(See parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X)
Unknown details of the war in Abkhazia. Part VI
A special place in the articles written on the Abkhazian is held by a fight of March 15-16th, 1993 on the Gumista front. Not many people know that this attack should have started earlier, at 5 in the morning of March 5th.
As we know after the Georgian army formations took control partially of the Ochamchire district, the Gagra zone, Gulripsh district, Sukhumi district and the city of Sukhumi and the separatists controlled the upper and lower Eshera, part of the Gudauta district, partially Ochamchire district and the town of Tkvarcheli the Georgian side stopped military attack actions and complied with the ceasefire decision that was approved as a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian talks that were held under the aegis of the UN and with the help of Russia on September 3rd, 1993 (we do not mean local fights that always accompany the parties that are engaged in long-standing state of war. And neither the Abkhazian war exception). As it is well known, agreements on ceasefire were acceptable and useful for the Abkhazian side since secretly, with the help of Russia they acquired time and ability to prepare for decisive fights. And this was what happened. As soon as the separatists consolidated manpower and weapons with the help of Russia they did not care about the UN resolutions, violated ceasefire agreements and started large-scale attacks.
First of such attacks was carried out by the separatists with the help of Russia’s armed forces, Cossacks and North Caucasian mercenaries just exactly one month after the Moscow agreement of September 3rd, 1993 on ceasefire and non-resumption of military actions were signed - e.i. on October 3-5th which resulted in the capture of Gagra. Gaining control over the Gagra zone was of strategic importance for the separatists since the Gudauta grouping that were surrounded before received free access to the Russian border and this made it very easy for the Kremlin to render assistance with manpower, military equipment and ammunition to the separatists. This was again followed by agreements and resolutions that were also violated by the separatists. And in March 1993 they carried out the second large-scale operation but now on Sukhumi in seizure of which the decisive role, according to the plan, was played by regular Russian Army. The attack on Sukhumi started on March 15th and the separatists were dealt a severe defeat in two days.
The bitter defeat in the March military campaign gave a great deal to think about to the Staff of Generals of the Defence Ministry of Russia and they were forced to introduce completely new ammendments into another plan of the capture of Sukhumi. The headquarters of the Russian military base deployed in Gudauta was charged with conduction of the attack military operations that implied participation of united forces of Abkhazian separatists as well as North Caucasian mercenaries and Cossacks. The said operation started in the beginning of July, 1993 in the seaside village of Tamishi of the Ochamchire district by sending naval troops of special forces of the Russian Defence Ministry and Abkhazians. They were to join the Tkvarcheli group and close the Tkvarcheli-Sukhumi connecting highway with combined forces. Thus Sukhumi would appear practically surrounded and preparatory fights for Sukhumi were under way simultaneously with the Tamishi actions. Those preparatory fights ended in loss of strategic heights of Komani, Akhalsheni and Tsugurovka and establishment of the separatists’ control on them. Military actions near Tamishi continued over one week and ended in complete destruction of the numerous enemy troops. Thus yet another plan to capture Sukhumi was foiled but the danger still remained since the adjacent to Sukhumi heights were already controlled by the separatists.
Conduction of the forth and the last large-scale attack plan that was drawn up by the Staff of Generals of the Russian Defence Ministry was actually started in summer of 1993. The difference was that the Kremlin, after it became convinced that the separatists, despite the help of confederates and the Cossacks, would not be able to achieve success in fights against Georgians and the Russian Armed forces could not openly become involved in the war actions they started to use all resources at their disposal in another plan. First, and the most important, was that it promoted development of the events so to force the Georgian government of the time to sign clearly disadvantageous document, known as the agreement of July 27th, 1993 (see part X). Russia, despite a commitment they undertook and which implied disarmament of armed formations of foreign countries and promotion and control of the process of their withdrawal from Abkhazia, on the contrary, even more activated provision of the separatists with man power and military ammunition. Besides, it also designed a more important role for its security services that put special agent network meant various operative measures and implanted in Georgia, in full operation in all directions. As we know the forth large-scale attack resulted in the fall of Sukhumi on September 27th, 1993 and ultimate capture of Abkhazia on September 30th.
Let us return to military actions of March 1993. The Abkhazian separatists started to prepare for the March military campaign much earlier, in the autumn of 1992. The plan of the large-scale attack on Sukhumi included not only participation of the Russian armed forces alongside the Abkhazian separatists, their supporting confederates and Cossacks but an important role there was assigned to the Russian Foreign Ministry that by the time had already managed to hide behind the mandates of the international organizations and used to arm the separatists without the least obstacles. On January 19th, 1993 the Russian government passed a resolution for the Russian Defence Ministry to ensure transfer of humanitarian aid from Sochi into Tkvarcheli and provision of a helicopter with the Red Cross sign for evacuation of residents of Tkvarcheli to Sochi. Since no transport with the said sign was subject to inspection of cargo the Russian military, according to our information, were bringing in arms alongside the humanitarian aid into Tkvarcheli. An attempt of the Georgian side to convince the UN observer mission in the correctness of this information and in the need to carry out control of the goods, failed. More, when on the Gumista bridge Georgians blocked a large transport column heading to Tkvarcheli for the purpose of its inspection they were categorically denied to inspect it with the direct involvement of representatives if the UN mission. It was later confirmed that the column together brought large amount of military ammunition and weaponry alongside humanitarian aid. After this incident Russia spared no efforts to officially get the UN and the Red Cross mandates for the future. The Georgian side could not offer a suitable resistance. More the UN did not take into account a request of the Georgian side to take part in the transfer of the humanitarian cargo and granted this right to Russia alone. As a result, bringing in humanitarian aid from Russia into Abkhazia, particularly in Tkvarcheli became very intense and it was demonstrated by considerable increase of combat capability of the Tkvarcheli, so-called eastern front. And this played an important role in deciding the fate of the war in favour of the Abkhazian separatists.
At the same time, the Kremlin did not spare time and effort for so-called representatives of the Gudauta group to engage in active work in all directions to prepare for a future war campaign.
For this purpose commercial bodies were being created in Moscow and other cities of Russia and their main objective was to buy and send military equipment, ammunition and food for the illegal armed groups and mercenaries in Abkhazia. Vigorous activity was launched by companies Kavkaz, Otyrba, Continent, Apsny that were created specifically for this purpose. To obtain loans financial transactions were carried out by Tico bank owned by well-known Sukhumian businessman Tsaturyan and Gagra-Bank owned by I. Argun. Information and press centre was organized at a high technical level at the Moscow Public Academy of Sciences, and it was led by ideologist of the separatists Taras Shamba.
Administration of the city of Sochi was also very attentive towards the separatists. Hotel Zhemchuzhina and sanatorium Zelyonaya Roshcha located in the vicinity of Adler used to house headquarters, which hosted meetings with heads of Cossacks and confederates. They were used for selection and recruitment of militants. The so-called Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia operated in the building of the Sochi department of the Interior Ministry.
Our sources regularly recorded road and rail movement of transport loaded with military equipment and manpower on the Psou section of the Russian-Georgian border in the direction of Gudauta-Eschera. For example, on December 22, 1992 the said border was crossed by 12 carriages loaded with heavy military equipment and entered Gudauta. On December 25 a barge with 500 armed militants left Adler in the direction of Gudauta. On February 23, 1993 a cargo plane delivered 3 armoured vehicles, designed for the Abkhazian separatists to the Bombora airport. On February 25 seven KAMAZ cars loaded with automatic weapons crossed the border at Psou. On February 26 a train left the Adler railway station in the direction of Gagra and its four carriages contained appropriately equipped Russian militaries. To carry out the planned attack on Sukhumi, on March 14, 17 tanks of fuel for armoured vehicles were sent from the Tuapse railway station in the direction of Abkhazia. In December of 1992, by order of the deputy commander of airborne troops of Russia General Sigutkin, battalion of the special forces with its equipment and manpower (soldiers - 450, armoured vehicles -25 units), Mi-24 helicopters - 6 units, mobile anti-aircraft guns - 8 units were flown to the Bombora airfield in Gudauta. Flights of cargo aircrafts such as the AT-72 were regularly conducted from Moscow Chkalovsk airport in the direction of Gudauta that delivered combat weapons to the separatists and on return flights they took wounded personnel.
Existing extremely precarious situation caused by the imposed war was even more complicated by negative processes that were unfolding in almost all regions of the country, especially in western Georgia. A trace of the Russian security services was clearly discernible in those processes. To find a way in the labyrinth of their evil designs, and, moreover, make the right decision was incredibly difficult. The acute socio-political crisis, which often escalated into civil confrontation, had a negative impact on combat capability, which is why it was not possible to develop a unified plan of action aimed at neutralizing emerging challenges facing the country, and to adequately respond to them.
At that time, it was difficult to convince anyone that Loti Kobalia group too had its place and role reserved in all plans of the capture of Sukhumi developed by the Staff of Generals of Russia. But facts made this clear, not to mention that there was information, in some cases, advance information received from various sources, which indicated to existence of an explicit alliance of the armed radical wing of the Gamsakhurdia supporters with Gudauta separatist group.
As we know, armed formations supporting the ex-president Gamsakhurdia general command of which was entrusted to Loti Kobalia at this period were situated in Dzhikhashkari, Akhali Sopeli, Anaklia, Zugdidi and fully controlled roads leading to districts of Tsalenjikha, Chkhorotsku and Zugdidi. 24 hour posts were in operation in the villages of Rukhi and Tsaishi. In February 1993, an armed group of 80 formed from residents of Mestia and Tsaledzhikha arrived in Zugdidi and joined the group of Loti Kobalia. In the same period, former commander of the Senaki battalion Akaki Eliava brought well armed group of 25 to Zugdidi.
As we mentioned in the previous articles, after the Georgian armed forces entered Abkhazia, Loti Kobalia and his armed groups blocked the Enguri bridge and set control over it. This meant that any cargo, even for military purposes, was subject to control and could not be delivered to Abkhazia without permission of Kobalia. In addition, in these circumstances one could not even dream about rotating troops through the said route and that could have cost lives to some. For this reason, the military leadership was forced to use only air, which of course was difficult and dangerous. In addition, throughout the war Kobalia sought pretexts and I must say, often used to find it, so that the closing of the Enguri bridge suspiciously coincided in time with the resumption of separatist fighting.
To be continued...