Way to Let Abkhazia Live Normal Life, by Yulia Latynina

The Moscow Times -- Kosovo has declared its independence. Russia was only a spectator in the process, cheering as loud as it could and threatening the possibility of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's two breakaway regions.

On the issue of unrecognized republics, Russians are split between two camps -- patriots and liberals.
Patriots believe that Kosovo should be a part of Serbia, but when it comes to Abkhazia, it is a different matter entirely. They believe that Abkhazia should not be a part of Georgia. Liberals believe that Kosovo should be independent, but they also think that the situation in Abkhazia is different.

As it turns out, our patriots and liberals share remarkably similar views. They both agree that Kosovo is one thing and Abkhazia is quite another.

In my opinion, however, the two cases are identical. Both Serbia and Georgia freed themselves from the influence of the Soviet Union. After gaining freedom, both began instituting repressive measures against ethnic minorities in their territories -- in Georgia, it was war; in Serbia, genocide. Thus, both of these small countries decided to become small versions of the Soviet Union.

Later, both nations underwent regime changes, and the current leaders in both countries would never repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

What is the greatest difference between Kosovo and Abkhazia? It is not so much between these two regions themselves, but between Europe's official position on Kosovo and the Kremlin's position on Abkhazia.

Europe's policy toward Kosovo is very rational. It does not want to support a weak semi-state in the center of the continent. Europe wants to see a self-sufficient Kosovo and recognizes that this is impossible without recognizing Kosovo's independence.

On the surface, it appears that Moscow is providing assistance to Abkhazia, but it is really doing everything to ensure that Abkhazia never gains independence.

If Russia really wants to improve Abkhazia's condition, it should stop doing two things. First, Moscow should put an end to the delays at the Russian-Abkhaz border crossing lasting hours. It should also stop provoking military conflicts on the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. Once Russia stops doing these two things, the people of Abkhazia will be able to lead a normal life.

The real problem is that Russia does not want Abkhazia to have a normal life. The endless waits at the border guarantee that no tourists, with the possible exception of the poorest, will ever try to visit Abkhazia. The constant skirmishes in the mountainous regions are a sure way to put off possible investors. As partial compensation, Moscow not only grants Abkhaz residents Russian passports, but also provides them with pensions and social benefits, fostering a sense of dependence on Moscow.

In reality, though, Russia is less interested in helping the people of Abkhazia than it is in causing problems for Georgia.

Abkhazia is destined to become independent. Having won the war against Georgia, this small republic already enjoys a sort of de facto independence from Tbilisi. Moreover, Abkhazia's geographic position is such that the only road available to Georgia to invade Abkhazia is through the perilous Kodori Gorge, which Abkhazia can easily defend by a small group of fighters.

In any event, starting a war with Abkhazia would amount to fighting an entire people, and this would entail unacceptable military and civilian casualties for Georgia. Since President Mikheil Saakashvili is attempting to build a democratic state, he would not be willing to sustain these losses.

Any way you look at it, Abkhazia is doomed to become independent. And today's democratic Georgia is doomed to pay the price for the previous government, which made two crucial mistakes -- sending tanks into Abkhazia in 1992 and, even worse, losing the war. In a similar way, Serbia is also paying a high price for the crimes of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Source: The Moscow Times




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