Putin pledges increased military presence in disputed Georgian territories

Carly Nyst
13 August 2009

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that Moscow will dedicate half a billion dollars next year to increasing its military presence in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia. The allotted funds will go towards the development of the Russian military base and the strengthening of Abkhazia's state border, Putin said, and will represent "serious guarantees of the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia." It is expected that the funds allotted by the Kremlin will be used in part to fund construction of a new naval base in the Abkhaz town of Ochamchira, which is within striking distance of Georgia's Poti and Batumi ports.   

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The toD verdict: Coming a little more than a year after the five-day South Ossetia war between Russia and Georgia, the announcement is bound to further exacerbate the existing hostility between the two countries. In response to Putin's announcement yesterday, Georgia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Nalbandov, accused the Kremlin of violating the peace agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and called on the international community to condemn Putin's plans. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are only recognised as independent states by Russia and Nicaragua, and under international law remain official Georgian territories. As such, Nalbandov claims, any plans by the Kremlin to establish a military presence in the territories will constitute "an illegal initiative on occupied territory."

Both the European Union and the United States have previously called for Georgia's sovereignty to be respected, while Russia has played down the need for international recognition, with Putin remarking that Abkhazia "doesn't need to be recognised by any country other than Russia."

Russia has disregarded any objection by Georgia or NATO to the increasing Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, signing a deal on military and economic cooperation with both regions in November 2008. However, any suggestion that Russia is supportive of genuine independence for the territories should be dismissed, argues Professor Donald Rayfield. Rather, Russian foreign policy expert James Nixey argues, "the most important part of Russian foreign policy is to be a regional leader, to have a kind of lordship over the neighbourhood. It wants to play a controlling influence in all of the former Soviet states." Nevertheless, Abkhazians, for the most part, regard Putin as a liberator.

Clashes with militants in the Philippines result in dozens of deaths

Military raids by the Philippine Armed Services on militant training camps on the southern island province of Basilan resulted in dozens of deaths on Wednesday. Twenty-three Filipino soldiers died in the raids on the Abu Sayyaf training camps, which were being used to temporarily house kidnapping victims and make explosives. The bodies of 31 militants have been recovered so far but a military spokesman indicated that this number is likely to rise. Sizeable quantities of bombs were found, some already "rigged to explode," along with thirteen high-powered firearms.

Abu Sayyaf has been linked to the al Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah terrorist networks, and this year has been implicated in the kidnappings of several journalists and Red Cross workers. The group operates primarily in Basilan, campaigning for the establishment of a separate Muslim state. The Philippines government has sought training from the US military in order to fight the group, which has become known for criminal brutality and high profile kidnappings.

New security concerns for India as violence increases in Kashmir

Separatist militants in Kashmir appear to have abandoned their strategy of peaceful protests in favour of a return to violence, after months of demonstrations last year failed to gain any significant support. Thirty people have died since July in firefights along a military line of control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, and the number of infiltration attempts has spiked to double that made in the same period last year. Recent events buck the dramatic decrease in separatist violence in the region since the peace process between India and Pakistan began in 2004, which saw over 60% of people last year disregarding calls by separatists to boycott state elections.

There are concerns that a return to violence in the region will once again heighten tensions between India and Pakistan and further delay the resumption of the peace process, which was suspended after November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. India has accused Pakistan-based separatist groups of seeking to destabilise the region as a ploy to keep the Kashmir issue alive. However, Pakistan maintains that addressing the instability in Kashmir is the key to securing peace in the region.

US troops launch pre-election offensive in Taliban town

Up to ten Taliban militants were killed yesterday when US troops stormed the Helmand town of Nawzad in an attempt to drive out militants before next week's presidential election.  At least 400 US Marines and 100 Afghan soldiers participated in the offensive, labelled Operation Eastern Resolve II. The operation was the second such attempt by US forces to push the Taliban out of an area that they have occupied since 2006.

The town was fiercely defended by Taliban militants, who responded to the attack with small arms fire, mortars and rocked propelled grenades. According to Captain Zachary Martin, the commander of Golf Company of 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines which conducted the assault, the offensive "could have tremendous effects for the whole province."

Fifteen die in Yemen offensive

A major offensive has been launched by the Yemeni army against rebels in the north of the country, resulting in the death of fifteen people and leaving dozens wounded in over two days of fighting. The attack is the latest instalment in a long-running conflict between the Sunni government and the Shia rebels, who are based along the Saudi Arabian borderlands. The government has vowed to strike with an "iron fist" at the rebels, whom the Yemeni president has accused of trying to overthrow the government. Following the breakdown of a peace agreement after just six months in 2007, the continuing violence in Yemen has prompted fears in the west that it could become a haven for Islamic militants.  

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