Caucasus Conflicts: Passports and the Art of the Quick Change
The Kremlin has warned breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia to beware of Georgians bearing gifts of travel documents. As part of its post-2008-war reintegration strategy, Tbilisi offered the separatists citizenship-blind identification documents. But Moscow says that those who take these papers will unwittingly become Georgians.
The so-called neutral travel documents do not carry Georgia's national symbols and do not specify the citizenship of their holders. But Moscow found a catch. “The ‘neutral passports’ are not neutral at all,” the Russian foreign ministry declared on February 8. “Georgia is indicated in the country code, while the issuing authority is the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.” Both breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for their part, say that they are not interested in any IDs printed by Tbilisi -- and whether or not any EU members promise to recognize them.
But, contrary to Russian fears or Georgian hopes, the documents are hardly an effective mechanism to lure the breakaways back into the Georgian fold.
Life in the Caucasus can often mean having the skills of a quick-change artist. Many Georgians themselves often hold both Russian and Georgian passports to make travel between the two estranged countries easier.
Similarly, those "up to 50" Abkhaz and South Ossetians, who, according to Georgian officials, have already taken the IDs, most likely look on the documents as simply another international travel option.
Passports issued by breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not accepted in most of the world; most residents of those territories hold Russian passports, documents not honored by the US and other countries, which view Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia.Now, if so desired, residents of these tricky territories can hold a variety of travel documents -- choose between Russian, Abkhaz or South Ossetian and "neutral" -- and bust out whichever they want, depending on where and how they are crossing an international border.But don't expect them to look at whatever passport -- or passports -- they have in their pockets when they ask themselves who they are.