The course of events along Russia's southwestern frontiers has given Georgia increased military significance since 1991. A critical event was Russia's recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea, formerly Russia's only basing area for its Black Sea Fleet. The drive of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic for independence from Georgia provided Russia with an opportunity to bargain for access to Black Sea ports in Georgia. Reportedly organized by Russian intelligence agencies and heavily supported by Moscow, a mercenary force of North Caucasus Muslim troops threatened to occupy large portions of Georgia in the early fall of 1993. At this desperate point, the Georgian government offered Russia extended basing privileges in return for the protection of Russian "peacekeeping" forces. Ironically, the Russian-supported mercenaries fighting for Abkhazia formed the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus, which declared its intention of destabilizing Russia's Muslim North Caucasus republics. Therefore, continued access to Georgian territory acquired the additional purpose of encircling potentially separatist enclaves--which is exactly what Russia did in 1994 in preparing to enter Chechnya.
The 1995 basing agreement that resulted from the Georgian capitulation of 1993 permits the presence of three Russian bases--in Tbilisi, Poti, and Batumi--with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery. However, other Russian forces in Georgia also were identified in 1995 after they took part in bombardments in Chechnya. The troops in Georgia, designated strictly for control of domestic conflicts such as the one in Chechnya, also constitute a violation of the CFE Treaty, to which Russia has sought a special adjustment.
In mid-1996 there were an estimated 1,700 Russian troops on peacekeeping duty between Georgian and Abkhazian lines in northwestern Georgia, including one airborne regiment and two motorized rifle battalions. The three main Russian bases housed about 8,500 troops with 110 main battle tanks, 510 armored combat vehicles, and 238 artillery pieces.