“Russia, Abkhazia, Armenia and Georgia are all interested in the transit route. It is necessary to discuss the idea at the expert level first, and then at the government level”
Abkhazia-Inform – We offer readers a series of interviews with scientists and public figures about the economic situation in Abkhazia, about external and internal factors influencing its development, about international projects that could be of interest to Abkhazia, as well as how, without yielding political positions, find ways to unblock Abkhazia for contact with the outside world.
Manana Gurgulia’s questions are answered by Khatuna Shatipa, Head. Department of Economics of the Center for Social and Economic Research, Candidate of Economic Sciences
– How freely is Abkhazia developing? What factors, in your opinion, hinder its political, economic, technological, cultural development?
Khatuna Shatipa: In the modern world, it is difficult to imagine a development that is absolutely independent and free from the influence of the surrounding world, and Abkhazia is no exception. But, in the context of your questions, I would divide these factors into internal and external factors affecting the economy of Abkhazia.
In my opinion, the internal factors of development are relevant today, coming to the fore. These are demographic and socio-economic factors, imperfection of political institutions, inefficiency of public administration.
– How do you assess the current state of the economy of Abkhazia?
– We, economists, characterize the current state as a crisis, and the crisis is taking place not only in Abkhazia. There are many reasons for this. To be more precise, the entire post-war period of Abkhazia’s development is characterized as a crisis.
– You have identified the factors affecting the economy of Abkhazia. Do these factors hinder cultural development?
– Our approach is that it is impossible to consider separately the economy, social sphere, culture, politics. Of course, it is possible to analyze a single segment by isolating it from an integral system, but this will not give a complete picture. We advocate a socio-cultural approach, which, by the way, was laid down in the development of the “Strategy for the socio-economic development of Abkhazia until 2025” back in 2015.
A group of scientists, and not only economists, was involved in the development of the Strategy. Initially, economists were especially skeptical about the sociocultural approach, including me. But the joint great work of scientists has made it possible to develop the only correct approach, the essence of which is that the economy should work for a person. The strategy of economic development aims to improve the living conditions of a person, his development as a free personality.
When we talk about a crisis in one segment, in the same economy, this does not mean that there is no crisis in the other segments, since they are interconnected and make up a single whole.
– Why is the modernization process behind us? What prevents the modernization of the same system of government and economy?
– An important, key, main factor hindering us is the lack of a program-targeted method of management. When there is no state program, there is no document in which goals and objectives for the medium term are outlined, which department and for what exactly is responsible, what amount of funding, it is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about effective economic management. This is a global practice, this is not an invention only for the Abkhaz economy, the Abkhaz society.
We have developed a model of the state program of socio-economic development, which includes two blocks – these are the branches of the national economy and the social sphere – and presented to the executive branch.
– What external factors interfere? To what extent is the unsettledness of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict hindered? True, we have a lot of those who believe that after Russia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia, there is no point in talking about the unsettledness of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
– We started our conversation with what factors hinder development. I have outlined the internal factors. But the unsettledness of the conflict with Georgia is an external factor. The question is, how much does it interfere, to what extent?
– To what extent?
– Until 2008, before Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia, the unsettledness seriously affected all vital issues, such as the threat of war, the consequences of the economic blockade, pensions, treatment, education.
We cannot say that after Russia recognized Abkhazia, all the negative consequences of the war and restrictions associated with the unresolved conflict have disappeared, but they are not so dangerous for the life and safety of our citizens, although to a certain extent they hinder the development of our economy.
– How does this specifically manifest?
– The fact that we found ourselves with very difficult, serious problems of starting conditions. In addition to human losses, the war caused significant damage to the economy of Abkhazia. It may be blasphemous to translate everything into numbers, since war is a tragedy for every family, for the entire people, but according to the estimates of the government commission in 1994, the economic damage caused by the war amounted to 11.3 billion dollars. Today, at the current exchange rate, it is more than 800 billion rubles. To the damage caused by the war, it is necessary to add losses from missed or unrealized opportunities. In order to evaluate them, an integrated approach is required. There is not enough research only by Abkhaz experts.
For comparison: after the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia, Russia provides us with serious financial assistance for socio-economic development. So, if we sum up all the financial assistance for more than ten years, then we will receive about 7% of the same amount of damage. Abkhazia does not receive any financial assistance or tangible support from countries other than Russia, and our limited opportunities and difficult starting conditions simply do not allow for a breakthrough in the economy.
Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia allowed us to preserve our statehood, solve the most important security problem of our country, gave impetus for further socio-economic development, and we must make the most of these opportunities.
– Returning to the conflict, what international projects and opportunities that are interesting for Abkhazia from the point of view of its development are not available today due to restrictions?
– First of all, these are transit projects, given the geopolitical location of Abkhazia. And we do not have the opportunity to use this potential to the full, since the Georgian law “on the occupied territories”, adopted in 2008, prohibits aviation, rail, road and sea communication with Abkhazia. Georgia is very active in this direction. It creates all kinds of obstacles for us, pursues a policy of isolation in relation to Abkhazia.
It would be interesting and useful to unite the efforts of experts from all the countries of the South Caucasus at some international platform, where all together could assess the missed opportunities for each country, what are the risks for each country and in the case of implementation of specific projects, what will be the return for each country. Experts from Abkhazia, Armenia, Georgia and Russia could together create such an expert platform and calculate the opportunities and risks, specify which projects can be discussed, which countries may be interested in them. This could be an important first step.
– We have a widespread opinion in certain circles that no negotiations with the Georgian side should be conducted before the signing of the Agreement on the Non-Use of Force or even before Georgia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia.
– There are good reasons for this opinion. The law “on the occupied territories” – let’s open the brackets. It turns out that Russia is the invader of our territory or part of it. From this position and in this status, it is impossible to negotiate, much less to initiate them.
The second side of this question is how is Georgia positioning itself? How does the world recognize Georgia? For several years now, Georgia has been included in the Pentagon’s budget with the wording “US partner in containing Russia”.
The law “on occupied territories” and Georgia’s positioning itself as a partner of the United States in containing Russia, its desire to enter NATO in no way contribute to Abkhazia’s desire to negotiate with it. Initiating negotiations with Georgia under such circumstances is a hopeless path, humiliating and even suicidal.
Today the ball is on the Georgian side. The world is changing, the geopolitical situation is changing, the balance of political forces is changing. And if any reasonable, balanced proposals come from Georgia in the future, Abkhazia should be ready for negotiations. We should not close down and say that we are not negotiating at all.
But there is no sense in negotiations for the sake of the negotiations themselves. Negotiations in the Geneva format have been under way for 12 years, but there is no result. But you need to be ready for negotiations. To be ready for negotiations is not to issue travel allowances, buy tickets and send our representatives to Geneva. Being ready for negotiations means conducting colossal work within the country by expert working groups at the level of the Security Council and the Parliament of Abkhazia to develop answers to possible geopolitical
We must think over how to behave in different scenarios, for example – escalation of the conflict or Georgia’s joining NATO, and maybe Georgia’s recognition of Abkhazia’s independence. At the same time, national security and strengthening of state sovereignty should be put at the forefront.
– It is clear that one should not expect Georgia to recognize the independence of Abkhazia either in the short or medium term, I am afraid, and not in the long term. In this case, can we talk about the possibility of some kind of contacts on economic issues, on some specific projects?
– On political issues, our position is clear. The political status of Abkhazia cannot be the subject of any negotiations. And contacts in other spheres, of course, we can prohibit, but we cannot control. With modern means of communication, it is almost impossible to prohibit any contacts, communication. After all, we know that our citizens go to Georgia for treatment, import goods from there, residents of the Gal district go for social benefits and pensions … & nbsp; & nbsp;
We keep coming back to the idea that we have to take place internally as a state with a strong economy. If we had a program of socio-economic development, then we could not ignore the issues of border relations between Abkhazia and Georgia, the same medical topic.
If earlier there were isolated cases of trips to Georgia for treatment, now they began to voice the figure – about five thousand people in 2020. If we had a program for the development of the same healthcare, we would know what kind of niche we can occupy, and what to do so that our citizens do not have to leave for treatment. And so it turns out that the state sends our citizens for treatment to Georgia, because they are given a permit to cross the border by the state structure.
A programmatic approach to the issues of socio-economic development of our country instead of individual point projects would help in solving many issues.
We are moving various goods and cargo across the Georgian-Abkhaz border, and this is considered smuggling from a legal point of view, since there is a corresponding decree of President Sergey Bagapsh of 2007 banning border trade.
Our approach (I mean my colleagues at the Center for Social and Economic Research) is not to throw any controversial ideas, projects and proposals into society, but first to work them out at the expert level in working groups with the involvement of specialists , scientists, deputies of Parliament, and only then go out with them to a wide audience, to society. In our country, many topics become the subject of political speculation before the elections or when it is necessary to arrange the next rally. State issues are not resolved with such an opportunistic approach.
– Could we, without yielding to political positions, find a way to unblock the paths of economic development?
– It seems to me that today international projects will be virtual. We can imagine them, but they are not feasible. We need to get rid of internal blockers. If this is not done, we will not be ready for any joint international projects.
– What blockers are we talking about?
– This is the imperfection of our legislation, the imperfection of the electoral system, the absence of a program of socio-economic development. Under such conditions, we are unlikely to receive worthwhile proposals. And even if they do, we will hardly be able to participate in them effectively, with the benefit of the country.
As for cooperation with Georgia, & nbsp; any economic project has a legal and political component. This is unrealistic today. If Georgia removes such a powerful blocker as the law “on occupied territories”, then maybe something will get off the ground.
A recent incident with one of our entrepreneurs showed that our society is not ready for joint projects. Any business project has an address, and an address is a territory. And this territory has its own laws, people live with their own history, culture, peculiarities of the perception of the world. Having jumped over all this, bypassing the political, legal, moral aspects, individual businessmen will not be able to implement a joint economic project. An attempt like this will raise many questions.
We do not have legal documents that would clearly regulate to whom and for what purposes it is allowed, and to whom and why it is forbidden to cross the Georgian-Abkhaz border. Today, as I said, people cross the border, getting permission from government agencies. Recently, President Aslan Bzhania, in connection with the incident with his former assistant, said that we do not have any documents stating that a private person cannot visit Georgia. If we have not created regulatory documents, then this is our problem.
And here the point is not whether to prohibit or permit, but the fact that without documents, without rules, without laws, it turns out that some are allowed, others are not, others are not at all aware of what is happening. It is futile to start any projects without serious legal support.
– Who do you think could support the idea of unblocking Abkhazia, the implementation, for example, of the same transit transport project?
– If there is a project in which several countries are interested, and if some conditionally supranational format is created at the expert level. But this is the second step, and the first step, of course, must be taken by Georgia. We are talking about lifting the bans on direct, including economic, ties of different countries with Abkhazia, which are spelled out in their law “on the occupied territories”.
After that, all those who are interested in the same project of international transit traffic through Abkhazia could work out a further algorithm of actions to implement the project with the benefit of all its participants.
– What project could be a breakthrough one for Abkhazia, provided the restrictions are lifted?
– Now it is difficult to talk about any specific projects, but nevertheless, it seems to me that transit projects can be useful not only for Abkhazia, but also for other countries.
– Do you need any concessions from Georgia?
– If we draw parallels with the game of chess, we made our move, now it’s Georgia’s turn.
– What move are we talking about?
– After winning the war, we adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia, held a referendum, adopted the Act on State Independence.
– Georgia did not recognize us.
– But we were recognized in 2008 by Russia. I have not seen anywhere in my field research work that our population considers Russia an occupier and an invader of our territory.
We, while still working at the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Armenia, had access to various studies. We ourselves conducted a nationwide survey in 2015. In no region of Abkhazia, whatever nationality our respondents were, no one said that they live in Abkhazia with the feeling that Russia has occupied our territory. Even now, at the Center for Social and Economic Research, we are monitoring the situation and no one shares Georgia’s views that Abkhazia is an occupied territory.
Still, what are the prospects for the project on transit traffic?
Russia, Abkhazia, Armenia and Georgia are interested in it. But, if such a project is voiced unilaterally by either Abkhazia, or Georgia, or Russia, it will be another stuffing-in of information, causing concern and disturbing our population.
I will repeat myself, but the algorithm of actions should be as follows: first, the idea of the project is set out on paper, discussed at the expert level, then discussed at the level of national states, and thus it is possible to reach a common denominator. Another behavior algorithm seems to me unpromising.
Answering the question, what is the interest of Russia, I missed the historical approach. History is the foundation of any state. How do we feel about the history of Abkhazia? How do we take care of it, value it? Do we respect the history of the state? Hasn’t our textbook on the history of Abkhazia become the subject of a trial? Even Tbilisi could not have thought of such a thing. Who defended our history and our textbook? The President, but not of Abkhazia, but the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, when he commented on the trick of the Georgian journalist. It reminded us and the whole world of our story.
Can we not learn the lessons of history, step on a historical rake, sit on two or three chairs? This is dangerous. Although now they are talking about a multi-vector policy. It is difficult for me to understand what the sum of vectors gives in politics, but in geometry there is a rule: the most important thing is the direction of the vector, and if we derive several multidirectional vectors from one point, then when we sum them up, we can get a zero result. God forbid, but if we do this in politics, then we will spend our already limited strength, and we can get zero result.
Therefore, at this historical stage, if Russia is our strategic ally (and no one forced us to sign an agreement on alliance and strategic partnership with Russia), then we are obliged to observe and fulfill our obligations on strategic partnership. It so happened that over the past hundred years, the peoples of Russia and Abkhazia, both culturally and historically, if we use the concept of a vector, have been moving in the same direction. Why do we need other vectors? How can we be so scattered?
An important point is the disunity of society and the lack of unity. External danger, unsettled conflict was one of the unifying factors for our society. Today this factor works to a lesser extent (although it should not be underestimated). We need to unite the efforts of all sensible decent people concerned about the fate of their country and their people and move in one direction – strengthening our state, improving the well-being of our citizens, raising the educational and cultural level of the younger generation.