Georgia: Abkhazia situation fragile

Originally published
Lack of Progress in Negotiations can Trigger a Backlash

While the Russian peacekeepers' mandate in the Abkhazian conflict area remains unclear, hard-line stance increases among the Georgian authorities towards the breakaway region. Experts fear the buildup of a military rhetoric of both Georgian and Abkhaz sides might lead to flare-up of violence.

Recent political consultations regarding Abkhazia left both sides utterly unsatisfied. Neither the meeting of the Georgian and Russian presidents nor the UN Security Council resolution have increased clarity regarding the presence and the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia.

Faced with uncertainty, Georgian, as well as Abkhazian side plans to reinforce their military positions preparing for the scenario of removal of the peacekeepers.

"If the Russian PK forces leave Abkhazia, we will advance to the positions on River Enguri [administrative border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia]. Abkhazians can defend their republic," Gari Kubalba, deputy defense minister of the self-declared republic said on February 5.

At the briefing on the same day the Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze also said that Georgians would reinforce positions along the Enguri river if the peacekeepers leave.

At the February 3 briefing President Eduard Shevardnadze stated that the Russian peacekeepers fail to cope with their duties and, regrettably, the UN Security Council does not pay enough attention to this circumstance.

"If the peacekeepers are gone, Georgia will certainly dispatch additional armed units to the [administrative] borders, particularly the maritime zone will be also reinforced, so that they [separatists] won't feel too comfortable," said Shevardnadze on February 3 but underlined that peaceful resolution of the conflict has no alternative.

In the letter to the Security Council the Georgian Ambassador to the UN Revaz Adamia says "in the circumstances of continued obstruction of the peace process by the Abkhaz side it would be appropriate to consider the possibility of resorting to measures under Chapter VII".

Growing hardliner sentiment within the Georgian leadership worries many experts. At a meeting dedicated to the Abkhazian issues, held in Tbilisi on February 4, political scientist Paata Zakareishvili said that it is an absurd idea to use the Chapter 7 of UN Charter, for peace enforcement in Abkhazia.

Zakareishvili explains that for the UN point of view there is peace now in Abkhazia and Georgian partisans are the only force, which threaten stability of the region. Zakareishvili urges the Georgian leadership to stop the military rhetoric and discontinue assistance to the partisans, operating in Abkhazia. Zakareishvili believes that Tbilisi must make certain concessions.

Meanwhile the official Tbilisi is initiating consultations with the Russian side regarding the peacekeeper mandate, as agreed by the two presidents at the CIS Informal Summit of January 28. In the nearest days the Special Affairs Minister Malkhaz Kakabadze and Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze will pay a visit to Moscow.

The Georgian side poses three demands to extend the mandate: closing down the railway link, which was unilaterally reopened by Russia with Abkhazia, suspension of granting Russian citizenship to Abkhazia's residents and extension of the peacekeeper mandate over the Gali district, so that IDP would be able to return at least to Gali. Tbilisi also demands international administration of the Gali district.

"This should be joint Georgian-Abkhazian administration, which would manage the district under international supervision," Special Affairs Minister Malkhaz Kakabadze told Civil Georgia.

Kakabadze said that the Georgian side has several action plans for the Abkhazian issues. He also expressed hope that Georgian and Russia would be able to reach final agreement. President Shevardnadze has announced that Ukraine and Uzbekistan are ready to take part in peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia. The Georgian President also has spoken about the possible EU role in the conflict resolution.

"The EU thinks that Europe could not develop without peace and stability on the whole continent. The Abkhazian conflict is a constant threat to Europe and that is why they are so seriously interested in solution of such problems," Shevardnadze said.

All these are long-term perspectives, while Tbilisi has very limited time, as it has to decide on the Russian peacekeeper mandate issue before February 15.

The UN Security Council Resolution of January 30, which has extended the mandate to the UN observers in the conflict zone, says that the decision on extension of the mandate shall be reconsidered if the decision regarding the CIS Peacekeepers' mandate could not be made before February 15.

This may mean that Georgia's refusal to extend the Russian peacekeepers presence in the conflict zone might result in termination of the mandate of UN observers' mission in Georgia. Such development, against the background of increasing militant rhetoric in Tbilisi and Sokhumi, could lead to renewal of the armed conflict.

By Goga Chanadiri

United Nations Association of Georgia
© UNA-Georgia