The Russian Duma’s December 6 resolutions, calling for recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s secession from Georgia and their potential incorporation into Russia, are primarily geared to short-term tactical goals of Russian policy. These goals include:
a) provoking Georgia into another spiral of bilateral confrontation that could partly cloud the fact of Russia’s unilateral aggression;
b) emboldening the Sukhumi and Tskhinvali authorities to reject Georgian and international overtures, thereby maximizing those authorities’ dependence on Moscow while deepening the gulf between them and Tbilisi; and
c) supplying the Kremlin with a political argument to demand the application of a Kosovo “model” to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if Western states call for recognition of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia early in 2007 as anticipated.
On the strategic level, however, the Kremlin has inflicted a defeat on itself by initiating the Duma resolutions. From this point on, no Western government or international organization can in good faith accept — let alone ask Georgia to accept — “negotiating processes” controlled by Russia as “mediator,” “facilitator,” and “peacekeeper.” Moscow has now abandoned the last, thinnest pretense of playing honest broker in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts.
Moscow has now also demolished its own argument that these two conflicts are internal civil conflicts within Georgia. The Duma’s resolutions reflect the evolution of Russia’s policy from support of armed secession to open encouragement of territorial annexations; from orchestrating local ethnic “separatism” to embarking on Greater-Russia irredentism and unilateral changes of borders by force. With Moscow endorsing such goals, Russian “peacekeeping” troops can only be characterized as occupation troops involved in the seizure of territories from another country.
Furthermore, the resolutions undermine Russia’s claim that recognition of Kosovo’s independence would provide the “precedent” or “model” for settling the post-Soviet conflicts. The international proposals regarding Kosovo’s status explicitly rule out the latter’s incorporation in any form into any existing state. However, the Duma’s resolutions explicitly open the door for attaching Abkhazia and South Ossetia in one form or another to the Russian Federation — a goal implicit in Moscow’s operational policies and recent official statements.
The Duma’s resolutions call on the Russian government to recognize the aspirations for independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to take into consideration their desire to form, in the case of Abkhazia, an “associated relationship” with the Russian Federation, and to join the latter in the case of South Ossetia. It also calls on the international community to take those wishes into account. The two documents are pegged to last month’s appeal from a “people’s assembly” in Sukhumi and referendum in parts of South Ossetia, which declared those goals. The Duma passed the two resolutions by 423 and 418 votes in favor, respectively, with zero opposed. An all-party group of deputies, half of them from the party of power, United Russia, drafted the documents. Thus, the Kremlin signaled that it had put its weight behind this move.
On the same day, a mass rally in Sukhumi called for Russian and international recognition of the “sovereignty” of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria (the latter held a “presidential” election on December 10 to reelect Igor Smirnov to another term of office). In his speech to the rally, Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh ruled out the idea of Abkhazia and Georgia existing within the borders of a single country. And, on the following day, Bagapsh and other leaders confirmed to a French-led visiting group of Western diplomats that Sukhumi would not return to negotiations with Tbilisi, unless Georgian “troops” [police] and civil authorities are removed from the upper Kodori valley — a precondition known to be unacceptable to Georgia. Moreover, Sukhumi would not hold talks with foreign diplomats who visit upper Kodori. “Abkhazia reserves to itself the right to undertake measures at any time to restore its jurisdiction in its territory in upper Kodori,” Bagapsh warned (Apsnypress, Regnum, October 8).
In South Ossetia, however, the Tbilisi-backed authorities emanated by the November 12 election and referendum have formed an administration in Georgian-controlled and grey-area villages (see EDM, November 13, 15). The parallel de facto president, Dmitry Sanakoyev, has appointed an executive authority of eight officials (four Ossetians and four of Georgian or mixed Georgian-Ossetian ethnicity). In a December 8 statement, the parallel authorities asked to be included in the negotiations toward a political settlement; appealed to Russia to take into consideration the will of many Ossetians who voted in that referendum for autonomous republic-status within Georgia; and asked the Georgian government to begin negotiations toward such a status.
(Interfax, Messenger, Civil Georgia, Apsnypress, December 7-10)