Crisis in Abkhaz-Russian relations
Political scientist Astamur Tania in a new installment of the program “Conversation”, in the Abkhaz publication “Chegemskaya Pravda”, comments on the acute issues of Russian-Abkhaz relations.
How promising is the idea of Abkhazia joining the Union State with Russia, as President Aslan Bzhaniya announced? And should recent threatening statements of the new Russian Ambassador to Abkhazia, Mikhail Shurgalin, be taken as a directive from the Kremlin for the Abkhaz political elite?
Shurgalin warned that the Russian military would leave Abkhazia, investment programs and all projects would be stopped, including the revival of the airport and repair of the railway, if parliament did not ratify the transfer of the Pitsunda estate to Russia.
Russia also insists on granting Russians the right to buy land and real estate in Abkhazia.
About the Abkhaz way of development
The question that arose in a concentrated form over the Pitsunda estate has been brewing for a long time. In fact, it is much wider than the Pitsunda estate.
It is a matter of choosing our path of development.
The first way is that we continue our development as an independent nation. And in this case, we must think about how to form mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia, based on a clear understanding among the parties of their interests.
The second way is to abandon the independent path of development and follow the path of dissolution.
I think that our people have given their answer to such questions more than once, and more will have to be given. For more than a hundred years, the formation and development of the Abkhaz nation in the modern political sense of the word has been going on.
Now the answer is obvious – in order to be a modern nation, you need an economic foundation in addition to a unifying ideology, regardless even of ethnicity.
We are ready to build our relations with Russia as an equal party. This task is not done by bureaucratic means. We must manage our national wealth in such a way as to provide ourselves and future generations with the opportunity to develop on our own land for a long time.
Territory is not an abstract concept. This is the economic basis for our conservation.
This is the answer to the question of why we are not ready to sacrifice our vital resources. But how are we going to manage these resources?
Russian capitalism is now in trouble. It has nowhere else to expand now, and it will definitely come to Abkhazia.
This should not be seen as a threat, but should be perceived as new opportunity. Moreover, we will not be able to hold it back for very long.
So the task of Abkhazia is to direct Russian financial flows in the direction it needs.
On threats from Russia
Any crisis in Russian-Abkhazian relations can be resolved. There is an instructive story from 1997.
Russia insisted at the time on expanding the zone of the peacekeeping forces in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, and actually giving them police functions. If we had given our consent, we would have lost our jurisdiction over a significant part of eastern Abkhazia.
The President of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba, was invited to Moscow to attend the Russian Security Council. Yeltsin was not, but everyone else was.
The head of the presidential administration, Valentin Yumashev, said that if Abkhazia did not agree to Moscow’s demands, Russia would withdraw the peacekeepers.
Ardzinba, understanding the depth of the problem, replied: “We are in favor of strengthening relations with Russia. But if you put the question in this way, then withdraw the peacekeepers.”
There and then a break was announced. After him, Yumashev thanked Ardzinba for his pro-Russian position. And the question of peacekeepers was no longer raised in this perspective.
It is foolish to extrapolate the past to the present. But relations between Russia and Abkhazia are much deeper than the issue of the Pitsunda estate, the sale of real estate to Russians and other issues.
Excessive pressure can only harm or exacerbate the problem. Abkhazian society does not accept any form of pressure. There are enough episodes in our history of when they tried to force us in some matters, but in the long run such a system of relations does not work.
How to achieve harmony in relations with Moscow
Now Abkhazia and Russia face the question of how to build harmonious relations in the long term, and this is quite possible if they act with mutual understanding of each other’s interests.
Russia is quite capable of understanding the concerns of small states such as Abkhazia.
Way out of the Pitsunda crisis
I suggest the authorities admit their mistake over the Pitsunda agreement. Recognize that the Abkhaz negotiators brought this to such an ugly situation.
They should then try to correct the situation: repeal the agreement and start working on it, taking into account news circumstances. Why keep going and create a crisis in Abkhazian-Russian relations? You just need to calmly going back tot he drawing board.
On the idea of a union state
I regard such statements as pure propaganda made to solicit additional support from Moscow.
At first, they talked about Abkhazia in the context of the Union of Russia and Belarus. Then they started talking about some kind of union of sovereign states.
As for the first option, this is only the union of Russia and the Republic of Belarus. The legal base there has existed for almost thirty 30 years, taking into account the interests of these two countries.
And we have our own experience of relations with Russia. Since 2008, we have been forming our base of allied relations. It would probably be strange if Belarus announced its intention to enter into allied relations that developed between Abkhazia and Russia?
I don’t even see logistically how Abkhazia can join this Union of Russia and Belarus.
When comparing these two models:
The Russian-Belarusian union has a supranational organ, thoumainlygh decorative. And Belarus, due to its size and international legal status, has much more leverage. Belarus, for example, has its own currency.
We do not have a supranational body, and we do not have our own currency, we are in the ruble zone.
As for a union of sovereign states, it seems to me hypothetical. And Moscow did not say anything about such a project, and states that are apparently meant to be among CSTO did not say anything of the kind. There isn’t much to talk about here.
It is clear that a certain age of people have nostalgia for the Soviet Union. But this is gone forever.
Crisis of Abkhazian-Russian relations and Abkhazian interest
Any integration process should be based on economics. It is no coincidence that the agreement with Russia of 2014 states that Russia will facilitate the participation of Abkhazia in international organizations, in the process of Eurasian integration.
Of course, we understand that Abkhazia cannot be the flagship in these processes. Our task, and recent problems show this, is to build normal, strong, bilateral relations with Russia.
If we strive for this model, there will be more opportunities to protect our interests and not get lost in the problems of large nations – as it was during the Soviet Union, when the status of Abkhazia was constantly diminishing.