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    RUSSIAN POLITICAL SCIENTISTS WORRY ABOUT TBILISI-BATUMI CONFLICT

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    MOSCOW, March 15, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Russian political scientists are worried that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili might apply force in regard to Adzharia.

    Mr. Saakashvili's motorcade was stopped on Sunday on the administrative border with this Georgian autonomy, which caused a sharp reaction of the Georgian leadership. The Georgian president forwarded an ultimatum to the Adzharian authorities demanding that his free movement be ensured across the autonomy within 24 hours.

    When commenting on the aggravating crisis between Tbilisi and Batumi, Russian political scientists recalled that military solution to the same problem with other autonomies - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - led the previous Georgian leadership to a dead-end.

    "Mr. Shevardnadze tried to subdue Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Mr. Saakashvili is making the same mistake," Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Leonid Ivashov told RIA Novosti.

    "Mr. Saakashvili won the presidential elections in Georgia for many reasons but the main reason is that he promised to restore the country's territorial integrity by political means. He's failed to do so and has decided to resort to other methods," Deputy Director General of the Centre for Political Technologies Boris Makarenko told RIA Novosti.

    Chairman of the Duma international affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev said in a RIA Novosti interview that the Georgian president's attempt to get to Adzharian territory increased the risk of this conflict's transformation from a slowly developing confrontation into a flare-up and basically destabilised the situation in the country. He added that the sides should not place themselves into a deadlock, to the point of no return, when there can be no other solution but military." On Monday, units of the Georgian armed forces were placed on the alert but none of them left their permanent disposition. The Georgian government does not rule out the possibility of economic sanctions against their autonomy.

    Russian political scientists remark that Russia could play a positive role in this conflict. In particular, Mr. Kosachev has noted that Russia's mediation efforts involving no pressure, no military, economic and administrative methods, could practically assist the sides on their road to rapprochement.

    Mr. Makarenko, in turn, stressed that Russia could not remain indifferent to this conflict because the situation was aggravating near its borders and the conflict zone was part of its geopolitical interests.

    "The president should definitely be able to move across his country freely but his movements should ensue no political crises," he said.

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