Georgia: Moscow's Next Step In Spy Row
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A Georgian police officer escorts one of the detained Russian 'spies' today (InterPressNews)
PRAGUE, October 2, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Even with the four arrested intelligence officers safely back in Russian hands, Moscow is likely to take a number of retaliatory measures.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 1 summoned his security and military chiefs, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Central Bank head Sergei Ignatiev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, plus key infrastructure ministers to discuss the crisis.
Russia is unlikely to push a military response, as it would likely bolster international support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Instead, Moscow will probably rely more on diplomatic, political, or economic measures.
Georgia is heavily reliant on Russia for trade, energy, and economic remittances from Georgians working in Russia.
- Diplomatic measures could include continuing to halt visas issued to Georgian citizens (this began shortly after the crisis began), the arrest of Georgian intelligence officials in Moscow, and the expulsion of diplomatic and military staff from Russia. Russia has already withdrawn its ambassador and evacuated Russian civilians and diplomats from Georgia. Moscow, however, is wary of completely cutting off relations with Tbilisi as this would set a dangerous precedent for other CIS countries and could lead to a further breakdown in commonwealth relations.
- Political measures could include pressure on Georgia through the European Union, the United Nations, or the United States. But this could be problematic as the United States and Britain have already blocked in the UN Security Council the draft of a resolution critical of Georgia introduced by the Russian delegation on September 30. And perhaps Moscow has also been discouraged by the recent introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate supporting Georgia's accession to NATO. The bill is being spearheaded by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist and has bipartisan support.
- In terms of possible military pressure, the "shoot-to-kill" order, given to Russian troops based in Georgia, still remains. But Russia's Defense Ministry has also announced its Black Sea Fleet will carry out naval games off the Georgian coast. Russia is also pushing for nonporous borders. On September 28, Putin visited a Federal Security Service (FSB) border-troops station in the Abkhazian sector of the Russian-Georgian border. Putin demanded that the border be sealed from the "Black to the Caspian seas." Russia, however, is cautious of overplaying its military hand. The Kremlin is wary of rallying world opinion against it as in the case of Israel's use of force against Hizballah in Lebanon, which was criticized by many as excessive. As one Kremlin adviser, Gleb Pavlovsky, said, "Moscow will not go into the Caucasus...like a mousetrap."
- Estimates vary, but it's possible up to 1.5 million ethnic Georgians, both Russian and Georgian citizens, live and work in Russia. They send remittances home that Russia says could be worth up to $2 billion every year, up to 20 percent of Georgia's gross domestic product (GDP). Georgia says the figure is much lower, with the National Bank of Georgia estimating that in the first eight months of this year Georgians transferred $219 million back home. In comparison, the export of wine -- which was banned by Russia earlier this year -- contributes only 3 percent of Georgian GDP. According to Viktor Militarev from the Moscow-based National Strategy Institute, in order to disrupt money transactions, Russia could use the pretext of an "anti-money-laundering operation."
- Russia could also disrupt labor migration by refusing to issue Georgians visas and by deporting those Georgians that already live in Russia. According to the head of Russia's Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, last year 321,000 Georgians entered Russia on tourist and nonworking private visas and only 4,500 of them received work permits, TV-Tsentr reported on September 28. Romodanovsky proposed visa restrictions and sending home those "who are working or staying on our territory illegally." He also complained "about the disproportionately high percentage of criminals among Georgian migrants." On September 29, Moscow police began Operation Terek in which 1,500 people from the Caucasus, many of them Georgians, were detained. Russia has already begun to sever transport links with Georgia. The country's Transport and Communications ministries today ordered all postal, air, rail, road, and sea links with Georgia suspended.It is unlikely that the Kremlin will target Georgia's energy infrastructure, as much of it is used to transport oil, gas, and electricity to Moscow-friendly Armenia.