Abkhazia’s Independence: What Will Moscow Say? by Aleksander B. Krylov
On October 18, 2006 the People’s Assembly of the Republic of Abkhazia adopted a special decree that contained an appeal to the President of the Russian Federation and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to recognise independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and establish associated relationships between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia. The document adopted by Abkhazia’s parliament contained the historical substantiation to base such a recognition upon and indicated that on October 3, 1999 a national referendum was held in Abkhazia where 97,7% of Abkhazia’s citizens voted for the establishment of a sovereign democratic rule-of-law state.
Based on the results of the referendum, on October 12, 1999 the document titled “The Act on the state independence of the Republic of Abkhazia was adopted. It emphasised the formation in the Republic of Abkhazia of the following democratic institutes: a developed citizen’s society, free independent mass media, the legal opposition and an efficient legal system. The entire 13-year after-war period proved the viability of the independent Abkhazian state.
The time came to acknowledge and legalise the sovereignty of Abkhazia as an equal member of the global community in accordance with the UN Chapter.
The document adopted by the People’s Assembly of the Republic of Abkhazia made it clear why the appeal for its recognition was addressed exactly to the Russian Federation. That was vindicated by “the exceptional role Russia had played in the destinies of the Abkhazian nation and its statehood, fraternal ties and close relationship between the people of Abkhazia’s and Russia’s peoples as well as the determination of the absolute majority of Abkhazia’s population to have their fate tied up to Russia, which was confirmed by the fact that more than 90% of Abkhazians had adopted the citizenship of the Russian Federation.
The response of Georgia’s officialdom was unusually lax this time. About a fortnight before it or so it would have gladly grabbed such an information pretext to launch a propaganda campaign against Russia, discharging upon it “masses of feces”, an expression Georgia’s Defence Minister I. Okruashvili is so fond of. This time the office of Georgia’s parliamentary speaker went no farther than issue a statement to the effect that the genuine Georgia’s reaction would only be expressed should the Russian Federation authorities begin officially look into Abkhazia’s parliamentary address as Georgia’s authorities were confident that that would not happen.
Nino Burdjanadze’s remark about that expressed her belief that in the eventuality of Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia, it would only facilitate Georgia’s task of substantiating its stance at the international diplomatic level. In the opinion of Konstantin Gabashvili, head of Georgia’s parliamentary Commission of Foreign Relations “by recognising Abkhazia’s independence the Russian Federation would discredit itself before the whole world”. He expressed the hope that the Russian Federation’s leadership “would not make such a step”.
The reasons for Georgia’s “reticence” are quite evident. The economic sanctions Russia imposed on Georgia failed to produce a rigorous in the West so expected in Tbilisi. Moreover, the recent UN Security Council resolution on the Abkhazian problem strongly recommended that Georgia’s leadership refrain from the use of force and solve existing problems by means of negotiations. The resolution unequivocally states that what is expedient is a rapid withdrawal of Georgian troops from Kodorskoye Gorge. A number of statements by top NATO officials followed the resolution, which were very painful to the Saakashvili team, suggesting as they did to the inadmissibility of Georgia into NATO in the near future.
Another bad news for the Georgian leadership was “the treason” of their GUAM allies. The latest parliamentary assembly of this bloc in Kishinev October 15, 2006 declined that proposal of Nino Burdjanadze to discuss and censure the Russian Federation’s activities in relation to Georgia. Instead, Marian Lupu, Speaker of Moldovan parliament urged his Georgian colleagues to tackle down-to-earth problems including issues of preparation for the winter as well as the situation in the power sector and economy at large. Deputy Speaker of Ukraine’s Supreme Rada (Council) Adam Martynyuk and Azerbaijani Speaker Oktai Asadov, they both stressed that what most important was to focus on the development of trade and economic ties. That was a blow, and an unexpected one at that, a wet blanket on the ardent Georgian fighters for “the global democracy”: what they had to agree to was a promise that the members of this hastily knocked-together bloc would discuss “Moscow’s conduct” at the November GUAM session in Georgia.
“Abkhazia has long been a well-established independent state,” – Vice Speaker of the Russian State Duma Sergei Baburin says. – “It certainly is time for Russia to establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Abkhazia as well as – based on the results of the referendum in South Ossetia - to look into the issues of unification of the dismembered Ossetian nation into a single republic.”
At the same time following the appeal of Abkhazia’s parliament to Russian authorities a number of State Duma MPs hurried to warn against “hasty moves”, saying that Russia could recognise Abkhazia’s independence “at the most favourable moment.”
Such reservations may be an attempt to conceal the presumption of the idea that the leadership of the Russian Federation would not venture to make an independent political and legal move that would have the world’s resonance, not daring to stand up as the initiator of the legal recognition of the self-proclaimed states (even though in this case we are dealing with the territory of the former USSR, the Russian Federation being its legal successor).
How well grounded can such a presumption be?
It is clear to all that it’s all about Kosovo. Regardless of Belgrade’s flat refusal to give its consent to the separation of Kosovo, politicians in Washington and other Western capitals keep on repeating that “the independence of that territory is almost inevitable.” This is another shameless rape of the existing international law in the presence of the UN Security Council Resolution No.1244 of June 10. 1999 that is recognised by the United Nations, the G8 and the international Contact group as a document providing key guidelines for the Kosovo settlement and which denies Kosovo’s right to separate from Serbia.
In their attempts to lobby Kosovo’s independence the United States and the EU refuse to realise that this could be a legal precedent, which would have to do with the unrecognised states on the post-Soviet territory. In turn, the RF Foreign Ministry has repeatedly emphasised that recognition of Kosovo’s independence would exactly have a nature of a precedence nature (enabling legal recognition of other unrecognised states).
The Republic of Abkhazia, the Republic of South Ossetia , the Transdniester Moldavian Republic, and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have existed for quite some time. They are objective reality being an important component of the regional balance of forces, without which it would be impossible to work out a result-bearing approach to solving the region’s problems. All these states feature such attributes of independent statehood as their constitutions, governments, armed forces, state security agencies, customs and frontier services. Despite their legally unrecognised state they show much greater efficiency in solving social and economic problems than the “metropolises” they left.
From the viewpoint of maintaining their democratic institutes, in many respects the unrecognised republics also look better. No matter what their hardships and mishaps a change of their authorities by way of holding general elections on an alternative basis have taken place tin Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Yesterday’s opposition came to power in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There were no precedents of the kind in either Azerbaijan or Georgia.
However, the issue of what can be (or cannot be) a precedent for what, is more complicated than meets the eye.
“Kosovo’s problem can on no account be likened to the problem territories of the post-Soviet space,”- writes Dmitry Sedov in his article “Unprecedented Kosovo Precedent, or the Ears of a Dead Donkey.” Kosovo Albanians resorted to the harshest methods imaginable to drive away 250,000 Serbs from their historical motherland. They vrutally profane the region’s Christian treasures, destroying churches and murdering priests. The main Orthodox Cathedral in Pristina has been turned into a stinking public loo. Violations of human rights of Serbs and other nationalities alike…Any comparisons of Kosovo to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and all the more so – to the Transdniester republic are simply degrading and legally improper. Irrespective of many problems these republics are facing their political process is on the move; besides, as territorial and political formations they are immeasurably higher than Kosovo. More than that, they are much more civilised than the states that are currently encroaching upon their independence. Our issue should be solved without looking back at Pristina, and in view of the current international situation, such a solution is inevitable. (Bold-typed by me, A.K.)
Slowly but firmly this stance is gaining momentum thanks to more and more new supporters. Corresponding legal argumentation is going on. Natalia Narochnitzkaya, Deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for International Affairs in her article “De-Freezing the Status of “the Unrecognised”, or Can the Transdnieter Republic Serve as a Precedent for Kosovo” laid out a well-developed political and legal approach to the problem of recognition of self-proclaimed states of the post-Soviet world: “The most logical starting point for the systemic argumentation in favour of “the unrecognised” would be a return to the assessment of non-conformity of the actual dismembering of the USSR to the legal norms of the secession from the USSR laid out in the law of April 3, 1990. This demonstrates the initial non-legal nature of the constitualization of a number of the former republics of the USSR as independent states with the ensuing rude violations of human and nation’s rights in a number of territories that do have legal ground to claim the right to challenge the fate that is imposed on them… The refusal to the peoples of the Transdniester Republic, Abkhazia, South Ossetia to act according to the constitutional procedure of secession from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics makes it possible to regard the present-day territorial status of Georgia and Moldova legally incomplete (Bold-typed by me, A.K.)… Nothing but this approach would provide sufficient legal argumentation for the changes over the post-Soviet space, excluding parallels with any other states… not creating any precedents.”
In a nutshell, Moscow’s word is expected. Serious experts are unanimous that things stand exactly this way.
Source: Strategic Cultural Foundation