Ariel Cohen: Russia regains key air base to project power in Caucasus

This is the largest military airfield in the southern Caucasus, boasting a runway that is 4 kilometers long. The runway ends less than 100 meters from the sea, allowing aircraft to take off at very low altitudes over the sea and proceed undetected by enemy radar in the initial phases of flight.

In the Soviet times, Gudauta -- Bombora -- air base could accommodate all types of military aircraft, including fighter jets, close air support and heavy military transport. The air base used to host a separate paratroops regiment and was among the first air bases to receive the Soviet Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets (NATO designation Flanker). Sukhoi fighters also operated out of Bombora against Georgian attack aircraft and helicopters
in the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war. At that time, the Russian military ran the base.

In 1999, acting upon Georgia's demands, Moscow committed to withdrawing from the Gudauta base. In 2001 it declared that it had done so -- a claim Tbilisi has contested continually. According to Gazeta.ru, the Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has indirectly confirmed the presence of Russian aircraft in Gudauta after the alleged withdrawal.

In the recent 2008 conflict, Russian airborne troops landed in Bombora to fight the Georgian army in western Georgia.

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With additional warships, fighter aircraft and military personnel near the Black Sea coast of Georgia, Russia is challenging the position of Washington, which recently signed a Strategic Partnership Charter with Tbilisi. In summer 2008, American warships were still able to enter the Georgian waters to deliver humanitarian aid for the war victims.

The United States supports Georgia's sovereignty and is interested in the security of strategic oil and gas transportation routes from the Caspian basin to the West, particularly the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

The new Russian naval and air bases in Abkhazia will change the geopolitical balance of power in the region. They will strengthen Moscow's military stance and make the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity an almost unrealistic project -- exactly what Moscow is trying to achieve.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy security at the Catherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation

Read the full article on georgiandaily.com


You can see Bombora quite well on Google Earth only a few km west of Gudauta.

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