Thursday, April 11, 2013

Abkhazia: The Long Road to Reconciliation

Source: International Crisis Group

This media release is also available in Russian and Georgian.

More than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the three-sided conflict involving breakaway Abkhazia, Georgia and Russia is far from a solution, so all should concentrate on achievable goals, including intensified dialogue on basic security-related and humanitarian issues.

Abkhazia: The Long Road to Reconciliation, the latest International Crisis Group report, analyses developments after Georgia’s peaceful change of government in 2012 stoked optimism about reducing open hostility with its would-be secessionist entity as well as Russia. Since the 2008 war and Russian recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state, diplomatic relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been cut, and the entity’s financial and military security has become fully dependent on Russia.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • All sides should agree to a joint statement on non-use of force as proposed by the co-chairs – the UN, EU and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe – of the Geneva International Discussions. Delay has largely been caused by political posturing. They should also resume cooperation in the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism and in fact-finding missions when security incidents occur.
  • Georgia should show good-will by suspending its annual efforts to obtain a UN General Assembly resolution on Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs). In exchange, the Abkhaz should commit to a real dialogue on property return and compensation for the IDPs, who continue to be denied the right to return.
  • Maximum flexibility is needed on humanitarian issues. It is urgent for the Abkhaz and Russians to honor their promises to increase freedom of movement for the ethnic Georgians in the Gali district, while Georgia should streamline or remove legal hurdles, so that residents of Abkhazia can, for instance, obtain visas to study abroad or more easily engage in trade.
  • External actors, particularly the EU, should make all efforts to remain engaged in Abkhazia, despite the entity’s increasing international isolation, eviction of a large UN monitoring mission and moves to limit the work of the few NGOs still on the ground.
“With no prospect of widespread recognition anytime soon and its development fully tied to Russia, Abkhazia’s ‘independence project’ faces an uphill battle”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s South Caucasus Project Director. “But enhancing security in the region, especially with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to take place just a few kilometres from Abkhazia and a string of alleged terror plots uncovered in the entity over the last year, should be a natural priority for all sides”.

“While Moscow’s disregard of the EU-mediated 2008 ceasefire that required it to withdraw troops should in no way be acquiesced in, Russia, Georgia and Abkhazia should still take steps to gradually repair ties”, says Europe Program Director Sabine Freizer. “For the immediate future, there should be a focus on small steps, including dialogue and basic security-related and humanitarian issues. Otherwise this no-win, long-term conflict will continue to harm all parties”.