How to build an Abkhaz-Georgian dialogue and should it be built at all – discussions in Abkhazia
Open hearings on Abkhazia’s ‘foreign policy platform’, approved by the President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania, were held on December 21 with heat and bursts of emotion, the main reason being talks about prospects for the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
The paragraph in question in the policy document sounds like this:
“The Republic of Abkhazia admits the possibility of creating conditions for the formation of an additional format of multi-level negotiations between Georgia and the Republic of Abkhazia, within the framework of which it will be possible to discuss with the Georgian side issues of mutual interest, the solution of which is not possible within the framework of the international Geneva Discussions.”
The president’s desire to give a new impetus to the stalled process of the settlement of Georgian-Abkhaz relations is expressed here very carefully. But the opposition’s reaction was extreme.
Its representatives stated that no negotiations with Georgia are possible until it recognises the independence of Abkhazia.
And in the words about “possible additional formats of negotiations” some saw a threat to the ‘Geneva discussions’.
The Geneva format of negotiations was created after the August 2008 war, when direct dialogue between Georgia and Russia ceased completely. This initiative was included in the ceasefire agreement of August 12, 2008 as a platform for discussing humanitarian issues, it does not touch upon the political aspects of the conflicts, including the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In addition to Georgia and Russia, together with representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, representatives of the United States and the co-chairs of the OSCE, the European Union and the UN are taking part in the talks in Geneva.
Leaders of the Abkhaz opposition accused the president of having approved the concept in a hurry, without having a nationwide discussion. Therefore, they believe, the document must be disavowed and reapproved, taking into account all public feedback.
But despite such excitement, the president is unlikely to withdraw the concept. In the mentality of the Abkhaz society, such flexibility will not be assessed as agreeing with the arguments of the opponents. It will be seen as a concession made solely under pressure.
And such a step back usually soon after becomes a signal for new massive attacks.
Nevertheless, in his further actions, the president will now be extremely cautious with regard to the ‘Georgian’ topic.
There are so many internal problems that have accumulated over the years that any Abkhaz president is deliberately deprived of guarantees to sit in his chair for the full term allotted to him by law. And Aslan Bzhania will hardly aggravate the already explosive situation by reformatting the negotiation process with Georgia.
Is Tbilisi not ready for direct negotiations?
There is another problem here. Since January 2020, that is, since Aslan Bzhania came to the post of President of Abkhazia, from his side, in one form or another, there have been signals of readiness to conduct direct negotiations with Georgia.
But they have not been appropriately received in Tbilisi.
There, the topic of settling the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict has long become one of the elements of the internal political struggle.
It seems that none of the Georgian politicians are satisfied with the context that developed after the 2008 war [the five-day Georgian-Russian war, after which Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – JAMnews].
But no one is trying to directly talk about this with the Abkhaz.
This is hampered by the view on the problem that has changed greatly in Tbilisi after those events.
Tbilisi: there is only a Georgian-Russian conflict
For Georgia, there has been no Georgian-Abkhaz conflict since 2008. Mikhail Saakashvili called the Russian occupation his failure in the war with South Ossetia, which resulted in Russia’s recognition of the statehood of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
He confirmed this position by the law on occupation. And he decided that there was no need to talk with the Abkhaz and Ossetians, and that Russia was the source of all Georgian problems.
The position for internal use turned out to be an advantageous one; practically the entire Georgian elite agreed with this formulation. Moreover, in a short time, a new look at conflicts was filled with edited historical content.
Now it turns out that there was no Georgian-Abkhaz war at all, just as there was no Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Everything that happened in Abkhazia in 1992-93 was a war with Russia.
Saakashvili was replaced in 2012 by Bidzin Ivanishvili [oligarch, head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, he is considered the shadow ruler of Georgia – JAMnews]. He slightly tried to get back to the initial perception of events, but faced serious resistance, including from his supporters.
Ivanishvili, apparently, realized that the dispute was not worth it, and also took the same position: it is not worth talking to the Abkhaz, because they are not in business. You need to talk with Russia and demand the impossible – let it cancel recognition and withdraw its military bases from the “occupied territories”.
And what the Abkhaz and Ossetians think there is no longer important.
Sukhum: the conflict is already settled
In Abkhazia, a lot has also changed in the approach.
The idea “let Georgia recognize us, and then we will talk” now prevails in the minds of the majority of the population. This has almost become a dogma.
And part of the elite believes that the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict was completely resolved after August 26, 2008, when Russia recognized Abkhaz statehood.
In general, Tbilisi believes that they have not and never had a conflict with the Abkhaz – and the Abkhaz say there was a conflict with the Georgians, but now it has been resolved.
However, despite all this, neither Georgian nor Abkhaz politicians want to sit down at the negotiating table.