Intolerable on a number of counts, yet long tolerated nevertheless, Russia’s manipulation of the Abkhazia problem threatens not only the Georgian state. It increasingly impinges on Western interests in the Caspian-Caucasus region and violates norms and pacts that underlie the post-1991 international order.
In Abkhazia, Moscow exercises de facto those “special peacekeeping powers in the post-Soviet space”–a role that Russia had in vain sought to obtain de jure from international organizations during the 1990s. Having itself organized the military intervention that resulted in Abkhazia’s secession, Russia became the military peacekeeper and a political mediator between Abkhazia and Georgia. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia continues vetoing Western and Georgian proposals on Abkhazia’s political status. While those proposals are based on internationally accepted principles of federalism, Moscow insists on creating an unprecedented confederal structure that would permanently partition Georgia, retain Russian troops in Abkhazia, cast Moscow as arbiter between the two sides, and serve as a precedent in other areas where Russia aims to regain dominance. Russia’s vetoes aim not only to perpetuate the deadlock in Abkhazia, but to use that deadlock for pressuring Georgia into changing its Western orientation.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) currently faces Russian defiance in Abkhazia over the Gudauta military base. Under OSCE decisions, approved in 1999 by all member countries including Russia, Gudauta was to have been closed down by July 1, 2001 at the latest. Moscow, however, remains entrenched at Gudauta and insists on retaining it with or without Georgian and international approval.
Russia’s military hold over Abkhazia facilitates violation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Some of the treaty-limited weaponry, which Russia was obligated to repatriate from Gudauta, remains there. Moreover, earlier this month, Russia’s military supplied the client Abkhaz forces with armored vehicles, combat helicopters and artillery, some of which are restricted by the CFE treaty.
Most recently, the Abkhaz and Chechen problems are tending to merge into a potentially explosive mix. Some Chechen fighters have emerged, or been dumped, along the Georgian-Abkhaz demarcation line to create the appearance of heavy fighting and chaos. This development can only favor Moscow’s goal of cementing its military presence in Abkhazia and Georgia as a whole under “antiterrorism” pretenses.
Georgia is the linchpin country in all Western projects for the transit of Caspian oil and gas and the Europe-Central Asia transport corridor. Georgia’ s Black Sea coast is a crucial transit crossroads, which may however turn into a bottleneck or chokepoint, unless the Abkhazia problem finds a solution compatible with Georgian and Western interests. At present, the Georgian-controlled seaboard forms only a narrow window to the west, squeezed between Russian-controlled Abkhazia to the north and Russian-influenced Ajaria, with its Russian military bases, to the south. This situation poses special security problems with manyfold international implications, which the United States and Turkey have begun addressing.
The set of Western responses must include internationalization of the peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia. On October 11, a resolution of the Georgian parliament called for the Russian “peacekeepers'” withdrawal within three months. Although the resolution does not have legal force, it nevertheless strengthens President Eduard Shevardnadze’s hand in negotiating with Moscow and in enlisting international support for the introduction of a multilateral peacekeeping contingent, one that would not exclude Russia, but would necessarily include Western elements (Russian and international agencies, October 20-23).
The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at email@example.com, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions