Abkhazia’s self-styled president and prime minister, Vladislav Ardzinba and Sergei Bagapsh, were official participants in the meeting of presidents of the Russian Federation’s republics and regions of the North Caucasus, held on March 20 in Rostov na Donu (Russia). Abkhazia was the only participant from outside the region and from outside Russia in the meeting. Ardzinba discussed "direct economic cooperation" between Abkhazia and Russia’s republics and regions, bypassing Tbilisi.
"Even an unrecognized republic has the right to conduct its own foreign policy," Ardzinba asserted at the meeting. (Russian agencies, March 20) The statement reflects the Abkhaz and Russian positions in the negotiations with Tbilisi. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s representative to those negotiations, Lev Mironov, had held talks with Ardzinba in Sukhumi just before the Rostov meeting.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, responsible for coordinating the Russian government’s overall policy in the Caucasus, chaired the meeting and defended the inclusion of Abkhazia. He claimed that Georgia itself has "no chance of developing if it keeps its distance from Russia," and that Abkhazia’s "integrationist" step represents an example to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Abdulatipov charged that United States and other "designs targeting the region will never contribute to its development." (Russian agencies, March 21) Georgia takes the opposite view, which is one reason that Moscow supports the Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessions.
On behalf of his unrecognized republic South Ossetia’s leader Lyudvig Chibirov opened a permanent mission in the Russian Federation’s Republic of North Ossetia on March 21. Chibirov and the recently elected North Ossetian President, Aleksandr Dzasokhov held talks focusing on "integration processes" and cross-border contacts between South Ossetia on the one hand and North Ossetia and Russia on the other. (Russian agencies, March 21 and 22) Russia and North Ossetia are parties to the Georgian-South Ossetian negotiations on a political settlement of the conflict that arose from South Ossetian secession. The four-party format ensures a three-to-one majority against Tbilisi and has condemned the negotiations to stalemate.
Kazakhstan Expels Iranians Accused of Espionage.