Russians in Abkhazia issue ultimatum to Georgia
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia says it has received a Russian ultimatum that it must disarm troops near the breakaway province of Abkhazia or face Russian forces moving into Georgian-controlled territory.
Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said Gen. Sergei Chaban in charge of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia conveyed the demand Monday through U.N. military observers in the area.
The Russian move would mark a major escalation in the Russian-Georgian conflict over another Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia. With most Georgian troops concentrated in the east near South Ossetia, it could be hard for Georgia to repel a Russian offensive near Abkhazia, which lies further west on the Black Sea.
Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have run their own affairs without international recognition after defeating Georgian troops in wars in the early 1990s. Russia has deployed peacekeepers there and granted most residents passports.
The tiny, U.S.-allied Georgia, which has angered Moscow by seeking to join NATO, has accused Russia of trying to annex the two regions.
Russia's NTV television showed Chaban conducting tense talks with Georgian officers in the buffer zone that separates Abkhazia's Gali region and Georgia's Zugdidi region. Chaban said 9,000 additional Russian troops and 350 armored vehicles had arrived in Abkhazia to support Russian peacekeepers there.
He said Russian forces were also preparing to help disarm Georgian forces in the northern part of the Kodori Gorge, the only area of Abkhazia that has remained under Georgian government control.
Georgia launched an attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia. Russia responded by sending in troops which pushed Georgian forces out of the provincial capital Sunday after fierce fighting. Since Friday, Russia has also bombed many sites in Georgia far from the conflict zone, drawing harsh rebukes from the United States and other Western nations.