Abkhazia May Hold Exercises As Response to Georgia NATO Drills

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MOSCOW (RIA Novosti)–The unrecognized republic of Abkhazia may hold its own military exercises in response to NATO’s planned drills in Georgia next month, Abkhazia’s President said on Friday.

The Cooperative Longbow 09/Cooperative Lancer 09 command-and-staff exercise, led by the Western military alliance, will be held from May 6 through June 1, but will not feature light or heavy weaponry.

“The planned NATO exercises in Georgia do not lead to the stabilization of the situation in the Caucasus,” Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said. “We observe the situation in Georgia and we will conduct our own drills in response.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed the drills as “disappointing,” saying they threatened to complicate ties with Russia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the exercises could raise tensions in the Caucasus region.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states after a five-day war last August with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Most residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had held Russian citizenship for several years.

Bagapsh said Abkhazia was with Russian assistance reinforcing the border with Georgia to prevent protests against President Mikheil Saakashvili spreading to its territory. He also said additional security measures would be introduced on the border by the time the NATO drills began in Georgia.

Speaking about the planned Russian military base in Gudauta, in the west of Abkhazia, Bagapsh said it was expected to “open in the near future.”

“The agreement has been signed. The base is practically in place,” Bagapsh said, adding that the number of servicemen needed “to maintain peace and stability in Abkhazia” would be finalized later.

The Abkhaz leader said the Russian naval base would be also built in the coastal town of Ochamchira, in Abkhazia, which is to be used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. “There will be five to six Russian craft and 10 of ours,” he said.

Bagapsh earlier said Russia would deploy a total of 3,800 troops in Abkhazia for the next 49 years.

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