Engagement without Recognition: A New Strategy toward Abkhazia and Eurasia’s Unrecognized States, by Alexander Cooley and Lincoln A. Mitchell

The Washington Quarterly

October 2010 - Volume 33, Number 4

Alexander Cooley is an associate professor of political science at Barnard College and Columbia University’s Harriman Institute and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Lincoln Mitchell is an associate of the Harriman Institute and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 had repercussions well beyond the South Caucasus. The war was the culmination of Western tensions with Russia over its influence in the post—Soviet space, while the fallout exposed divisions within the transatlantic community over how aggressively to confront Moscow after its invasion of undisputed Georgian territory and its permanent stationing of troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The conflict also called into question Georgia’s relationship with the United States, as well as U.S. credibility as a regional security partner in light of Washington’s apparent inability either to restrain Tbilisi from launching an attack against Tskhinvali in August 2008 or to help its ally once the war began. Since the war, both the United States and Europe have provided significant financial support to help rebuild Georgia and have denounced the continued presence of Russian forces in the breakaway territories. The transatlantic community, however, has failed to develop a forward-looking strategy toward those territories.

The West’s adamant refusal to accept Russia’s recognition of the declared independence of these two territories in August 2008 is legally correct, but just pledging enduring support for Georgia’s territorial integrity is impractical and somewhat meaningless now that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are even further out of Georgian sovereignty than they were before the war. These territories almost certainly are lost to Georgia for the short and medium terms--possibly for a period of decades--and Russian influence has substantially increased in both regions. Russia has formally recognized their independence, and perhaps ironically, the territories have gone from enjoying de facto independence as unrecognized states and parties to frozen conflicts, before August 2008, to becoming almost de facto parts of the Russian Federation in their new status as ‘‘independent states.’’

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Source: The Washington Quarterly

Note: AW does not necessarily agree with all the views expressed or the use of such terms as 'ethnic cleansing' or the choice of the Georgian version of such toponyms as 'Sukhumi' (for Sukhum) and 'Ochamchire' (for Ochamchira).




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