Russia’s Antiterrorism Committee (NAK) issued a statement on May 10 claiming that the Federal Security Service (FSB), in cooperation with its Abkhaz counterpart, had found a huge arms cache on Abkhaz territory that self-styled Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov intended to use to attack targets in Sochi in the run-up to -- and during -- the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The statement claimed that Umarov arranged the transportation of the materiel (which reportedly included antitank rocket launchers, shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers) to Abkhazia via Georgia with the cooperation of the Georgian security services and of illegal armed formations based in Turkey.
The Georgian authorities have rejected those allegations
as “groundless” and “absurd.”
Terrorism experts both in Russia and the West have long assumed that Umarov would seek to disrupt the Winter Olympics and would infiltrate fighters from Kabardino-Balkaria to the environs of Sochi during the spring and summer of 2013 to prepare those attacks. Sochi is less than 20 kilometers from the Russian-Abkhaz border.
The Russian allegations that Georgia has actively connived with Umarov in the preparations are not surprising.
First, there is a precedent for a faction in Tbilisi co-opting Chechen militants. In the late summer of 2001, Chechen fighters under the command of Ruslan Gelayev were transported from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, which they were using as a rear base, to Abkhazia to attack a strategic target there in a failed attempt
to restore the Georgian government’s control over that breakaway republic.
Second, because the Georgian leadership had, at best, turned a blind eye to Gelayev’s presence in Pankisi and, at worst, recruited him, Moscow has periodically repeated the accusation
that militants continue to enter the Russian Federation via Georgia to fight in the insurgency ranks.
And third, over the past couple of years, Tbilisi has consistently sought to secure the sympathy of the Circassian population of the northwest Caucasus. The Georgian parliament last year formally designated as genocide
the slaughter near Sochi of tens of thousands of Circassians by tsarist armies in 1862 and the expulsion of the survivors to Turkey. And in July 2011, a special seminar
was convened in Tbilisi for North Caucasus journalists to showcase the reforms implemented under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili.
As recently as last month, Russian academic Sergei Mikhailov accused Tbilisi
of exploiting the “Circassian question” to destabilize the North Caucasus.
On the other hand, some aspects of the NAK allegations are less than convincing. Neither Umarov nor any of the insurgency websites has ever mentioned the existence of an insurgency wing in Abkhazia, although Circassian fighter Hadji-Murat Bekov half-jokingly identified a comrade in arms one year ago as the future amir of Georgia. The Abkhaz authorities say they have arrested the commander of the Abkhaz jamaat, who is identified as Rustan Gitsba.
Secondly, why should Umarov run the risk involved in transporting weaponry across the Russian-Georgian border, which is now far more tightly patrolled on the northern side than it was 10 years ago, rather than simply move it across Russian territory?