The deadly hostage-taking crisis near Georgia’s border with Russia has been announced as largely over, but the battle between Georgian forces and the unwanted visitors from the North Caucasus may have left Tbilisi with another enemy within the Russian Federation.
It's not always easy to figure out who’s fighting whom in the Caucasus and for what reasons; especially when official reports are inconclusive and leave ample room for speculation.
It is still unclear what drew a purported group of Islamist militants to cross into Georgia from the Russian republic of Daghestan and take several picnickers hostage. The ensuing clash claimed three Georgian military lives and left 11 “armed” and “bearded” attackers dead.
Blaming each other for terrorist activities in the Caucasus may be par for the course for Tbilisi and Moscow, but this time they seem to be up against a common enemy. Tbilisi has thus far refrained from pointing the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but one group of Islamist rebels has threatened retaliation.
“You will acquire another enemy, who will exact a ruthless revenge,” wrote a Daghestani chapter of the Caucasus Emirate, a militant group that seeks to establish Islamic rule throughout the North Caucasus.
Accusing Tbilisi of a provocation with its report of hostage-taking, the group claimed their mujahideen brethren had no intention to attack anyone in Georgia, but “if they wanted to, they could do it easily, Insha’Allah.”
In an apparent attempt to soothe nerves, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili assured Georgian television viewers yesterday that Russia will not be allowed to export “disorder and instability” from its troubled Caucasus front into Georgia. Today, Saakashvili visited freed hostages and one of the Georgian servicemen wounded in the clash.
Perhaps fearing that the incident offered too much political posturing opportunity for the president a month before Georgia's parliamentary vote, Saakashvili's main domestic political rival, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishili, was quick to claim that the three dead Georgian servicemen were his supporters, Netgazeti.ge reported.
As for Russia, the news reports have been contradictory, with some unnamed Russian government sources denying reports of a breach of the Georgian-Russian border, while others suggesting that Georgian forces ended up in a battle with a group responsible for insurgency in Daghestan.
Georgian police say they are still combing the area for surviving fighters.