Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 164

Addressing the Georgian parliament yesterday, its chairman Zurab Zhvania said that the presence of Russia’s "peacekeeping" troops in Abkhazia no longer made sense. Zhvania indicated that Georgia would not consent to the renewal of those troops’ mandate when it expires December 31, unless they are ordered to ensure the Georgian refugees’ return to Abkhazia. In a clear appeal for national solidarity, Zvania noted that the opposition (represented by the National-Democratic Party in parliament) takes the same position, which Georgia prepares to assert at next month’s CIS summit. Zhvania, a protege of President Eduard Shevardnadze, was ostensibly responding to an appeal to Shevardnadze and the parliament from the refugees, urging the termination of the Russian peacekeepers’ presence because they had failed to fulfill their mandate. On the previous day in Moscow, foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev urged that the newly-created Presidential Council for Foreign Policy undertake to break the deadlock on the Abkhazia problem as a matter of high priority. Kozyrev alluded to differences which need to be resolved between his Foreign Ministry, which seeks to leave at least a minimum of substance to Georgia’s territorial integrity under international law, and Russia’s Defense Ministry, which underwrote Abkhazia’s secession and is now content with the deadlock because it ensures that outcome. (14)

Russia’s peacekeeping troops are deployed in Abkhazia under a nominal CIS mandate whose extension requires the consent of both Georgia and Abkhazia. Georgia has long demanded that the troops police the Georgian refugees’ return to Abkhazia as per the armistice agreement. The Abkhaz leaders favor the peacekeepers’ continued presence because it effectively protects their secession; but only if repatriation of the refugees is not included in their mandate, as Abkhazia’s would-be president Vladislav Ardzinba wrote in a message to Boris Yeltsin earlier this month. (15) The success or failure of Abkhazia’s secession hinges on the refugee issue because ethnic Georgians made up approximately 45 percent of Abkhazia’s population, and the Abkhaz only 17 percent, prior to the 1992-94 war. Most of Abkhazia’s Georgians (nearly 300,000) were evicted by Abkhaz and Russian troops which operated jointly in that war. The Georgian leadership’s demonstrative embrace of the refugee agenda yesterday is a strong signal in the runup to the CIS summit which will, at Georgia’s insistence, discuss the future of Russia’s peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia.

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