The Time of Lost Opportunities

By Izida CHANIA
Editor-in-chief of “Nuzhnaya Gazeta”
Sukhum (Abkhazia)

On October 12 in the township of Tsandripsh, located on the Abkhazian side of the Russian-Abkhazian border, there was a statal opening ceremony of a new Russian border guards’ settlement. The territory of the settlement included an administrative building, an apartment house for 25 flats, designed for the families of the border guards. All flats of that house are furnished; there are all conditions for the leisure of the border guards and their families – a gym, children’s room, sauna, tennis courts, and basketball pitch. The infrastructure of the settlement is completely autonomous: it is equipped with its own water and energy supply.

During the three years since the recognition of Abkhazia by Russia such border guards’ settlements have been built in all regions of Abkhazia. Some of them, for example in Novy Afon, Primorsky and Tsandripsh townships, more resemble  comfortable resort  facilities, showing up white on the sea shore. The settlement in Tsandripsh is the eleventh one. According to the Russian-Abkhazian “Agreement on joint efforts in guarding the state border of the Republic of Abkhazia”, signed by the Presidents of the two countries, there will be 28 such settlements in total (four in each Abkhazian region).  At the entry to the capital city Sukhum a huge settlement is being built in a rush. 12-floor 8-entrance buildings are growing as mushrooms after the rain: it is the Headquarters of the Border guard Department of the Federal Security Service of Russia in Abkhazia.

If you add military bases, sanatoriums, boarding houses and dachas, the areas for  the Embassy and construction of the apartment house for diplomats (in the most prestigious regions of Sukhum), the border-line suddenly disputed village of Aibga to these small and large “settlements,”  the following question may rise: what are the conditions, on which this “mutually beneficial cooperation” between Abkhazia and Russia is implemented?

These conditions are fixed in numerous Russian-Abkhazian agreements. Some excerpts from these documents are given below:

– The plots of land, where the facilities are located, shall be handed over to the Russian side on lease for 49 years with payment of 1 rouble for each plot;

– The Russian side has the right for capital construction on the plots, handed over on lease. The right of property on the constructed buildings and installations belongs to the Russian side. The Abkhazian side shall provide the legal execution of the property right to the Russian side.

– The Abkhazian side shall provide the facilities with electricity, communication, water supply and other services by the prices fixed for the Administration of the President of the Abkhazian Republic.

– The units shall enjoy the full immunity from the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the Abkhazian Republic.

– Representatives of the authorities shall not enter the facilities and the areas, occupied by them, otherwise but by the permission of the head of the unit …

– The units shall be exempted from paying all kinds of taxes, duties, charges, fixed by the legislation of the Abkhazian Republic.

– The servicemen, civilian personnel and members of their families shall be exempted from all kinds of taxes, duties and charges.

– The Abkhazian side shall grant the right for labor activity to the members of families of the servicemen and civilian personnel, equal to the right, granted its own citizens.

– The servicemen, chosen the Republic of Abkhazia as a place of their residence, are provided with housing within the procedure, set for the servicemen of the Abkhazian Armed Forces …

In fact, Abkhazia’s “compliance,” now threatening just the very independence that Russia recognized three years ago, has its explanation. It is caused by nothing but the persistence of the international community regarding the Georgian-Abkhazian settlement. The unwillingness of the Western countries to accept the existing reality does not get the Caucasian republics closer to the West, but rather alienates them, reducing the level of its own, even theoretical influence on the country. According to the Abkhazian political scientist Irakli Khintba, “…the unwillingness to recognize the fact that each conflict in the region has its distinct features reduces the efficiency of the European engagement into the resolution and transformation of the conflicts in the South Caucasus.”

The UN can blame its own “principle stand” for not being represented in Abkhazia in the recent several years; and now the UN diplomats, officially visiting the republic, speak about the possibility of renewing the contacts. However at present the Abkhazian diplomats do not propose “variants” to the UN for its presence in Abkhazia. The head of the Abkhazian delegation at the Geneva discussions, Foreign Minister of the republic Vyacheslav Chirikba said: “The press reports that Abkhazia is ready to have a UN mission or UN observers on its territory are far from the current political reality, reflecting just the theoretically acceptable possibilities or variants.” Actually he made it clear that Abkhazia is not interested in having such a mission on its territory. The Abkhazian President Alexander Anquab, accepting last week the UN delegation, headed by the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, was concrete enough in his statements when comparing the help of Russia with the assistance of the international community, provided to Abkhazia. The answer to Oscar Taranco’s question about the Abkhazian foreign political priorities, left no doubt: the strategic partner of Abkhazia is Russia.

Certainly, within the frameworks of unofficial contacts some Georgian politicians, journalists and international diplomats admit that the Georgian and Western policy regarding Abkhazia has not given any expected results, only impeding the progress in the negotiating process instead. So the positions of the parties in the Geneva discussions after the recognition of Abkhazia by Russia have drifted apart even farther. According to A. Coolie and L. Mitchell, “the open denial of the democratic aspirations of Abkhazia and the blind support of Tbilisi’s tough line, aimed at its isolation, leads to the situation while the West abandons those pressure leverages, by means of which the Abkhazian leadership might have been urged to discussing the issues of the status and related talks.” The same can be said about the international standard passports (Georgia is trying to impose some sort of them on the citizens of Abkhazia). This “event” is late at least for a decade, during which actually all Abkhazian citizens got Russian passports and solved the problem of their movement. “Abkhazians and Ossetians have happily given themselves up to Russia. We should blame the irresponsible and adventurist policy of our authorities. The longer Saakashvili will be the head of the state and destroy the country, the more it will suit Russia,” – the Georgian conflict expert Paata Zakareishvili says.

Today, when some (small) part of the society has already become ready to discuss issue of recognition of Abkhazia by Georgia, this topic is losing its urgency for Abkhazia.De-actualization of the Georgian factor is a serious sign of changes that have taken place in the Abkhazian society during three years since the recognition by Russia.  Georgian researchers and my colleagues sometimes make forecasts in mass media that Russia’s behavior will result in protest moods in Abkhazia. Agreeing that such predictions have some grounds, I think that they simply will not give any dividends for Georgia in the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. It is necessary to admit that the time of opportunities to settle the relations between Abkhazia and Georgia has been already lost. So it is absolutely senseless and harmful both for Georgia: to issue the laws, prohibiting entry to Abkhazia via Russia, to be outraged when foreign businessmen and politicians visit Abkhazia, and to arrest people, holding passports with the stamp of “Psou;” and for the Council of Europe: to reiterate its adherence to the principle of the territorial integrity of Georgia.

Unfortunately, the international community has not reacted any way to the numerous messages addressed to it from Abkhazia.  The Abkhazian experts pointed out during the roundtable, held by the Carnegie Fund in 2010, that it would be more difficult for the republic to develop as a democratic state without recognition by the international community. They asked the United States and the West to assist to such development, providing the republic an expert, consultative support, required for further building of the democratic institutes and modernization; to push the activity of the international structures, including NGOs, in Abkhazia. As a result, the absences of recognition by the international community and refusal of the direct interaction have led to strengthening of the one-sided dependence from Russia. That is why the statement of the Russian Ambassador in Abkhazia that “Russia has come to Abkhazia definitely and for long” are in full correspondence with the reality and the actions of Russia, aimed at mastering the country, and with the inaction of Abkhazia, displaying “compliance” even in the issues, related to the security of the country.

 

The Moscow House at the Sukhum seafront.

 

The territory, allotted for the construction of the residence of diplomats and personnel.

 

The territory allotted for the construction of the Russian Embassy at the Sukhum seafront.

 

The construction of the Russian border guards’ settlement at the entrance to Sukhum

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