The Postwar Settlement of Russia’s Armed Forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia
Upon the completion of the Five-Day War in August 2008 but before Russia withdrew its troops from Georgian territory, Moscow announced its recognition of the independence of the two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Since the Georgian government did not give up its plans to regain control over the self-proclaimed regions, including by force if necessary, the existence of the newly recognized republics could be guaranteed only by deploying Russian troops in them. In accordance with agreements signed by the two republics with Russia, they have provided, free of charge, land for Russian military bases for a term of 99 years in South Ossetia and 49 years in Abkhazia.
Initially, the permanent strength of the troops to be deployed at each Russian base was set at 3,800 people. However, the new state of things after the recognition of the republics’ independence allows Russia to freely maneuver and build up its force there in advance in case of a threat from Georgia or an aggravation of relations with it. This is particularly important in case of South Ossetia which Russian troops can enter only through the Roki Tunnel in the mountains and where the roads have a low traffic capacity.
During the first few postwar months, the actual strength of Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was higher and their composition was different than it was initially planned. In addition to the newly established 4th and 7th Military Bases of the Russian Army, Russia brought various engineer units into the republics; it also used Air Force and Air Defense units and brought additional artillery, for example, the 944th Guards Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment from the 20th Motorized Rifle Division (Volgograd) and 220-mm Uragan 9P140 multiple launch rocket systems. Also, Russia deployed various special-purpose units in the two regions.
RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES IN ABKHAZIA
If Georgia tries to attack Abkhazia, Russian and Abkhazian troops will have to defend a long (about 60 kilometers) lowland border, which, however, will not be very difficult to do as the border lies along the Inguri River. In addition, the capital of Abkhazia, the majority of its cities and major military bases are located far from the border and are exempt from the danger of being suddenly shelled from Georgian territory or of ground invasion. The part of the border with Georgia in the Kodori Gorge can be effectively defended by a small force, as the terrain there highly limits the use of heavy equipment. Other parts of Abkhazia’s border with Georgia lie in mountainous terrain of difficult access, which rules out any possibility of the use of large Georgian forces or military equipment there and which greatly facilitates their defense.
After the Five-Day War, Russia’s 7th Military Base was formed in Abkhazia on the basis of the 131st Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 58th Army. Earlier, the brigade had been deployed in Maikop and had been known for heavy losses sustained during the storming of Chechnya’s capital Grozny in January 1995 in the First Chechen War. Before the conflict with Georgia, individual units of the 131st Brigade had performed peacekeeping functions in Abkhazia, but after the Five-Day War the brigade was deployed in Abkhazia in full strength on a permanent basis. The brigade’s redeployment began already in mid-August 2008 and was largely completed by the end of September 2008. The brigade is based at an old Soviet military airfield, Bombora, near the town of Gudauta. On November 17, 2008, the Abkhazian parliament allotted land there for the Russian base. In all, the brigade is deployed on an area of about 150 hectares.
The brigade’s personnel put up tents and deployed equipment and storage facilities right at the airfield’s runway. Gudauta is more than 100 kilometers away from the border with Georgia that lies along the Inguri River; therefore, the brigade has deployed its forward battalion in hardened defensive positions in Abkhazia’s Gali District in direct proximity to the Abkhazian-Georgian border, while a reinforced company of the brigade has been deployed in the Kodori Gorge. Their positions were equipped by the forces of the base, as well as by two Russian separate engineering battalions and a separate engineering company, which were withdrawn from Abkhazia in 2009.
In mid-March 2009, the tank battalion of the 131st Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade was fully re-equipped: its T-72B battle tanks were replaced with new T-90A tanks produced in 2008. According to the battalion’s new table of organization, it has 41 T-90A tanks. This number of tanks allows the brigade to effectively counter Georgia’s modernized T-72 tanks, even if the latter have numerical superiority. The new tanks have been widely used in the brigade’s exercises since April 2009.
In addition, the military base has over 150 BTR-80 armored personnel carriers (these are planned to be replaced with better-armed BTR-80A APCs); two battalions of 152-mm self-propelled 2S3 Acacia howitzers; one battalion of 122-mm BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems; Osa-AKM, 3SU-23-4 Shilka and 2S6M Tunguska air defense missile systems; and other weapons.
In the autumn of 2008, the territory of Abkhazia began to be integrated into Russia’s air defense system. In November 2008, Russia sent to Abkhazia several S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems from a cadre air defense missile regiment based near Moscow, and deployed there radar formations equipped with Fundament automated systems for Elint company control posts and other equipment.
Immediately after the recognition of Abkhazia’s independence, plans were announced to establish a Russian naval base in it. It will be located at the port of Ochamchira, which in Soviet times hosted a brigade of border guard ships and a training detachment of naval ships. This small port can receive ships 85 meters long. The navigable depth there is 12 meters, but over the years of the port’s disuse the navigating channel has shoaled to 5 meters. After the port is cleared of sunken ships, its water area and navigating channel are dredged, and the coastal infrastructure is restored at least partially, the port will be able to permanently host three to five small warships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (these may include small-size missile or antisubmarine ships, or missile boats) and ten patrol ships and boats of the Russian Coast Guard. Such a force would reliably defend the Abkhazian coast. In August 2009, Russia began dredging in the port of Ochamchira.
In May 2009, a Russian Defense Ministry official said that the strength of the Russian military base in Abkhazia could be reduced by relocating half of the personnel to bases in Russia because of substandard living conditions for Russian troops in Gudauta. The personnel continued living in tents, which was highly uncomfortable, especially in wintertime and spring/autumn, given the high humidity, abundant precipitation and sea wind in the region, although the climate in Abkhazia is rather mild. In the winter of 2008/2009, the problem was aggravated by irregular firewood supplies and electricity disruptions. Despite the conclusion of contracts with Abkhazian forest management authorities, the Russian military still had to cut trees around the base and burn the wood to warm themselves. The construction of modular prefabricated homes began only in August 2009.
A temporary transfer of part of the troops and equipment to bases in Russia can simplify the solution of the problem of poor living conditions and would make possible force rotation. An effective border guard system, the forces of the 7th Russian base using fortified strong points, and combat-effective Abkhazian Armed Forces would be able to contain a possible Georgian aggression until reinforcements come from Russia. Such a possibility is being considered, but the redeployment of troops has not yet begun.
RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES IN SOUTH OSSETIA
South Ossetia is a territory that is difficult to defend. Its capital Tskhinval, the largest town in the republic, is within the reach of artillery, mortar and even small-arms fire from the territory of Georgia. The Leningor District of South Ossetia is isolated and is linked to the republic’s mainland by a mountain road with a low traffic capacity, which becomes impassable in wintertime and in heavy rainfall. For example, pouring rains in June 2009 washed out part of the road, cutting off transport links with the region. Russian troops stationed in the area had to be supplied by helicopter for several days. It takes four to six hours to reach Leningor by this road.
South Ossetia is linked to Russia by one asphalt two-lane mountain road and the Roki Tunnel, which limits its throughput capacity. In addition, this road is often blocked by avalanches for a day or more in wintertime and partially in autumn and spring. This factor essentially complicates the sending of reinforcements from Russia. In contrast, Georgia, using a well-developed network of roads and the proximity of its military bases, can quickly and effectively concentrate its troops against South Ossetia, which it demonstrated in the Five-Day War.
Therefore, to fulfill its commitments, Russia has had to deploy in South Ossetia a force capable of autonomously resisting the Georgian Army for a period of time required for sending reinforcements and/or organizing other measures to counter an act of aggression by Georgia. To this end, immediately after the end of the war, it was decided to establish the 4th Military Base of Russia in South Ossetia. The base hosts the 693rd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, deployed according to a new table of organization. The brigade was formed from the 693rd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorized Rifle Division, which had earlier been deployed near Vladikavkaz, Russia’s North Ossetia. In addition to the regiment, the brigade includes one battalion from the disbanded 135th Motorized Rifle Regiment of the same division and one battalion of multiple launch rocket systems.
The base now has 41 T-72B(M) battle tanks, more than 150 BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, two battalions of 152-mm 2S3 Acacia self-propelled howitzers, one battalion of 122-mm BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems, Buk-M1 and 2S6M Tunguska air defense systems, and other weapons. The larger part of the brigade’s equipment has undergone maintenance and modernization.
The 4th Military Base is stationed in three military communities, whose construction began even before the war for Russian and South Ossetian peacekeeping forces. The first community, NQ 47/1, is located on the northwestern outskirts of Tskhinval. Its construction was almost completed when the war began, except for interior design and service lines. During the war, the empty houses were not damaged – luckily, they did not come under aimed fire and the territory was only hit by a few random Georgian rockets and artillery shells.
After the war, the construction efforts continued, and by February 2009 a large part of the new base was put into operation, including barracks, apartment houses, social and cultural facilities, equipment bays, and a helipad. Efforts to bring the base into line with the new requirements continued throughout 2009, and additional construction is planned for 2010. A major drawback of this community is that it is located just a few kilometers away from the South Ossetian-Georgian border, and in case of a new conflict the Russian troops and equipment there may come under sudden massive artillery fire from Georgian territory.
Another community is located 1.5 kilometers west of the town of Dzhava, near the village of Ugardanta. In addition to residential quarters, NQ 47/2 hosts storage facilities for missiles, munitions and engineering equipment. Immediately after the war, a paved helipad was built near the base for 10 to 15 helicopters. There are reserves of fuel and lubricants on the helipad for more helicopters, which could be sent from Russia if necessary, so that they could be effectively used in combat from the territory of South Ossetia – a possibility Russian troops lacked during the first few days of the war.
There is a problem that is common to all the new Russian military communities in South Ossetia – this is their insufficient capacity, as they were built for a limited peacekeeping force and were not intended for the deployment of a full-scale motorized rifle brigade. The command had to install bunk beds in the barracks to accommodate more soldiers. Also, there are not enough bays for the brigade’s combat equipment, which by far outnumbers the equipment of a peacekeeping force. The space shortage problem has been solved by placing about half of the base personnel on the territory of the 4th Military Base in the city of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. The personnel rotation takes place once every six months.
In addition, small military units of Russia stationed in the remote Leningor, Znaur and Dzhava Districts of South Ossetia have for more than a year been living in tents, with a minimum of comfort and sometimes running short of supplies. The difficult living conditions in Russian garrisons in the region have caused several Russian soldiers to desert to Georgia. This problem can be partially solved by the construction of modular prefabricated homes, which has already begun.
A large force of the 4th Military Base is stationed in the Leningor District. As this area is isolated and vulnerable to attacks, the Russian command has deployed a motorized rifle company task force at the village of Kancheviti in the district, which has been reinforced by tanks, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, and air defense systems. In cases when the situation in the area became aggravated, Russia sent additional troops to the area.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE TWO REPUBLICS
An effective defense of South Ossetia is impossible without uninterrupted transport services between this region and Russia. Therefore, the improvement of South Ossetia’s transport infrastructure is a top priority, as it will enable sending more troops, if necessary, and ensure uninterrupted supplies for Russian troops stationed in the republic. To this end, it has been decided to ensure year-round operation of the Transcaucasian Highway, which is often blocked in the winter by avalanches. A program has been drawn up to build three tunnels, six kilometers of avalanche galleries, and mudslide channels and reconstruct bridges on the highway over the next few years. The reconstruction of the strategically important Roki Tunnel leading from Russia to South Ossetia has already begun.
The remote Leningor District will also be reached by a new mountain macadam road whose construction began before the war. The surface of other roads damaged by the movement of troops has been restored. The Zar bypass earth road has been asphalted. A survey is under way to find a location for the construction of an airfield in South Ossetia that would be capable of accepting military-transport aircraft.
Transport links between Abkhazia and Russia are much more reliable. They are linked by a highway and a railway; also, there are two large airfields in Abkhazia capable of handling heavy transport aircraft, including the An-124. Troops and cargoes can also be sent via Abkhazian ports on the Black Sea. Russia and Abkhazia have signed an agreement to place Abkhazian railways and the Sukhum airport under the management of Russian companies for a term of ten years.
The Russian Railways Company, which has received the management of Abkhazian railways, plans to carry out an overhaul of the tracks and fully restore overhead lines. This will increase the throughput capacity of Abkhazian railways and help to speed up the movement of troops, if necessary.
The Sukhum airport, which was already actively used in August 2008 for the delivery of Russian airborne troops and supplies to Abkhazia, is now planned to be used as a permanent base for a Russian mixed air group, including attack aircraft, fighter aircraft and helicopters. Placing the airport under Russia’s control will help to increase its throughput capacity. The airfield in Gudauta cannot be used by aviation now as it accommodates the main facilities of the 7th Military Base. It only houses helicopters that support the Russian force.
BORDER INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT
As a medium-term goal, Russia has announced the creation of maximum transparent borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, like those between countries of the European Union. In order to avoid the emergence of weak points on the Russian border, it was imperative to establish and equip full-fledged state borders between the two newly recognized republics and Georgia, patterned after the Russian border.
In January 2009, Russia began to demarcate and delimit the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgia. In doing so, it relied, in particular, on documents of 1921 that established the administrative border of South Ossetia. Georgia reacted by saying that Russia’s efforts were illegitimate and that it would not recognize those borders. Nevertheless, on April 30, 2009, Russia signed agreements with the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia on joint efforts to protect the borders. According to these agreements, to ensure the protection of the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia, Russian border guard troops will be placed in these countries on a permanent basis. Their strength will not be included in the total strength of the Russian military bases. These troops are planned to remain in the two republics until the formation of Abkhazian and South Ossetian border guard services. They will help train local border guards, after which they will be withdrawn from the region. No specific timing for the withdrawal has been set yet; so potentially the Russian border guard troops may remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia indefinitely.
To guard the borders of the two republics, Russia’s Federal Security Service has established two new border guard departments – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The department in Abkhazia will guard more than 160 kilometers of land border and about 200 kilometers of sea border. To this end, 20 border posts and a Maritime Department will be established in the republic, and the total strength of border guards will be about 1,500 people. About 20 border posts will be established in South Ossetia, as well. The strength of border guards there will exceed 1,000 people.
Immediately after the agreement was signed, on May 1, 2009, Russia began to send its border guards to the republics and place them on the borders. The first phase of the deployment was over by the end of May in Abkhazia and by mid-June in South Ossetia. At present, the border guards are deployed in the field; however, standard border guard facilities are planned to be built in the two regions before the end of 2011. The facilities will be like those built en masse in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and other southern regions of Russia in recent years. Such border posts are autonomous facilities providing for comfortable living even in the most isolated areas and enabling remote control over the state border with the help of technical means. A network of helipads has been built in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for border guard aviation to supply the border guard posts.
In South Ossetia, in addition to Tskhinval, Russia’s border guard posts will be located at the towns and villages of Artsevi, Akhmadzhi, Balaani, Balta, Vakhtana, Velit, Grom, Dzhava, Disev, Dmenis, Edis, Znaur, Kvaisa, Largvis, Leningor, Muguti, Orchasan, Sinagur and Tsinagar. Thus, they will cover not only areas that have good transport links with Georgia but also mountainous areas of difficult access along the entire perimeter of this republic.
Already in 2009, there arose a need for an early protection of Abkhazia’s sea border and navigation in this area of the Black Sea. After the war, maritime traffic between Abkhazia and Turkey intensified. From Georgia’s point of view, this is a violation of Georgian laws and ships entering Abkhazian waters without Georgian approval are smugglers. This is why Georgia is seeking to prevent other countries’ sea links with Abkhazia. In 2009, the Coast Guard of Georgia seized more than 20 civilian ships that were heading for Abkhazia or returning from it. The ships were escorted to Georgian ports where the owners of some of them had to pay heavy fines, while in other cases the cargoes carried by the ships and even the ships themselves were confiscated and crew members were sentenced to long prison terms.
The attempt to impose a naval blockade on Abkhazia has necessitated the formation of a division of up to ten Russian border guard ships for its protection, which will be based in the port of Ochamchira. The division will include large coast guard ships and high-speed boats – Mangust (Project 12150) and Sobol (Project 12200). The division began to be formed in September 2009 and is expected to be brought up to strength by the summer of 2010. Its base in Ochamchira is scheduled for completion in 2012.
It should be noted that large border guard ships of Russia carry powerful artillery armament, including the 76-mm AK-176M gun and the 30-mm AK-630 rapid-fire gun, as well as advanced fire control systems. This gives them full superiority over any boat in service with the Georgian Coast Guard, whose most powerful weapon today is an obsolete 37-mm gun. As for the small fast boats in the Russian division, they are intended to counter raids by Georgia’s new high-speed lightly armed boats, built in Turkey, and promptly respond to emerging threats to civilian shipping. Russia’s Coast Guard will also help create a unified system of radar control over the territorial waters of Abkhazia and adjacent sea areas.
In addition to their main function of guarding the borders, the deployment of the Russian border guard troops in the two republics is of major military importance. The Russian border guards in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are well-trained and fully equipped contract soldiers. Armaments in service with the Russian border guards include advanced small arms, mortars, light armored vehicles, combat helicopters and sophisticated surveillance technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles, thermal imagers and radars. In all, about 2,500 Russian border guards will be deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They will monitor the border zone of Georgia and, if necessary, will fight Georgian reconnaissance and sabotage groups. If Georgia launches another attack on the republics, the Russian border guards will be the first line of defense and prevent Georgia’s rapid offensive.
The Russian troops brought into Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Five-Day War were limited in terms of combat training. During the first few months of their stay in the two republics, the troops had to focus on settlement matters, which left them no time for combat training. In Abkhazia, where a large peacekeeping force had been deployed before the war and where there still remain well-developed elements of the Soviet military infrastructure, this stage proceeded easier and faster than in South Ossetia, where it lasted until the early spring of 2009.
After the problem of deploying large forces at the new bases was solved, the Russian troops faced another problem – the absence of ranges for combat training. It did not take much time to organize firing ranges for small arms, but it proved to be a much more difficult task to find areas for tank and artillery ranges. The small size of the two republics and the lots of land allotted for the ranges does not make it possible to conduct full-scale exercises at the battalion level and higher, especially field firing exercises. To conduct certain types of tank, artillery and surface-to-air missile firing exercises, the personnel and equipment of the military bases have to be moved to firing ranges of Russia’s North Caucasian Military District, which reduces the defense capacity of the Russian troops deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The situation is particularly difficult in South Ossetia. A firing range at the village of Dzartsemi allows only field firing by infantry fighting vehicles. Tanks have to move to the Tarskoye range in North Ossetia for live firing.
In late June-early July 2009, the North Caucasian Military District held a traditional annual strategic exercise, Caucasus-2009, which also involved the Russian troops stationed in the newly recognized republics. One of the goals of the exercise was to practice how the forces of the district could assist these troops. Although the exercise organizers had said the exercise would take into account the experience of the 2008 war and that the new, brigade-based structure of the troops would be tested in practice, the scenario of the Caucasus-2009 exercise was only slightly different from the preceding Caucasus-2008 exercise. Russia used approximately the same forces and equipment in the exercise as in previous years. The exercise was held at several geographically dispersed ranges, which did not make it possible to practice interaction of brigades and other units between themselves. There was no large-scale movement of the district’s troops, nor operational build-up of troops from other districts there. Also, the exercise agenda did not include the movement of troops to the newly recognized republics to build up Russian forces there.
Russian troops stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia took only a limited part in Caucasus-2009, mainly in command and staff training, because of the danger of diverting large forces of the Russian military bases there from the border with Georgia. The armed forces of the new states themselves did not participate in the exercise, either. The exercise did not demonstrate large-scale use of the district’s new military equipment, even equipment that entered service in the previous year, which may indicate that the troops are not trained well in its use yet.
Over the time that has passed since the war, all conscript soldiers that took part in it and who gained some combat experience there have been demobilized. Many experienced contract soldiers have left the regions, as well – because of the failure of Russia’s Defense Ministry to fulfill its promise to pay for the service in the two republics, and because of the difficult living conditions at the Russian bases there. The number of soldiers doing military service under contract at the 7th Military Base in Abkhazia has decreased to about 20 percent. Numerous reorganizations of the bases’ structure have resulted in the replacement of a large number of the senior and middle ranking officers that took part in the war.
The above developments suggest the conclusion that the time that has passed since the war has seen no essential growth of the combat effectiveness and combat training of the Russian troops deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At present, their training standards approximately correspond to those of the Russian troops that were involved in the Five-Day War.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BASES
The overall strength of the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia insignificantly exceeds the strength of the Russian peacekeeping forces that were deployed in the regions before the Five-Day War. Major growth has taken place only in South Ossetia, where the strength of Russian troops has increased from 1,000 (including a North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion) to 3,500 people. In Abkhazia, there were already almost 3,000 troops when the war began, including a large part of the 131st Motorized Rifle Brigade.
Nevertheless, the combat capabilities of the Russian troops in the republics have increased dramatically over the last year and a half due to the deployment of a large number of heavy weapons which the peacekeeping mandate did not allow the peacekeepers to have. Now there are dozens of Russian tanks (including the T-90A) and heavy self-propelled artillery there, which leave the Georgian army no chance of routing the troops deployed there and invading large parts of the republics’ territories.
Russia’s military bases alone cannot rebuff a full-scale offensive by the much stronger Georgian army, which can be further reinforced by reservists. However, if they delay a Georgian offensive, the Russian Army will be able to use the improved transport infrastructure and promptly send additional troops from Russia for a counterattack. The situation for Georgia is now complicated by the fact that it can no longer concentrate the whole of its army against one of the two breakaway republics, as happened in the Five-Day War. Georgia will inevitably have to keep a large part of its forces to block Russian troops deployed in the other republic.
The deployment of Russian troops in the young states reduces the risk of small-scale conflicts. The Georgian leadership understands that an attempt to carry out even a limited military operation against Abkhazia or South Ossetia may trigger a full-scale and very quick response from the Russian troops stationed in the republics, which are no longer limited by the frameworks of peacekeeping operations and “coercion of Georgia to peace.” If the situation develops according to a worst-case scenario and escalates into a new major conflict between Russia and Georgia, the Russian bases can be reinforced by other Russian troops.
The base in South Ossetia, which still is the most vulnerable, is supported by Russian troops stationed in North Ossetia and neighboring regions. Within the frameworks of the Russian Armed Forces’ reform, the 19th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade has been established in Vladikavkaz as a constant-readiness unit on the basis of the former 19th Motorized Rifle Division. The brigade is armed with new combat equipment, including T-90A tanks. In case of a new conflict, the brigade will be the first Russian reserve to be sent to South Ossetia, which will be done within a day.
New and modernized armaments are also supplied to other units of the North Caucasian Military District that can be used if a new conflict erupts. The obsolete T-62 tanks in service with the 17th and 18th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigades (created on the basis of the former 42nd Motorized Rifle Division and deployed in Chechnya) have been replaced with T-72B tanks. The brigades also have new MT-LB 6MB tracked armored personnel carriers. The 20th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade in Volgograd, created on the basis of the former 20th Motorized Rifle Division, has been rearmed with BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and earlier models of T-90 tanks. The 6,971st Air Base stationed in Budyonnovsk (it comprises the former 368th Attack Air Regiment and the 487th Separate Helicopter Regiment) has received another batch of modernized Su-25SM attack aircraft and eight new Mi-28N combat helicopters.
Since the time when the Russian military bases were deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the number of conflicts and cross-border skirmishes between Georgia and the new states, which it refuses to recognize, has decreased, and their intensity has declined greatly. Not a single civilian has died in cross-border conflicts since the end of the war. The rhetoric of the Georgian leadership vis-?-vis Abkhazia and South Ossetia has become less aggressive. Tbilisi avoids mentioning a possibility of returning its breakaway republics by force or any definite timeframe for a “reunification” with them. Nevertheless, Georgia has not given up plans to “return” the two regions yet, which still creates prerequisites for a new armed conflict with Russia.