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Tbilisi Tries Soft Power Tactic to Win Back the Breakaways

A week before she comes to Tbilisi, the European Union’s chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, announced that Brussels is looking to assist Georgia's Action Plan for Engagement, a fence-mending scheme for ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia recently tabled by the Georgian authorities.

The gist of the plan is to diversify the money-earning options for residents of both breakaway regions, while offering their populations the same social welfare and civil rights available in Georgian-controlled territory. The plan dodges the fact that the de facto governments of both regions consider themselves to be running independent countries; Tbilisi has no control over either territory. Rather, the ongoing argument about the regions’ status would be set aside to focus on "common grassroots initiatives." Grants would be offered to the breakaway regions through a so-called trust fund run by an international organization, while a “Joint Investment Fund” would help bring in business investment. A common economic space is meant to help exchange goods and services with neighboring populations in Georgian-controlled territories. An international humanitarian organization would coordinate the project via offices in Sokhumi, Tbilisi and Tskhinvali.

The plan also proposes a status-blind identification document that would be recognized by all three sides for travel between the territories; a so-called Neutral Travel Document is proposed for travel abroad. Most residents of both regions now carry Russian passports.

The plan conspicuously makes no mention of Russia, which has recognized both regions as independent countries and keeps both under protective cover. Although Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently called for direct talks between Tbilisi and the two regions, it is doubtful that he had in mind the kind of contact proposed by the Action Plan.

The plan also seems to assume that the de facto governments in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali would agree with the description of their territories as "among all the communities of Georgia" and be willing to play along.

Judging by the July 8 reaction of de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maxim Gvinjia, that assumption is most likely a long-shot.

"What is the point to offer us Georgian personal identity documents and, in general, what authority does Georgia have to offer them to us?" scoffed Gvinjia in a statement posted on the de facto Abkhaz government's website. "With the same success they can offer their passports to citizens of any other country."

Tbilisi Tries Soft Power Tactic to Win Back the Breakaways

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