ho Can Untie the Abkhaz Gordian Knot?
The "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi" document is intended to serve as a starting point for talks between the central Georgian government and that of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia; the new Security Council resolution calls for precisely such talks, and demands inter alia the unconditional return to Abkhazia of all displaced persons, and the withdrawal from the Kodori Gorge of the Georgian troops deployed there last fall. [For background, see the Eurasia Insight archives]. Georgian State Minister Malkhaz Kakabadze had agreed at UN-sponsored talks on 17 January that those troops would be pulled out.
At the same time, to the considerable displeasure of many Georgians, the UN resolution noted that Georgian President Shevardnadze had agreed to the continued presence in the Abkhaz conflict zone of the Russian peacekeepers deployed there under the CIS aegis since 1994. The Georgian parliament had demanded last October that their mandate should not be renewed after it expired on 31 December.
Nor was Shevardnadze's concession over the extension of the CIS peacekeepers' mandate the only reason for many Georgians' lukewarm reaction to the UN resolution. The two participants in a roundtable discussion in Tbilisi on 6 February moderated by RFE/RL's Georgian Service both expressed doubt that the resolution would lead to progress in restoring Georgia's territorial integrity. And both cited Russia as the major obstacle to a settlement of the conflict.
Malkhaz Pataraia, who heads Dabruneba (Return), an organization that represents the interests of the estimated 200,000 Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia in1992, pointed out that Russia was "the initiator and instigator and an active participant" in the hostilities that ended with the loss of Georgian control over Abkhazia. And Archil Gegeshidze of the Georgian Strategic and International Studies Foundation argued that Georgia "cannot neutralize the Russian factor on its own," and that the international community appears reluctant to pressure Russia to change its policy towards Georgia. Specifically, Gegeshidze said he did not think Russian President Vladimir Putin was sincere when he declared in October 2001 that if Georgia demands the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia, Moscow will pull them out. "At this stage Russia does not want to give up the influence which it currently has in the South Caucasus in general and in Georgia in particular by virtue of its role and functions in the Abkhaz conflict, and it will not leave of its own free will. Someone will have to force Russia to do so and only the international community can do that, Georgia does not have the means to do so," Gegeshidze concluded.
President Shevardnadze, however, has apparently not given up hope that Moscow can be induced to adopt a more constructive attitude -- or has decided that it is imprudent to place all his eggs in the UN basket. Aslan Abashidze, Shevardnadze's special envoy for Abkhazia, visited Moscow earlier this month for high-level talks, the content and outcome of which have not yet been made public.
Those talks engendered optimism among at least some displaced persons: the 12,000 participants at a congress in Tbilisi on 15 February reportedly expressed their shared confidence in Abashidze's ability to negotiate a settlement of the conflict. Not all displaced persons are so sanguine, however: a poll of 750 displaced persons conducted in Tbilisi found that 50.9 percent have no faith in Abashidze. And of those 750 respondents, 44.7 percent do not believe that the CIS is capable of resolving the conflict, and 32.5 percent believe that the only way to restore Georgian control over Abkhazia is by force. Meanwhile the Abkhaz government in exile (whose ministers are Georgian displaced persons) has made clear its preference for the traditional approach of slicing straight through the Gordian knot rather than trying to unravel it: it has again invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter that provides for the threat or use of force to restore peace and security in conflict regions. The recent opinion poll found that 25.6 percent of those questioned support that demand, while only 14.2 percent favor peaceful negotiations with the Abkhaz leadership.
Another recently announced Abkhaz initiative remains veiled in mystery: CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov was due in Tbilisi in late January to present an alternative settlement plan to President Shevardnadze and Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze. That plan, Yarov said, would entail augmenting the current Russian peacekeeping force with contingents from other CIS states, which is one of the conditions some Georgian politicians have advanced for the renewal of the CIS peacekeepers' mandate.