Georgia starts to choke on its dirty little war

THE HARSH realities of Eduard Shevardnadze's dirty little war against the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia were on full display in the airport waiting- room. The Georgian leader had ordered reinforcements to Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital, which remains in Georgian hands, but there was no plane. An irate army captain organising the flight was bellowing orders down two phones at once. He could not say when the plane would take off.

Fresh recruits with squeaky boots and brand new fatigues clutched shiny Kalashnikov rifles as they checked in for the flight. Their faces were blank with fear and astonishment at what they were doing. The day before, they had been ordinary civilians.

Battle-hardened veterans of the Georgian national guard were swaggering about, their chests festooned with rows of bullets. Some showed war wounds.

Refugees told stories of atrocities committed by the Muslim Abkhas and their supporters from the mountains against Georgian Christians. They said women and children had been lined up and massacred at Gagra, a town that had fallen to the Abkhazians. Doctors from the hospital had been killed and the wild Caucasian mountain men had drunk their blood from coffee tins, so the rumours said.

Mr Shevardnadze, who had sent in troops in August to restore order and put down Abkhazian rebels who want more autonomy for the province, had said that a holy war was about to break out.

Earlier, two ancient Antonov biplanes, once part of the Soviet air force, had been pressed into service to take journalists to Sukhumi to interview the refugees. But the planes, which had no modern navigational aids, were forced to turn back half way along the 200-mile route through the Caucasus mountains when a heavy fog rolled in from the Black Sea. Those of us on board were thankful for the intervention of bad weather; we had the feeling that, had they reached Sukhumi, these planes would not have made the flight back.

Such is the political and economic chaos in Georgia today that even the smallest event, such as the flight of a plane, is often beyond the government's meagre resources. In place of the proud march towards independence on which Georgians embarked as the Soviet Union broke up, there is permanent civil conflict.

Once a Georgia Communist Party boss, Mr Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, returned last March hoping to reunite the 5 million Georgians and steer them to prosperity. He is now so filled with despair he talks of giving up. 'The most terrible thing is that for the first time in my life, I feel at a loss. Now, I don't see any way out,' he said.

He leads a provisional government formed after the elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was deposed in a bloody civil war in January. Today, Georgia goes to the polls to choose a new parliament, and Mr Shevardnadze, the only candidate for parliamentary leader on the ballot, is assured of victory.

The vote will almost certainly inflame the guerrilla war with the Abkhas, who make up only 18 per cent of the region's population. So far, Mr Shevardnadze's invasion has been an embarrassing and costly flop, and he has been widely criticised by Russian leaders. More than 200 people have been killed in the fighting and many thousands more have become refugees.

In Mr Shevardnadze's view, the Russians have played a treacherous game. On one hand, the Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, has brokered a peace between the two sides. On the other, Russian MPs have passed a resolution calling for economic sanctions against Georgia for its part in the invasion.

But in the view of an increasing number of Georgians, Mr Shevardnadze has fallen into the trap that enveloped Mikhail Gorbachev as he tried to organise the devolution of Soviet power. Like Mr Gorbachev, Mr Shevardnadze is surrounded by ambitious military leaders, who, it could be argued, pushed him into invading Abkhazia, just as the KGB and Soviet defence chiefs pushed Mr Gorbachev into a military crackdown in the Baltic states.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: IT Field Engineer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line IT Engineer

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent