On January 25-27, senior Russian officials conferred in Moscow with Igor Smirnov, Eduard Kokoiti, and Sergei Bagapsh and Raul Khajimba, Russian-installed leaders of Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, respectively. Although their schedule of meetings was kept confidential, there was official confirmation of meetings with First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Valery Loshchinin and with Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov (“in his capacity as leader the United Russia” governing party).
Bagapsh granted media interviews, and Kokoiti and Smirnov held separate news conferences while in Moscow. Russia’s special envoy for Transnistria conflict settlement, Valery Nesterushkin, stated that the visit was organized in order to “provide a tribune for public airing of their views” (Basapress, January 27).
In their public statements, the three leaders cited the 1994 agreement among Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh, as a basis for the coordination of their policies. That agreement provides for “mutual assistance” of various types, including military forms of assistance in emergencies. Karabakh has quietly dropped out of the process.
Bagapsh implicitly ruled out any solution based on international law. He asserted that he could “only see Abkhazia’s future as an independent state oriented toward Russia.” He cited the conferral of Russian citizenship to Abkhazia’s population as a basis for such a solution. Bagapsh described Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s January 26 remarks on Abkhazia at the Council of Europe as “tantamount to a declaration of war on Abkhazia.” In those remarks, during the question-and-answer period, Saakashvili had noted the fact that the Abkhaz leaders had ethnically cleansed the Georgian population in 1992 and quit the political negotiations three years ago; and that Russia was thwarting all resolution efforts by appointing Abkhazia’s leaders and by turning the region’s residents into Russian citizens as a pretext for “protecting” them with Russian troops.
Kokoiti, speaking on the same day as Saakashvili launched his South Ossetia peace initiative at the Council of Europe (January 26; see EDM, January 27), rejected it out of hand, without commenting on its substance. He demanded that the Georgian parliament issue an admission of Georgian guilt for the 1989-92 conflict, and another admission of guilt for something he described as “mass genocide of Ossetians in 1918-20 by Georgia’s Menshevik government.” Kokoiti announced that the South Ossetian legislature had voted to recognize the supremacy of Russian legislation on the territory of South Ossetia. He anticipated South Ossetia’s ultimate unification with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation, based on the right of self-determination of peoples, for which he referred to the constitutions of the USSR and of Soviet Georgia.
Smirnov, too, held out the prospect of a referendum on Transnistria’s accession to the Russian Federation, in this case with the status of an associated unit. While this threat is not new, Smirnov added an unprecedented threat to hold such a referendum if Moldova becomes integrated with the European Union. Apart from this, he accused Moldova’s leadership on three counts: for trying to internationalize the “pentagonal” negotiating format by involving the United States, the European Union, and Romania; for trying to replace the Russian “peacekeeping” contingent with an international contingent; and for preparing to attack Transnistria militarily. While the first two accusations are meant to reject actual Moldovan diplomatic initiatives, the third accusation is fantasy. Nevertheless, Moldova’s “centrist” opposition leader, Serafim Urecheanu, pronounced that same accusation against his country in an interview with the same Moscow newspaper that interviewed Smirnov this time (Novye izvestiya, December 9; January 27).
Regarding conflict-settlement negotiations, the three leaders merely repeated the familiar guiding principles of Russian diplomacy, common to the three “negotiating processes”: equality of status for the recognized states and the unrecognized enclaves, leading to “good-neighborly bilateral relations” between them; maintenance of the “existing mechanisms of negotiations,” heavily dominated by Russia; and “adherence to understandings reached earlier,” that is, to the unlawful arrangements forced upon Georgia and Moldova by Russia during the 1990s.
(Interfax, Itar-Tass, January 26, 27; Ekho Moskvy, Kommersant Daily, January 26, 27).