08TBILISI2458, GEORGIA: MILITARY MOVES FROM ABKHAZIA ON THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI2458 2008-12-23 12:18 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO3421
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #2458/01 3581218
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 231218Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0619
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0154
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4747
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2227

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 002458 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/218 
TAGS: PGOV PREL MOPS RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: MILITARY MOVES FROM ABKHAZIA ON THE 
HORIZON? 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 2271 
     B. HTTP://WWW.ABKHAZIAGOV.ORG/RU/PRESIDENT/PRESS /NEW- 
        S/DETAIL.PHP?ID=14295 
     C. TBILISI 2053 
     D. TBILISI 2413 
     E. HTTP://CONSILIUM.EUROPA.EU/UEDOCS/CMSUPLOAD/1 6110- 
        8%20RUSSIANS%20RETURN%20TO%20PEREVI.PDF 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C)  Summary and comment.  The chilly winter air in 
Georgia is rife with rumors that the Abkhaz and Russians are 
planning military action in the near future, possibly to 
annex undisputed Georgian territory north of the Enguri River 
and establish the river as the "border."  Facts on the ground 
seem to lend these rumors credibility: de facto Abkhaz 
authorities have passed a law unilaterally redrawing the line 
along the river; UNOMIG and others have observed a 
substantial military buildup along the administrative 
boundary; and anecdotal evidence suggests something is afoot. 
 Post assesses that, if a decision were made by the Abkhaz 
and Russians to move on the areas around Ganmukhuri and 
Khurcha, they could establish control within about an hour, 
with the Georgians able to offer little resistance.  It would 
take only slightly longer to grab the triangle of land west 
of the Enguri Dam.  Although seizing the strategically 
important triangle is diplomatically riskier and therefore 
possibly less likely than a move on Ganmukhuri and Khurcha, 
the seizure of any territory would represent a real test for 
the U.S. and the international community.  Now is the time, 
before anything happens, to consider not only how we might 
react in the event, but also what we should do now to raise 
the cost to Abkhazia and Russia and reduce the likelihood of 
any moves.  End summary and comment. 
 
Preparations are underway 
 
2. (C) Georgian officials have been warning that the Abkhaz 
and Russians have their eyes on the pieces of undisputed 
Georgian territory north of the Enguri (ref A).  A quick look 
at the map shows the attraction.  Making the river the line 
of demarcation would offer clear strategic advantages in 
terms of maintaining control of the boundary.  Controlling 
the area west of the dam would furthermore give the Abkhaz 
and Russians the ability to control the dam, and therefore 
both elements of the Enguri hydroelectric production system. 
In recent weeks, the chatter in the press and elsewhere about 
such an intention on the part of the Abkhaz and Russians has 
increased, especially with regard to Ganmukhuri and Khurcha. 
 
3. (C) Changing facts on the ground indicate such chatter is 
not unfounded.  On October 26 the Abkhaz "Parliament" 
announced it had adopted a measure to define the southern 
"border" of Abkhazia as the Enguri River itself, beginning as 
far east as the Nenskra River (ref B).  This would include 
the areas around Ganmukhuri, Khurcha, and the triangle west 
of the Enguri Dam.  This legislative act seems to lay the 
groundwork for a more forceful assertion of that boundary at 
some point in the future. 
 
4. (C) Steps to prepare for such a move seem to be proceeding 
apace.  Along with an ongoing expansion of Abkhaz and Russian 
fortifications along the existing boundary (ref C), there has 
been a significant uptick in the movement of military 
hardware in recent weeks.  The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) 
has heard from locals there are now 100 Abkhaz or Russian 
tanks in the Gali region, and has itself seen evidence of 
Qtanks in the Gali region, and has itself seen evidence of 
tanks across the boundary.  The Georgian press reported 55 
tanks moving into Gali District on December 11 and a military 
unit in Gagida, just north of Ganmukhuri.  Russian units have 
reportedly been deployed in Pichori (north of Ganmukhuri), 
Sida (north of Khurcha), and Chuburkhinji (just east of Sida) 
-- all villages close to the boundary.  The press also 
reported that Russian forces have been deployed in the 
heights of Gali District that allow observation and 
potentially shelling into Zugdidi District. 
 
5. (C) Over the last month or so, UNOMIG has seen its freedom 
of movement greatly limited.  It can now count on access only 
to a narrow corridor along the M-27; any movements beyond 
that corridor depend on the mood of local Abkhaz forces. 
UNOMIG can rarely gain access to the area close to the 
boundary.  On December 12, for example, locals told UNOMIG 
that 12-14 tanks had moved toward Nabakevi (inside Abkhazia, 
just across the administrative boundary from Khurcha), and 
that the road they took was then closed for civilian use.  A 
 
TBILISI 00002458  002 OF 003 
 
 
patrol tried to verify the information by approaching the 
location from another direction, but was prevented from 
proceeding by a Rus
sian road block.  Despite these 
limitations on its patrols, UNOMIG has been able to confirm 
significant military movements and equipment in recent weeks. 
 On December 11, for example, a patrol directly observed a 
convoy on the M-27 heading south, consisting of 10 T-72 tanks 
equipped with reactive armor, 6 self-propelled howitzers, 2 
armored personnel carriers with turret and machine guns 
mounted, and other vehicles; the convoy was eventually 
observed turning off the highway toward Salkhino village 
(inside Abkhazia between Gali and Zugdidi).  UNOMIG also 
confirmed the presence of unidentified vessels off the coast 
of Ganmukhuri on December 7 and 20, one of which seemed to 
resemble a Grisha-class frigate. 
 
What would Georgia do? 
 
6. (C) Based on the apparent strength and location of Abkhaz 
and Russian forces in the area, post assesses that, once a 
dcision is made to take the areas around Ganmukhuri and 
Khurcha, the Abkhaz and Russians could do so in about an 
hour.  The triangle of land west of the Enguri Dam would not 
take much longer to seize.  The Georgian Interior Ministry 
has reinforced its positions along the boundary; UNOMIG 
reported on December 18, for example, an increase in the 
number and staffing of Georgian posts in the Ganmukhuri area. 
 The EUMM reported December 22 that the Georgian 24th tank 
battalion, consisting of 26 T-72s, recently moved to Senaki 
Base; the EUMM speculated that this move was in response to 
recent moves in Abkhazia.  Nevertheless, considering the 
tactical difficulty of defending territory on the far side of 
the river and the larger military risks of renewing 
engagement with the Abkhaz and Russians, it is unlikely that 
the Georgians would be able to put up much resistance to a 
determined movement to take the areas near Ganmukhuri, 
Khurcha, and the triangle west of the dam. 
 
What will the Abkhaz and Russians do? 
 
7. (C) Post has heard many predictions that the Abkhaz and 
Russians will move at some point.  A half-Abkhaz, 
half-Georgian employee of a western NGO based in Gali, for 
example, recently told EmbOff that a Russian military 
commander told her additional military action was coming this 
spring.  Some observers expect action against Ganmukhuri and 
Khurcha within three months.  Although the value of these 
predictions vary, it is possible to consider issues the 
Abkhaz and Russians will analyze when making their decision. 
The strategic interest for the Abkhaz and Russians in both 
occupying additional territory and establishing a more 
naturally defensible "border" is clear.  The military risk 
also seems to be fairly low. 
 
8. (C) The primary question for them is therefore whether the 
benefits are worth the potential diplomatic costs.  In making 
this determination, the Abkhaz and Russians will no doubt 
look to the example of Perevi (ref D).  In this case, Russian 
forces established control over a village clearly outside the 
administrative boundary of South Ossetia; in fact, they 
implicitly recognized its location when they withdrew their 
forces on December 11.  When they decided they needed to 
maintain control, however, they reintroduced their forces on 
December 13, and the Georgian side withdrew.  Although some 
international observers, such as the EUMM, promptly condemned 
Qinternational observers, such as the EUMM, promptly condemned 
the Russians' reentry (ref E), the Russian side apparently 
made the determination that controlling the area -- which has 
far less strategic significance than the areas north of the 
Enguri -- was well worth the censure.  That censure was not 
unanimous or overwhelming, however.  On December 22, EmbOffs 
in fact heard from the EUMM that even its statement was 
itself internally criticized by EU Special Envoy Pierre 
Morel, who apparently feared it would upset the Russians on 
the eve of the third round of Geneva talks. 
 
9. (C) Because the Enguri Power Station generates 40 percent 
of Georgia's electricity in the winter, the international 
community would likely react quite strongly to any move on 
the triangle west of the Enguri Dam.  Some observers 
therefore suggest that the Abkhaz and Russians will move on 
Ganmukhuri and Khurcha, not the triangle, and observe the 
reaction. 
 
What will we do? 
 
10. (C) Considering the changed situation on the ground and 
 
TBILISI 00002458  003 OF 003 
 
 
the various incentives and disincentives, post considers it 
quite possible that Abkhazia and Russia will move at some 
point in the future to annex the territories north of the 
Enguri.  This is therefore the time to consider a response if 
such a scenario plays out -- and what steps we might take to 
ward off such a move.  The international community was able 
to work together to stop the fighting on August 12, but it 
has not yet successfully enforced the terms of that 
cease-fire.  The situation in Perevi suggests that Russia has 
calculated that the international community will tolerate 
even further violations, at least around the edges of the 
current situation.  Unless we clearly articulate the damage 
further incursions will do to Russia's international 
standing, it may well decide an improved boundary for 
Abkhazia is worth a bit of scolding.  It may eventually 
decide that controlling 40 percent of Georgia's winter 
electricity -- and all of Abkhazia's -- is worth some 
diplomatic pain as well.  A stronger response to the 
situation in Perevi might send a different signal on the 
costs of ignoring existing boundaries.  A rejuvenated UNOMIG 
might be better able to monitor and deter military action. 
An EUMM with access into Abkhazia might do the same.  All of 
these steps will be difficult, requiring concerted efforts by 
a coordinated international community -- but they would be 
easier than determining an appropriate response to annexation 
after the fact. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

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