(See parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI)
Unknown details of the war in Abkhazia. Part VII
...Abkhazia's security service obtained initial information on the scheduled for the spring of 1993 large-scale offensive on Sukhumi. Below we will talk about exactly what agent-operative activities were carried out by us to obtain the said pre-emptive intelligence. But first we present recollections of the chairman of the Information and Intelligence Service of Abkhazia of the time, late General Yuri Keshelava.
"Few people remember that the attack on Sukhumi carried out on 15-16th March of 1993 was to begin even earlier, at 5 am on March 5th. The first information on this was received by our operation group (this group was quite successfully led by my deputy Levan Kiknadze). The operational source was reliable and trustworthy; he moved in the circle of one of the leaders of the Abkhazian separatists in Russia. In addition, we were able to obtain a copy of the plan of attack on Sukhumi of the Russian military unit deployed in a suburb of Sukhumi. This plan was based on another large plan of attack that had already been agreed with the command of the airborne parts of Russia and Ardzinba himself. The date of the attack and a fact of direct involvement in this offensive of Russian paratroopers of Gudauta group was pointed out by another source – a North Caucasian that our service recruited and who before fought on the side of the separatists. All this information that we gathered was very persuasive. The leadership of the country was promptly informed. Eduard Shevardnadze and Tengiz Sigua immediately flew to Sukhumi. On March 1st, at the so-called Beria dacha, where corps headquarters was located they convened an emergency meeting. The meeting was led by then commander of the armed forces, Colonel-General Anatoly Kamkamidze. I would like to note that the military command did not display confidence to our information. One of the reasons was the fact that neither at the beginning of the war, nor later a role and place of our service in the state defence system was specified. There was not even one order or any document that would regulate our mutual cooperation. Each armed group has its own intelligence and security services. They avoided cooperating with us."
General A. Kamkamidze was a professional soldier of high rank, disciplined and demanding but also very shy person. He felt that part of the Georgian generals who considered themselves pro-Western, did not trust him - General of the Russian army. The above-mentioned meeting was going to end, and Kamkamidze still had not given specific orders. And I was so confident in the accuracy of the information we obtained about the upcoming enemy attack on Sukhumi that could not restrain myself and asked to speak and said the following: this meeting is more like a discussion of the results of a military reconnaissance in peacetime than giving specific tasks before the expected attack. Mr. Commander, I insist to draw your attention to materials that we obtained and provided to you and ask you to conduct adequate measures for defence of Sukhumi. The tone of my speech was took up by the then head of government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia Tamaz Nadareishvili, who demanded full guarantee of protection of Sukhumi from the military command.
The night of March 4th passed without incidents. Although our workers, who were conducting daily monitoring of the front line along the Gumista, recorded intense movement of manpower and equipment of the enemy on the right bank of Gumista from the roof of high-rise building in the new area of Sukhumi with powerful optical instruments. This information was also confirmed by the front-line battalions.
Late at night of March 4th, we gathered at the office of Tamaz Nadareishvili in the building of the Cabinet of Ministers. I remember, after long hesitation, Eduard Shevardnadze suddenly asked those present to leave him alone. Later we learned that he asked to speak with Moscow through the closed connection of our service ("VCH"). After about half an hour, Shevardnadze has invited us into the room and said that he spoke with Yeltsin and warned him that he knew about the scheduled for March 5th attack on Sukhumi and about participation of the armed forces of Russia. And that the attack would be seen as Russia's aggression against Georgia. He also added that allegedly foreign journalists were also present during this conversation with Yeltsin. Shevardnadze then ordered to return to our places and asked everyone to be ready.
This tense night, too, passed without incident, but early in the morning a recording of a conversation between Gudauta and Tkvarcheli was brought to me. The intercept said:
- What is it, what is happening?
- They betrayed us again. Everything was ready, suddenly they refused, and the cause is not known. They say, an order was received from Moscow.
Tkvarcheli (after some swear words/swearing):
- We’re bending over backwards here, have not been sleeping for a month, preparing. We cannot do this any more. If you do not start without Russians, I swear, we join Georgians and will go against you, because you started all this.
- We will soon start without them, wait for us.
The fact is that the intervention of Shevardnadze gave the result. It seems that the Russian Defence Ministry did not dare to violate Yeltsin’s order - not to provide assistance to Abkhazians which, perhaps, was issued after the conversation with Shevardnadze.
Workers of the information and intelligence department of Abkhazia. Sukhumi, Autumn 1992
On March 18th we had a telephone conversation with our source in Moscow. It should be noted that the mentioned source was firmly embedded in the inner circle of Ardzinba and mainly extracted information interesting for us directly from primary sources. Two-way communication with the source was carried out according to a previously developed scheme, one option of which was, if necessary, use of long-distance communication channels Moscow-Sukhumi and Moscow-Tbilisi-Sukhumi. In this case, at the Sukhumi long-distance call station our operation group used to take all measures to avoid facts of accidental or intentional connection to the communication channels by female telephone operators and technical personnel of hardware line during a call, thus ruling out infiltration of content of the conversation to maximum. Generally pre-approved phrases were used in the conversation, and information with special content and values was transmitted in encrypted form.
During the conversation, the source did not conceal a surprise at the failure of the planned attack on March 5th on Sukhumi, that Abkhazians thoroughly resented actions of Russians, accusing them of treason. According to him, Russians, too, did not shy away from tough words and directly said: "If you are so tough, why did not you venture to attack Sukhumi without our help?"
After the failure of the plan of attack on Sukhumi of March 5th Ardzinba immediately flew to Moscow where he met with senior representatives of both political and military leadership and categorically demanded to exert influence over Yeltsin so that in the near future he would take control of Sukhumi with the support of the Russian armed forces. Having received a promise that in the near future preparations for a joint attack on Sukhumi would start, Ardzinba returned to Gudauta. Upon receipt of this information, we moved our source to an intensive mode of communication; we started using the same mode for our sources in Sochi, Gudauta and the North Caucasus. We intensified surveillance of Russian military objects based in Sukhumi. Analysis of the regular reporting of intelligence information gradually convinced us of inevitability of resumption of the temporarily suspended large-scale offensive on Sukhumi in the near future. We were not only sure about dates. By the time all the leaders of the separatists gathered in Gudauta. Military equipment of all kinds stationed or thrown in Gudauta were brought in readiness under command of Russian generals and officers of higher rank: Lieutenant-General Chandarov, Lieutenant-General Sorokin, Colonels Samartsev, Ulyanov, Kravchuk, Colonel of medical service Bazarny, and many other personnel of different rank and specialty, that filled crowded holiday homes and barracks in Gagra and Gudauta.
This period suspiciously coincided with an anti-government rally in Gali, March 9th organised at the initiative of Kobalia. For some reason quite a very thin rally was considered dangerous, and it was decided to disperse it using force. This gave a pretext to Loti Kobalia to start picketing - ostensibly in protest - on central roads leading to Zugdidi and blocking the movement of cargo to Abkhazia. Loti Kobalia also stopped already recovered by the time railway movement. Robbery of trains moving in the direction of Abkhazia became more intense. As an example we can bring the fact of detention of cargo train 972 heading to Abkhazia at the Inguri station by combatants under Kobalia’s command, which occurred at 7pm, on March 9th. The train that consisted of 13 carriages loaded with ammunition, grenades, Grad rockets and food were completely looted. On March 10th, at 1pm a rally was held in Zugdidi in support of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, where Loti Kobalia declared military situation in Zugdidi, Tsalenjikha and Chkhorotsku and promised to restore the power of ex-president in western Georgia as soon as possible.
Having summarized the information that the attack on Sukhumi was scheduled for March 15th, we immediately reported it to Eduard Shevardnadze, who was specifically interested in the data transmitted by our source from Moscow (alias of the source was known to him). Then he called Yeltsin again and asked him to take appropriate measures to prevent the possible aggression. This time the attempt of Shevardnadze did not have any result. At the dawn of March 15th, 1993 after a massive bombing of Georgian positions by joint air and artillery forces of Russia, the united forces of the Abkhazians, Confederates and Cossacks went into attack. As a result of bloody battles, they managed to break through the Gumista front line and invade deeper. This situation complicated control of combat units for the Georgian military command, the more that communication with some of them was lost. Redeployment to the front lines of additional forces, particularly the Georgian military police under the command of Soso Akhalaia, followed by a well-adjusted and coordinated action of artillery, soon improved the situation. The Georgian military units successfully repelled a two-day long large-scale attack of Abkhazians. It was achieved through concerted actions of the command of the military corps stationed in Sukhumi, and especially the command of the 23rd Brigade (Kvaraia, Nikolaishvili, Adamia), artillery units and front-line battalions. MIA and security service fighters also showed themselves in the above battles.
In conclusion, I want to remind readers that while representatives of the highest echelons of political and military leaders of Russia involved in the matter of settlement of the conflict maintained at all levels that they remained neutral, in fact, the battles of March 15-16, once again clearly demonstrated support of Russian armed forces of the separatist regime. GRU officer Alexander Sitnikov, whom we arrested in Sukhumi on charges of espionage on March 31, after a few days we dealt the enemy a severe defeat, confirmed this in his confession.