08TBILISI1689, RUSSIAN CHECKPOINTS STILL PRESENT, POTENTIALLY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI1689 2008-09-24 14:57 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0605
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1689/01 2681457
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241457Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0137
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0114

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001689 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR RU GG
SUBJECT: RUSSIAN CHECKPOINTS STILL PRESENT, POTENTIALLY 
DESTABILIZING 
 
REF: TBILISI 1654 (NOTAL) 
 
Classified By: DCM Kent Logsdon for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  According to the Georgian 
National Security Council (NSC), 13 Russian checkpoints 
remain on undisputed Georgian territory as of September 23 -- 
6 in western Georgia and 7 in the east, outside South 
Ossetia, along with 1 supply base in the west and 1 
communications center in the east.  The total number of 
Russian servicemen staffing the points is about 1,620, with 
units near South Ossetia generally larger, although frequent 
movement of forces makes precise figures for individual 
points difficult.  Equipment in Georgia proper includes 4 
tanks, 219 armored vehicles, 4 helicopter landing pads, and 1 
anti-aircraft system.  NSC staff characterized the western 
points as designed to control the Enguri Dam and those in the 
east as more mobile, with large numbers of elite paratrooper 
units at various points and 150 armored vehicles at 
Megvrekisi just south of Tskhinvali.  Post notes that the 
presence of any Russian forces on undisputed Georgian 
territory threatens stability, as extremely limited contact 
between Russian and Georgian forces, even in close quarters, 
make any incident or misunderstanding a potential flashpoint. 
 In addition, Russian attempts to control the Enguri Dam 
could result in the cut off of hydroelectric power to Georgia 
from the dam (reftel) which could cause immediate energy 
shortages.  End summary and comment. 
 
2. (SBU) NSC staff offered a briefing on Russian checkpoints 
to the diplomatic corps at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 
September 23.  Based on visits to 12 of 16 checkpoints open 
through September 18 (three have since closed), the 
presentation included basic information about the 
checkpoints, summarized below.  The presentation also 
highlighted that the existence of these checkpoints violated 
point 5 of the August 12 cease-fire agreement on the 
withdrawal of both sides to pre-war positions.  The blocking 
of access to humanitarian relief providers through these 
checkpoints violated point 3 of the agreement.  In addition, 
the presentation suggested that the presence of Russian 
forces contributed to general insecurity, listing cases of 
killings, looting, theft, kidnapping, as well as, harassment 
and ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians on territory 
controlled by Russian forces.  According to NSC staff, much 
of the information was collected through personal visits of 
NSC staff to the checkpoints, although in some cases, Russian 
forces did not allow any access to the checkpoint.  During 
these visits, the NSC staff identified themselves as 
journalists. 
 
3. (SBU) The information provided below derives from the 
NSC's presentation, unless otherwise noted. 
 
THE CHECKPOINTS 
 
4. (SBU) Western Georgia.  As of September 23, the following 
points remain in western Georgia: Anaklia, Ganmukhuri (both 
in Zugdidi District), Potskho, Khoko (both in Tsalenjikha 
District), Kanti (between Tsalenjikha and Chkorotskhu 
Districts), and Chkorotskhu (in Chkorotskhu District).  In 
addition there is a supply base in Onaria, near Zugdidi. 
Anaklia, Ganmukhuri, Potskho and Khoko are all converted CIS 
Peacekeepers checkpoints; Kanti and Chkorotoskhu are new, 
established after August 13, 2008.  One between Mujava and 
Chale closed on September 22, after the NSC conducted their 
visits.  NSC staff noted that the location of these points 
generally suggested an intent to maintain control of the 
Enguri Dam, which is located outside the administrative 
boundary of Abkhazia, and provides hydroelectric power to 
Georgia. 
 
5. (SBU) South of South Ossetia.  As of September 23, the 
following points remain south of South Ossetia: Perevi (in 
Sachkere District), Ptsa (in Kareli District), Variani, 
Karaleti, Ergneti, Megvrekisi-Bhrotsleti (all in Gori 
District), and Odzisi (on the administrative border between 
Mtskheta and Akhalgori Districts).  In addition there is a 
communications center near Shavshebi.  All these points were 
established after August 13, 2008.  One checkpoint at Ali 
closed on September 21, and one at Jvari Pass closed about 
the same time.  NSC staff noted that all of these points were 
minutes away from the east-west highway and could therefore 
be used to shut down the primary east-west transportation 
route. 
 
6. (C) Post notes one discrepancy on the map provided by the 
NSC.  According to the OSCE and sensitive sources, the 
communications center at Shavshebi is on a mountain ridge 
south of the main east-west highway.  (This checkpoint is 
 
TBILISI 00001689  002 OF 002 
 
 
referred to in some reports as Natsreti; the villages of 
Shavshebi and Natsreti are close together, quite close to the 
highway, and the Russian presence is near both.)  On the NSC 
map, however, the Shavsebi communications center is located 
north of the highway.  Sensitive sources note that Russian 
vehicle
s regularly use the main highway to travel to and from 
this location. 
 
7. (SBU) NSC staff observed all points except Ptsa, 
Megvrekisi, Ergneti and Odzisi, to which they were denied 
access to by Russian forces or to which they could not gain 
access for security reasons. 
 
8. (SBU) NSC staff also noted that in many cases, a Georgian 
police checkpoint was present close to, and often in sight of 
the Russian checkpoints. 
 
STAFFING, EQUIPMENT, AND CONCERNS 
 
9. (SBU) In general, the NSC staff noted that checkpoints in 
western Georgia had smaller, platoon-size units (between 20 
and 60, with Kanti having 100 servicemen), while those south 
of South Ossetia had larger, company-size units (about 100 
troops each).  Most in the west had 3-6 armored personnel 
carriers (APCs), while most in the east had about 7 
paratrooper armored vehicles (BMDs); exact numbers were 
difficult to establish, because not all vehicles are visible 
from positions safe for the observers (such as the road). 
Megvrekisi was the major exception; NSC staff estimated it 
had 150 armored vehicles, serving as a hub for troop 
movements among points outside South Ossetia.  Onaria had 4 
tanks, 4 APCs and 150 servicemen; Shavshebi had 20 
servicemen.  Anaklia, Potskho, Perevi, and Odzisi all had 
helicopter landing pads; Khoko had an anti-aircraft system. 
 
10. (SBU) The NSC also noted some specific concerns.  South 
Ossetian forces reportedly cross into undisputed Georgian 
territory and visit the checkpoint at Perevi on a regular 
basis.  The commander of the Ptsa checkpoint is reportedly 
ethnically Ossetian.  At a number of checkpoints, snipers are 
regularly present. 
 
RUSSIAN AND GEORGIAN (NON-)COMMUNICATION 
 
11. (SBU) In response to a question, NSC staff suggested that 
Georgian and Russian forces have extremely limited direct 
contact.  In those cases where Russian and Georgian forces 
are in sight of each other, they will occasionally 
communicate through visible signals, but they did not 
communicate on even this basic level if snipers were present 
on the Russian side for fear of being misinterpreted.  OSCE 
sources have told post that Russian commanders do provide 
information about troop movements directly to senior Georgian 
officials, but that is the only regular avenue of direct 
contact between Russia and Georgia on the status of the 
checkpoints.  The OSCE also said that, in the case of 
incidents (such as the recent shooting at Karaleti), 
lower-level Russian and Georgian officials may exchange 
information, but only on a limited basis. 
 
COMMENT: REAL POTENTIAL FOR PROBLEMS 
 
12. (C) The lack of regular contact and coordination between 
Russian and Georgian officials renders a tense situation 
potentially explosive.  With large numbers of armed personnel 
and substantial military equipment on both sides, any 
accident, provocative act or even rumor could spark renewed 
conflict.  Recent killings of Georgian police officers in 
Karaleti, Ganmukhuri and Khurcha, along with the downing of a 
Russian drone September 22, demonstrate that serious 
incidents can and will happen.  Post has urged the Georgian 
side to show restraint, and OSCE and UNOMIG monitors have 
moved quickly to respond to reports of incidents to prevent 
escalation.  Until Russian troops withdraw completely from 
undisputed Russian territory, however, the possibility for 
real trouble remains.  End comment. 
TEFFT

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