Abkhazia: Putin, Shevardnadze optimistic after Summit

President Shevardnadze called his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 6-7, a "beginning of the new and important phase" in Russo-Georgian relations. At the meeting, which was primarily dedicated to the Abkhazian issues, the two presidents also talked about bilateral cooperation against terrorism.

"I was quite skeptical about this meeting. However, I must say that the talks with Mr. Putin brought very positive results. It is also worth noting, that our meeting was also attended by the representative of the Abkhazian side [Genadi Gagulia, de facto Prime-Minister of Abkhazia]. This was the first trilateral meeting of this kind," Shevardnadze said in his traditional Monday radiobroadcast on March 10.

After the meeting with Shevardnadze, President Putin stated that "the Abkhazian problem should be resolved in the context of preserving Georgia's territorial integrity and guaranteeing the legal rights and interests of multiethnic Abkhazia."

Return of the IDPs to Abkhazia; restoration of the Sochi-Tbilisi railway link, via breakaway Abkhazia; rehabilitation of the energy facilities in the region - these are the main issues, that topped the agenda of the bilateral meeting, also attended by the Abkhazian de-facto prime-minister Genadi Gagulia.

"We should consider safe and dignified return of the IDPs to the region and, particularly to the Gali district, as the primary step towards resolution of the Abkhazian conflict," President Putin said on March 7.

Eduard Shevardnadze said that the two Presidents discussed possible creation of the joint Georgian-Abkhaz administration in Gali district.

"We have agreed to simultaneously proceed with restoration of the railway and return of the IDPs. This is written in the declaration that we have signed at the end of the meeting" Shevardnadze said on March 10.

He said that return of the IDPs is an "irreversible", but "time-consuming" process. "First of all we have to define exact number of the IDPs through census and ensure their safety. As for restoration of the railway, this issue is in interest of both Georgian and Russian regions, because this would greatly facilitate economic growth," Shevardnadze said in the Monday radiobroadcast.

During the meeting, the two presidents have agreed to create a bilateral commission, which would work on these issues.

The Georgian president said the UN Secretary General's Group of Friends on Georgia, including Germany, France, the Great Britain, Russia and the US supports the process. At the meeting in Geneva on February 18-19, the group has decided to establish three commissions to work on safe return of the IDPs, rehabilitation of the region's economy and security and political stability issues.

The presidents have discussed other issues of the bilateral relations as well. President Putin pointed out cooperation in fight against terrorism, as the most important issue. "It must be mentioned, that recently the law enforcement agencies of the two countries have gained significant experience of cooperation in fight against terrorism. We will certainly expand our cooperation in this field," Putin said without specifying the aspects of this cooperation.

Putin expressed his satisfaction with the meeting, stating that "the meeting is a strong momentum for resolution of the Abkhazian problem, which will, ultimately, facilitate stability of the whole Caucasus region".

By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia


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