by Giorgi Kvelashvili
Despite international criticism, the Kremlin continues its policy of creeping annexation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. On October 2nd, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the Georgian city of Sokhumi on the Black Sea coast to hold talks with “Abkhaz government officials.” The Russian foreign ministry’s official website reported that “the Russian and Abkhaz governments” signed “an agreement on the reciprocal visa-free travel of the citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia.” The website also announced that “the agreement is aimed…at strengthening the legal basis of the Russian-Abkhaz relations and creating favorable conditions to develop and deepen humanitarian exchanges.”
A “visa-free regime” in a territory from which hundreds of thousands of Georgian citizens have been expelled from their homes throughout the 1990s, with indispensable help from the Kremlin, and in which those remaining have been forced to undergo Russian “passportization,” is tantamount to annexation.
This is being done in addition to other, no less powerful, measures aimed at full integration of Abkhazia within the Russian state. For instance, Russia recently signed a deal with “Abkhaz authorities” that would allow them to switch the Georgian telephone code system, operating until now throughout Abkhazia, “to the Russian one”.
Besides “official talks” with the “Abkhaz leadership” – who, by the way, do not only hold Russian passports themselves but are directly or indirectly appointed by the Kremlin or the Russian intelligence agencies – Lavrov also made time for a PR meeting with “professors and students of the Abkhazia State University and representatives of Abkhaz public.” During the meeting, whose minutes the Russian foreign ministry dutifully posted on its website, he tried “to make first assessments of the development of a now already fully independent Abkhazia”.
Lavrov’s major message is that- notwithstanding the fact that Russia has done a righteous job by securing “Abkhazia’s independence” through the deployment of thousands of troops, building military infrastructure and erecting fences with the rest of Georgia – there still remain those, “although in declining numbers after everyone realized the irreversibility of Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia” – who “do not tolerate the reality created by Russia in the aftermath of its aggression against Georgia in August 2008 and long “to reverse history.”
Lavrov draws the major conclusion is that “unfortunately, many things are far from being well.” Lavrov once again made clear Russia’s dream that one day “the wise people of Georgia would bring to power sane leaders” who, would recognize both Georgia’s disintegration and Moscow’s imperial dominance over Tbilisi.
When answering a question about “the necessity for Abkhazia to have wider international recognition,” Lavrov ominously said, “in terms of the lives of ordinary people, the functioning of the economy…[and] the provision of security, there is no need for more recognition in addition to what the Russian Federation has already done; but the reality is that more and more countries, not only Nicaragua and Venezuela, realize the new circumstances that had been established since August 2008”.
When Vladimir Putin unilaterally introduced a visa regime with Georgia in 2001 – the only Commonwealth of Independence States (CIS) nation to fall under this kind of measure – he exponentially exempted Abkhazia and the Tskhinavli region from visa requirements out of “humanitarian considerations.” This was already a major blow to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which Russia at the time still officially respected, at least verbally.
In the spring of 2008, just before the invasion of Georgia, Putin established direct ties with “the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities,” bypassing Tbilisi’s jurisdiction. At the same time, for almost two years Moscow had been trying to amend the biannual UN Security Council resolutions on Georgia with an ill-concealed intention to remove reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity and the definition of Abkhazia as Georgian territory.
The August war itself, which Moscow waged against Tbilisi, among many other strategic objectives, sought to further Russia’s longtime policy aimed at Georgia’s disintegration. The recent introduction of a “visa-free” regime in a region which is occupied by Russian troops and whose officials either directly or indirectly are appointed by Moscow should be seen as another step in the eight-year-old policy of seeking annexation of Abkhazia, incapacitation and isolation of Georgia and, ultimately, imperial domination over the entire Caucasus region.
Nevertheless, Russia realizes that without a leadership in Tbilisi that acknowledges both territorial losses and the Kremlin’s mastership this would be virtually impossible to accomplish.
That is exactly why Lavrov tells his “compatriots” in Sokhumi that “things are far from being well” and longs for a day when “sane leaders” come to power in Georgia and “realism” is embraced by the West.