The leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are anxiously watching developments in Serbia’s separatist region, Kosovo. The sudden interest stems from the UN Security Council’s October 24 decision to start talks about the future status of Kosovo. If the international community recognizes Kosovo’s independence in the near future, then it would create a precedent for recognition of self-proclaimed states.
Not surprisingly, various statements by foreign diplomats regarding the possible independence of Kosovo did not go unnoticed in Tbilisi. So far Georgian officials have not outwardly shown any anxiousness regarding the UN’s changed attitude toward Kosovo, but the topic is hot news in Tbilisi and Moscow, as well as Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.
Georgian and Russian media are already speculating on possible developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the event of UN recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The headline “Awaiting Kosovo Precedent” introduced an article in 24 Saati that mentioned two resolutions in support of independence for Kosovo that several American congressmen submitted to the House of Representatives in December 2004 and January 2005.
Some Russian policymakers are already arguing that independence of Kosovo will allow Moscow to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But while on a formal visit in the United States this month Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli warned that if Moscow uses a “Kosovo precedent” against Georgia it might create problems for Russia.
Georgian analysts argue that the ethnic and political realities in Kosovo and Georgia’s breakaway regions are hardly comparable. They, however, worriedly note that recognition of Kosovo’s independence would create a politically unpleasant precedent for Georgia, and would serve as a rationale for the Ossetian and Abkhaz separatists to claim independence. To what extent international community would equate the situation in Kosovo and the Georgian breakaway regions remains to be seen.
Tbilisi’s increasing concerns over the changing international approaches to ethnic conflicts are fully understandable. The government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is rushing to use its strategic partnership with the United States and good relations with the Bush administration to resolve Georgia’s most painful problem – its compromised territorial integrity. But much will depend on Tbilisi’s ability to achieve a favorable resolution to these conflicts after the United States and the European Union become involved in the highly complicated peace talks.
Tbilisi’s initiative to diversify the roster of participants in the negotiation process on Abkhazia and South Ossetia irritates, and perhaps intimidates, elements in both Moscow and the pro-Moscow separatist regimes, prompting them to make bold statements. On October 15, the pro-Kremlin analyst Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of Politicheski Klass magazine, proposed incorporating Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Russia either by renting or redeeming these regions from Georgia.
At a November 10 news conference Sergei Bagapsh, the self-styled president of Abkhazia, turned down any changes in the current composition of the peacekeeping troops and the existing negotiating format. “It is impossible for third countries to join the negotiating process….”there is a working system that has been in place for 12 post-war years, and Abkhazia will not turn away from it,” he said. “We are striving for independence and we’ll achieve it,” Bagapsh stressed.
Symptomatically, in anticipation of a UN decision on Kosovo the Abkhaz separatists are stepping up measures aimed at acquiring the trappings of statehood. By the end of November the Abkhaz government plans to issue internal Abkhaz passports. According to Bagapsh, recipients of the passports will be “those who think of themselves as Abkhaz citizens” but not those holding Georgian passports. The Abkhaz authorities overlooked the fact that recipients of the Abkhaz passports can bear Russian passports simultaneously. On November 11, the Georgia Foreign Ministry accused Abkhaz separatists of legalizing the results of ethnic cleansing by the declared plan to banish anyone who refuses to acquire Abkhaz citizenship from Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, the Georgian government has renamed the Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation as the Ministry for Accommodation and Georgians Living Abroad. The elimination of the word “Refugees” from the ministry’s title is likely linked with possible changes in the policies towards Abkhazia that have yet to be voiced.
Last year Saakashvili’s government made a conciliatory step by abolishing the parliamentary faction reserved for the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile. But militants continue to neutralize any conciliatory steps. Zurab Samushia, chief of the disbanded Georgian “White Legion” guerrilla squad, warned of the possibility of resumed hostilities inside Abkhazia after the murder of an ethnic Georgian who reportedly refused to serve in the Abkhaz army (See EDM, November 8).
Some analysts, including several Western observers, argue that a large-scale Georgian guerrilla war in Abkhazia is possible in the near future. Saakashvili’s government, which initially had curbed Georgian guerrilla groups in Abkhazia, might revive them in the face of Abkhazia’s intransigent policy and use guerrillas as leverage against the separatists should the region edge further from Georgia.
(Resonansi, November 4, 5; Kavkas Press, November 7, 16; Lenta.ru November 8; Georgian Times, November 10-17; 24 Saati, November 16; Regnum.ru, August 17, October 15, November 2, 3, 16; Vremya novostei, November 16)