The engagement issue, by Oksana Antonenko
The international community is keen not to isolate Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but how successful can new policies of engagement be?
Senior Fellow and the Programme Director for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
IISS - The International Institute for Strategic Studies | Caucasus Security Insight
After the August 2008 war, the European Union's successful intervention to achieve a ceasefire agreement reinforced the need for further engagement in order to secure its full implementation. Both the EU and Georgia have adamantly refused to accept Russia's recognition of the declared independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; yet, within the past year both the EU and Georgia have aimed to work in developing effective instruments to deal with the rapid isolation of the two territories.
According to the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, the need for an EU 'engagement without recognition' strategy is premised on the requirement that a 'European footprint' is established which allows for regular contact to be established along the conflict lines. In May 2010, the EU approved a new strategy for the South Caucasus which stressed EU support for Georgia's 'territorial integrity' as well as EU support for Georgia's State Strategy on engagement through cooperation, adopted on 27 January 2010.
The international community largely welcomed Georgia's conciliatory stance as it was seen as a welcome change from its previous overtures such as the 'Law on Occupied Territories' that sought to deter the international community from recognising the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (largely through the restriction of commercial and diplomatic contact with the two regions).
This move away from a policy of 'non-engagement and non-recognition' to a policy of 'engagement without recognition' has been justified by both the EU and Georgia as a means towards achieving a 'human-centric' strategy that deals with people-to-people contacts, socio-economic assistance and basic humanitarian assistance, rejecting the pursuit of a military solution.
The endorsed strategy for engagement was followed in July 2010 by an Action Plan for Engagement which centres around seven instruments the government offers to put into place to achieve the goals of the strategy.
The Georgian state strategy and its subsequent Action Plan have been officially welcomed by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. Neither Catherine Ashton's support for Georgia's 'territorial integrity' nor her statement that the Action Plan should allow for a more 'permissive and enabling environment, including for international organisations and NGOs active in conflict resolution' has received support in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.
In these circumstances, there is much room for discussing the potential pitfalls, key principles and possible synergies rooted within the 'engagement without recognition' strategies. This edition will aim to focus and address the following questions:
- Which are the rationale and key principles behind the new strategies of 'engagement without recognition' towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia? How are these approaches seen from Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia/South Ossetia and Europe?
- What are the key obstacles and potential pitfalls facing the implementation of these new policies?
- What is the expected immediate/medium/long-term impact on the conflict transformation process in the region?
- How could regional and international NGOs contribute to the success of these initiatives?
Oksana Antonenko is a Senior Fellow and the Programme Director for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).