Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 66

The April 2 Moscow summit offered the Russian side a last chance to keep Georgia in the CIS Collective Security Treaty by means of a deal with Tbilisi over Abkhazia. The deal would have entailed Russian military support for repatriating to Abkhazia the Georgian expellees, in order to reverse the ethnic cleansing by Abkhaz and Russian forces in 1993. Moscow passed up the chance just as it had at previous summits. Although Georgia had left the door ajar to such a deal, it upped the ante beyond Moscow’s reach by demanding compensation for the military hardware which Russia unlawfully removed from Georgia after 1991, worth some US$8 billion by Georgian estimates. This demand suggested that Tbilisi had irrevocably decided to quit the Collective Security Treaty, irrespective of Moscow’s position on Abkhazia.

The Russian and Georgian sides merely agreed to yet another in the series of nonbinding and unenforceable documents restating support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, the repatriation of refugees and other unhonored principles and goals. Georgia agreed to prolong the mandate of “CIS”–in reality Russian–“peacekeeping troops” until April 2, 1999, that is, until the date of the summit. That 1,600-strong Russian force had operated in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict theater without a legal mandate since late 1997. The April 2, 1999 decision might be interpreted as legalizing that operation retroactively up to that date, but not thereafter; the decision would seem to mean that the Russian troops’ presence in the area is unlawful as of today, if this document is to be taken more seriously than similar decisions at preceding summits.

The document signed on April 2 includes an agreement “in principle” that either of the parties to the conflict would be entitled to “raise the issue of,” or “call for,” terminating the Russian peacekeeping operation in six months’ time or at any point thereafter. Abkhazia is being “insistently urged to positively resolve” the repatriation issue–semantics which do nothing to lift the five-year old, Russian-abetted Abkhaz veto on the repatriation of the Georgian refugee population.

Absent a Georgian-Abkhaz political agreement, the Russian side reserves the right to “review the advisability” of its “peacekeeping” operation. The Russian side, however, hinted during the discussions that it might agree to a peace-enforcement operation meeting Georgian terms, if Tbilisi agrees to introduce additional Russian troops and gives up the goal of internationalizing the peacekeeping operation which is currently all-Russian.

During the summit, the Russian side renewed its call to all CIS countries to consider ways to support a purely CIS peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia. The proposal seeks not only to enlist contributions in manpower and equipment, but to claim for the CIS the status of a “regional organization” entitled to organizing its own peacekeeping operations under Russian leadership. Only one country–Belarus–responded to the Russian call, and only in terms of providing equipment, not troops (Itar-Tass, RIA, Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 3; Kavkazia Press, Radio Tbilisi, April 5). The documents and the attendant discussions illustrate the absence of the rule of law in intra-CIS relations and the risks inherent in CIS security arrangements. This situation vindicates Georgia’s quest for security arrangements outside the CIS.