Western approval of the UN Security Council’s October 13 resolution criticizing Georgia’s return to the upper Kodori Valley, and the November 7 resignation of Irakli Okruashvili as Georgia’s defense minister, are not thus far proving conducive to the stated goals of those moves. The goals were to defuse tensions over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to facilitate the resumption of negotiations in both cases. Instead, Moscow and the two secessionist leaderships are using the resolution and the resignation to vindicate their own arguments, fan tensions, and deepen the political deadlock.
In consecutive, televised statements on November 17 and 19, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov refused to interpret Okruashvili’s resignation as indicating Georgian peaceful intent. On the contrary, both accused Georgia of stoking military tensions, “acquiring offensive weapons,” and generally bearing full responsibility for the conflicts and their intractability. Of the two statements, Ivanov’s was the more lurid one: It accused Georgia of “repeatedly committing aggression and ethnic cleansing in the twentieth century against its ethnic minorities. These are Tbilisi’s plans. We are deeply concerned by its possible use of force to resolve Georgia’s internal issues.” To that end, Ivanov went on, Georgia “raised [its] military budget five to six times in the last two to three years” (he seemingly ignored the fact that Georgia’s military budget had previously been almost nil) (Russian Television Channel One, November 17, 19).
Moscow’s propaganda campaign continues to misrepresent Georgia as guilty of aggression and ethnic cleansing against Abkhaz and Ossetians repeatedly during the twentieth century and still bent on such acts. This line continues after Okruashvili’s resignation because such accusations are not directed at any particular defense minister, but against the country and its leadership, as an integral element in Russia’s conflict operations. (An earlier line had sought to build a casus belli by accusing Georgia of harboring “international terrorist bases.”) The main goal is to inhibit Western political support for Georgia and prevent Ossetian and Abkhaz reconciliation with Georgians. In this case, Moscow also seems to have managed for a moment to disrupt the work of Georgia’s leadership team.
By the same token, the Western-approved UN resolution seems to have made the resumption of negotiations more difficult, instead of facilitating it. Citing that resolution, Moscow and Sukhumi demand the withdrawal of Georgian police and civil authority from the upper Kodori Valley as a precondition to their return to negotiations. (Tskhinvali raises the same precondition in solidarity with Sukhumi.) The October 2006 resolution asks Georgia in strong terms to comply with the terms of a 1994 Moscow agreement. As had been known all along, Moscow and its protégés interpret that document as banning Georgian police from the upper Kodori Valley. Thus, Western diplomacy has probably unwittingly handed Moscow and Sukhumi an argument for blocking the negotiations that the same Western diplomats were anxious to see resumed.
Meeting on November 20 in Moscow, State Secretary and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin and Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh reaffirmed that precondition. Abkhaz “foreign minister” Sergei Shamba and “security council secretary” Stanislav Akoba similarly cited the UNSC resolution and named the same precondition when receiving a U.S. delegation led by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Matt Bryza in Sukhumi (Interfax, Apsnypress, November 18, 20). There, Bryza also called for the introduction of an international police element under UN aegis to deal with organized criminality in Abkhazia, apart from the Russian “peacekeeping” operation. In addition, Bryza asked the Abkhaz to seriously consider reformatting that operation into a genuine one for peacekeeping in accordance with international standards.
For their part, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali as well as Moscow assert in unison that Russian “peacekeeping” troops will remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia “until the peaceful resolution of these conflicts is achieved” — that is, an indefinite and self-perpetuating presence. They describe Russia as the “guarantor of peace and stability” and of any eventual settlement. That was the coordinated position at their November 16-18 conclave in Moscow (see EDM, November 20) and was reasserted by Lavrov, Sergei Ivanov, Bagapsh, and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoiti in identical terms in various forums and media afterward (Russian Television Channel One, November 17, 19; RIA, Interfax, November 20).
In a follow-up news conference, Kokoiti declared, “South Ossetia will join North Ossetia and become a part of the Russian Federation in the foreseeable future in any case.” Georgian calls to change the peacekeeping and negotiating formats, he insisted, are only disrupting the “peaceful settlement process” (Interfax, November 20). Last month’s UNSC resolution on Abkhazia added its questionable weight to that argument by complimenting Russian “peacekeepers” for “playing a stabilizing role.”