Abkhazia-Inform – Last year’s exacerbation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which led to a significant change in the geopolitical environment of the eastern part of the South Caucasus, also surfaced the issue of unrecognized and partially recognized states of the post-Soviet space.
For over a quarter of a century, countries, which in the eyes of the international community are regarded as illegitimate descendants of the collapsed USSR, have existed with the status quo formed as a result of hostilities. It seemed that a similar situation would continue for many decades to come. This was the opinion not only of international actors participating in the long-term process of conflict resolution but also of the countries themselves, which got accustomed to living with a suspended international legal status and all the ensuing consequences. The longlasting absence of hostilities created an illusion of a lasting peace, which suited both the unrecognized states and major world players, whose attention got diverted to solving more pressing international problems.
Naturally, all unresolved conflicts in the post-Soviet space have many features that distinguish them from each other, but from the outside, especially from the point of view of most global superpowers, they seem almost identical. This erasure of individual outlines is largely due to the departure of these conflicts to the periphery of international attention, which, on the one hand, was associated with relative stability, and on the other, with the loss of hope for a speedy resolution of conflicts through negotiations. Therefore, especially in the light of the recent Caucasian events, it seems appropriate to analyze the current situation and try to think over possible models of the development of events in the zones of “forgotten” conflicts, in particular, the Georgian-Abkhaz one.
The Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, as you know, was the only one in the post-Soviet space, the resolution of which was dealt with at the highest international level – under the auspices of the UN, with the assistance of Russia and the participation of the United States, Great Britain, Germany and France as observers. The situation in the conflict zone was described in detail four times a year in the reports of the UN Secretary-General to the UN Security Council, which resulted in the adoption of two resolutions and two statements by the UN Security Council President a year. Abkhazia and Georgia at the talks had the status of parties to the conflict, in the capacity of which they signed many documents, including those that played a significant role in maintaining the ceasefire, returning refugees, and solving numerous humanitarian problems.
The UN Human Rights Office functioned in Sukhum, dozens of international and non-governmental organizations worked, which made a great contribution to solving such problems as demining, providing food, medicine and essential goods to the population affected by the conflict, restoring schools, hospitals, and transport infrastructure , implementation of projects to support the development of civil society, etc. This assistance was of particular importance in the context of tough CIS sanctions, which limited trade, economic and transport links between Abkhazia and Russia, as well as hindered the movement of citizens.
Naturally, the relations of the unrecognized Abkhazia with international organizations and states involved in the settlement of the conflict cannot be called cloudless. The main problem that gave rise to all the others was their desire to implement all projects with the sanction of Georgia in order to demonstrate the extension of its jurisdiction to the territory of Abkhazia. In addition, in the first years after the end of the conflict, the priority humanitarian efforts of the international community were, as a rule, aimed at providing assistance to the Georgian refugees who returned to the Gal region.This created the impression of an unequal treatment of other residents of Abkhazia, including those forced to leave as a result of military actions. places of their former permanent residence.
However, in the course of negotiations and discussions with the participants in the peace process, these problems were resolved, and Abazia as a whole began to receive significant assistance from the international community. Representatives of the Abkhaz society, with the support of international and non-governmental organizations, got the opportunity to implement various humanitarian projects in Abkhazia and participate in conferences and seminars in various European countries and the United States. However, the unrecognized status of Abkhazia and, accordingly, its passports, has always significantly limited the residents of the country in doing business, opportunities to participate in educational, creative and other humanitarian projects.
The recognition of Abkhazia by Russia in 2008 significantly improved the position of Abkhazia in ensuring its security, opportunities for the development of trade, economic, educational, cultural and other ties with Russia – traditionally the main partner of Abkhazia, regardless of its state and legal status. Russia has also undertaken to finance large-scale projects to restore the socio-economic infrastructure of Abkhazia. These multifaceted interstate relations, which create reliable security guarantees for Abkhazia, are one of the most important differences in the position of Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which, in fact, contrary to the perceptions that have been formed over the years, found itself alone in the course of a short-lived but large-scale military conflict.
The establishment of official allied relations between Russia and Abkhazia influenced the perception of the conflict in Georgian and Abkhaz societies. It can be stated that in the political agenda of Abkhazia and Georgia, the conflict receded into the background, since one of the parties got rid of the long-standing feeling of an external military threat, and the other – from hopes of a military revenge. At the same time, the topic of the conflict is still used in the internal political struggle both in Abkhazia and in Georgia, and also occupies an essential place in the foreign policy and official propaganda of the parties, carried out from opposite ideological positions. The image of the enemy, formed over the years of the conflict, still occupies a significant place in the public consciousness of the parties, while Russia is present as the main hostile force in Georgian political discourse.
The August events of 2008, which led to the severance of official relations between Russia and Georgia, as well as the legislation adopted by Georgia on the occupied territories, destroyed the international format of negotiations in force at that time, within which the parties could sign documents on various aspects of the settlement. This was followed by the actual cessation of consideration of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict on the platform of the UN Security Council, as well as the curtailment of the work of a number of international and non-governmental organizations in Abkhazia.
The full-fledged negotiation process was replaced by the Geneva discussions, in which Abkhazia and Georgia are not endowed with the status of parties to the conflict, and hence the right to sign joint documents. In addition, this platform does not have permanent mechanisms to facilitate the settlement and implementation of the adopted joint decisions, as was the case in the Coordination Council of the Parties (1997-2008). In general, there was a noticeable weakening of the international presence in Abkhazia and, as a result, a decrease in the level of awareness of the international community about the situation in Abkhazia, its positions and interests. Most of the diplomats who have been directly involved in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict for many years are no longer in the service, and now it seems that with their departure the problem of the conflict has disappeared from the actual memory of Western official structures and research centers.
The exception is several international and non-governmental organizations and experts, whose efforts remain informal platforms for discussing the problems of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Moreover, this work often encounters misunderstanding and criticism within both Abkhazia and Georgia.
At the same time, the actual contacts between the Georgian and Abkhaz societies, despite the political stagnation and emerging obstacles, not only did not stop, but are expanding. This is, first of all, cross-border business, as well as massive visits of Abkhaz residents to Georgia for treatment under the programs of the Georgian government. The parties continue to interact on energy issues. These processes partly lead to the erosion of the enemy’s image, but this state cannot be called stable, since events regularly occur that cause the growth of conflict rhetoric.
In general, one might get the impression that Abkhazia and Georgia are not interested in cooperation and joint solution of existing problems and remember each other only to publicly record their long-known positions embedded in the foreign and domestic political context. The fruitlessness and ritual nature of this discourse has long been understood by its participants, but they are not yet ready to act outside their usual agenda. The new authorities of Abkhazia tried to bring a fresh stream of energy into relations with Georgia, stating the need for a dialogue on practical issues, but this timid attempt met with practically no reaction in the Georgian establishment and drew sharp criticism from the Abkhaz opposition.
However, it seems unlikely that major world players, whose relationships are never static and depend on many global factors, will tolerate the current status quo in the South Caucasus for many years to come. An example is the agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi on Russia’s accession to the WTO, when Abkhazia and South Ossetia were designated as transport corridors with certain coordinates on the map, in which a Swiss company should exercise control over the passage of goods.
Until now, this mechanism has not been used, but de jure it exists. Moreover, its work is most likely hindered not by the dull discontent of Abkhazia, but by the deterioration of the general climate of relations between Russia and the West and the package of mutual sanctions that have left Russia virtually outside the WTO.
Under the influence of rapid scientific and technological progress, global changes are taking place in the economy, politics and social structure. Countries that want to survive and remain competitive must create the most favorable conditions for comprehensive modernization. This applies not only to the leading players, but also to small states such as Georgia and Abkhazia. The constant crises that these countries are experiencing are in fact associated with the incompatibility of their current models of existence with the interests of modernization, which is especially important for Abkhazia, which has been in isolation for many years, limiting its citizens access to modern education, and their participation in the international exchange of ideas and technologies. …
In the context of globalization, neither 200 thousand, nor 3 million, nor even 30 million of the population can significantly influence world trends in order to change them in their own interests. Here you either participate in the world process, or remain only in the history books.
The problem of small societies lies in their natural fear in the face of gigantic transformations taking place in the world, inevitably leading to a change in the usual course of life and stereotypes of behavior. There are, of course, examples when large states create artificial conditions for the preservation of the traditional way of life of small peoples, taking on the financing of a kind of reservations, as is the case in countries with compact residence of small indigenous peoples. But it seems that neither Abkhazia nor Georgia, which have sufficiently developed and rooted national projects in the public consciousness, do not consider such a future as desirable for themselves. And the geographic conditions are not conducive to this. Therefore, they have no choice but to ensure the preservation of their identity, while simultaneously participating in the global process of modernization.
Georgia has achieved certain successes in this process in recent years, although, for obvious reasons, these changes do not cause satisfaction in the society, one part of which protests at the slow pace of reforms, while the other comes out with a traditionalist agenda.
In Abkhazia, the situation is somewhat different. Long years of isolation associated with war and sanctions, as well as the deep-rooted fear in Abkhaz society about the prospects of preserving its identity and political prerogatives, objectively contribute to the preservation of the post-conflict model of the state’s existence and even the revival of archaic forms of social relations. Many problems that periodically arise in relations between Russia and Abkhazia are precisely the result of this fear. It can be assumed that similar difficulties would arise for Abkhazia in relations with other states, if it were recognized by the international community, and would have to play according to the rules established in the world.
However, such a voluntary rejection of political and economic reforms, under the pretext of stopping threats to the existence of the Abkhaz people, in fact, contains much more risks. First of all: the outflow from the country of the most promising, educated, creatively and economically active part of the population will continue; Abkhazia will be unattractive for investments, since the investor will not risk capital in a country that lives by its own incomprehensible rules; economic stagnation will continue, leading to a decline in the social sphere (education, medicine, culture); demographic problems will worsen.
We must assume that the Abkhaz elites will make a choice in favor of reforming the country, no matter how difficult and painful it may be. First of all, in order to implement the modernization project, it will be necessary to form a social demand in the Abkhaz society itself, thereby creating new social attitudes necessary to change the current paradigm of existence.
Another significant obstacle to the modernization process is Abkhazia’s lack of opportunities for full and direct cooperation with the international community in the humanitarian sphere – science, education, culture. As you know, the Georgian authorities, following their concept of “occupied territories”, are developing diplomatic activity around the world aimed at limiting such ties. This generates discontent in the Abkhaz society and leads to a deepening of the abyss separating Abkhazia and Georgia, since the widening gap in the standards of building economic, social and political systems will only reduce mutual understanding between the two societies.
Based on the above, a model for resolving a set of problems associated with the unsettled relations between Abkhazia and Georgia could look something like this:
1. Trust between the parties should be increased to such a level that they are able to commit themselves on various issues. For these purposes, first of all, it is necessary to abandon aggressive hostile propaganda and actions that cause outbursts of discontent in both societies. Examples of such actions are the constant obstacles imposed by Georgia to the representatives of Abkhazia in various creative, educational and other contacts, and on the other hand, the & nbsp; – & nbsp; unreasonable policy towards the inhabitants of the Gali district, carried out in Abkhazia, which, in fact, does not lead to integration, but to the alienation of the region. Over the years, the parties have long understood that such their actions lead nowhere but to mutual irritation. But by inertia they continue to annoy each other by any available means.
2. In order to agree on something, a negotiation format is needed, in which Abkhazia and Georgia will be parties recognized as entities entitled to sign mutually binding documents and be responsible for their implementation, as was the case from 1993 to 2008. New international format can be constructed on the basis of the Geneva Discussions. However, for this, first of all, it is necessary to abolish the Georgian legislation on the occupied territories, which limits Georgia itself in its ability to negotiate with Abkhazia.
3. The most fruitful direction for achieving progress in the Georgian-Abkhaz settlement seems to be the restoration of the work of communications. This is economically beneficial to all the states of the South Caucasus and such major players as Russia, Turkey and, possibly, European countries that are interested in the safe supply of hydrocarbons via pipelines passing through the region. The discussion of this issue has been on the agenda of the expert community dealing with the problems of the South Caucasus for several years, and it is likely on this basis that a model can be developed that meets the interests of the parties and can work despite the complex political context.
4. The agreements reached between Serbia and Kosovo regarding transport and energy could serve as a precedent for a possible model for resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
5. It should be understood that not a single settlement model in the region can be implemented without taking into account the strategic interests of Russia, which, as a major military power and the largest economy in the region, in the foreseeable future will be a significant factor in the South Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. .