The Georgian law-enforcement agencies released an officer and three soldiers and returned their weapons after a nine hour-long interrogation, but kept the cargo they had carried - 35 boxes with anti-tank missiles. They refused to return it on the grounds that their transportation via Zugdidi was "unauthorized and illegal."
The incident has already triggered off a strong reaction from many officials. President Dmitry Medvedev called his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili, and asked him to do all he can in order to prevent provocations against peacekeepers. Washington is backing Tbilisi all the way. Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, called on Georgia not to respond to Russia's provocations and to refrain from the use of force. First Deputy Chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff Lt.-Gen. Alexander Burutin called the incident a brigand attack and warned Tbilisi against taking any actions, which may lead to bloodshed.
"Having used crude physical force and threatened the Russian peacekeepers with arms, the attackers arrested them and detained their weapons and hardware... In these circumstances the Russian peacekeepers had every right to use their weapons and ammunition in order to protect themselves and military equipment," the general said.
His statement and the way in which the Russian peacekeepers were arrested lead to many questions and require clear-cut comments. Firstly, why did the peacekeepers armed with assault rifles complete with ammunition fail to offer any resistance to the attackers, allowed the latter to humiliate them and detain a truck with a military cargo? Many TV channels showed how the locals dragged the Russian peacekeepers out of the truck, put them on the ground (six to one), and squeezed them into cars. This incident was professionally shot by Georgian TV cameramen, who "happened" to be on the scene.
In the meantime, they didn't just have the right to use weapons, as Lt.-Gen. Burutin said but it was their obligation to do so. This is an immutable requirement of the guard and garrison service. In this case, the Russian peacekeepers were not simply escorting a dangerous cargo but were supposed to guard it as Russia's property by all available means.
They could fire their rifles, and take smart tactical actions in order to repel the danger to their lives. Nobody could guarantee than plainclothes men with arms blocking the road were policemen rather than thugs. One can often meet the latter in the conflict zone. Army investigators will have to find out why the officer did not order his subordinates to repel the attack.
Secondly, the truck with a military cargo was moving through the conflict area, where the Georgian side often made provocations against Russian peacekeepers. Why was the truck so poorly protected? Why wasn't it accompanied by APCs or infantry combat vehicles from both sides? Why didn't it have enough back up to prevent anyone from encroaching on the property of peacekeepers?
The handling of the transportation of missiles is a crude violation of all military standards. Regrettably, it reflects a careless, unprofessional attitude of the planner of this operation to his direct military duties.
Finally, why did Georgian policemen get away with such actions in the zone of Russian peacekeepers' responsibility? It is impossible to imagine Albanian policemen doing the same to American, British or German troops in Kosovo. They have no right to disarm and arrest a foreign army formation acting in the province under the mandate of the UN Security Council.
But why do Georgian policeman behave like this towards the Russian peacekeepers in Zugdidi, where they are operating under the UN Security Council mandate as well?
This may be explained by the lawlessness on Georgian territory or support of some Western politicians. But how long will Moscow tolerate Tbilisi's regular provocations? Nothing encourages provocations more than unlimited tolerance and lack of resolve.
After all, as distinct from military observers, collective peacekeeping forces in any conflict zone - from Georgia to Darfur - have the right to use force when they are subjected to an attack threatening their life and health. It is time to stop boasting about the restraint and tolerance of our soldiers, and issuing repeated warnings that the use of crude force against the law is impermissible. It is time to show what consequences can be triggered off by Tbilisi's inadequate conduct. It is time to pour cold water on these hotheads.
Experts maintain that the presence of Russian peacekeepers on the left bank of the Inguri River in Zugdidi is good for both sides. It allows Sukhumi and Tbilisi to talk. If the Russian troops go to the right bank of the river, one of the sides will lose all hope for peaceful settlement of its territorial problems.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.