War in Abkhazia (1992–1993)

War in Abkhazia (1992–1993)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=War in Abkhazia
(Georgian-Abkhazian conflict)
partof= the Georgian Civil War

caption=The Government House of Abkhazia, destroyed in the Abkhaz offensive on September 27 1993, still stands in ruins
date=August 14, 1992 - September 27, 1993
place=Abkhazia, Western Georgia
casus=Ethnic land dispute between Abkhaz and Georgians
territory=Abkhazia becomes an unrecognized de facto republic, but internationally recognized as part of Georgia
result=Military victory by the Abkhaz, ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians
Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus
Paramilitary groups and volunteer battalions
commander1=Vladimir Arshba
Anri Djergenia
Musa Shanibov
Sultan Sosnaliyev
Shamil Basayev
commander2=Geno AdamiaKIA
Guram Gubelashvili
Giorgi Kharkharashvili
Davit Tevzadze
Soso Akhalaia
casualties1=~2,500 - 4,000 dead
Unknown wounded
casualties2=~10,000 - 30,000 dead
Unknown wounded
notes=1Involvement disputed

The War in Abkhazia between 1992 and 1993 was waged chiefly between Georgian government forces on one side and Abkhaz separatist forces supporting independence of Abkhazia from Georgia on the other side. Ethnic Georgians, who lived in Abkhazia fought largely on the side of Georgian government forces. Abkhazia's population of ethnic Armenians and Russians [Helen Krag and Lars Funch. The North Caucasus: Minorities at a Crossroads. (Manchester, December 1994)] largely supported Abkhazians [http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=4377 Abkhazia Today.] "The International Crisis Group Europe Report N°176, 15 September 2006, page 5". Retrieved on May 30, 2007. "Free registration needed to view full report"] [AGBU, [http://www.agbu.org/publications/article.asp?A_ID=159 ABKHAZIA ARMENIANS: HOLDING A HOME IN AN UNSTABLE TERRITORY] , 11/1/2004] [The Security of the Caspian Sea Region pg 286 by Alexander Kyrlov edited by Genadi Chufrin] and many fought on their side. The separatists were supported by thousands of the North Caucasus and Cossack militants and by the Russian Federation forces stationed in and near Abkhazia.

Handling of this conflict was aggravated by the civil strife in Georgia proper between the supporters of the ousted Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the post-coup government headed by Eduard Shevardnadze, as well as the Georgian-Ossetian conflict.

Significant human rights violations and atrocities were reported on all sides and peaked in the aftermath of the Abkhaz capture of Sukhumi on September 27, 1993, which was followed by a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Georgian population (officially recognized by the OSCE and also mentioned in UN resolution GA/10708). [ [http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2008/ga10708.doc.htm General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Right Of Return By Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons To Abkhazia, Georgia ] ] From 13,000 to 20,000 ethnic Georgians and approximately 3,000 Abkhaz have been reported to be killed, more than 250,000 Georgians became internally displaced or refugees and 2,000 are considered missing.

Post-Soviet Georgia was heavily affected by the war and suffered considerable financial, human and psychological damage. Abkhazia has been devastated by the war and subsequent continued sporadic conflict.


The situation in the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia had been tense since the end of the 1980s when the anti-Soviet, Georgian opposition began demanding independence from the Soviet Union. In March 1989, Abkhaz nationalists demanded in the Lykhny Declaration the official establishment of a separate Soviet Socialist Republic (based on the precedent of the existence of a separate Abkhazian SSR during 1925 - 1931, which was associated with the Georgian SSR by a confederative "Union Treaty"). The Declaration was signed by the rector of the Sukhumi University. Ethnic Georgian students of the university announced protests, but these were forbidden by the Georgian government. Nevertheless the students rallied and were attacked by ethnic Abkhazians. [Kaufman, Stuart J. (2001), Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, p. 104-5. Cornell University Press, ISBN 0801487366] The Georgian anti-Soviet movement was outraged by the event and included the claims of the students against Abkhazian secession into its list of slogans by several thousand Georgian demonstrators in Tbilisi. As a result of the protests, Soviet troops were dispatched to Tbilisi, on bloody crackdown, in 1989.

In the aftermath, the first armed clashes between the representatives of the Abkhazian and Georgian populations took place on July 16 - July 17, 1989 in Sukhumi. The conflict was sparked by the decision of Georgian government to convert the Georgian Sector of Sukhumi State University into the branch of Tbilisi State University. Abkhazians vehemently opposed to the new university, seeing it as an instrument in the hands of Georgians to extend their dominance. Although the USSR Supreme Soviet concluded, that the Georgian government had no legal right to authorize the new university, the entrance exam was scheduled for July 15. The resulting civil unrest quickly turned into militarized clashes resulting in 18 deaths and at least 448 wounded, of whom, according to official accounts, 302 were Georgians. The Interior Ministry troops were deployed in order to quell the unrest. As neither side felt strong enough to force the issue militarily at that time, the Georgian-Abkhaz antagonism had largely been relegated to the legislatures by July 1990, making Abkhazia a field of "war of laws" until the armed hostilities broke out in August 1992. During that time, the government of the Soviet Union had very few options to prevent inter-ethnic conflicts, itself being on the verge of collapse.

The first months of the conflict

The tensions regarding autonomy approached a critical stage in June 1992, when Abkhaz militants attacked the government buildings in Sukhumi. On July 23, 1992, the Abkhazian government proclaimed the independence of the region, though this was not internationally recognized. On August 14, 1992, Georgian police and National Guard units were dispatched to restore government control over Abkhazia. The ranks of Georgian troops were filled partially by "emptying the jails" as some of the inmates were released on the condition, that they fight in Abkhazia.Human Rights Watch report [http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/g/georgia/georgia953.pdf GEORGIA/ABKHAZIA: VIOLATIONS OF THE LAWS OF WAR AND RUSSIA'S ROLE IN THE CONFLICT] , March 1995] Fighting broke out the same day. On August 18, 1992, the separatist government fled from Sukhumi to Gudauta. Georgian government forces managed to take control of large parts of Abkhazia, but military actions continued.

On August 25, Giorgi Karkarashvili, the Georgian military commander, announced via television, that the Georgian forces would not take any POWs. He promised, that no harm would be done to peaceful residents of Abkhazia and that peace talks would be conducted. He warned separatists, that if the peace talks wouldn't succeed and if 100,000 Georgians were killed, that the remaining 97,000 ethnic Abkhaz, who supported Ardzinba would perish.G. Amkuab, T. Illarionova, Abxazija: Xronika neobjavlennoj vojny. Chast' I. 14 avgusta - 14 sentiabria 1992 goda. Moskva, 1992, p. 128, retrieved from Georgians and Abkhazians. The Search for a Peace Settlement, 1998, Vrije Universiteit Brussel] Karkarashvili later allegedly threatened the Abkhaz politician, Vladislav Ardzinba, not to take any actions, that would leave the Abkhaz nation without descendants and thus placed the responsibility for future deaths on Ardzinba personally. Later, his speech was proven to have been widely misquoted and misinterpreted by the propaganda of the separatists to portray Georgians as "fascist marauders" and justify their own actions, breaches of agreements and refusal of peaceful settlement. [Червонная С.М. Абхазия - 1992: посткоммунистическая Вандея. Москва, 1993]

Significant ethnic cleansing accompanied by atrocities occurred on both sides,Chervonnaia, Svetlana Mikhailovna. Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow. Gothic Image Publications, 1994 ] with Abkhazians displaced from Georgian-held territory and vice-versa.

"Abkhazian refugee family described how drunken men broke into their apartment firing automatic weapons and telling them "to leave Sukhumi forever, because Sukhumi is Georgian." The family claimed, that the soldiers stole jewelry, assaulted the husband and then threw them all out into the street. The same witnesses reported seeing dead civilians, including women and elderly people, in the street, although fighting had been over for days".

On August 26 armed Chechens captured Valery Maliuk from Eshera, just because he expressed his sympathy to Georgians. On the same day they raped Georgian teenagers and along with the Abkhaz militants committed atrocities in the village of Ordzhonikidze. [Annex to the Report of the UN Secretary General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, Proposals for political and legal elements for a comprehensive settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict ]

Many human rights abuses, principally looting, pillage and other outlaw acts, along with hostage-taking and other violations of humanitarian law, were committed by all sides throughout Abkhazia. Both sides engaged in high levels of criminality. After taking Sukhumi the Georgian forces (including Mkhedrioni) engaged in "vicious, ethnically based pillage, looting, assault and murder." In addition to the looting, Abkhaz cultural monuments were destroyed in a manner that, according to some reports, suggests deliberate targeting. University buildings were sacked and museum and other cultural collections broken up. The irreplaceable Abkhaz national archives were burned by Georgian forces, reportedly, local firefighters did not attempt to douse the blaze.

At the end of this stage of the conflict Georgian troops controlled most of Abkhazia. Pockets of Abkhaz forces were besieged in parts of Ochamchira district and Tkvarcheli, while in Gudauta they were pinched between Georgian troops in Gagra and Sukhumi.

Fall of Gagra

On September 3, 1992, a ceasefire was negotiated in Moscow. According to the agreement, Georgian forces were obliged to withdraw from Gagra district. The Georgian side carried out the implementation of the agreement and left its positions. As a result the local population of Gagra remained defenceless. The ceasefire was soon violated by the Abkhaz side. Thousands of volunteer paramilitaries, mainly Chechens and Cossacks from the militarized Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (CMPC) joined the Abkhaz military to fight the Georgian government. Abkhaz and CMPC forces attacked the town of Gagra on October 2. Abkhaz, Russian and CMPC joint troops attacked Gagra by overwhelming numbers of tanks and air support. The Russian navy began to blockade the seaport near Gagra. The military vessels: "SKP-Bezukoriznenniy", "KIL-25", "BTH-38", "BM-66", "Golovin", "Landing 345", "Aviation 529" ("SU-25", "SU-27"), "MI- and Anti-Aircraft 643" regiments were commanded by the first deputy Minister of Defense of Russian Federation G. Kolesnikov took part in the occupation of Gagra. The Russian tanker "Don" delivered 420 tons of fuel to Separatist-held Gudauta.

With the Abkhaz conquest of Gagra, many Georgians were killed and a majority was forcefully expelled from the town. Abkhaz forces, largely supported by the Russian military presence in the region, were now in control over Gagra, Gudauta (where a former Russian military base remains) and Tkvarcheli and rapidly approaching Sukhumi.

The expelled Georgians fled to Russia through the land border or were evacuated by Russian navy.

Abkhaz offensive on Eshera, Gulripsh, Kamani and Shroma

The villages along the Gumista river (north and east of Sukhumi) such as Achadare, Kamani and Shroma, which were heavily populated by ethnic Georgians became a strategically important area, which enabled motorized units to reach Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. After a failed attempt to storm Sukhumi from the west, the Abkhaz formations and their allies diverted their offensive on the northern and eastern sides of Sukhumi. On July 2, 1993 under Russian military directives and naval support, the Abkhaz and their (Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus) allies attacked the villages on the Gumista river. The Georgian side did not expect any offensive from the northern or eastern side of Sukhumi district. The Georgian forces suffered heavy losses (as many as 500 dead within an hour of the attack) and the defensive line around Sukhumi was breached by the Abkhaz offensive. On July 5, 1993, Abkhaz, Armenian Bagramyan battalion, Russian and North Caucasian detachments stormed the villages of Akhalsheni, Guma and Shroma of Sukhumi district. The residents from the villages were rounded up and massacred. The last offensive took place on July 9, on the village of Kamani. Kamani was a Svan (sub-ethnic group of the Georgian people) village, which also included a Orthodox Church (named after St George) and convent. After the fall of the village, most of its inhabitants (including nuns and priests) were killed by Abkhaz formations and their allies (see Kamani massacre).p. 50]

Bombing and siege of Sukhumi

In December 1992, Abkhaz troops began the shelling of Georgian-held Sukhumi. On March 4, 1993, Eduard Shevardnadze, head of the State Council of Georgia, arrived in the capital of the region to take control over the defensive operations in the city. The Minister of Economy, Beslan Kobakhia, arrived in Sukhumi during the negotiations with Goga Khaindrava. According to Kobakhia, separatist leader Ardzinba would resign if Shevardnadze would do the same. He did not approve of the vandalism in Gagra and noted, that Abkhazia officially never declared his intention to secede from Georgia. As commander-in-chief of Georgian Military Forces, Eduard Shevardnadze issued the order "Measures on the defense of Sukhumi and Ochamchira Regions", that stated: "Military formations of different countries are concentrating in Gudauta and Gumista area. We have information, that those forces have the serious goal of seizing Sukhumi and bringing chaos and turmoil to all of Georgia." On February 10, Shevardnadze appointed Guram Gabiskiria as Mayor of Sukhumi. Meanwhile, the Georgian Parliament made an official declaration blaming Russia for aggression against Georgia and demanding the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from the territory of Abkhazia.

On March 14, 1993, at 6 and 9 o'clock in the morning Abkhaz and the Confederation forces launched a full-scale attack on Sukhumi resulting in mass destruction and heavy casualties among the civilians. [ UN observers report DL47596, December 1993, New York] At 2 o'clock in the morning the Abkhaz side began artillery bombardments of Georgian positions at the Gumista River and Sukhumi. Later in the day several Russian SU-25 shelled Sukhumi though the morning of the next day. A Russian special detachment led the operation followed by Abkhaz fighters and CMPC volunteers. They crossed the river Gumista and took part of Achadara. However, the government forces repelled the attack.

On May 14, a short-lived ceasefire was signed. On July 2, a force of Abkhaz and North Caucasian volunteers landed again with the strong support of the Russian navy near the village Tamishi. The battle was one of the bloodiest in the war. Several hundreds were killed and wounded from all sides. Despite initial setbacks, the Georgian forces managed to regain their positions. In July, Russian detachments, Abkhaz military and CMPC volunteers captured the villages of Akhalsheni, Guma and Shroma of Sukhumi region. The fiercest struggle near the village Kamani cost the life of many Georgians, both military and civilian. By this time, Abkhaz separatists occupied almost all the strategic heights and began to besiege Sukhumi. Soon after, the Chairman of the Georgian Council of Defense of Abkhazia Tamaz Nadareishvili resigned due to ill health and was succeeded by Member of the Georgian Parliament Zhiuli Shartava. Abkhaz forces brought down 3 airplanes, including one flying from Sochi and another one flying from Tbilisi.

Fall of Sukhumi

Another Russian-mediated ceasefire was agreed in Sochi on July 27 and lasted until September 16, when Abkhazian separatists violated the agreement and launched a large-scale offensive against Sukhumi, which after fierce fighting fell on September 27. Shevardnadze appealed to the population of Sukhumi by radio:

:"Dear friends, Citizens of Sukhumi and Georgia! Georgia is facing the most difficult days, especially Sukhumi. Separatists and foreign invaders entered into the city. I am proud of your courage… Separatists and opportunists will be judged by history... They do not want Georgians to live in this Georgian city. Many of them dream to repeat the Gagra tragedy here... I know, that you understand the challenge we are facing. I know how difficult the situation is. Many people left the city but you remain here for Sukhumi and for Georgia… I call on you, citizens of Sukhumi, fighters, officers and generals: I understand the difficulties of being in your position now, but we have no right to step back, we all have to hold our ground. We have to fortify the city and save Sukhumi. I would like to tell you, that all of us - Government of Abkhazia, Cabinet of Ministers, Mr. Zhiuli Shartava, his colleagues, the city and regional government of Sukhumi, are prepared for action. The enemy is aware of our readiness, that's why he is fighting in the most brutal way to destroy our beloved Sukhumi. I call on you to keep peace, tenacity and self-control. We have to meet the enemy in our streets as they deserve."

After the Abkhaz capture of the city one of the most horrific massacres of the war was committed against the remaining and trapped Georgian civilians in the city. Almost all members of the Georgian-backed Abkhaz government, who refused to leave the city, including Guram Gabiskiria, Raul Eshba and Zhiuli Shartava, were murdered (see Sukhumi Massacre).

The 1994 U.S. State Department Country Reports also describes scenes of massive human rights abuse:

:"The Abkhaz separatist forces committed widespread atrocities against the Georgian civilian population, killing many women, children and elderly, capturing some as hostages and torturing others... They also killed large numbers of Georgian civilians, who remained behind in Abkhaz-seized territory..."U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, February 1994, pp 877, 881, 891]

:"The separatists launched a reign of terror against the majority Georgian population, although other nationalities also suffered. Chechens and other north Caucasians from the Russian Federation reportedly joined local Abkhaz troops in the commission of atrocities... Those fleeing Abkhazia made highly credible claims of atrocities, including the killing of civilians without regard for age or sex. Corpses recovered from Abkhaz-held territory showed signs of extensive torture (the evidence available to Human Rights Watch supports the U.S. State Department’s findings)."

Eduard Shevardnadze left the city narrowly escaping death. Soon Abkhaz forces and the Confederates overran the whole territory of Abkhazia, except the small region of the upper Kodori Gorge, which remains under the control of the Tbilisi government. The total defeat of Georgian forces was accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population. As a result of the war, more than 250.000 people (mainly Georgians, also Greeks and others) fled from or were forced out of Abkhazia. In September 1994, several reports indicated ethnic clashes between Abkhaz and Armenians, a significant part of whom supported the former during the war. Chechen militants of the CMPC soon left Abkhazia to take part in the First Chechen War with Russia.

In the concluding phase of the battle of Sukhumi, the Abkhaz forces destroyed three Georgian civilian airliners, that resulted in the death of over 150 people.

Refugee exodus

After the fall of Sukhumi thousands of refugees started to flee Sukhumi, Gali and Ochamchira regions. The plight of refugees became deadly due to snow and cold on the pathway in the Kodori Gorge. Georgian authorities were unable to evacuate all remaining civilians (previously many people were evacuated from Sukhumi by Russian navy and via airplanes and cargo ships to the UkraineFact|date=September 2008). The refugees started to move in through the Kodori Gorge on foot, bypassing the Gali region, which was blocked by advancing Abkhaz separatist forces. The crossing of the Kodori Gorge on foot became another death trap for the fleeing IDPs. Most of the people, who did not survive the crossing, died from freezing cold and starvation. The survivors, who reached the Svan mountains were attacked and robbed by local criminal groups. One of the survivors recalls the crossing:

According to the United States State Department Commission on Foreign Relations and International Relations, 104th Cong., 1st Sess., Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994, at 815 (Joint Comm. Print 1995), the victorious Abkhaz separatists "moved through captured towns with prepared lists and addresses of ethnic Georgians, plundered and burned homes and executed designated civilians." Georgians were specifically targeted, but all non-Abkhaz suffered. [United States State Department Commission on Foreign Relations and International Relations, 104th Cong., 1st Sess., Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994, at 815 (Joint Comm. Print 1995), cited in: [http://www.asylumlaw.org/docs/showDocument.cfm?documentID=1040 Melkonian v. Ashcroft (9th Cir. 2003) (United States)] case. "Asylumlaw.org".]

Ethnic cleansing campaign

The ethnic cleansing and massacres of Georgians has been officially recognized by the OSCE conventions in 1994, 1996 and again in 1997 during the Budapest, Istanbul and Lisbon summits and condemned the “"perpetrators of war crimes committed during the conflict".” [ [http://www.osce.org/documents/mcs/1994/12/4048_en.pdf Resolution of the OSCE Budapest Summit] , "OSCE", 1994-12-06] On May 15, 2008, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (GA/10708), which acknowledges the ethnic cleansing campaign, which have been described by OSCE conventions and strongly emphasizes the return of all Georgian IDPs back to Abkhazia, protection of their property rights and full restoration of the pre-war population. [ [http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2008/ga10708.doc.htm General Assembly Adopts Resolution Recognizing Right Of Return By Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons To Abkhazia, Georgia ] ] The International Criminal Court is currently investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Abkhazia. [ [http://www.unpo.org/article.php?id=942 Abkhazia: The International Criminal Court looks at Georgian "Genocide" ] ] The ICC was provided with the documents selected from the 300 volumes of evidence about the genocide of Georgians in Abkhazia. These materials were collected by the Office of the Georgian Prosecutors in the beginning of 1993 and allegedly contain horrific accounts of atrocities committed by the Abkhaz fighters and mercenaries from Russia. [The Jamestown Foundation, Volume 1, Issue 57 (July 22, 2004), [http://www.jamestown.org/publications_details.php?volume_id=401&issue_id=3024&article_id=2368290] ] The reports included a detailed description of how the separatists played soccer with the heads of dead Georgians on the field, after the executions in Gagra. [Murphy, Paul J. (2004), "The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror", page 15. Brassey's, ISBN 1574888307]

Russian role in the conflict

Although Russia officially claimed neutrality during the war in Abkhazia, Russian military officials and politicians were involved in the conflict in several ways. Russia was the main source of weapons for both conflicting sides, it unofficially supported the Abkhaz side and finally Russia also carried out some humanitarian operations. [ [http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/g/georgia/georgia953.pdf Human Rights Watch. VIOLATIONS OF THE LAWS OF WAR AND RUSSIA'S ROLE IN THE CONFLICT.] pp. 6, 19, 32, 34, 39, 45 ]

Russian arms used by Georgia were transferred to it under the bilateral agreements with Russia and included main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery and heavy mortars. The whole Akhaltsikhe motorised rifle division was turned over to Georgia on September 22, 1992. [58 ITAR-TASS World Service, September 22, 1994, cited in FBIS-SOV-92-187, September 25, 1992, p. 53., acknowledged in the HRW VIOLATIONS OF THE LAWS OF WAR AND RUSSIA'S ROLE IN THE CONFLICT report] Some weapons were gained by local raids on Russian Army bases in Akhalkalaki, Batumi, Poti and Vaziani by irregular Georgian paramilitary forces. [See Dale, op. cit., Small Arms World Report, August 1993, p. 39.] After several attacks Russia declared it would defend its bases with force.

Prior to the outbreak of the war, the Abkhaz leadership arranged for the redeployment of a Russian airborne battalion from the Baltic States to Sukhumi. [Svante E. Cornell (2001), Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, pp. 347-9. Routledge, ISBN 0700711627.] According to the Russian historian Svetlana Chervonnaya, a number of Russian security servicemen also arrived in Abkhazia as "tourists" during that summer: "The main load in the preparation of Abkhazian events was given to staff of the former KGB. Almost all of them got appointments in Abkhazia under cover of neutral establishments, which had nothing to do with their real activities. To distract attention, various ruses were resorted to, such as the private exchange of apartments, or the necessity of moving one’s place of work to Abkhazia due to a sudden deterioration of health."Robert Seely (2001), "Russo-Chechen Conflict, 1800-2000: A Deadly Embrace", p. 191-192. Routledge, ISBN 0714649929.]

According to another Russian expert, Evgeni Kozhokin, director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Abkhaz guardsmen had been supplied with weaponry by Russia’s 643rd anti-aircraft missile regiment and a military unit stationed in Gudauta. Ardzinba had major supporters in Moscow as well, including Vice President Alexander Rutskoy and the Chechen speaker of the Russian parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov. [Svante E. Cornell (2001), "Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus", pp. 347-9. Routledge, ISBN 0700711627.]

After the eruption of armed conflict, the Abkhaz separatist paramilitary units, along with their political supporters fled to Gudauta from where they obtained significant amount of military and financial aid. [ White Book of Abkhazia. 1992-1993 Documents, Materials, Evidences. Moscow, 1993 ] In Gudauta, the Russian Army base housed and trained Abkhaz paramilitary units and provided protection for the leader of the Abkhaz separatists, Vladislav Ardzinba.p.28] The high level of corruption in the Russian military also contributed in the leakage of Russian arms to both sides.

From the outset of the hostilities Russia called upon both sides to negotiate and it brokered several ceasefires, which mostly proved ineffective (Sukhumi offensive was undertaken by the Abkhaz side in violation of the previous ceasefire agreement). On the other hand, the Russian military offered protection to the retreating Abkhaz detachments during the summer 1992 Georgian offensive. In November 1992, the Russian Air Force conducted heavy air strikes against the villages and towns in Abkhazia predominantly populated by Georgians. In response, the Georgian Defense Ministry accused Russia for the first time in public of preparing a war against Georgia in Abkhazia. This led to the Georgian attacks on targets under Russian and Abkhaz control and the retaliation from the Russian forces. [http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_282.shtml Georgia and Abkhazia, 1992-1993: the War of Datchas] By Tom Cooper. "Air Combat Information Group". September 29, 2003.]

The Russian attitude began to tilt further to the Abkhaz side, after a Russian MI-8 helicopter (reportedly carrying humanitarian aid) was brought down by Georgian forces on October 27, which triggered retaliation from Russian forces. On December 14, 1992, the Russian military suffered the loss of another military helicopter, carrying evacuees from Tkvarcheli, resulting in 52 to 64 deaths (including 25 children). Although Georgian authorities denied any responsibility, many believed the helicopter was shot down by the Georgian forces. On 16 December, the government of Georgia requested the Russians to evacuate their nationals from Abkhazia via other routes, foremost the Black Sea, but also to limit the number of missions flown from Gudauta, the main Russian air base in the area. However, this incident "raised the level of general malevolence in the war and catalyzed more concerted Russian military intervention on the Abkhaz side." [RFE/RL News Briefs, December 10-23, 1992, p. 10, Moscow Radio Rossii, December 15, 1992, cited in FBIS-SOV-92-242, December 16, 1992, pp. 55-56] [UNHCR, [http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/publ/opendoc.htm?tbl=RSDCOI&id=3ae6a6c54&page=publ The Dynamics and Challenges of Ethnic Cleansing: The Georgia-Abkhazia Case] , also in "Refugee Survey Quarterly" 1997, Volume 16, Number 3, pp. 77-109] The town of Tkvarcheli had been besieged by Georgian forces and its population (mostly Abkhaz, Georgians and Russians) suffered a severe humanitarian crisis. Russian military helicopters supplied the city with food and medicine and mobilized Russian-trained fighters to defend the city.

The Human Rights Watch states: "Although the Russian government continued to declare itself officially neutral in the war, parts of Russian public opinion and a significant group in the parliament, primarily Russian nationalists, who had never been favourably disposed toward the Georgians, began to tilt toward the Abkhaz at least by December." During this period the Abkhaz side obtained a large number of armor, tanks (T-72 and T-80) and heavy artillery. The question remains whether there were specific orders concerning the transfer of weapons to Abkhaz side and if so, whom they were issued by. Russian border guards allowed the Chechen fighters led by Shamil Basayev to cross into Abkhazia or at least did nothing to prevent them from arriving in the conflict zone. [Murphy, Paul J. (2004), The Wolves of Islam: Russia and the Faces of Chechen Terror, pp. 14-5. Brassey's, ISBN 1574888307.] The defense minister in the secessionist government and one of the main organizers of the Abkhaz armed units was the professional Russian military officer Sultan Sosnaliev from the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic.

The most obvious example of Russian support to the Abkhaz side in 1993 was the bombing of Georgian-held Sukhumi by Russian fighter-bombers. The Russian Defence minister Pavel Grachev consistently denied it, but after Georgians succeeded in bringing down one SU-27 fighter-bomber and UN experts identified the dead pilot as Russian it became irrefutable. Nevertheless some equipment was turned over to Georgia according to the previous agreements in 1993. Russian general Grachev claimed, that Georgian side has painted the aircraft to resemble Russian Air Force aircraft and bombed their own positions, killing hundreds of their own people in Eshera and Sukhumi. This statement raised anger and utter contempt among Georgians toward the Russian side.

The Russian journalist Dmitry Kholodov, who has witnessed the Russian bombardment of Sukhumi, wrote a couple of compiling reports with detailed description of humanitarian catastrophe:

:"The shelling of Sokhumi by Russians is the most disgusting thing in this war. All the residents of Sokhumi remember the first shelling. It took place on December 2, 1992. The first rocket fell on Peace Street. They struck at crowded places. The next strategic target was the town market, which was hit with great precision. Eighteen people were killed that day. There were always lots of people in the market." Dmitry Kholodov, Moscow journalist covering the Conflict, September 1993, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow ]

Kholodov also reported on the Russian volunteers fighting on the separatist side:

:"Russians, too, are fighting there. We often heard from Georgian guards how Russian mercenaries were attacking: It's a blood-curdling sight - they have helmets and firm, bullet-proof jackets on and their legs are armored as well. They advance with their heads bent down, like robots ready to kill. There is no use shooting at them. No tanks are needed, they are followed by the Abkhaz behind."

On February 25, the Georgian Parliament appealed to the UN, European Council and Supreme Council of the Russian Federation demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Abkhazia and stating, that Russia waged "an undeclared war" against Georgia. [Decree issued by the Parliament of Georgia on the Presence of Russian Military Units on the Territory of Abkhazia. 25 February 1993.]

Georgian Parliament adopted another resolution on April 28, 1993, which openly blamed Russia in political facilitation of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Georgians. [Decree issued by the Parliament of Georgia on withdrawal of Russian Military Units from the Conflict Zone in Abkhazia, 27 April 1993]

Russian policy during the final battle for Sukhumi in September 1993, immediately, after the breach of the ceasefire by the Abkhaz forces, appeared to follow several lines. Russian officials condemned the attack, issued calls to Abkhaz forces to cease the offensive and its accompanying human rights violations and reportedly cut off electricity and telephone service to parts of Abkhazia from September to December 1993. Russia also supported resolutions in the Security Council condemning Abkhaz forces for breaching the ceasefire. At the same time, the Russian government criticized the Georgian government for refusing, once the attack was underway, to negotiate. As the Human Rights Watch report notes "it is doubtful, however, that Russian forces in or near Abkhazia were as surprised as the Russian government seemed to be. Initiating an offensive as large as the one undertaken, in three different directions at once, must have required extensive movement of forces and resupply during the days leading up to it." Russian forces on the Georgian-Abkhaz border, who were supposed to police the ceasefire made no attempt to forestall the attack. The Abkhaz weapons were stored near the front and were returned to the Abkhaz by Russian military mission when hostilities restarted. [Svante E. Cornell (2001), p. 172.] Ataman Nikolay Pusko, a notable commander of some 1,500 Cossack volunteers fighting against Georgians in Abkhazia, later claimed, that his sotnia was the first to enter Sukhumi. [cite web|url=http://www.abkhaziainfo.f2o.org/publications/EpZyuAuFFZIOiFE.shtml|title=IS. Abkhazia, "Кубанские казаки берут Сухуми" 11 February 2004|accessdate=2007-04-25]

In a Time Magazine article published on October 4, 1993, Georgians said Russian Army officers provided Abkhazian separatists, at the beginning using mere hunting rifles and shotguns, with sophisticated weapons like BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and Sukhoi SU-25 jet aircraft, plus battlefield intelligence. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,979327,00.html Siege of Sukhumi] , "TIME Magazine", October 04, 1993]

Humanitarian actions

In the beginning of the conflict (August, 1992) Russia evacuated many people from Abkhazian resorts by means of Black Sea fleet and Russian Airforce. As the war progressed Russia began to supply humanitarian aid to both sides, it also brokered numerous agreements concerning the exchange of prisoners of war. In the course of the war, Russian humanitarian efforts were chiefly focused on the town of Tkvarcheli, which had large ethnic Russian population and was besieged by the Georgian forces. The landmines installed along the mountain highway to this town made Russian helicopters the only safe means of transportation into it. However, Russian navy also evacuated tens of thousands of Georgian civilians, after the fall of Gagra (October 1992) and Sukhumi (September 1993) to the separatist forces.


Georgia effectively lost control over Abkhazia and the latter established as a de facto independent territory. The relations between Russia and Abkhazia improved in the late 1990s and the economic blockade of Abkhazia was lifted. The laws were also passed allowing other countries to become part of Russian Federation, which was interpreted by some as an offer to Abkhazia and other unrecognised countries of the former Soviet Union. [ [http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_282.shtml Georgia and Abkhazia, 1992-1993: the War of Datchas] By Tom Cooper, Sep 29, 2003,]

Georgia claimed, that Russian army and intelligence contributed decisively to the Georgian defeat in the Abkhazian war and considered this conflict (along with the Georgian Civil War and Georgian-Ossetian War) as one of Russia's attempt of restoring its influence in the post-Soviet area. [Professor Zaza Gachechiladze, [http://www.ndu.edu/inss/strforum/SF_21/forum21.html The Conflict in Abkhazia: A Georgian Perspective] ]

At the end of the war, the Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev said at the UN General Assembly: "“Russia realizes, that no international organization or group of states can replace our peacekeeping efforts in this specific post-Soviet space.”" [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,979366,00.html In Russia's Shadow] , "TIME Magazine", October 11, 1993]

A wide array of opinions on Russian policy with respect to Georgia and Abkhazia is expressed in the media and parliament.MacFarlane, S.N. , “On the front lines in the near abroad: the CIS and the OSCE in Georgia’ s civil wars”, Third World Quarterly, Vol 18, No 3, pp 509- 525, 1997.,] Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political analyst and independent journalist, wrote, that gaining new territories is the last thing Russia needs and compared the support of foreign separatists to throwing stones at one's neighbours while living in the glass house. [ [http://se1.isn.ch/serviceengine/FileContent?serviceID=RESSpecNet&fileid=F3A5C5C8-8D3E-14AE-51F7-1278E2604E0C&lng=en Georgiophobia, Or the Model of Double Standards] Izvestia daily, September 22, 2004]

Oxford Professor S.N. MacFarlane, notes on the issue of Russian mediation in Abkhazia::"Notably, it is clear, that Russian policy makers are uncomfortable with the idea of a prominent role being granted to external actors in dealing with conflict in the former Soviet space. More recently, this has been extended specifically to he activities of international organisations in the management of conflict. As one group of influential Russian foreign policy commentators and policy makers put it in May 1996, it is definitely not in Russia’s interest to see outside mediation and peacekeeping operations on the territory of the former Soviet Union (511).":"Russia has clear hegemonic aspirations in the former Soviet space. Although a wide array of opinions is expressed on Russian policy in the newly independent states in the media and in parliament, a dominant consensus appears to have emerged among foreign policy influentials on the need for active presence and influence in the area. Such views have been widely expressed in official statements, influential statements by independent policy groups and by advisers to the president, influential political figures and the president himself. The hegemonic component of Russian policy in the near abroad is evident in its efforts to restore Russian control over the external borders of the former Soviet Union, to reassume control over the Soviet air defence network, to obtain agreements on basing Russian forces in the non-Russian republics and by its obvious sensitivity to external military presences (including multilateral ones) on the soil of the former Soviet Union. To judge from Russian policy on Caspian Sea and Central Asian energy development, it extends beyond the political/security realm and into the economic one. Its sources are diverse and include the Russian imperial hangover, but more practically the fate of the Russian diaspora, the lack of developed defences along the borders of the Russian Federation proper, concern over Islam and discomfort with the spill-over effects of instability in the other republics (521)."

On August 28, Senator Richard Lugar, then visiting Georgia's capital Tbilisi, joined the Georgian politicians in criticism of the Russian peacekeeping mission, stating, that "the U.S. administration supports the Georgian government’s insistence on the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zones in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali district." [ [http://mosnews.com/news/2006/08/22/lugarspeaks.shtml "U.S. Senator Urges Russian Peacekeepers’ Withdrawal From Georgian Breakaway Republics." (MosNews)] .]

Conflict mediation

During the war the peace mediation was done first by Russia and second by the UN. From 1993 onwards, the pressure for a peace settlement mounted from UN, Russia and the then Group of Friends of Georgia (Russia, U.S., France, Germany and UK). In December 1993, an official ceasefire was signed by Georgian and Abkhaz leaders under the aegis of the UN and with Russia as intermediary. The venues shifted from Geneva to New York and finally to Moscow. On April 4, 1994, the "Declaration on Measures for a Political Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict" was signed in Moscow. Instead of the deployment of a traditional UN peacekeeping force, the deployment of a CIS, mainly Russian peacekeeping force was agreed in Moscow on 14 May, 1994. In June 1994, CIS peacekeeping forces comprising only the Russian soldiers were deployed along the administrative border between Abkhazia and the remaining Georgia. The UN mission (UNOMIG) also arrived. However, these could not prevent further atrocities against the Georgians in the following years (around 1,500 deaths have been reported by the Georgian government in the post-war period). On September 14, 1994, Abkhaz leaders appeared on local TV to demand, that all ethnic Georgians depart from the region by September 27 (the anniversary of the capture of Sukhumi).Fact|date=September 2008 On November 30, 1994, Abkhazia promulgated a new constitution declaring independence of the breakaway region. However, none of the foreign governments recognised this. On December 15, 1994, the US State Department condemned Abkhazia’s declaration of independence. On March 21, 1995, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees accused Abkhaz militias of torturing and murdering dozens of returning ethnic Georgian refugees in the Gali District. Despite an official economic blockade imposed on Abkhazia by Russia and CIS in 1995 (virtually ended by the Russian government in 1997Fact|date=September 2008), the breakaway region has been enjoying both military and economic support by Russia.

UN involvement

The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) was established in 1993 to monitor the ceasefire and later expanded to observe the operation of the CIS peacekeeping forces. The Organization for Security in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations are also involved in monitoring developments. Negotiations toward a permanent peace settlement have made little progress, but the Georgian and Abkhaz governments have agreed to limit the size of their military forces and extend the authorization for UNOMIG. Meanwhile, Georgian refugees maintain a government in exile.



* Chervonnaia, Svetlana Mikhailovna. "Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow." Gothic Image Publications, 1994.
* Andrew Andersen, [http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/Georgia/RUSSIA%20VERSUS%20GEORGIA.htm "Russia Versus Georgia: One Undeclared War in the Caucasus."] , Young Experts’ Think Tank (YETT)
*Heathe Blair, "Ethnic Conflict as a Tool of Outside Influence: An Examination of Abkhazia and Kosovo.", Young Experts’ Think Tank (YETT)
*Amy McCallion, "Abkhazian Separatism", Young Experts’ Think Tank (YETT)
* Lynch, Dov, "The Conflict in Abkhazia: Dilemmas in Russian 'Peacekeeping' Policy." Royal Institute of International Affairs, February 1998.
*MacFarlane, S., N., “On the front lines in the near abroad: the CIS and the OSCE in Georgia’ s civil wars”, Third World Quarterly, Vol 18, No 3, pp 509- 525, 1997.
*Marshania L., "Tragedy of Abkhazia" Moscow, 1996
*"White Book of Abkhazia." 1992-1993 Documents, Materials, Evidences. Moscow, 1993.

ee also

*Transair Georgian Airline Shootdowns (September 1993)
*Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia
*Sukhumi Massacre
*Politics of Abkhazia
*Russian-Circassian War

External links

* [http://www.smr.gov.ge Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Reintegration.] en icon & ru icon & ge icon
* [http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/georgia-abkhazia/contents.php Accord issue on the Georgia Abkhazia peace process] also includes chronology and key texts & agreements. en icon&ru icon
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070607163702/http://abkhazeti.ru/pages/main/warabkhazia.html Documented accounts of ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia] ru icon
* [http://www.abkhaziya.org/genocid.html Documented accounts of ethnic cleansing of Abkhazians by Georgians] ru icon
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070705173138/http://abkhazeti.ru/video/sukhumi93.avi Video file, capture of Zhuili Shartava, Guram Gabiskiria, Raul Eshba, etc and their execution] (right-click to open file)
* [http://www.combatfilms.com/cfrtv_archive_0009.asp Interview with Shamil Basayev on Abkhazia]
* [http://www.opus-bayern.de/uni-augsburg/volltexte/2006/522/ Historische Hintergründe und politische Motive des abchasischen Separatismus in Georgien, 2005 (de) (PDF-Datei)]
* [http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/abkhazia.htm "Abkhazia: An Open Wound in Georgia" by Dr. Andrew Andersen]
* [http://www.abkhazeti.info/ Government of Abkhazia (-in-exile)]
* [http://www.exileimages.co.uk/ThomasM/Abkhazia/Abkhazia_01.html Exile Images - Thomas Morley: The forgotten refugees of Abkhazia]
* [http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/1174_august_16_2006/opi_1174.htm The risk of history repeating] , "The Messenger", August 16, 2006
* [http://www.combatfilms.com/cfrtv_archive_0009.asp Video Interview with Shamil Basaev during the battle for Gagra]

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