Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008
While the world’s attention was fixed on the Russian-Georgian contest over two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources reveal that Russia has massed a fleet of warships and marine forces opposite the Gerogia’s semi-autonomous Black Sea region of Ajaria.
Moscow is preparing to punish what it regards as Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s further provocations by occupying this coastal strip on Georgia’s southwestern border with Turkey.
The appearance of Ukraine’s president Viktor Yushchenko alongside Saakashvili, leaders of the pro-Western Orange and Rose Revolutions, at a huge national rally outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi Tuesday night, Aug. 12, may well be seen by the Kremlin as over the top. It came hours after Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s gesture to the European mediation bid of ordering the Russian military operation in Georgia halted there and then.
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Half of Ajaria’s ethnically Georgian population professes Islam, in contrast to the country’s Christian majority. The other half is Russian.
Ajarian has come to mean a Georgian Muslim.
The Russian Black Sea buildup is deployed opposite the Ajurian capital of Batumi, an important port for the shipment of oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Its oil refinery handles Caspian oil from Azerbaijan.
When Saakashvili was elected president five years ago, the region’s leaders refused to recognize his authority and maintained close ties with Moscow up until May 2004 when, after Ajurians demonstrated against Tbilisi, he ordered them to obey the Georgian constitution and disarm.
Russia maintained a military base at Batumi which it agreed to close by November 2007.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that by recovering the base, Moscow will not only punish the Georgian president, but also profit from the turmoil of the past week in three ways:
1. A third semi-autonomous province will be hacked off Georgian territory after the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
2. Russia will gain a strategic Black Sea foothold at Turkey’s back door.
3. It will also control a gateway to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
This article was posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 3:17 am