Abkhazia: Deepening Dependence

Abkhazia: Deepening Dependence
# 26 February 2010 19:28 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. In the eighteen months since Russia recognised it as independent from Georgia, small but strategic Abkhazia has become increasingly dependent on its giant patron, APA reports quoting the report of International Crisis Group.
The latest report from the International Crisis Group, gives a snapshot of the current situation, particularly the extent of Russian economic, political and cultural dominance in the Black Sea entity that has long been a favourite winter holiday resort for the Moscow elite.
“Abkhazia’s international status is far from settled”, says Lawrence Scott Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “All except four countries in the world regard it as part of Georgia, and there is no chance of European Union member-state or other major international recognition.”
In return for recognition and aid, Russia obtained highly prized military-strategic assets in Abkhazia. Moscow has not abided by the terms of the 2008 ceasefire agreements to withdraw its military forces to pre-war positions. Most recently it signed with the Abkhaz a new agreement to build a joint military base in the entity. To meet its international commitments, Russia should fully implement the terms of the ceasefire agreements and cut back its military presence to what it was before the war.
Russian recognition of Abkhazia came fifteen years after Tbilisi lost effective control of the territory and some 210,000 ethnic Georgians were forcibly displaced. During those years, the entity took steps to build up its own institutions, economy, and rule of law. Now after Russian recognition, some Abkhazians are not happy with their deepening dependence on their northern neighbour and are concerned with becoming overly reliant economically, politically and culturally. Yet they still view Moscow as their guarantor against what they consider Georgian aggression.
It is in the interests of all sides to agree to disagree about status topics that can only be resolved over a long time. Abkhazia and Georgia should focus instead on creating economic and humanitarian links without legalistic preconditions. That would benefit both, build stability and give momentum to what must be a lengthy reconciliation process. Georgia should stick to its commitment of not seeking the isolation of Abkhazia.
The EU and UN should continue to implement humanitarian, confidence-building, economic integration and democracy building projects in Abkhazia, as well as finalise agreements with Tbilisi and Sukhumi to make quicker decisions on project implementation.
“Tbilisi has developed a new ‘State Strategy’ on engagement with Abkhazia and become more permissive of international involvement in the entity. This is a step forward”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “All sides should focus on projects that avoid the contentious issue of status to build the confidence needed to eventually address issues including the return of roughly 200,000 displaced ethnic Georgians to their homes in Abkhazia”.