Europe Georgian fighters defy Russia in Ukraine

Georgian fighters defy Russia in Ukraine

Mamuka Mamulashvili
Mamuka Mamulashvili

(AA) – Conflict-riddled Ukraine has found new allies in its fight against pro-Russian rebels in the eastern part of the country.

Fueled by past conflicts between Russia and their own country, Georgian fighters have been participating in clashes against pro-Russian separatists.

Mamuka Mamulashvili, who is founder and commander of an armed group called the “Georgian Legion,” has been fighting against pro-Russian separatists for the past 10 months.

Speaking to The Anadolu Agency, Mamulashvili refused to reveal the number of men he led, defiantly boasting instead: “We have enough fighters to ruin the Russian army.”

Several Georgian nationalists have chosen to fight alongside the Ukrainian army against what they say is Russia pulling the strings of separatists in order to wreak havoc in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Georgians are no strangers to meddling by Moscow. In 2008, following a five-day war between Russian troops and the Tbilisi’s forces, Moscow was one of the very few to recognize as independent states the Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia, two Georgian regions.

Mamulashvili said Georgian fighters were currently deployed in the Ukrainian army from the easternmost city of Luhansk to the southeastern city of Mariupol.

“They are experienced fighters,” he said. “Some of us, who had fought in Ossetia and in Abkhazia, trained (certain members of) the Ukrainian army.”

“I have been fighting against Russian army since the early 1990s,” he said.

In 1996, he founded a Georgian voluntary group to fight the Russians in Chechnya and, in 1998, he went to South Ossetia and Abkhazia voluntarily, he said.

Mamulashvili said that he did not have any professional military experience, though he added that he had worked as an advisor for the Georgian Defense Ministry under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili in 2012 for around eight months.

However, the Georgian commander added that he and his fellow countrymen fighting in Ukraine had no connection with Tbilisi’s army.

According to Mamulashvili, two Georgian fighters have died in the Ukrainian conflict so far.

 

– “Common enemy is Russia”

For Mamulashvili, Russia is a “common enemy” of both Ukraine and Georgia: “We have a common motivation to defeat this enemy.”

He believes that should Moscow fulfill its objectives in Ukraine — he does not go into specifics on what these are — Georgia will be next.

Mamulashvili made it clear that he was in Ukraine to avenge the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

“The reason why we are fighting here is Russia’s attacks against Georgia,” he said.

 

– Georgians and 2008 trauma

Animosity between Georgia and Russia is not recent.

Just after Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet state shortly before the latter’s collapse in 1991, an 11-month-long conflict between 1992 and 1993 pitted the Tbilisi government against its region of Abkhazia.

Tensions have since remained vivid in the region, and a similar resentment to Tbilisi has been brewing in the region of South Ossetia, where, as in Abkhazia — and Ukraine — a certain part of the population remains deeply attached to Russia.

In 2008, Russia responded to a Georgian military intervention against separatists in South Ossetia, which permitted Moscow to keep troops in the region as it had previously done in Abkhazia.

Russia recognized both South Ossetia and the Abkhazia’s independence following this operation. Russian soldiers are still deployed, both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Last November Russia signed an “alliance and strategic partnership” agreement with Abkhazia. Russia signed a similar deal Wednesday with South Ossetia, that is seen as a further step in annexing both regions.

Strong resentment against Russian intervention in their homeland unites all the Georgian fighters.

“All the brave men came here for revenge against Russia because of the blood shed by our ancestors,” said a Georgian fighter in a white mask who preferred to remain anonymous. “Soon Russia will be upon us (in Georgia). We have a chance to stop it here.”

“We do not get even a penny,” he added. “We are volunteer fighters. We gathered here as patriots.”

Another, who also did not want to give his name, accused Russia and separatists of violating the cease-fire: “It has never happened in history that Russia has complied with any article of an agreement.”

In February, Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed on a cease-fire deal in Minsk, capital of Belarus.

“Separatists do not want to withdraw despite a cease-fire,” he said.

Roman Dvalidze, who is member of the Aidar Battalion — a volunteer group which was accused of human rights abuses by Amnesty International — in the eastern Ukrainian rebel-held city of Donetsk, insisted that he was not a mercenary: “We are volunteer fighters.”

A claim echoed by a fellow combatant with a black mask who said the reason why he was in Ukraine was “to protect Georgia’s honor and territory.”

“We did not come here for money. Our aim is to get back Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he said.

Georgian commander Mamulashvili, similarly to other Georgian fighters, also refuted rumors that he was in Ukraine to “earn money.” The fighters said they had not received any salary from the Ukrainian government. 

 

– Ukrainian soldiers praise Georgians

“(Russian President Vladimir) Putin had already attacked Georgia and now (he) is attacking to Ukraine,” agreed Ukrainian commander, Vasil Stabchuck.

“Today, we know our friends and foes. We are fighting shoulder to shoulder with our Georgian brothers,” he added.

On Feb. 8, the head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret awarded 29 Georgian fighters with a medal for their “love and sacrifice for Ukraine.”

“Georgian brothers are fighting wholeheartedly,” a Ukrainian commander of the Aidar battalion — nicknamed Baron — said.

“At the end our goal and road are same,” said a Georgian combatant.

 

– Georgian government accuses Mikheil Saakashvili for fighters

Back home, however, Georgian fighters in Ukraine are viewed by some as mere mercenaries.

While the government does not openly support them, it does nothing to prevent them from going to Ukraine to fight.

When a Georgian combatant was killed in Ukraine on Dec. 20, 2014, the government in Tbilisi took it upon itself to bring back the body for a funeral in Georgia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimer Gurgenidze said that the government and the Georgian people were together in solidarity with the Georgian fighter’s family.

Disturbing to the government is the alleged relationship between the fighters and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had felt the wrath of the Russian tanks back in 2008.

Saakashvili was said to be responsible for the Georgian Defense Ministry’s statement offering condolences after the death of the Georgian fighter.

Six days later, incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili accused Saakashvili of calling Georgian fighters to go to Ukraine’s frontlines. 

“The current government separates itself from us,” Mamulashvili said. “It is something sad but they (the government) don’t even want to name us. Our presence in Ukraine is beneficial for Georgia.”

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