Crossfire War – MOSCOW WATCH – South Caucasus Theatre: Moscow/Tbilisi; Pre – Ultimatum Move – Moscow Recalls Ambassador from Tbilisi – Prepares to Evacuate Non-Essential Embassy Personnel and Family Members – War of Words – Accusations Escalate – Moscow Briefs Washington
Night Watch: TBILISI – This latest crisis in the South Caucasus flashpoint was set off by the arrest Wednesday of four Russian senior officers and six others working with them, by Georgian authorities who have accused them of illegal intelligence gathering. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili stated, “Four Russian intelligence officers and their local agents have been detained. The suspects were conducting illegal intelligence gathering in Georgia. GRU Colonel Alexander Sava, leader of the spy ring and Lieutenant Colonel Dimitry Kazantsev have been detained in Tbilisi.” The two other Russian officers were arrested in Batumi on the Black Sea. [RIA]
The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded their immediate relase. Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov responded by saying, “Gangsterism in Georgia has taken on a state scale. We have already issued warnings to Russian military officers and their families to avoid going out.” Earlier in the day he had accused Georgian law enforcement agencies of assaulting seven Russian servicemen, a junior officer and six soldiers, saying that, “They were beaten and their car and weapons confiscated.” Georgia Interior Ministry has denied the incident. [RIA]
The Foreign Ministry then followed up with this announcement, “Due to the growing security threat to staff of Russian organizations in Georgia and members of their families, a decision has been made to begin their partial evacuation from the country. The first Russian Emergencies Ministry flights to carry this out are scheduled for September 29.”
On that day the Deputy Foreign Ministers of both governments are to meet in Moscow in an attempt to defuse the situation. But obviously Georgy Mandzhgaladze and Grigory Karasin will probably do nothing more than re-state their respective governments positions. It will probably be a brief meeting. Washington Ambassador to Russia, William Burns, is currently being informed of Moscow’s position by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
The reason why the situation is so potentially explosive is because it is quite possible the second incident, the beating of several Russian soldiers, may not have taken place. Moscow could simply be adding more fuel to the fire in order to justify its military response. Russia is no stranger to conflict in this area. During the early 1990’s, at the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, Russia was caught up in the fighting between territorial states, in and around Georgia, as they attempted to remain politically connected to Russia. Moscow openly supports the secessionist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia both of whom want independence from Tbilisi. This current crisis could provide Moscow its excuse of finally removing Georgia’s troublesome and perhaps unbalanced head of state Mikheil Saakashvili.
Leading Russian Ministers of Parliament in their call for economic sanctions on Georgia is the extreme nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, vice-speaker of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament. He has openly called for the suspension of oil and gas sales to Georgia. Zhirinovsksy is author of the book, “The Move South.” There is a chance Russia’s next move south could temporarily disrupt the flow of oil and gas in energy pipelines that criss-cross the region.