The Abkhazian conflict has deteriorated to such an extent that there is a danger of renewed clashes in the region. Moreover, this will continue unless a credible international negotiating format is put in place, argue Ron Asmus of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and others in a June 2008 commentary.
“The current approach to resolving the Abkhaz-Georgia conflict has failed,” argues Asmus, adding that Russia’s “dual role” as facilitator and party to the conflict is one of the main reasons for this failure. Asmus believes Russia’s recent policies have brought into question its impartiality as sole peacekeeper in the resolution process.
He observes a growing consensus that Russia “needs to be considered as a party to the conflict rather than facilitator” as it has “long taken sides in this conflict” and can “no longer be considered an arbiter or neutral actor and its role is incompatible with mediation”.
Communication between the parties in the conflict has been “sporadic or intermittent at best,” says Asmus, highlighting an “urgent need for an internationalised framework”. This framework would go beyond geopolitical or status aspirations and require the backing of major international actors, he adds.
The main reason for the current impasse in negotiations is a 1994 agreement which ensured Russia was the dominant actor and established an exclusively Russian peacekeeping force. This marginalised the international community, which has taken “very few steps” to play a constructive role in the peace process.
Asmus believes external circumstances are providing a new negotiating opportunity with the goal of creating “a different political balance that restores lost credibility and balances a Russian role that has long ceased to be neutral”. He describes the current arrangement as “dysfunctional” as it represents the political context of the early 1990s.
Indeed, the Georgian Parliament has moved to act on the “anachronistic agreements” of the 1990s and called for the cancellation of the peacekeeping force, says Asmus.
The EU, thanks to its recent enlargement, is now considered a Black Sea power, meaning its leading role in the resolution process is “indispensable and natural” to Asmus. Seeing as Europe already has a “growing role and responsibility in the region,” he thinks it would make sense for Europe to play a greater role.
Neverthless, he believes both Russia and the US should be included in any peace process and proposes a 2+2 format, envisaging a role for the UN and the OSCE in mediating between Georgia and Abkhazia.
He believes the international community, and especially Europe, should foot the bill for the peace process, including the reconstruction of Abkhazia and the return of displaced persons.
Asmus concludes by saying that civil society must have a greater role in making the peace process sustainable, as the aftermath of the Balkan conflict has already proven this approach to be successful.