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#9 - JRL 7064
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
February 14, 2003
The Pentagon is Preparing to Deploy its Military Aircraft Near Tbilisi
Igor Plugatarev

Georgia intents to support the United States in its war against Iraq with practical as well as political actions. This came to light from a BBC report yesterday evening after the return from Tbilisi of Stephen Rademaker, US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, who held discussions with Eduard Shevardnadze earlier in the week in Tbilisi. At issue is the Georgian President's offer to deploy military aircraft at the Vaziani airbase 50 km from Tbilisi for attacking targets on Iraqi territory during the campaign against Iraq .

Shalva Pichkhadze, head of the International Relations Service of the Georgian State Chancellary, stated that Georgia has not agreed to the creation of American military bases on the territory of the Republic: "This defies common sense, as our airbases are not adapted to receive American military aircraft. Their resupply would require no small amount of resources and time." However, by yesterday evening Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Dzhaparidze confirmed that Tbilisi is in fact ready to render practical support to the US in the war against Iraq.

Meanwhile, according to information from Nezavisimaya Gazeta sources in Tbilisi, the Vaziani base (a former Russian military base, transferred to Georgia in July 2001) has all of the necessary infrastructure, and is capable of providing for the landing, taking off, and servicing on military airplanes, and is maintained in functioning condition by the Georgian military. Also, sources in the Pentagon maintain in no uncertain terms that the US military is already considering the possibility of including this staging area in America's system of military airbases.

In the opinion of Aleksandr Khramchikhin, an expert from the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, from a practical point of view this may entirely correspond with reality. Georgia is valuable because of the fact that it is a non-Moslem country. There is no danger of hostility from the local population against an American military presence, which can hardly be said about Kuwait, Bahrain or Qatar, to say nothing of Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Indeed, Shevardnadze himself drew attention to this factor, stating in a state radio interview on February 10 that according to the results of an opinion poll in Tbilisi, 80% of the residents of the capital support his position in regard to Iraq. This means that the American military would have no problems.

In return for providing the bases, Shevardadze will ask Washington to apply pressure on Moscow to make Russia withdraw its military bases from Georgian territory as rapidly as possible.

What reaction would follow for the Russian side in such a situation is not difficult to predict. It is precisely this response that the Pentagon's demarch is calculated to sound out. The Georgian decision, however, does not violate any of the agreements in the context of the CIS. Recall that Georgia withdrew from the Agreement on Collective Security, and the Framework Agreement with Russia remains unsigned. (Trans. by Timothy Blauvelt)

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