Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed last week
to have smashed an international operation headed by an organized crime group to smuggle arms from Georgia to Russia’s republic of North Ossetia-Alania via Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia.
The weapons in question were reportedly purchased in Georgia and transported to North Ossetia by taxi. The taxi drivers, who were paid handsomely, were reportedly not told precisely what they were transporting.
Whether the Georgian authorities were aware of -- or are suspected by the FSB of being involved in -- those deliveries is not clear.
According to the October 4 FSB announcement, officers from the North Ossetia Directorate of the FSB nabbed one driver at the Nizhnii Zaramag border post between South Ossetia and North Ossetia and confiscated a revolver and ammunition that were in his possession.
There have been at least 15 similar reports
over the past three years of quantities of weaponry and ammunition being intercepted en route from Georgia to North Ossetia, mostly discovered in North Ossetia, but on one occasion in South Ossetia.
More than 40 people have been arrested. Most of them were reportedly from North Ossetia but two were from Stavropol Krai where they had transported a consignment
of arms from South Ossetia. Five of those arrested were police officers, one from Karachayevo-Cherkessia
, and two each from Chechnya
and North Ossetia
Another North Ossetian police officer was arrested
in August 2013 after quantities of weaponry, including four Shmel flamethrowers, were found in the trunk of his car.
It is impossible to determine on the basis of the individual reports whether all the arms intercepted were dispatched by the same source and intended for the same recipient(s), and if not, what percentage was destined for organized criminal groups and how much for the North Caucasus insurgency headed by self-proclaimed Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov.
On three occasions -- in June 2010
, August 2010
, and April 2012
, the FSB or the National Antiterrorism Committee said a consignment of intercepted weaponry was intended for the insurgency.
Similarly unclear is whether other consignments of weapons were not intercepted but delivered to the intended recipient(s).
The materiel impounded ranged widely in volume and content, from revolvers
and their requisite ammunition to Kalashnikov
assault rifles, explosives plus detonators, grenade launchers
, and antitank grenades
Survivors have incriminated several former senior Georgian officials in an abortive operation last year in which young Chechens living in Europe were brought to Tbilisi and given military training with the stated intention of infiltrating them into the Russian Federation from Georgian territory to join the insurgency ranks. Instead, some of the young men were taken to the border between Georgia and Daghestan, where most of them were killed in a gun battle with Georgian special forces. The rest have since left Georgia.
But no Russian government agency has yet formally accused the current Georgian authorities of complicity in the ongoing weapons smuggling to the North Caucasus.
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili pledged three months ago
that his country is ready to offer Russia every assistance in strengthening security measures for the Sochi Olympics.
It is not known whether the FSB has requested the cooperation of its Georgian counterpart in tracing the source of the arms shipments, but David Sujashvili, director of the Information-Analytical Department at the Georgian Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that Russia has not addressed any such request to the ministry over the past year.