Russia to Pocket Abkhazia?
Tbilisi has accused Moscow of plans to pull a Crimea in breakaway Abkhazia through a treaty that proposes a merger of military forces, coordination of police and an alignment with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
On the surface, it may seem that Abkhazia's fate could not be any more tied to Moscow than it already is. The Russian military is the only outside guarantee of the region's de-facto independence from Georgia, while the Russian market provides an economic lifeline. But for all that, Abkhazia is actually serious about its claim to independence from everyone, Russia including.
In an interview with Ekho Kavkaza, the speaker of Abkhazia's de-facto parliament, Valery Bganba, complained that the document "in many places" amounts to a "loss of sovereignty."
The cornerstone of the treaty is the formation of a collective military force, with Russia appointing an ad-hoc command in times of crisis. Many Abkhaz think such force is necessary to repel any attempt from Georgia to retake the territory; an event which Abkhazia has been expecting ever since its 1992-1994 war with Tbilisi. Many believe that events in Ukraine have increased the likelihood of such an attack.
The treaty further proposes setting up a joint center for law-enforcement coordination and requires Abkhazia to endow the center with broad powers. Under the treaty, Abkhaz who also hold Russian citizenship — believed to be the majority of the region’s adult population — will be allowed to serve as contractors with Russian troops stationed in the breakaway region.
Abkhazia will also have to harmonize its tax and customs regulations with those of Russia and its planned Eurasian Economic Union. Perhaps to sweeten the deal, Moscow will partly foot the bill for a required hike in Abkhaz pensions and salaries for public officials to match rates in neighboring southern Russia.
Amidst a debate over whether or not such details actually mean annexation (Moscow claims it ain't so), Abkhazia's de-facto government is working on a redraft of the proposed document, and wants further talks with Moscow. As part of Sokhumi’s own interpretation of the treaty, de-facto leader Raul Khadjimba claims that Abkhazia’s armed forces won’t be swallowed up by Russia — the prospective joint military force only means “individual divisions,” he told de-facto parliamentarians on October 16, the news agency Apsnypress reported.
In the meantime, alarm is mounting in Tbilisi, where few doubt that Russia’s true intentions amount to annexation.
Describing the treaty as another attempt at seizing control of Georgian territories, President Giorgi Margvelashvili has urged the Georgian parliament and the international community to react, and also called for a national security council meeting.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, never one to cede a foreign-policy initiative to Margvelashvili, told reporters on October 16 that he has “an idea” about the Abkhaz situation, but would hold off on taking it public until the security-council discussion.
What Tbilisi can do to prevent the treaty remains, however, relatively limited. Particularly with the attention-spans of its Western allies already badly strained by Ukraine, Russia, Syria and Iraq.
Georgian Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs Chairperson Tedo Japaridze called for boycotting the next round of talks between Georgian and Russian negotiators, but Georgia's point man for the talks, Zurab Abashidze, has ignored such calls. Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze argued that the meeting is more important now than ever and that, at least this time, Georgia will not be discussing problems of selling fruit and veggies to Russia.
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