Abkhaz opposition: 'negotiations with Tbilisi are an illusion'
Transit route through Georgia to Abkhazia
The transit route through Georgia is unprofitable for Abkhazia, some believe in Abkhazia. Its discussion, as well as negotiations with Tbilisi, do not make sense, says Aslan Bartsits, former vice-president of Abkhazia, chairman of the Forum of People’s Unity Party. In an interview with JAMnews, he claims that today in Abkhazia there are already enough problems that require attention.
Aslan Bartsits in 2018 headed the party Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia. In September 2019, he became vice president, paired with the re-elected president for a second term, Raul Khajimba. In January 2020, against the backdrop of unrest and the storming of government buildings, Khajimba resigned, followed by Bartsits.
Transit is a matter of fifth importance
Our MPs are actively discussing today the possibility of opening railway communication between Russia and Armenia through Abkhazia and Georgia. But this issue has been on our agenda for a long time. It is then pushed into the back of the box, then they begin to discuss it again. Now it has been updated in connection with the events in Karabakh and the new paths that have opened up.
But if we measure its relevance for the state on a five-point scale, then today the question of opening a railway is in fourth, if not in fifth place.
Our internal problems are in the first place today, people are more concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic: how to protect loved ones, how to get medicine, where to find money for treatment and rehabilitation, electricity in their home. The voltage on the network does not reach 120 volts, the light goes out 5-7 times a day, the water is turned off – these are the most acute problems.
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The question of geopolitics
The project of the end-to-end railway communication is of more geopolitical significance. Our strategic partner, the Russian Federation, the country that was the first to recognize our independence, is, as everyone knows, a world superpower.
No matter how someone treats Russia, but today it is an indisputable fact, and, accordingly, the geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation extend to many regions in the world, including the South Caucasus.
Today our MPs are trying not to miss the situation. After all, Moscow already has certain agreements with Azerbaijan. A project for a railway connection with Armenia and Iran through Dagestan and Azerbaijan is already under development. Maybe they are no longer interested in our path.
For us, a transit connection would be beneficial, but we must take into account the factors that make this project fantastic at the present time.
The first constraint is economic. Each project must have a business case. The Abkhaz railway must have a certain load. To be profitable, according to experts, millions of tons per year must pass through it. But what do we see in the world now? The crisis that has swept the planet due to the pandemic has stopped the movement of goods everywhere!
Until now, we are paying off the railway loan, which the government issued in 2009. Then we were also promised mountains of gold. That crushed stone trade will go on, and the business will pay off this two billion loan in a couple of years, but in fact we are still paying 500 million rubles (6.6 million dollars) rubles a year and the state budget.
In order for the railway to work, stable electricity is needed, but this will not happen. Today we see a complete collapse in the energy sector.
The second deterrent is political
Let’s remember at least 2004. Then, during the negotiation process, a document was signed, under which the signature of the Abkhaz side was, but it was a signature that was non-uniform, that is, Abkhazia was represented by a party, but not by a state.
If the process of restoring the end-to-end message is raised again, then this question will also arise. Is Georgia itself ready for this movement through its territory?
After all, it will be necessary to sign the relevant documents, the relevant agreements, where Abkhazia, as an equal partner, will sign these documents.
Today Georgia, I am absolutely sure of this, will not agree to this. And this confidence does not come from empty space. I see the behavior, rhetoric, official steps of the Georgian government, the reactions of the Georgian society.
All this suggests that they perceive Abkhazia exclusively as an occupied territory. That is, there is no basis to talk with this, relatively speaking, negotiating partner. And the illusions that some of our high-ranking leaders are subjected to that relations with Georgia need to be improved are unrealistic.
Behind Georgia is the West, the United States. She will not be allowed to do anything contrary to the interests of the West. And we rely primarily on Russia. And as you know, with the election of the same new president of the United States, Joe Biden, the attitude towards Russia will only get tougher, these are all kinds of sanctions, obstacles, where possible.
Therefore, it is completely wrong and harmful to think that Georgia is capable of some kind of positive dialogue, they are not even able to sign an agreement on the non-use of force.
Not to mention that they are ready to sign some other document. Therefore, all these negotiations, which are taking place in the Geneva format, are very important for maintaining the status quo on this issue.
All other proposals for direct dialogue with Georgia are failures. This is not a question of today, and not even a question of tomorrow, therefore in this matter one must be extremely reasonable and extremely careful.
Foreign policy should not be a subject of discussion within Abkhazia
In order to resolve issues of a foreign economic and foreign policy nature, there will be an absolute consolidation of society inside Abkhazia. That is, it cannot be divided into ours and yours, all positions must be agreed upon.
In fact, we are in a state of war with Georgia. We have no peace treaty. Georgia’s rhetoric towards Abkhazia has not changed one iota. They sleep and see how to bring us back, as they say, “into the bosom of the mother.” This is unacceptable for us.
In addition, Georgia is our direct competitor in the same Russian market. I mean our wine and water. Now in our market, why hide, there are Georgian goods, but the flow must not be allowed. Figuratively speaking, if with an open window, from where a very strong cold wind is blowing, and we cannot cover it up to now, and at the same time we also open the window, we will be blown away by this wind.
This understanding, unfortunately today, does not exist, because in the Gal district you will remember about ten years ago what the situation was, smuggling went along all official and unofficial crossings. We have drawn up the state border in stages, as it should be. All left, uncontrolled crossings were closed, an asphalt road was made. In fact, we have, by and large, returned the Gal region under our influence.
If we now begin to officially trade with Georgia, we will kill the local producer, we will kill the local economy. After all, we will not be able to compete – prices are different there. Banking rates there are different, these are realities from which you cannot get away.
It is impossible to talk about development without resolving the energy issue
In order for the railway to work, and other powerful complexes, be it hotels or industrial facilities, stable electricity is needed, but this will not happen. Today we see a complete collapse in the energy sector.
With mining permission, we’ve released the genie from the bottle. Some farms are closed, in other places new ones appear, because at a price of more than fifty thousand dollars per bitcoin, no one will give up this activity.
It is difficult to imagine how the authorities will be able to cope with it. But mining hit hard on the energy sector. If, relatively speaking, yesterday, in 2019, consumption was 7 million kilowatt hours per day, then today there is 11. Ahead is the summer holiday season, if we cannot do anything in this regard, then in the summer energy consumption will increase again.
People will come, cafes will open, and if the situation with electricity is the same as today, and it gets even worse, I assure you, we will get a serious, social explosion.
And against this background, there is talk of an increase in the tariff for electricity. In my opinion, raising tariffs today is an extremely wrong decision. Wages were not raised, pensions were not raised, but how will people survive?
We have about 200 people died in a pandemic. First, they closed the border and closed everything they could, right down to the markets. People stopped earning, and then when the number of COVID-19 cases increased, they opened the border.
These wrong steps led to the fact that our medicine began to choke. Fortunately, the incidence has declined, but this is not the merit of the country’s leadership. People were treated themselves, often getting into big debts. Nobody any longer hopes for the help of the state. Power is separate, and people are separate. This is not how the state is built. And if the authorities do not understand this, then an inglorious future awaits.
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