Tengiz Jopua: Policy pursued by Tbilisi hinders economic development of Abkhazia and its integration into international community

“Georgia must unblock routes for Abkhazia’s economic development”

Abkhazia-Inform – We offer our 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 to political positions, find ways to unblock Abkhazia for contacts with the outside world.

Public figure Tengiz Jopua answers the questions of Manana Gurgulia.

– Tengiz, how free do you think Abkhazia is developing? What factors hinder its political, economic, cultural development?

– Tengiz Jopua : The main factor is the partial recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia. Added to this factor is the policy pursued by Georgia towards Abkhazia. We are talking about the actions taken by Georgia with the aim of political, economic, cultural isolation of Abkhazia from the outside world. In fact, isolation covers all spheres of life, from participation in cultural and sports events to foreign policy and foreign economic relations.

These are the main, key factors hindering the development of the republic. Definitely! But the internal socio-political processes too. The republic is young, while we are in the process of formation, a political culture is being formed. It would seem that more than 25 years have passed, but still this is not the same age, in comparison with other countries that have passed a historical path, counted in centuries. We have no such time reserve. In the modern world, everything is changing very quickly, dynamically, and we need to develop at an accelerated pace.

Why are our modernization processes so late?

– I believe that both internal and external factors hinder the modernization process. The isolationist policy pursued by Georgia hinders our external contacts, does not contribute to modernization, hinders normal economic development and integration into the international community.

In the modern world, there are examples that, in the presence of interstate, foreign policy problems, countries interact in the economic sphere. There are countries of the post-conflict zone, where political and economic issues are separated from each other, and states are developing. Even if they have some contradictions, nevertheless, their economic development is going on. In our country, everything is connected with politics. Georgia connects everything with politics, even such things, it would seem, are far from politics, such as the tours of our children’s creative teams abroad or the performances of young athletes at international competitions. It poses all sorts of obstacles to the participation of representatives of Abkhazia at any international platforms. The Georgian authorities use every opportunity to create problems for us. We are restricted in freedom of movement around the world. Georgia has been pursuing this discriminatory policy towards Abkhazia throughout the post-war period.

And if we are guided by a pragmatic approach, then such a policy interferes with Georgia itself. We are a country located in a very important geopolitical region, therefore, if we had more freedom, if we did not have restrictions on establishing economic ties with other countries, this, in my opinion, would contribute to greater stability in the South Caucasus .

Transport communications pass through us, through us you can establish economic ties with a huge sales market. Russia is a colossal sales market. We are important as a transport corridor for the Transcaucasian republics. But, nevertheless, Georgia is doing everything possible to block us in any direction, even insignificant ones.

We often have cases when even the opening of small retail facilities as a result of establishing ties between our businessmen and some companies & nbsp; & nbsp; outside the country causes a storm of indignation in Georgia, all kinds of angry statements by official Tbilisi. Georgia is trying in every possible way to prevent the establishment of economic ties between Abkhazia and the outside world, both at the level of states and at the level of individual entrepreneurs.

– I cannot but ask a question: do you think, can we, as the side that has won the war , , say that the conflict with Georgia has been resolved? As far as I know, our society has different points of view on this matter.

– It all depends on which side you look at. We solved our main task – we won the war, gained independence and are building a state, albeit with difficulties. At the same time, this conflict is present in our life and is reflected in its various spheres. We are not a closed state, we need not only to solve our internal political, economic, social, cultural and other problems, but also to establish various, including foreign economic relations with the outside world. The conflict hinders our further development, hinders some processes. There is a problem, and this problem needs to be fixed.

– What exactly are the limitations in the economy?

– First of all – in the economic and foreign trade spheres. It is most important. We are closed from access of capital, access of technology to our country. We cannot take advantage of foreign investment to the extent that it is available to other states. This is holding back the development of our economy.

The key sectors of our economy are the tourism and agricultural sectors. But most of all, I think, because of this situation, the resort and tourism sector suffers, because the market capacity is limited. We only have access to the Russian market. Although the Russian market is large enough, market diversification would nevertheless increase our economic opportunities.

The agricultural sector also suffers, since we have the potential in the field of environmental management. Environmentally friendly products are in demand in Europe. If we had the opportunity to export it to these countries, and there are quite high prices for environmentally friendly agricultural products, then its production in our country would become quite profitable. We could have more advantages in this industry. For example, the same hazelnut: Georgia is a serious participant in this market, but it blocks us in every possible way. And so in almost all areas.

How can you assess the loss of Abkhazia in connection with such restrictions?

– There is a figure of 11.5 – 12 billion dollars. This is the damage done by the war. How to assess lost profits? It is very difficult.

How significant are the losses for other countries of the South Caucasus from blocked communications passing through our country?

– Armenia suffers the most from the lack of opportunities to enter the sales markets, where the agricultural sector is well developed. All products are primarily designed for the Russian market. Armenia has very close ties with Russia, and the absence of a transport corridor has an overall negative, if not critical, effect on the economy of this country.

For other republics, for example, for Azerbaijan, this corridor is less interesting. It has a transport and logistics corridor bypassing our republic. For Armenia, railways, automobiles and access to the sea are of great importance. I have been to Armenia, communicated with many people. & nbsp;

We have a widespread opinion that before Georgia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia, it makes no sense to conduct any negotiations with it.

– I have my own opinion on this matter. I believe that it is necessary to separate the issues of politics and economics from each other, if this works out. Without touching political issues, Georgia could take concrete steps to end the policy of blocking economic, social and cultural ties in relation to Abkhazia.

If, as a result of unblocking by Georgia, we have unhindered access to the world economy, as is the case in other post-conflict zones, this will create preconditions for economic ties with Georgia itself.

I can’t say that I like it, but we are forced and even obliged to use any means of expanding our interaction with the outside world. We are in a very difficult economic situation. We need to find additional opportunities to develop the domestic market. Being constantly dependent on some state is wrong. This damages the future of our country. We need to diversify the economy, we need to develop various industries.

Now, in the current situation, I am against trade with Georgia. Why do I think so? Because no matter what actions the Georgian side takes, it does everything to the detriment of us. There are no positive steps in this direction. Take the same law “on the occupied territories” …

When you say that Georgia must unblock the path of economic development of Abkhazia, what exactly do you mean?

– Georgia should not block the economic ties of various subjects of the economy of Abkhazia, be it the state or individual businessmen, with other countries. Having adopted the law “on occupied territories” and other restrictive mechanisms, Georgia closed our territory to many large companies producing various products. It bans not only the export of capital to Abkhazia, but also the export of technology. We cannot even bring ordinary office equipment to Abkhazia officially. Most of the high-tech goods imported to Abkhazia are imported according to “gray schemes”, with the exception of those produced in Russia. Our participants in foreign economic activity cannot enter into contracts with large manufacturers of goods in Europe, the USA, and Southeast Asia. Because of this, consumption in the country suffers, the cost of imported goods delivered to the country through complex transport and logistics schemes is growing, there is no direct access of our banks to the international financial system, to the capital market, the country’s transport infrastructure is idle, etc.

For example, there are many problems in the relations between Kosovo and Serbia, but they managed to separate the issues of politics and economics. Serbia not only does not impede the development of Kosovo’s economy, but, as far as I know, even helps to some extent.

If Georgia lifted the restrictive measures in force against Abkhazia, then there would be grounds for talking about some kind of trade between us. But up to this point, I see no prospects.

It makes no sense to link the issues of transnational trade with Georgia with its recognition of our independence. Georgia will never agree to recognize us without external pressure on it. It is pointless to wait for this to happen and exist in an autarkic state. This is a flawed policy towards our own country and its people, and in fact – contributing to our isolation.

Provided that the Georgian side stops the state policy of blocking Abkhazia in the economic, social, cultural spheres, taking into account the issues of the country’s national security, it is possible, in my opinion, to consider the issue of trade cooperation. In the meantime, the ban on the movement of goods across the Abkhaz-Georgian border should be in effect. The only thing I don’t like is the form in which this restriction is implemented. For example, I would very much like the status of the border between Abkhazia and Georgia to be clearly defined. If this is the front line, then let’s remove all the services located there that interact there, and deploy the forces and assets of the Ministry of Defense.

If this is a state border, then we have a single customs legislation in the Republic of Abkhazia, we have a single economic space, and we cannot create any enclaves, no matter which state we border on.

I believe that the Abkhaz-Georgian section of the state border should have the same checkpoint as at the Psou checkpoint of the Abkhaz-Russian border.

I want to emphasize that the establishment of a checkpoint does not mean at all that you are obliged to trade. There are civilized, understandable ways of international trade in the world. You can choose a trade and political regime, taking into account your relations with this state, and any other country will understand why you are applying certain measures. And what we are doing now looks strange to say the least. The border is both closed and open, sometimes it closes, sometimes it opens. If it is beneficial to someone, if it corresponds to some personal, group or state interests, then it opens and some goods can be transported through it. If you remember, we had such a situation with the export of hazelnuts. This is not correct, you cannot do this.

Everyone knows that for a long time there was a huge shadow trade on the Abkhaz-Georgian border. It must be admitted that this trade was largely stopped by the border services of Russia, which blocked the fords and crossings outside the control zone. Thanks to Russian border guards, the volume of shadow traffic has dropped sharply. Already with the Russian border guards, trade went through the official checkpoint, although due to the pandemic it has also decreased recently.

I believe that we should put things in order on this section of the border. Everything should be clear and very transparent. We transport humanitarian and technical goods through this section of the border. But sometimes it becomes necessary for the state to import some equipment, some other goods that cannot be imported through the Russian Federation. In this case, we must use every opportunity, including this section of the border, this corridor, transport links through Georgia. Yes, we do not have an agreement on peace, but issues of well-being of citizens, solutions to social and economic problems are also important. The fact that some goods are brought through Georgia, if it is necessary for Abkhazia, does not mean that this is detrimental to the security of the state.

State security will suffer if, in the current situation, trade with Georgia becomes massive and the number of participants in the trade process increases. An increase in the number of participants leads to an increase in economic ties. Our already bordering Gal region is economically, socially and culturally alienated from the rest of Abkhazia. There is a violation of the economic space of the state. And this violation of the economic space of the state was made by our own hands, because we paid little attention to this region. We initially acted wrong, turning it into a kind of enclave, & nbsp; we deliberately separated it from the main part of the country.

What do you mean when you say that we have separated this area from the main part of the country?

– There was a period, if you remember, when something like an inner border was drawn along the channel. Even customs were on the canal line. We have actually moved the customs border from the state border into the customs territory of the country. In other words, we have economically separated this border area from the rest of the country, thereby contributing to the strengthening of economic and social ties of this border region with the neighboring side. There is a rule: when trade begins, the war ends. People began to trade, connections began to grow, relationships expanded,

In the structure of the State Customs Committee, we have the Gal customs administration, as a separate structure. It was formed on a territorial basis, in contrast to all other departments. And this should not be. The territory of the Gal district should be an integral part of the entire territory of our country. Social and economic transformations must be carried out there in order to tear the people living there away from Georgia, or at least turn to our side. But no one is pursuing this policy, no one needs it.

We already have to compete with the adjacent side in this area. There must be economic competition, social competition. Residents of this area are “tied” to hospitals and educational institutions in Georgia.

There are many problems in general. I do not like it when every time they try to speculate on the topic of the border. All this political speculation must be stopped. We need to put things in order there. There must be the same legally regulated procedures, the same control measures as in the entire territory of Abkhazia.

As for goods from Georgia, we have a law on customs tariffs, there is a system of non-tariff measures, but we have the right to choose a trade and political regime that is acceptable to us. This form is more civilized and understandable to the whole world. The only thing I want is for the state of affairs at the border to be clear and transparent, so that everyone understands what is happening there, so that the situation there does not change depending on the political, economic or some other conjuncture.

What project – economic, energy, transport – could become a breakthrough for Abkhazia, provided the restrictions are lifted?

– It is very difficult to judge this.

Is any project possible? The idea of ​​a transport transit corridor is periodically voiced

– If we are talking about the transit of goods by rail, then we will not receive especially large economic dividends from this, but there can be political dividends, because this corridor is very interesting for Russia and Armenia.

In case of unhindered access of Abkhazia to world markets, the volume of foreign financial presence in the country may increase. And this will contribute to the development of the economy, will have a multiplier effect, and will affect the social sphere and the living standards of the population.

As for energy projects, since we have a country with large hydropower potential, if the restrictions are lifted, investments can come here. Considering how the mining market is developing now and the rate of crypto currencies is growing, investors may be interested in using the potential here for the construction of generating capacities. Again, all this is possible only if there are no economic restrictions on the part of Georgia.

Specifically, I can’t talk about any projects. It is very difficult. I think that in our country no one even analyzed the possibilities of economic growth with full access of Abkhazia to the markets, and even more so, made calculations.

– Who could be an ally of Abkhazia in the process of unblocking the paths of economic development?

– Russia has very complicated relations with Georgia, and Armenia’s relations with Georgia are not easy either. And yet, Russia needs a transport corridor through Abkhazia for links with Armenia, which is its key partner in the Transcaucasus. As for the road corridor, its carrying capacity is much lower than the railway one, and the road is laid over difficultly rugged terrain.

Russia needs the railway to economically support its ally in the Transcaucasus. For integration into the common economic space, transport links are required. In addition, the transport corridor can also give Russia access to Iran, which is also its key partner. & Nbsp; & nbsp; The restoration of the railway communication is in the interests of Russia, and it could act as an ally in solving this problem.

But the relationship between Georgia and the Russian Federation is very unstable, it is not clear what will happen between them tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. I doubt the issue will be resolved anytime soon.

Do you admit today the possibility of implementing some economic projects with Georgia? How will our society react to such an initiative?

– I think, no matter what options or projects are discussed, the discussion should be carried out, first of all, at the state level or under the control of the state.

We must not forget, especially given the example of Karabakh, that the war is not over yet, and ensuring security must always remain a priority. Safety first, well-being later!

It is the state, if it deems it necessary and useful, to begin this process by formulating certain conditions that are beneficial for Abkhazia, the conditions under which we can sit down at the negotiating table on issues of economic interaction.

Even if we assume that Abkhazia and Georgia will interact in the economic sphere, the state should tightly control this process, it may even monopolize it in order to limit the number of entities that can participate in this process.

One can hear the opinion that it is permissible to negotiate at some other level, but I think that this will not be perceived positively in the Abkhaz society. The negotiation process should be led and controlled by the state. He should have all responsibility in this process.

If the state, taking into account the scale of the problems and the economic situation in the republic, decides to establish some kind of relations in the economic sphere, then this should happen provided that Georgia lifts all restrictions on Abkhazia.