PRAGUE (RFE/RL)–Georgian officials have sought to present last week’s incursion into the Kodori Gorge as a major territorial gain. But such claims gloss over the Georgian failure to apprehend former Kodori Governor Emzar Kvitsiani–whose defiance of the Georgian authorities served as the catalyst for what Tbilisi claims was simply a police operation.
Speaking on national television on July 28–Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia now "directly controls a very important strategic part of the territory of Abkhazia," and will "establish Georgian jurisdiction and constitutional order in the heart" of that breakaway region.
"We have a good army in Georgia. They are really good boys…but the commander…is an idiot. He knows nothing about military strategy." — Kvitsiani
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said the same day that "practically the whole of the gorge is under the control of the police."
Such claims are–however–an exaggeration–insofar as Georgia has merely extended its control over the upper reaches of the gorge — formerly a no-man’s-land controlled by Kvitsiani’s Monadire (Hunter) militia — as far as the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.
Kristian Bzhania–a spokesman for Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh–derided the Georgian claims–telling regnum.ru that "we have another word for what Saakashvili calls the heart."
Bagapsh himself warned when the Georgian forces first entered Kodori that he would mobilize his army if the Georgian contingent actually advanced onto Abkhaz territory.
Saakashvili and Okruashvili praised the conduct of the Kodori operation–which was supervised by Okruashvili and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili personally as both army and Interior Ministry troops took part. (Okruashvili subsequently clarified the division of responsibilities between the Defense and the Interior ministries–saying that the latter carried out the operation and the armed forces merely provided "logistical support," according to "Novye Izvestia," as cited on August 1 by apsny.ru.)
Former Governor Emzar Kvitsiani (InterPressNews–undated)US military personnel in Georgia described the Georgian troops’ performance to one Washington analyst as less than stellar–noting that morale among the Georgian servicemen was not good and that at one point the operation was halted due to "inclement weather conditions."
The Russian newspaper "Vedomosti" on July 28 likewise quoted unnamed "experts" as saying the Georgian military is not yet professional enough to conduct large-scale operations.
Former Kodori Governor Kvitsiani–who managed to evade the advancing Georgian troops and whose current whereabouts are unknown–was particularly scathing. He said in video footage broadcast on July 30 by the independent Georgian television channel Imedi that claims that his fighters were surrounded were "laughable."
Kvitsiani claimed that the Georgian troops "do not know the area and cannot read maps…. We have a good army in Georgia. They are really good boys…but the commander…is an idiot. He knows nothing about military strategy."
Russian experts have pointed out that even if–as Abkhaz presidential envoy to Gali Raion Ruslan Kishmaria has alleged–Georgia is deploying more troops to the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge with the aim of advancing into the lower reaches and attacking Sukhum–the Abkhaz capital–such an offensive is fraught with risk.
"Izvestia" on August 1 quoted an unnamed Russian general as saying that "starting a campaign in Kodori in summer would be suicidal." He pointed out that the mountains are covered in foliage–providing the enemy with excellent cover–and that it would be virtually impossible to use armor or heavy artillery. A Russian military analyst similarly noted that at one point the gorge narrows to the point that two platoons of Abkhaz special forces could easily block any further Georgian advance.
Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili said on July 31–however–that Tbilisi has no intention of using Kodori as a bridgehead to advance further into Abkhazia. And Abkhaz President Bagapsh apparently sees no danger of such an advance at this point.
Bagapsh told volunteers from the North Caucasus on August 1 that there is no need at this juncture to mobilize the entire male population of Abkhazia–Caucasus Press reported–although he added that "there are people within the Georgian government whose ambitions are so high they are incapable of rational decisions."
But Abkhaz Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sultan Sosnaliyev told Interfax on August 1 that Tbilisi is secretly replacing the Interior Ministry troops deployed to Kodori with regular military personnel — a claim that has not been verified.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on July 31 demanding the immediate withdrawal of all Georgian forces from Kodori. That statement warned that the Georgian authorities’ actions risk fueling tensions and provoking an unanticipated "confrontation."
Meanwhile–Okruashvili responded on July 31 to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s demand for international monitoring of the Georgian troops in Kodori by saying Tbilisi would consent only after international military experts have been allowed to inspect the former Russian military base in Gudauta–Abkhazia.
Under an agreement signed in November 1999–Moscow undertook to withdraw its troops and materiel from that base by July 1–2001–but the Georgian government claims that some Russian personnel are still there. Whether Okruashvili is trying to buy time in order to prepare for a new offensive is as yet unclear.