Op-ed: the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict through the prism of the second Karabakh war
The second Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia has given new stimulus to both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict to examine the situation anew.
The second Karabakh war began on September 27, 2020 and was stopped 45 days later, on November 10, after Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a peace agreement. The agreement provides for the return to Azerbaijan of control over several regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh; the introduction of Russian peacekeepers into the region, and; the exchange of prisoners and return of refugees.
In one way or another, both Sukhum and Tbilisi began examining the scenarios and comparing them to their own situation the moment it became clear that the military clashes that began on September 27 were not local clashes, but a real war.
Surely this event added whists to those Georgian politicians who previously believed that the ‘Abkhaz problem’ could be solved only by force.
The purchase of new weapons by the Georgian government, including the acquisition of operational-tactical, reconnaissance and combat drones planned for 2021, fits well into this outline.
Sukhum was also very wary of the results of the confrontation around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Abkhaz elite increasingly began to sound fears that Georgia, inspired by the way Azerbaijan regained its territory, would sooner or later attempt military revenge.
In Abkhazia, many are now talking about the need to modernize the armed forces. President Aslan Bzhania has already spoken about this during a recent meeting in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, a new military confrontation between Georgia and Abkhazia in the near future can hardly be expected, since the similarities between these conflicts are scarce.
- The road to Nakhichevan: is Armenia surrendering its territories to Azerbaijan or emerging from blockade?
- Terms of the Karabakh truce – corridors, boundaries and peacekeepers
Recognised independence and personal relationships
The independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognised even by Yerevan. This initially made the hopes of a part of the Armenian public for military support from Russia, which has allied obligations to Armenia, illusory.
But even without this factor, Yerevan could count on Russia’s open entry into the war only in one case – if Moscow had insurmountable contradictions with Baku.
But Russia and Azerbaijan have always had good relations, and even especially trusting ones at the level of heads of state.
This is something that cannot be said about the difficult communication between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In the case of Abkhazia, its statehood is not only recognised by the Kremlin, but Russia is also the guarantor of the security of Abkhazia.
Also, since 2008, Russia and Georgia have not had diplomatic relations, and Tbilisi is an open enemy of Moscow. And Abkhazia is a devoted ally.
And finally, the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Abkhazia, and on the border with Georgia of Russian border guards, reduces the idea of revenge to practically zero.
Turkey is a trading partner of Abkhazia and can change a lot
Nevertheless, the second war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the future is capable of slightly altering the content of the context of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
Again, it’s all about Turkey.
Turkey was invisibly present in the Caucasus region before. And now, after the open support of Azerbaijan, it has staked out a place for itself in the region.
Moreover, Turkey has already begun to settle down here, and is not limiting itself to the Azerbaijani direction.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already proposed to create a ‘platform of six’ in the South Caucasus to develop cooperation between states, which will include, in addition to Turkey itself, Russia, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and, if Yerevan wishes, Armenia.
The Turkish direction has always been important for Abkhazia.
Firstly, most of the Abkhaz ethnos live there – about 500,000 people.
Secondly, Turkey is the second trade partner after Russia for Abkhazia. In the first years after the end of the Georgian-Abkhaz war (1992-1993), Russia imposed a tough economic blockade against Abkhazia. Then uninterrupted trade with Turkey allowed Abkhazia, not yet recognized by anyone, to survive.
Russia’s consent to Turkey’s presence in the region may become part of cooperation between Ankara and Moscow in various areas where there is mutual interest.
Abkhazia may well be involved, for example, in the creation of new transport corridors – in particular, for the resumption of railway communication between Russia and Armenia through the territory of Abkhazia and Georgia.
Until recently, the implementation of this idea seemed impossible. However, other impossible ideas are already starting to come true.
Following the results of the second Karabakh war, Armenia and Azerbaijan will legalize the Lachin corridor, which connects the territory of Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey receives a corridor to Azerbaijan through the territory of Armenia, through Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan republic.
Moscow, Ankara mutually recognize Northern Cyprus and Abkhazia?
The Abkhaz expert community does not exclude that the process of broad Russian-Turkish cooperation may also affect the expansion of recognition of Abkhazia’s statehood by Turkey itself.
Such an option in Sukhum is considered possible if Moscow recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
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