Georgia considering tougher stance on Abkhazia


Powerful advisers around President Mikheil Saakashvili appear increasingly convinced that a military operation in Abkhazia is “feasible and necessary”, according to a fresh report from the International Crisis Group (ICG).

While EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was touring the region in an attempt to lower tensions between Russia and Georgia over the latter’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, the European Parliament issued a strongly-worded resolution, blaming Russia for the escalation of tensions. But the report by the ICG paints a rather different picture. 

Tbilisi shares blame with Moscow 

The Brussels-based think-tank writes that Georgia remains determined to restore its territorial integrity and hawks in Tbilisi are seriously considering a military option. Their aim is to regain control of the southern part of the territory so as to establish at least a temporary partition of Abkhazia, the ICG states. 

Concerned with NATO’s plans to take Georgia on board, Russia has hardened its position, the report says. This includes former President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia would formalise ties with Abkhazia and statements by Kremlin officials that Moscow was prepared to use military force to protect its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia if hostilities resumed. 

“Tbilisi has responded with a diplomatic offensive, enlisting high-level Western political support, while repeating that it wants to resolve the frozen conflicts peacefully. It shares blame for the escalation, however,” the report says. The ICG notes that Georgia has been quietly making military preparations, particularly in western Georgia and the Upper Kodori gorge. 

Risk of miscalculation 

The ICG highlights the significant risk of miscalculation by both sides. Consequently, it calls on the West to use all its influence to defuse tensions. It calls on Russia to withdraw any troops and equipment from Abkhazia which do not fit with its peacekeeping mandate from the 1994 Moscow Agreement, and on Georgia to halt any preparations for a military operation as well as belligerent rhetoric, including false press reports. The think tank also advises the EU and US to show “they are aware of Russia’s legitimate interests in the Caucasus”. 

Splits within the EU 

The EU is seriously divided over Georgia, the report says. Only some EU countries are willing to criticise Russia openly, basically those from Eastern Europe and especially the Baltic countries. Russia’s main trading partners, especially Germany and Italy, are “considerably more cautious”. Therefore the report advises the EU to achieve greater unity in order to be more effective in its dealings with Moscow. 

Gazprom goes shopping 

While the EU is sending diplomats in the region, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller is touring the Central Asia convince its leaders they should sell their gas to Russia, RFE/RL reported. Miller was quoted as saying Gazprom is willing to purchase all of Azerbaijan’s gas, which would then be exported via Gazprom pipelines to Europe – a situation that Brussels wants to avoid at all costs. Similar deals were negotiated with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan earlier this year, sources said. 

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili at a regional summit in St Petersburg on 6 June. 

Medvedev played down the rising international concern about Abkhazia and brushed off foreign mediation over Abkhazia, AFP reported. 

"I think we can sort out our relations by ourselves. What do you think?," Medvedev said, turning to his Georgian counterpart. 

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili answered: "I absolutely agree. I'm happy to meet with you and to get to know you and to resolve all these painful issues. There no problems that cannot be solved when there is mutual understanding". He added: "The current situation [... ] is not helping anyone". 

Situated on the shores of the Black Sea, Abkhazia was once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite. 

After the collapse of the USSR, it broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s, along with South Ossetia. 

Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in subsequent hostilities in Abkhazia. Russia and Georgia signed a ceasefire in 1994. 

The UN and the other major international organisations recognise Abkhazia as integral part of Georgia. But in fact Abkhazia is de facto autonomous, having become one of several post-Soviet 'frozen conflict' zones. It is not recognised by any country, not even Russia. 

According to reports, its population is increasingly gravitating towards its more economically powerful neighbour Russia, prompting nervousness in Tbilisi.

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