Russia not planning war with Georgia: FM

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has denied allegations Moscow is preparing for a military confrontation with Georgia. He said the increase in the Russian peacekeeping contingent on the border of the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia is in co

“Until now the number of our peacekeepers was lower than the agreement allows, and the build-up of additional forces is within the limits of the agreed numbers,” Lavrov said.

He also explained Russia’s readiness to protect its citizens in Abkhazia.

“Russia is not planning to go to war. The only thing I can say is that all the statements that we’ve made about the need to protect our citizens were based on the Russian Constitution which obliges the Russian state to protect the lives and dignity of its citizens irrespective of where they are,” he explained.

According to Moscow, the decision to introduce more peacekeeping troops is linked to Georgia’s readiness to start a military operation against the breakaway republic of Abkhazia – an allegation strongly denied by Georgia.

In a televised address to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, President Mikhail Saakashvili has promised a peaceful settlement to the situation.

“We don’t need a war – and the Abkhazian and the Ossetian people don’t need one either. There’s a force that wants the defeat of the Georgian, Abkhazian and Ossetian people. I promise that I won’t let it happen,” Saakashvili said.

The speaker of the Georgian parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze, said Russia was trying to provoke a “war scenario” in the region by planning to deploy a larger peacekeeping force.

“We know how to communicate with Abkhazians and Ossetians better than the Russian government does, which only talks to its own citizens living there,” she said.

“I just don’t want to draw parallels. It’s a great pity that Russia has chosen the path of confrontation, because we have repeatedly stated that we don’t want that – either in relations with Russia or any other country,” Burdzhanadze added.

Although there are reports that Georgia is increasing its forces on the border with Abkhazia, Sukhumi considers this a “war of propaganda”. Abkhazians say the situation repeats itself every spring when the region is getting ready for the summer Black Sea season.

“Today the holiday season is open and people come here to rest. But Georgia doesn’t like it and does everything to break up our travel industry,” Adgur Budba, a hotel director, said.

The official position remains the same: Abkhazia wants Georgia to withdraw its troops from the upper part of the Kodori Gorge.

The area is now being closely watched by UN observers and Russian peacekeepers. But Georgians are calling for the Russian peacekeepers to be replaced by EU forces. This, however, is not likely to happen in the near future as under the current agreements there is a need for the consent of both Russia and Abkhazia.

Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Shamba, says attempts to take control of the republic’s territory began seven years ago.  At that time there were not enough peacekeepers to stop the invasion.

“In 2001 the so-called mixed troops of Georgian partisans and Gelaev’s troops provoked military operations in the Kodori Gorge which have reduced to a local war. But our army has managed to localise the threat they didn’t have enough forces to resist,” Shamba said.  

On Tuesday the Abkhazian Parliament issued a statement urging President Sergey Bagapsh not to enter into any negotiations with Tbilisi. At the same time, Sukhumi also says it would be glad to see more Russian peacekeepers in the area.