Force will be used only in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter in order to exercise the inalienable right of the Russian side to self-defense. Thus, the measures which the Ukrainian side is threatening to apply would not correspond to the aforesaid Russian-Ukrainian treaties and would be unfriendly towards the Russian Federation." UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mullet said that all 15 members of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) had to leave the Kodori Gorge on the insistence of Abkhaz authorities. He said the UNOMIG staff is unable to gather information from the Georgian side and is thus forced to rely on Russian media reports only.

Intense military activity was evident in the Kodori Gorge in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia on Sunday 10 August 2008. The upper Kodori gorge is the only part of Abkhazia still controlled by Georgia. According to the breakaway republic's president Sergey Bagapsh "the pushing-out operation will be carried out in full."

The Georgian government claimed that 6,000 Russian troops had deployed into South Ossetia, and 4,000 more had deployed to Abkhazia. About 2,500 Russian peacekeepers were already deployed on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia before the latrest conflict began. Russia was reported to have demanded the United Nations withdraw its observers from Abkhazia. Russian-supported separatists in Abkhazia launched air and artillery strikes to drive Georgian troops from the small part of the province they control. Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh gave Georgia a deadline for removing its troops from the upper Kodori Gorge.

On Saturday 09 August 2008 fighting between the two sides reportedly spread to Abkhazia, another disputed region. Officials reported Russian warplanes hit targets in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Russian ships have prevented Georgian military vessels from nearing Abkhazia. Troops from Georgia's second breakaway republic, Abkhazia, entered the Gali region of Georgia, according to Abkhazian officials in the capital Sukhumi. Abkhazia army launced an operation to force Georgian troops out of the upper part of the Kodori gorge earlier on Saturday. It started with use of artillery and air strikes against Georgian forces.

It was also reported that the Russian Navy had deployed ships off the coast. Russia had deployed elements of its Black Sea Fleet from their base at Sevastopol, Ukraine. The force includes three amphibious assault vessels, two anti-submarine warfare vessels, a reconnaissance ship, two minesweepers, two missile boats, a missile cruiser and a variety of aircraft. According to a source in the Russia's defense ministry, three assault ships were earlier sent to the same destination. 'This is not a sea-blockade, as a blockade would mean a state of war with Georgia, while we are not in a state of war', the source said.

Georgia's National Security Council Secretary, Aleksandr Lomaya, earlier said that Russian ships had reached the Abkhazian port of Ochamchir. Russian warships prevented a Ukrainian ship carrying grain and an unidentified oil tanker from docking in the Georgian port of Poti. Kakha Lomaia, head of Georgia's Security Council, said eight Russian warships were docked at Abkhaz ports. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said that Georgian missile boats twice tried to attack Russian ships, which fired back and sank one of the Georgian vessels. The Russian naval squadron was blockading Georgia's Black Sea coast.

Ukraine, where the ships were based, warned Russia that it has the right to bar the ships from returning to port until the conflict is resolved because of their mission. "In order to prevent the circumstances in which Ukraine could be drawn into a military conflict . Ukraine reserves the right to bar ships which may take part in these actions from returning to the Ukrainian territory until the conflict is solved".

Ukraine says the move corresponds with the international law. Ukraine's position is consistent with the provisions of the "Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War" (Hague XIII); October 18, 1907.

    Art. 5. Belligerents are forbidden to use neutral ports and waters as a base of naval operations against their adversaries ...
    Art. 8. A neutral Government is bound to employ the means at its disposal to prevent the fitting out or arming of any vessel within its jurisdiction which it has reason to believe is intended to cruise, or engage in hostile operations, against a Power with which that Government is at peace....
    Art. 12. In the absence of special provisions to the contrary in the legislation of a neutral Power, belligerent war-ships are not permitted to remain in the ports, roadsteads, or territorial waters of the said Power for more than twenty-four hours ...
    Art. 13. If a Power which has been informed of the outbreak of hostilities learns that a belligerent war-ship is in one of its ports or roadsteads, or in its territorial waters, it must notify the said ship to depart within twenty-four hours or within the time prescribed by local regulations.
    Art. 14. A belligerent war-ship may not prolong its stay in a neutral port beyond the permissible time except on account of damage or stress of weather. It must depart as soon as the cause of the delay is at an end.

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Page last modified: 29-09-2012 18:43:49 ZULU