Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 154

State Minister (equivalent of prime minister) Niko Lekishvili and a delegation of Georgian cabinet ministers conferred yesterday in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi, with Vladislav Ardzinba and other Abkhaz leaders. The meeting was confined to economic questions, as was agreed upon at last week’s unprecedented talks in Tbilisi between Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze and Ardzinba under Russian mediation. (See Monitor, August 18)

Lekishvili proposed in Sukhumi to "negotiate on economic problems linked with political problems." Ardzinba, however, appeared to prevail in conditioning the negotiations on "separation of economic issues from political ones." Lekishvili had announced beforehand his intention to discuss the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian expellees. The Abkhazians reported afterward that the issue was not discussed. The sides set up working groups for further discussion of economic issues. The unrecognized Abkhaz government’s prime minister, Sergey Bagapsh, announced that he intends to visit Tbilisi soon for negotiations on those issues. (Russian agencies, August 20)

In what may have heralded a significant change of policy, Shevardnadze appeared last week to reconcile himself to Russia’s existing "peacekeeping" operation in Abkhazia and to Moscow’s mediation, hoping in that way to move from Russian-brokered talks to direct negotiations with the Abkhaz leaders. The Georgian president is apparently offering his consent to lifting the largely unimplemented CIS economic sanctions against Abkhazia and to cooperating in the restoration of Abkhazia’s war-ravaged economy, in return for Abkhaz acceptance of the return of Georgian refugees and of federative autonomy. This explains Lekishvili’s effort to link economic with political issues. Ardzinba’s successful insistence on separating the two sets of issues shows that Abkhazia is not prepared to become more flexible at this stage.

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