Georgia: A Botched Chechen Conspiracy?
Georgia ran a boot camp of Chechen warriors to prep them for a mission in Russia’s North Caucasus, the Georgian ombudsman claimed in an April 1 parliamentary presentation of his annual report on the state of human rights.
Ombudsman Ucha Naniashvili told lawmakers that the Georgian interior ministry under President Mikheil Saakashvili pulled together a force of over a hundred exiles from Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus, armed and coached them, and promised them passage to Russia. The report assumes that the alleged Chechen gambit was Georgia’s way of getting back at Moscow for Russia's occupation of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since 2008.
The allegations come as perhaps an unintentional gift for Moscow, whose long-running claims of Georgia sponsoring North Caucasus fighters Tbilisi used to attribute to seasonal fits of paranoia. Under the new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishili, Tbilisi is seeking to mend fences with Moscow, while, at the same time, every busying itself with investigations into the past government. Yet, why it now falls to Georgia's ombudsman to unveil this alleged covert operation may not be immediately clear to some. The report mainly focuses on human rights violations that were allegedly committed by Georgian forces against the fighters and their relatives after an August 2012 standoff, but delves into details far beyond that.
Citing only anonymous sources and gun registration documents, the ombudsman claims that interior ministry officials picked the Chechens up at the Tbilisi airport, took them to rented apartments and gave them guns, driver licenses, "documents and other things they would need."
The fighters supposedly were trained at two military bases near the Georgian capital.
Eventually becoming impatient with the delay of moving into the Russian side of the Caucasus, the fighters, last August, tried to cross over on their own, which led to a shootout that left 11 combatants and two Georgian servicemen dead, the ombudsman alleged.
He reported that relatives of the dead fighters were threatened and ordered to bury their bodies immediately without traditional funeral services.
The clash, in Kakheti's Lopota Gorge, was widely reported in Georgian media, but never fully explained by the government.
At the time, interior ministry officials claimed that Georgian troops were battling militants who had crossed over from Russia and taken hostages in a Georgian border area populated by ethnic Chechens. Some local residents challenged that version of events; its inconsistencies also prompted a hearty dose of public skepticism.
The ombudsman has requested a parliamentary investigation of the incident.