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Irakli Khintba: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia is at the forefront of the struggle to secure sovereignty"

Andrei Babitsky / Ekho Kavkaza

PRAGUE --- And now our traditional Friday program "Guest of the Week." Today our guest is a man whose voice and expert opinion you have heard on our program more than once before: Abkhaz politologist Irakli Khintba. Today, however, he appears in a new role: Irakli recently was appointed deputy foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia. Irakli Khintba told our editor Andrei Babitsky what that new appointment means for him.

Babitsky: Tell me, Irakli, was this change of roles a significant intellectual development for you? After all, a political analyst's view of what is happening presupposes a certain detachment, while an official is a direct participant in these events, and very often the moving force [behind them]. Didn't you experience a degree of inner discomfort when you had to make the decision? 

Irakli Khintba: I would not say it was an intellectual event for me. Rather, it was an event that has changed my way of life. Today I have a clearly defined routine, and a great deal of work. But it is the sort of work which, in principle, I always wanted to do. If we talk about my views, my attitude to what is happening in the country, my approach to certain issues, they have not changed. I always saw myself to a minimal extent detached from what's happening in our country, and from the opinion shared by the majority of Abkhazia's population. And the authorities, as you know, reflect the majority opinion. For that reason, I now try to make effective use of the skills, knowledge and experience that I acquired as a political scientist in order to further the foreign policy objectives of the Republic of Abkhazia, and I hope to continue to do so.

Babitsky: We will return to foreign policy later on. But first I would like to ask how far your career plans extend. Do you see yourself remaining part of the government for a long time and being promoted to a more senior position?

Irakli Khintba: That will depend on my performance in my current position, which is quite a senior one.

Andrei Babitsky: I'm talking now not about your performance and not about how effective your work is, but about your personal ambitions.

Irakli Khintba: Ambitions for me are a result, or more precisely a consequence of concrete results. For example, if I achieve results in what I am doing now, that gives me an opportunity to think about my future plans. Today, this position is a very responsible one for me. I understand that I must dedicate myself and all my strength to what I am doing. The most important thing is that I must try to get used to and adjust to this enormous responsibility. As for what comes next -- we'll see. Let's see how the work of our ministry, and my personal contribution, will develop.

Babitsky: That is, if I understand correctly, to summarize briefly, you have entered this management system, and unless there are serious setbacks, this is the start of a long path that could last for years, that you have pegged your life to?  

Irakli Khintba: I have always tried at least to serve the interests of my country. I think that in my new position I will be in a stronger position to do this. That is why I have embarked on this job with such enthusiasm.

Babitsky: Irakli, in your view, are [Abkhazia's] foreign policy priorities changing? And can we say that the problems which now confront Abkhazia are essentially, fundamentally different from those the country faced two years ago, one year ago, or six months ago?

Irakli Khintba: In principle, foreign policy priorities have not changed. They are achieving broad international recognition of Abkhazia; strengthening strategic relations with Russia; and safeguarding the security, sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Abkhazia. And if we're talking about the third priority, then of course, this includes issues related to regulating our relations with Georgia. Apart from that, this work to expand the number of countries that recognize Abkhazia's independence requires a huge concentration of time and effort and a creative approach. This is part of what we do, and I think it will definitely yield results.

Babitsky: Among the priorities you listed, I did not find, shall we say, the need for contacts with Europe, with democratic societies. Even though the concept of multiculturalism, the idea that Abkhazia should be equally active in different directions, has long become a part of political discourse in Abkhazia.

Irakli Khintba: I disagree, because achieving broad international recognition certainly includes work with Europe and with the West as a whole. In Abkhazia we are guided by the principle of openness, we are ready to communicate and establish contacts with European institutions. However, we have to take into account the complexity of the foreign policy context, the unresolved conflict with Georgia, and other threats and challenges. For that reason, we have to be cautious and prudent in our interaction with the outside world. We receive and meet with people whose political position is often diametrically opposed to ours. But we still maintain contact with them, because we understand that the only way to achieve anything is through contacts and diplomatic give-and-take. The profession of diplomacy in Abkhazia today is no less complex and responsible than serving in the military. The Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs today is at the forefront of the struggle to preserve Abkhazia's sovereignty, security, and independence. That is why we continue to participate in the Geneva talks and consider that format important and essential for the sides in the region to exchange information, and to make the Abkhaz position known at the international level.

Babitsky: You said that priorities include establishing good neighbourly relations with Georgia and resolving the conflict with Georgia. It seems to me that both sides have adopted a very tough position and there are no semi-tones. One can say that nonetheless some intermediate steps and mechanisms will be proposed in order to normalize relations at least in some areas.

Irakli Khintba: This largely depends on political will of the parties. The Georgian side today has absolutely no intention of engaging with the Abkhaz side as a party to the conflict, it is not ready to do so because, as you know, Georgia's official position is not to recognize the Abkhaz leadership as a subject of the negotiation process. So all the complaints by the Georgian side to the effect that the Abkhazians are not ready for something, they don't want it, are not without foundation because today there are issues on which we don't want to conduct negotiations with Georgia. But those accusations are to a large extent unfounded. Official Tbilisi does not intend and does not want to consider us as a party to the negotiations. And we cannot and will not engage with Georgia in any other format.

Babitsky: One last question. As I understand it, there are certain tensions in Abkhazia's relations with Russia, problems are emerging.  And Sukhumi always tries to find a way to gloss over the contradictions. Is this in your view the right approach, or is it worth taking an independent and adamant stance on certain issues?

Irakli Khintba: In general I would describe our current relations with the Russian Federation as more or less between equals, given the asymmetry of the situation and the discrepancy between Russia's influence in the world and that of Abkhazia. There are certain objective things. But the problems that arise and may arise in our relations can be resolved in due course. This requires painstaking work on the part of officials, an interest in ensuring that these issues are resolved, and, of course, a public which expresses its fears and apprehensions (this is also a factor that greatly helps, and we should take it into account). But again, those problems that arise can be resolved quietly in a businesslike way. And that is how Abkhaz diplomacy works.

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.

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