"A guest is a gift from above," a storeowner told me over homemade vodka, honey and grapes during a recent trip to the breakaway region of Abkhazia. When God was distributing land to the world's nations, he continued, the Abkhaz missed out because they were busy attending to their guests.
While Georgia and Russia focus their attention on easing tension in South Ossetia, recent developments in Abkhazia should not be overlooked. The breakaway Black Sea region's political environment appears to be ripening for peace. Unfortunately, Tbilisi might be too preoccupied to take notice.
Russian leaders are hinting that Moscow may retaliate using economic means if Georgia takes action designed to expel Russian peacekeepers from the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. Some political analysts are concerned that the diplomatic confrontation over the peacekeepers' continuing presence could reignite armed conflict in the Caucasus.
The Georgian parliament is expected to consider a resolution on February 15 demanding the immediate withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia. Given the recent tussles between Georgia and Russia, political analysts say that the withdrawal resolution seems assured of passage.
In Abkhazia, the restoration of the railway is viewed with hope, doubt and fear. De facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Shamba believes in the best-case scenario: a railway completion agreement could be reached at the end of 2005 -- providing "conflicts of interest in Tbilisi don't prevent it," he stated in an interview with EurasiaNet.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration continues to probe for ways to restore its authority in Abkhazia. A top Georgian government official involved in the peace process says that Tbilisi is pursuing a policy of "pro-active engagement," aiming to create "new opportunities" for a negotiated solution.
Controversy continues to swirl around the assassination attempt on Abkhazian Prime Minister Aleksander Ankvab. Government officials and independent analysts in Abkhazia and Georgia blame organized criminal gangs for the incident. But they differ -- at least publicly -- on the potential affiliation of the attackers.
A last-minute deal between opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh and former Prime Minister Raul Khajimba appears to have ended a two-month stalemate over the outcome of Abkhazia's presidential elections. Yet the pact's consequences for Abkhazia's relations with Georgia remain unknown.