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In the last weeks before my visit in Georgia the tensions were rising in the Caucasus region, especially in Abhazia, strategically located on the Black Sea in the north western region of the Republic of Georgia.

The history in brief: In the early 90s the conflict in Abkhazia began with social unrest and the attempts by the local authorities to separate from the Republic. A series of armed confrontations escalated in the summer of 1992 when the Georgian Government deployed 2,000 Georgian troops in Abkhazia. These confrontations resulted in some 200 dead and hundreds wounded. The Abkhaz leadership abandoned the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi and retreated to the town of Gudauta.
On 3 September 1992 a ceasefire agreement was reached in Moscow by the Republic of Georgia, the leadership of Abkhazia and the Russian Federation. The agreement stipulated that "the territorial integrity of the Republic of Georgia shall be ensured". It also set out, as the basis of the peace settlement, a ceasefire to take effect as of 5 September 1992 and other issues including the disarming of illegal armed formations, the reduction of the armed forces and the exchange of prisoners.

The agreement never was fully implemented. The situation remained very tense with both sides accusing each other of ceasefire violations. On 1 October 1992 the Abkhaz forces, supported by fighters from the North Caucasus region, quickly captured the major towns, and threatened to bring nearly 80 per cent of Abkhazia, including the capital city of Sukhumi, under their control. This action forced some 30,000 civilians to flee across the border to the north to the Russian Federation. The parties to the conflict accused one another of human rights violations committed against the civilian population. By November 1992, the outbreak of inter-ethnic fighting in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation added another dimension to the already tense situation in the area. In the following years the situation remained very tense with many incidents.
For this years stay in Georgia it was scheduled to visit the airfields of the Air Force again to see the current status. Unfortunately due to this years tensions all visits were cancelled at short notice. In early October four Russian army officers accused of spying to mediators from the OSCE were arrested and later handed over to Russia. Following that Russia deported many Georgian in police raids, severed all transport and postal links, stopped issuing visas to Georgians, banned key Georgian exports and even speaking about military invention. Seeing these developments it is not surprising that the Georgian military did not want to have any civilians on their airfields. The surprise was that I was invited to join a Mi-24 mission. The plan was to take off from Vali test field in a Yak-52 and to meet a Mi-24 of the Georgian Air Force in the airspace south of Tbilisi. Reflecting this plan I remembered that almost exactly five years ago, on 8 October 2001, a UNOMIG helicopter patrol to the Kodori Valley was shot down in the Gulripsh district of Abkhazia, killing all nine unarmed people on board. A memorial was held on 8 October this year, one week before I left Germany for Georgia. Early September this year in South Ossetia a helicopter with the Georian defence minister was shot at and forced to land, fortunately nobody was hurt. The good news is that on 15 October 2006 the Security Council extended the mandate of UN Mission in Georgia with the resolution 1716 (2006) until 15 April 2007.

On the day of the flight I met the pilot Gocha Schingasrdilov, we flew together in a Su-25UB last year, and went through the formal briefing. He was already in a hurry as the Mi-24 was standing ready for take-off at Alekseevka airfield. As we strapped into the Yak the Hind was already crossing Vali airfield heading south. We hurried to get in the air to catch the Hind. The space in the rear cockpit of the Yak-52 as not compareable to that of a Su-25. With the canopy closed I was not even able to move my head to take some photos. I chose to open the canopy in the air to have a little more room and to avoid reflections on the canopy. As we approached the Hind over a lake south of Tbilisi I noticed that it was armed with rocket pods. As I heared later that Akhazia started an exercise involving approximately 2,000 troops at the russian base Gudauta during the day of our flight. Simultaneously the tchechenian president Alu Alchanow announced that he would support Abkhazia in case of any conflict. This would explain the relatively heavy flight activity of Georgian Air Force helicopters that day. I had about 20 minutes to take photos of the Mi-24 before it left us heading north and we returned to Vali airfield.

On October 25, after my departure from Georgia, three GRAD (BM-21) rockets hit the area near Azhara village in upper Kodori Valley, while the Georgian Interior Minister was there. None of the rockets exploded. The Kodori Valley has always been a place of high tension in the last time. Earlier this year, on 25 July, a large-scale special operation was launched in the Georgian-controlled upper part of the Vally under the control of the Ministers of Internal Affairs and Defence of Georgia to 'restore law and order' in the area. One day later, on 26 July, a number of military vehicles together with seven Georgian helicopters, including three attack helicopters were observed by UNOMIG heading towards the upper Kodori Valley. In response to the Georgian operation, The Abkhaz side deployed forces east of Sukhumi towards the lower Kodori Valley and in the conflict zone. Additional units were moved into the restricted weapons zone to restore defensive positions along the Gali canal und to reinforce its posts.

On November 9, 2006 the Federal Republic of Germany and Georgia signed an Agreement of Cooperation. A four-member delegation from the Federal Ministry of Defence of Germany led by the Brigadier General Johann Berger officially visited Georgia. The goal of the visit is to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the two countries. An official signing ceremony of the agreement was held at Krtsanisi National Training Center today and was attended by the German military officials, the First Deputy Defence Minister of Georgia Levan Nikoleishvili and acting Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces Col. Zaza Gogava.
Cooperation Agreement signed between Georgia and Germany envisages material-technical assistance and training of Georgian instructors at the German military units. The agreement was signed by the heads of Krtsanisi NCO School and Hammelburg Infantry School.German delegation departed from Georgia on November 9th.

 The author Marcus Fülber wishes to thank Robert as well as Gocha & Gocha for their superb assistance


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