Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his team are continuing to send varied
signals about their plans for Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. The recent
initiative by Georgian and Abkhaz officials to advance confidence-building measures
by signing an agreement about non-resumption of hostilities (see EDM, August 17) has
stalled after one month. Tbilisi has already demonstrated that the officially
declared goal of a peaceful solution to the problem will not stand in the way of
On September 11, Saakashvili and his hawkish Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili
aired tough statements on Abkhazia when addressing the first forum of the
pro-governmental youth organization. Modeled after the Russian pro-Putin youth
movement “Nashi,” the Georgian “Young Patriots” movement numbers about 11,000
teenagers from all over Georgia who spent their summer in state-sponsored camps in
different parts of the country. Therefore, the bellicose statements by Saakashvili
and Okruashvili were well matched with the audience. The proceedings of the
“Patriots are Coming” meeting were widely televised throughout the country.
Georgia’s reunification was the forum’s main focus, and Saakashvili emotionally
promised to unite Georgia “soon” within the borders that existed before the wars
with secessionist South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Addressing the “cynics and pessimists”
who urge the Georgian government to apologize to the Abkhazians, Saakashvili
declared that Georgia has nothing to apologize for. “Where is the truth? We are on
the side of truth and not on the side of capitulators,” he said. The president
continued, “We will unite Georgia through peaceful means.” However, Saakashvili’s
statement was completely overshadowed by Okruashvili, who stunned listeners when he
revealed that that he had just returned from a clandestine visit to Abkhazia.
“I was in Abkhazia several days ago, together with several soldiers. I stayed there
for several days. I was sleeping in the forest there. And I vowed, while being
there, that none of us will walk on our territory as partisans any more.” He said
the time when Georgia would regain Abkhazia is near. Okruashvili did not specify
where exactly in Abkhazia he was, or what exactly was the purpose of this covert
visit. The official website of the Georgian Defense Ministry confirmed Okruashvili’s
statement, adding that Okruashvili had been accompanied only by his security guard.
The decision to go to Abkhazia served a concrete purpose, according to the website.
Georgian analysts and officials are still guessing about the real reasons for
Okruashvili’s Abkhaz adventure. Giorgi Khaindrava, Georgian state minister for
conflict resolutions, could not provide any explanation. While the Georgian media
typically follow any move of Okruashvili’s rather closely, it gave scant coverage to
the Abkhazia trip.
Some Georgian analysts assess Okruashvili’s move as politically senseless bravado.
“Okruashvili’s statement at the youth forum was pure rhetoric, because it is well
known that Georgia has no resources to fight Abkhazia,” said analyst Paata
Zakareishvili. Other analysts argue that Okruashvili’s foray into Abkhazia was meant
to gauge the vigilance of the Abkhaz forces (mod.gov.ge, TV Channel 1, September 11;
Novye izvestiya, Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 13)
Abkhaz separatists lost little time in responding to the moves from Tbilisi. The
Georgian-Abkhaz talks scheduled for September 15 in Sukhumi have been postponed
(Kavkasia Press, September 12). The separatists have mobilized up to 3,000
reservists and regular forces and dispatched additional troops to the provisional
Georgian-Abkhaz border (Resonance, September 13). Sergei Shamba, Abkhaz foreign
minister, spoke of “sad” historical precedents of politicians whipping up young
people’s emotions “stirring them up and taking advantage of revanchist moods.”
Commenting on Saakashvili’s refusal to apologize for the Georgian government’s role
in the outbreak of hostilities in Abkhazia in 1992, Shamba said, “There will not be
any progress in Georgian-Abkhaz relations until people willing to apologize to the
Abkhaz people come to power in Georgia” (Imedi TV, Interpress news,
According to the Abkhaz leaders, Okruashvili, if he actually entered Abkhazia, could
only safely visit either Gali (a predominantly Georgia-populated Abkhaz district) or
the upper section of Kodori valley (the sole Georgia-controlled part of Abkhazia).
Abkhaz vice-president Raul Khajimba said that Okruashvili’s visit to Abkhazia is
evidence of the close connections between Georgian official bodies and Georgian
guerrillas that carry out acts of sabotage and terrorism in Abkhazia. Khajimba
charged that Okruashvili’s excursion violated Tbilisi’s obligations adopted as part
of the negotiating process. Abkhaz security council secretary Stanislav Lakoba added
that Okruashvili’s move shows Tbilisi’s preference for military action against
Abkhazia (Regnum, Apsnypress, Interfax, September 12).
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Saakashvili met in
New York on September 13. The two officials discussed efforts to settle the frozen
ethnic conflicts in Georgia and the role of the United States in this process. That
same day the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern that the intensive
arming of Georgia by some NATO member states could encourage Tbilisi to use military
force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi has not tried to hide this
armament process and responded to the Russian accusations calmly. Okruashvili
confirmed at a news conference on September 14 that the Czech government has donated
a “certain number of ammunition and armament” to Georgia (Kavkasia Press, Civil
Georgia, TV Rustavi-2, September 13-14).
Apparently Tbilisi plans to bolster its military potential alongside peace
initiatives towards Abkhazia. Sukhumi is doing the same, but the Abkhaz separatists
are stockpiling arms thanks to Russia.