Abkhazia: The Untold Story (Georgian claims, North Caucasian Support, and Basayev)

تاريخ النشر على الموقع 25/10/2008

Dodge Billingsley, documentary film producer and director, discusses the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and the implications for the future. Dodge (www.combatfilms.com) is a Caucasus expert. He has been there during the first Abkhaz war and has developed two documentaries regarding the war in Chechenya (The Immortal Fortress, and Chechnya: Separatism or Jihad?)

Below is a video of a presentation Dodge has made on the recent war in the Caucasus. It provides a background and an explanation of the current situation in Abkhazia. In this interesting presentation, Dodge discusses the political situation surrounding the war as well as the influence of the oil pipelines in this recent war.


Additionally, Dodge discusses different claims made with regards to the first Abkhazian war, most importantly how were the Abkhazians able to win that war – was it the Russian involvement or was it the support Abkhazia received from fellow North Caucasians?

Below are some additional articles/videos from combat films on the Caucasus (both Abkhazia & Chechnya)

  • The Battle of Gagra
  • Shamil Basayev interview on the Battle of Gagra and his role in the 1992-1993 Abkhazian war
  • Collection from Dodge’s blog on the situation in Abkhazia


 The Battle of Gagra

(check video on http://www.combatfilms.com/cfrtv_archive_0009.asp)

Still unresolved, the war in Abkhazia 1992-1993 is largely overlooked. At the time nationalism was rampant throughout the Caucasus. Georgia, reeling from an internal squabble between its first elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and the head of the National Guard, Tengiz Kitovani and his ally Dzaba Ioseliani, launched an ill-fated attempt to solidify central government control over separatist minded Abkhazia.

The Georgians were finally driven out a year and a half later (September 1993) by Abkhazian forces strengthened, if not spearheaded, by hundreds of North Caucasus volunteers, among them future Chechen field commanders Shamil Basayev and Ruslan Galayev. Basayev actually received the Hero of Abkhazia medal and was credited for, among other military feats, liberating the northern city of Gagra and pushing the Georgians across the Psou River into Russia proper, where they were repatriated to Georgia via the ports at Poti and Batumi.

Although it took place early in the conflict, the Battle for Gagra was a turning point in the war. Georgian forces had made an amphibious landing to seize Gagra during the first weeks of the war, intending to then push southward and squeeze Abkhazian forces in a pincer movement between a second Georgian force moving north from Sukhumi. The Georgian forces’ failure to hold the strategic northern city, let alone use it as a base to launch further attacks southward, severely hampered its efforts to impose its will against the Abkhazian separatist movement.

Finally, there has been much written about Russia’s involvement in Abkhazia. Most analysis insists that without Russian support Abkhazia would not have been able to break free (In fact, believing Abkhazia to be another Transdeniester, hundreds of Ukrainian volunteers fought on the Georgian side). However, there are problems with this analysis. First, most of the foreign fighters involved in Abkhazia were not Russian soldiers but, like Shamil Basayev, independent minded fighters from the north Caucasus. Others came from the Abkhazian diaspora, primarily from Turkey. Second, complaints of Russian armor and aircraft involved in the fighting as proof of Russian complicity is problematic, as all armor and aircraft on both sides of the conflict was of Russian/Soviet origin. Georgian officials have even claimed publicly that they themselves “rented” Russian tanks and their crews for combat missions by the day or even by the hour, more accurately suggesting that rather than an instrument of policy, the Russian army, in a state of flux in 1992, was open to the highest bidder.

Assuming that Abkhazian separatism was a Kremlin supported policy, it is more accurate that Russian interests and those of the north Caucasus volunteers dovetailed in Abkhazia, albeit for different reasons, creating a condition where Yeltsin had to do little but stand by and watch those pesky Chechens fight their battles for them.

 Shamil Basayev interview regarding the battle of Gagra

CFR interview with Shamil Basayev at his home in Grozny December 1997 regarding his role in the capture of Gagra during the Abkhazian separatist war with Republic of Georgia, 1992-1993.



Q.  Did you go fight in Abkhazia to gain military experience?  To train?

Shamil Basayev:

Well, I could train at home just as well.  Nobody trains like that and besides I’m not a romantic.  I went to help the Abkhazians because they asked help of everyone who cared about their fate. And also, obvious injustice was evident at that time.  Georgia, whose population exceeds Abkhazia’s by about forty times, began basically an extermination of the Abkhazian people.

At that time a type of bandit-fascist regime was in power and the present situation confirms that, because all of the leaders who were in power during that regime are now in Georgia’s prisons.  All this tells you that at that time the Georgian power was in the hands of criminal elements and bandits that acted openly.  That’s why we went to help, because the responsibility of a man is to help the weak. 

Besides, I was a member of the People of the Caucuses Confederation for six months at that time and the idea of uniting all small nations of the Caucuses into one Confederate State was dear to me.  Especially since we had an example of the Mountain republic that existed from 1918 to 1920 and was recognized by Germany, Turkey and some other countries until it was destroyed by the Red Army.

The idea of unification of the small nations was dear to me, was close to my heart since my childhood.  That’s why I had no doubts when the war started on August 14th (1992).  I was ready thirty minutes after I heard about it.

At that time I was a commander of the Special Missions Battalion of the Chechen Republic Armed Forces.  My rank was a major.  I asked (President) Dudayev to go to Abkhazia but he first refused so I wrote a notice of resignation and left for Abkhazia.  Half of my battalion went to Abkhazia with me.

Q. Can you explain the taking of Gagra and the collapse of Georgia’s northern front?

Shamil Basayev:

In Gagra, when the attacks began on the first day of May, we attacked from three directions in the frontal part.  We captured some Georgian teams.  On the second day in the morning, at sun up, my battalion and I took the high road and came into the covering force.  We broke them in two tries, destroyed them, and taking the high road marched straight into the center of Gagra. There are two roads in the Gagra city center.  So, I positioned myself in the center of the city.  I prepared an all-round defense at 7:30 in the morning.  I was already in the center.

We fought there the whole day.  We would let the low road… we closed the high road and the low road was about five hundred meters below us.  So we wouldn’t let anyone come on the low road close to the battlefront but if anyone wanted to run back we wouldn’t shoot too much at them, we let them through.  So we fought the whole day like that.  And then we had the second Chechen battalion there, under the command of Dashe Umolton.  He was killed in the beginning of this war (war with Russia).  His battalion and the rest of the units began an attack.  The Georgians got so panicked about the fact that we were already in the city center and that they’ve been surrounded, that they all scampered about.  About one in the afternoon our main forces came up.  And the rest of the… we just marched through the other part of the city from the center. 

Five thousand (Georgian National) Guards and locals defended Gagra.  We captured forty-five armored vehicles, six cannons, and a lot of arms and ammunition.  Only about six or seven thousand from the Georgian side defended Gagra and I was in command of the Gagra battlefront then.  On the day of the attack I had two hundred forty people, that’s it.  And that is after we brought forty people from another position, otherwise we had two hundred.  We had no more arms and we stormed the city with two hundred people.

International Attention


September 10th, 2008

Military defeat aside, the Georgian government’s push to retake South Ossetia has led to one notable outcome–global awareness of Georgia’s two breakaway regions–Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A month and a half ago relatively few people, even in academia and government, had ever heard of either of these two places. Now, in large thanks due to an increase in Russian military personnel and equipment still deployed in these regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are international stories, and will remain so every day that Russian troops strength is in violation of previous agreements for the number of troops allowable in the regions.

Whether it was Pres Saakashvilli’s intent or not, today more people around the world, first, know where Georgia is, and second, better understands Georgia’s territorial integrity issues. Still, I find that there is a general ignorance regarding these regions; who they are, why they are separatist, what they want, and how did they get to where they are today (history). There is obviously a lot of focus on Georgia – Russia relations but to ignore the Ossetian and Abkhazian position in this struggle for territorial integrity and regional power is a mistake. The assumption that the current crisis can be solved between Georgia and Russia (and maybe the international community) ignores the fact that the Abkhazians and Ossetians have their own positions. It would be wrong to consider these two regions puppets of Moscow. Rather, they are better characterized as sharing mutual interests with Moscow and having a powerful benefactor in Russia.