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Abkhazia - and Now ?
by Newropeans-Magazine
2011-06-28 07:57:05
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Deep quiet holds the breath of night
My mother-land in silence lies,
Yet oft is heard an anguished moan
As Georgia in her slumber sighs.
                                               Ilia Chavhavadze

Serguei Bagapch, the president of Abkhazia, died on Sunday, 29 May 2011 in Moscow after a lung operation. He was 62 and had been president since 2005.  If all moves in a constitutional way, Alexander. Ankvab, the vice-president will replace him for three months until new elections for president are held. The death should produce few changes in policy either toward Abkhazia’s Russian protector or toward Georgia from which Abkhazia broke off in 1992. 


The 7 August 2008 entry of Georgian armed forces into the separatist republic of South Ossetia, followed by an overwhelming response of South Ossetia’s Russian allies, had brought the Caucasus again to world attention.  Some commentators had spoken of a “new Cold War”. The South Ossetia tensions had begun in 1989, prior to the break up of the Soviet Union.  South Ossetia requested reunification with the Soviet autonomous republic of North Ossestia, which was refused.  The conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia dates from mid-August 1992 when Georgian troops moved into the Abkhaz capital Sukumi in an effort to re-establish  Georgian control over the historically autonomous zone of Abkhazia which had just declared its independence.


There then followed sharp fighting during which the Abkhaz troops with the help of “volunteers” from other Caucasus areas defeated the Georgian troops and expelled a large number of ethnic Georgians from the Abkhaz territory. By 1994, the United Nations was able to organize a cease-fire and then both the Georgia-Abkhazia and the Georgia-South Ossetia conflicts were considered “frozen”, that is, no war but no settlement.

Why the two conflicts “melted” in the heat of August 2008 is open to speculation. What seems certain now after the recognition of their independence by Russia is that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not be reintegrated into the Georgian state any more than Kosovo will become again an autonomous region of Serbia. Thus, government representatives must face the fact that the break up of Yugoslavia and of the USSR has left a series of ‘mini-states’, economically fragile, potentially manipulated by more powerful states, but which  will not be reintegrated into their former state, even if promised a good deal of autonomy.

In order to deal with some issues of security and refugee issues, on 15 October 2008, there was a start to negotiations among Russian, Georgian, Abkhazian and South Ossetian negotiators under the responsibility of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) and the European Union (EU).  The EU, at the time under the presidency of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, had played an important role in the cease-fire arrangements and wished to continue playing a mediation role.  Formal negotiations are only the tip of the iceberg.  The role of the UN or other mediators is often in private meetings with only one party at a time.  There is often a tendency to try to get the conflicting parties “to the table” too soon, before the issues have been sufficiently explored.  However, a formal start to negotiations can serve a symbolic and conflict-reducing purpose.

Although there have been periodic meetings since the October 2008 start, there have been few, if any public statements of any progress. Good will and creative political imagination have been in short supply.  Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have all faced economic and social difficulties, and each has largely turned inward.  Tensions have not led to a new “Cold War”, and things seem to have become ‘frozen” again.  The attention of the ‘international community’ has moved on to other subjects.

There may be an opportunity for some ‘track two’ efforts — non-governmental meetings to discuss issues.  Perhaps the election campaign for a new president could produce some “new thinking”.


Rene Wadlow

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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