The de facto leaders of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria met in Sukhumi on June 12-14. The guest delegations reached Sukhumi via Russia, thus nullifying any deniability of Russia’s sponsorship of this exercise. The three leaderships had agreed in December 2005 in Moscow to hold the Sukhumi meeting with a view to creating a quasi-alliance among the three territories.
The “presidents” — Sergei Bagapsh, Eduard Kokoiti, and Igor Smirnov — with their respective “ministers of foreign affairs” announced that they would discuss “aspects of security in the Black Sea-Caucasus region.” They reaffirmed their full support for Russia’s policies in that region, and Smirnov aired their common goal to “counteract pressure from certain former Soviet republics, European countries, the United States, and NATO. An urgent need has arisen for us to coordinate” (Ekho Moskvy radio citing yuga.ru, June 14).
In a joint declaration on peacekeeping, the three leaders call for retention of the existing Russian operations until the full and final resolution of the conflicts. Moreover, the document asks Russia to turn its peacekeeping operations into operations to guarantee the eventual political settlements, once these are achieved. The declaration rules out any change or alternative to these Russian operations, now or in the future. However, in the event that Russian troops withdraw from one conflict zone or another, an Abkhaz-South Ossetian-Transnistrian joint peacekeeping force will be set up.
The document goes on to say that this force can come to the assistance of any of the three parties if necessary. This latter proviso seems to imply that the “joint force” would not be jointly based, but would consist of units based each on its territory and earmarked on paper for joint operations in some contingencies. Possibly, the “joint” force might hold an annual common exercise in one of the three territories.
This design is not entirely unprecedented. In June 2004, groups of armed “volunteers” from Transnistria, Abkhazia, and Russia’s Kuban — in all, more than 1,000 paramilitary fighters — streamed into South Ossetia via Russia, ready for action against Georgia. The “volunteers” conducted exercises with Ossetian forces using combat hardware made available to them by the Russian military. The operation was not a covert one: on the contrary, all its phases from the call for volunteers to the assembly in Tskhinvali and the field exercises were amply televised by Russian state channels to intimidate Georgia and Moldova and to impress the Russian public. The United States, the European Union, and the OSCE (with its field presence there) failed to react in any way on that occasion.
The three leaders adopted in Sukhumi a joint declaration on common principles and future cooperation. Along with gratitude for Russia’s support, the document regretfully notes, “Negotiations are not producing the expected results because of Georgia’s and Moldova’s unwillingness to acknowledge the existing realities and because the international community does not wish to assess Moldova’s and Georgia’s actions as they deserve.”
In view of this stalemate, the three territories shall create a “Community for Democracy and Rights of Peoples.” The goals are to seek international recognition of their secession and to promote the “national and territorial identity of their peoples” and self-determination of these territories. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria are to take preparatory steps before formalizing this “Community.” Its title seems to parody the “Community of Democratic Choice” launched by Georgia and Ukraine last year.
The concepts of “territorial identity” and “territorial self-determination” seek to provide a substitute for national self-determination, which is inapplicable to these cases due to demographic complexity and ethnic cleansing (among other reasons). The declaration calls for ruling out any “restrictive interpretations or selective application” of the self-determination principle. In sum, the concept of self-determination is what Moscow, Sukhumi, Tskhinvali, and Tiraspol declare it to be.
(Interfax, Apsnypress, Regnum, NTV Mir, June 12-14)