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Verdict:FactCheck concludes that Salome Zurabishvili’s statement is a MANIPULATION OF FACTS. Resume: In 1995, Russia and Georgia signed an agreement to deploy four Russian military bases in Georgia (in Batumi, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Vaziani) for 25 years (with the perspective of prolonging the deployment) if Russia provided help to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and build the country’s armed forces. The agreement was never ratified. Since the end of the 1990s, the Government of Georgia has intensified its efforts to reduce Russian influence in Georgia. As a result of negotiations between Russia and Georgia which were started in May 1996 at the Vienna Conference on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the parties signed the Istanbul Agreement on 17 November 1999 at the OSCE summit. In accordance with the Istanbul Agreement, Russia had to withdraw from the Vaziani and Gudauta military bases before 1 July 2001 whilst negotiations about the withdrawal of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases were to have been concluded by 2000. By 2001, Russia stated that it had fully withdrawn its military base from Gudauta but, in fact, this did not happen (Russia claimed that the Gudauta military base’s infrastructure was transferred to the CIS [in reality, Russian] peacekeeping forces). A breakthrough in the stalled negotiations concerning the withdrawal of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases came after the change of government in 2003 when the Government of Georgia increased pressure on Russia (for instance, the resolution of March 2005 which was adopted by the Parliament of Georgia). As a result, Russia and Georgia reached an agreement on 30 May 2005 to draft a joint declaration which detailed the process of the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia. The joint declaration was signed by Sergey Lavrov and Salome Zurabishvili. The final agreement on the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Akhalkalaki and Batumi was signed on 31 March 2006 in Sochi. The agreement was signed by the then Deputy Minister of Defence, Mamuka Kudava, from the Georgian side. Eventually, Russia withdrew its military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki in November 2007. Therefore, the process of the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia was launched by signing the 1999 Istanbul Convention and was finalised in 2007 owing to the vigorous efforts of the Government of Georgia as well as Georgia’s diplomatic service and international society. Therefore, to attribute this achievement to one single individual is groundless and bears signs of populism. Analysis Georgian presidential candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, stated: “I already withdrew the Russian troops from Georgia.” FactCheck took interest in the accuracy of the statement. In 1993, Eduard Shevardnadze asked Moscow for help in suppressing the uprising of Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s loyalists in the northern districts province of Samegrelo. In October 1993, Mr Shevardnadze signed a decree on Georgia’s membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Russian border guards were deployed at the Georgia-Turkey state border and at Georgia’s maritime border. In 1995, Russia and Georgia signed an agreement to deploy four Russian military bases in Georgia (Batumi, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Vaziani) for 25 years (with the perspective of prolonging the deployment) if Russia provided help to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and build the country’s armed forces. The agreement was not ratified. In addition, the so-called “peacekeeping forces” were deployed in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. In 1994, Georgia also joined the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation. Since the second half of the 1990s, Georgia started to boost relations with the West. In 1999, Georgia joined the Council of Europe, bolstered its ties with the North Atlantic Alliance and left the Russian-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organisation. The Government of Georgia also intensified efforts to reduce Russian military presence in Georgia and for the eventual withdrawal of Russian military from the country’s territory. In 1998, Russia and Georgia signed an agreement on the withdrawal of Russian border guards[1] who left the territory of Georgia in 1999. In 1996, another round of negotiations with Russia was launched at the Vienna Conference on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. The bilateral talks with Russia were led by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Irakli Menagharishvili. As a result of these negotiations, the Istanbul Agreement was signed on 17 November 1999 at the OSCE Istanbul Summit. This historic, one-page document was signed by the then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giga Burduli, from the Georgian side. As a result of this agreement, Russia had to withdraw its military bases from Vaziani and Gudauta by 1 July 2001 whilst Georgia temporarily authorised Russia to use the Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases although the parties did have to finish their talks about the withdrawal of the remaining two military bases by 2000. Of note is that despite Russia’s attempts not to fulfil the Istanbul Agreement, Georgia managed to obtain its agreement at the fifth round of negotiations in 2000. The agreement envisioned that the maximum time allowed for the functioning of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki military bases as well as for other Russian military facilities in Georgia would be as long as was necessary to terminate their operation. By 2001, Russia stated that it fully withdrew its military base from Vaziani but, in fact, this did not really happen (Russia claimed that the Gudauta military base’s infrastructure was transferred to the CIS [in reality, Russian] peacekeeping forces). As a result of Russia’s unfulfilled obligations, negotiations about the withdrawal of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases were stalled. The breakthrough in negotiations happened after the change in power in 2003 when the new Government of Georgia increased pressure on Russia. On 10 March 2005, the Parliament of Georgia adopted a resolution which said that if no specific agreement were reached with Russia about the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgian territory by 15 May 2005, the executive government of Georgia was obliged to take necessary measures in regard to those bases as determined by the law. In particular, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia would cease issuing visas for Russian troops to enter Georgia, the Ministry of Finance of Georgia would calculate the entire volume of debt that the Russian Federation military bases and other military facilities owed to the Georgian budget, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources would study and assess the ecological damage inflicted by the Russian Federation’s military bases, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defence would prepare a special regime for the movement of Russian armed forces and troops, equipment, armament and cargo through the territory of Georgia and exert control to make sure that Russia observed the regime and, finally, the Government of Georgia would create a social rehabilitation programme for those citizens of Georgia who were employed at the Russian military bases. This ultimatum which targeted Russian military bases supply routes was followed by another round of negotiations. As a result, the Russians agreed to issue a joint declaration on 30 May 2005 which was signed the Russian and Georgian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov and Salome Zurabishvili, respectively. The joint declaration provided a detailed process for the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia. In accordance with Mr Lavrov’s statement, Russia was to fully withdraw its military bases from Georgia by 2008. Russian militaries were to have been withdrawn from the Akhalkalaki military base first and then followed by the withdrawal of the military base in Batumi. The agreement was finally signed in Sochi on 31 March 2006. The agreement mostly envisioned the withdrawal of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki military bases by 2008. The Russians fully withdrew both military bases one year in advance in November 2007. The agreement was signed by the then Deputy Minister of Defence, Mamuka Kudava. Therefore, the process of the withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Georgia was launched in November 1999 with the Istanbul Agreement whilst the actual implementation of the agreement started in 2001. The then Government of Georgia, as well as members of the diplomatic service and the involvement of international society contributed significantly to the process. Therefore, it is groundless to attribute all of these results to one single individual. [1] Border Guards – System of border posts which aims to protect the state border on land, sea, river, lake and other water bodies.