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Abkhazia: Ways Forward - International Crisis Group

Abkhazia: Ways Forward

International Crisis Group

Europe Report N°179
18 January 2007

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This report is also available in Russian.
The executive summary of this report is available in French.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Fourteen years of negotiation, led alternately by the UN and Russia, have done little to resolve the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. There have been some successes on the ground: ceasefire violations are rare, approximately 45,000 internally displaced (IDP) Georgians have returned to homes in the Gali region, the two sides cooperate on operating the Inguri power plant, and a strategic railway through Abkhazia may restart. But the sharp deterioration in Russian-Georgian relations and a Georgian military adventure in the Kodori valley have contributed to a freeze in diplomacy over Abkhazia since mid-2006. In the absence of a new initiative, new violence is a real possibility. Because prospects are bleak for an early comprehensive settlement of the key political issues, in particular final status, the sides and international facilitators should shift their focus in 2007 to building confidence and cooperation in areas where there are realistic opportunities.

Abkhazia insists on recognition of independence and says it is establishing democratic values and rule of law but the international community unanimously considers it part of Georgia. Tbilisi sees inability to regain full control as impeding state-building, national security and economic development. Over 200,000 IDPs from Abkhazia live under harsh conditions in Georgia proper. Years of stalemate have solidified each side’s distorted and negative image of the “other”. The Abkhaz have lived under economic restrictions since 1996 with little opportunity to trade or travel; they continue to fear Georgia’s army and a new war. The entity’s dependence on Russia has grown as its ability to forge links with other states has been constrained.

There was optimism in spring 2006 that extensive discussions on increasing cooperation and resolving disputes could begin: the sides resumed talks within the UN-led Coordinating Council for the first time since January 2001, the Abkhaz presented a “Key to the Future” document, and Georgia issued a “Road Map”. But nothing came of it. After Georgia launched a special forces operation in the Kodori valley in July, the Abkhaz pulled out of all negotiations. Diplomacy is frozen, with few incentives to restart it. Georgia has adopted a new strategy, calling for changes in the formats for negotiations and peacekeeping so as to reduce Russia’s influence in both. Moscow and Sukhumi oppose these changes, and they are not strongly backed by Georgia’s Western partners.

Because neither the local nor the wider political environment is conducive to breakthroughs, this report argues that for at least the next year the only way forward is to emphasise confidence building rather then negotiation of the central political issues. Georgia should take concrete steps such as signing a pledge on the non-resumption of hostilities, lifting economic sanctions and encouraging greater economic development and international engagement in Abkhazia to regain credibility and trust with Abkhaz counterparts. If it wants to be treated as a legitimate dialogue partner, Sukhumi should show more interest in cooperation. The alternative is bleak. If the sides continue to flex their muscles and do not resume talks, there could be renewed hostilities in 2007, especially in and around the Kodori valley and the Gali district.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Georgian Government and Abkhaz De Facto Authorities:

1. Resume negotiations under UN auspices and continue high-level meetings on security matters and law enforcement cooperation in the conflict zone, while fully respecting the 1994 ceasefire and refraining from militant rhetoric or provocative armed actions.

2. Sign an agreement on non-resumption of hostilities and IDP/refugee return based on the December 2005 text and hold a meeting between President Saakashvili and de facto President Bagapsh to endorse it.

3. Deal with the legacy of the 1992-1993 conflict, investigate war crimes as defined by international law, prosecute those responsible and adopt legislation to amnesty those who participated in the conflict but committed no war crimes.

4. Create a working group on education issues to develop a common history textbook in Georgian and Abkhaz, improve conditions for Georgian-language schools in Gali and prepare more Abkhaz-language textbooks, especially in humanities/social science topics.

5. Establish the Black Sea Railway Consortium (with Russian and Armenian participation) to restore the rail link via Abkhazia and agree interim measures to regulate Georgian-Abkhaz transportation, communication and trade.

To the Georgian government:

6. Keep the personnel and weapons in the Kodori valley in line with the 1994 Moscow Agreement, lower the Abkhaz government in exile’s profile there significantly and refrain from holding alternative elections for local government or parliamentary representatives in Abkhazia.
7. Establish a more consistent and coordinated policy emphasising the need for peaceful resolution of the conflict and appoint an experienced lead negotiator who can build trust with Sukhumi.

8. Cease efforts to terminate the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping operation until alternatives acceptable to both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides have been identified.

9. Stop enforcing the economic restrictions on Abkhazia and allow the reopening of airport, railroad, seaport and other communications.

10. Adopt a more active policy on IDPs, including:

(a) agreeing to start the verification exercise by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on returns in the Gali region in the first half of 2007 and producing accurate statistics on the number of IDPs in Georgia;

(b) adopting and implementing the draft National Strategy on IDPs and Action Plan; and

(c) ensuring better representation of IDPs and their interests in governmental bodies, political parties, the media and NGOs.

11. Support international organisations working on projects in Abkhazia and encourage large donors like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Millennium Challenge Georgia Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to do more there.

To Abkhaz De Facto Authorities:

12. Welcome deployment of UN civilian police to help increase local law enforcement capacities.

13. Expand Georgian representation to at least 50 per cent in law enforcement and administration in the Gali region.

14. Support the opening of a human rights office in Gali, directed and staffed by local NGOs but benefiting from the expertise of a UN human rights officer stationed in Gali.

15. Halt privatisation of homes and businesses which compromises IDP and refugee return, and devise a strategy for return to parts of Abkhazia beyond the Gali region.a

To the Russian Government:

16. Work for peaceful resolution of the conflict, including by:

(a) committing at the highest level not to take unilateral measures but instead to continue to work for solutions agreed by the parties and which enjoy wide international support; and

(b) lifting the economic sanctions on Georgia and halting deportation of legal Georgian migrants from Russia.

To the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General and Other Members of the UN, the EU, NATO and Donor Agencies:

17. Increase financial and technical support to projects which aim to build confidence between Georgians and Abkhaz and support economic development and democratisation in Abkhazia.

18. Continue to contribute sufficient funds and personnel to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).

19. Make non-use of force (military or police operations) in Abkhazia a condition for further Georgian integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Tbilisi/Brussels, 18 January 2007 

Source: International Crisis Group - Abkhazia Ways Forward 

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