Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 87

Overlapping statements by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on May 4 and by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on May 5 revealed the actual content of the CIS document on Abkhazia, which mandates “additional measures to settle the conflict.” The document and the procedure of its adoption last week caused widespread confusion. Initiated by Georgia and amended by Russia, the document was not discussed at the April 29 CIS summit, despite Tbilisi’s strongly expressed desire for such a discussion. Seven CIS countries signed the document in advance of the summit, so that it now supposedly forms the basis of Russian and “CIS peacekeeping” policies in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

The document envisages the Georgian refugees’ repatriation to the Abkhaz-controlled Gali district in its pre-1993 borders, from the Inguri to the Galidzga rivers. (Following the ethnic cleansing of that district, the Abkhaz authorities split Gali into two districts). The Russian “peacekeeping” troops’ zone of action is to be extended to the entire district in order to support the refugees’ secure repatriation. During the operation, Gali is to be placed under a temporary Georgian-Abkhaz administration under international supervision. The UN Security Council will be asked to approve the inclusion of representatives of CIS countries in the United Nations Mission of Observers in Georgia (UNOMIG). The refugees’ repatriation to Gali is defined as the first stage in the repatriation of Georgians to the whole of Abkhazia, from the Inguri to the Psou rivers. These provisions largely meet Tbilisi’s proposals.

The catches lie in the qualifications introduced by Moscow as a condition for signing the document. The phrasing clearly permits the Russian and Abkhaz sides to interpret the document as “recommendatory,” as Russia’s Foreign Ministry did yesterday. Moreover, the measures’ practical application is subordinated to “the working out of an implementation mechanism by the sides concerned” (Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian) and the “peacekeeping troops'” command. (Radio Tbilisi, May 4; Russian agencies, May 5)

These qualifications would seem to guarantee continuing Abkhaz veto power with Russian support from the background. Meanwhile the Russian troops operate in the conflict zone without a legally valid mandate, it having expired last year. The troops’ presence is being extended de facto every third month, and has just been extended again through July. Moscow argues that any extension of its operation there — including a repatriation of refugees — requires additional troops and funds, neither of which it can afford. Ukraine is willing to send observers but not troops. Even sending observers would (under the CIS document) require Russian approval in the UN Security Council. Western countries seem unwilling to contribute troops to any genuine peacekeeping operation, leaving Tbilisi to grasp at such straws as Bangladesh.

Shevardnadze’s insistence on including the resolution of the conflict on the CIS agenda has some convincing justifications. Surely Tbilisi would prefer to see the issue handled by countries which for their own reasons strongly support the territorial integrity principle. But, ironically, two of the most supportive countries — Ukraine and Moldova — did not sign the CIS document on Abkhazia because they refuse to take part in CIS military activities and do not recognize “CIS peacekeeping” mechanisms. The situation confirms yet again that there is no substitute to a genuine peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia with Western involvement.