The messenger logo

Tbilisi denies its coast guards dressed up as Russians

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, September 7
Moscow accused the Georgian coast guards of using “deceptive ways” to detain vessels in the waters of Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia on September 5.

Tensions over incidents with vessels en route to Abkhazia have been inflamed further by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s September 5 statement in which the Kremlin accused Tbilisi of violating the 1982 UN Convention on Marine Regulations while detaining the Turkish vessel Buket and its cargo of fuel while it was en route to breakaway Abkhazia.

“The owner of the detained Buket has informed the national [Turkish] press that the vessel was detained 96 miles from the Turkish port of Sinope. Georgian border guards used a boat without any identification marks that would have demonstrated that it belonged to the Georgian state services. When they entered the ship they presented themselves as Russian servicemen and took the vessel out of the Turkish sailors’ control, threatening them with weapons. Despite the existence of proper documentation, the tanker was arrested and a criminal case begun against its crew in Georgia,” says the statement, adding that the “method of detention used, in which Georgian law enforcers presented themselves as Russian servicemen, causes indignation” in the Russian side. The Kremlin announced that it is expecting an explanation of this August 16 incident from Tbilisi.

Tbilisi responded to this statement on the same day by saying that Moscow was “misleading” the international community with a “blatant lie.” “The Georgian coastguard boat bore national identification marks and the Georgian guards were dressed in uniforms, hence neither the Turkish ship's captain nor the crew members could have had any difficulty in identifying them as belonging to a Georgian law enforcement agency. Further evidence substantiating this is contained in the protocol of detention signed by the ship's captain Joshkun Ozturk,” stated the Georgian Foreign Ministry. “Taking note of the aforesaid, we are determined to claim clarification from the Russian side concerning the misleading information it has spread [in other words, Russia should either prove its statements true or withdraw them]. Furthermore, the Georgian side insists that the Russian side cease conducting its propaganda campaign against Georgia and provide an official disclaimer about the press release posted by the Russian Foreign Ministry on 5 September 2009,” the statement concludes.

Four cargo ships going to or coming from Abkhazia have been seized this year by the Georgian coastguard for violating Georgia’s law on the occupied territories, which bans economic activities in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia without Georgia’s permission. In the case of Buket a Georgian court has sentenced the captain of the ship to 24 years of imprisonment and confiscated the vessel and its cargo – 2,000 tonnes of petrol and 700 tonnes of diesel fuel. However the captain of the vessel may be released after paying a fine of USD 18,000; a decision on this is expected to be made during the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Georgia next week.

On September 2 Abkhazian separatist leader Sergey Baghapsh ordered the so-called Abkhazian navy to “destroy Georgian ships in violation of the Abkhazian sea border.” Earlier Russia had announced that it was going to provide protection for vessels en route to Abkhazia. Georgia however stated that it would continue to enforce the law on the occupied territories and prevent any kind of economic activity in Abkhazia taking place which was not authorised by the central Government.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia which has been observing the region since last August’s Russian-Georgian war, has noted that it “is concerned about recent statements from representatives of the Georgian Government, the Russian Armed Forces and the Abkhaz de facto authorities on the possible seizure of, and’or attacks on, vessels in the Black Sea.”

“These statements reflect the conflicting legal positions on the territorial integrity of Georgia. While on this matter the EU position is well known and remains unchanged, EUMM urges all sides concerned to refrain from words and actions that could cause an increase in tension and a deterioration of the situation. At the EUMM’s request the question has been included on the agenda of the forthcoming IPRM (Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism) meeting in Gali on September 8. EUMM considers IPRM the appropriate forum to tackle this issue,” concludes the statement.