Note February 2016. I wrote this to someone in explanation of that dangerous period after the end of the USSR when there were a lot of soldiers around uncertain of their pay and position.
The confusion and uncertainty of the period should be remembered. At the beginning of December 1991, soldiers in Georgia were USSR troops legally stationed in a part of the USSR. After the breakup of the USSR, they became CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) troops legally stationed in the CIS. This somewhat fictional arrangement dissipated over the next year. Some of the former Soviet republics “nationalized” them and so, for example, former USSR/CIS troops in Ukraine became the Ukrainian Armed Forces legally stationed in Ukraine. But, several of the new states, like the Baltics and Georgia did not want to do this, regarding them as occupiers. Likewise there were the former USSR forces based in Eastern Europe. Moscow took responsibility for them. (The reader is invited to imagine what would have happened had Moscow said it would only take responsibility for Russian nationals and leave Lithuania and the others to look after their nationals in the multi-ethnic Soviet Armed Forces). Understandably the pressure from the West was to move the former USSR garrisons out of Eastern Europe and that is what was done. And, as the Soviet economy collapsed, conditions became harsher especially for the now-Russian Armed Forces garrisons in places that did not want them. It would not be surprising if these forces, mostly unpaid, did what they had to do to survive by selling off what they had to the warring sides. But also, given that the officers had their families with them, they could be blackmailed and threatened. It took years to sort all this out and, in the meantime, the dwindling garrisons remained there. And, when they were attacked by someone, they fired back. There is no reason to assume that official Moscow – which had innumerable problems of its own – had anything to do with this. On a personal note, I at the time was afraid that some armed and disciplined force in one of these places would go rogue and demand food and pay from the locals along the lines of the marauding “White Companies” of the Hundred Years’ War. It could have been much worse than it was.