Strategic Partnership of Abkhazia and Russia: How to Make it Fruitful and Mutually Beneficial?

By Izida CHANIA
Editor-in-chief, “Nuzhnaya gazeta”
Sukhum

Last year was a record for Abkhazia for its significant events and challenges: it bared the contradictions in internal affairs and in relations with the sole strategic partner – Russia. In this regard, a landmark was a document signed by Russia and Georgia in November 2011 without the consent of the Abkhazian leadership: “The fundamental principles of the customs administration and product monitoring mechanism.” The agreement envisages the creation of a “pre-defined trade corridors,” which are defined as the territory of the two states, recognized by Russia two years ago – Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Signing of this agreement by Russia’s is interesting since it made ​​the Abkhazians, perhaps for the first time, to seriously think about the role of a sole strategic partner. It is no secret that the main obstacle to Russia’s WTO accession was Georgia, which demanded from Russia to establish its customs checkpoints on the Russian side of the Russian-Abkhaz border. One could imagine that after Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia the issue has lost its relevance. However, consultations were continuing until the Swiss diplomats arrived to the idea to locate international observers, not the Georgian customs officers, on the borders to monitor cargo arrivals in Abkhazia.

That is, an ambiguous game-situation emerged, in which Moscow could only agree with the way each party would interpret it on its own. Tbilisi considers it a victory of the Georgian diplomacy and the first step to restore the “territorial integrity” of the country, while Abkhazia – as an international recognition of the special status of the borders of their republic. Lawyer Henry Jergenia believes that this agreement is impossible to implement just for this reason. “This document is written in a “bird language:” Abkhazians use a special language when hunting, so as not to attract the attention of evil forces …” – he says.

But the Abkhazian public regarded such an ambiguous policy of Russia as “undermining the independent status of Abkhazia’s sovereignty,” above all, because when making a decision, Moscow preferred not to consult with Abkhazia, as a matter of fact, ignoring the opinion of its strategic partner. The Forum of the National Unity of Abkhazia expressed the following opinion: “… It creates a precedent to lower the status of an independent state, whose guarantor on the international scene is the Russian Federation.”

Signing of Russian-Georgian agreement came to the discussion in the expert community of Abkhazia, which not only evaluated the very document, but also tried to rethink the strategic partnership between Abkhazia and Russia.

“This is claim for rapprochement with Georgia on the eve of its presidential election. Moreover, this is a precedent completely ignoring the opinions and interests of Abkhazia. As we know, the precedents tend to recur. It seems that trade sovereignty of Abkhazia may become a new communication practices of the West and Georgia with Russia, “- political analyst Leyla Taniya says.  For Georgia, there is no sense to question the benefits of this Agreement: they are obvious. For the first time since the recognition of Abkhazia by Russia, Georgia has demonstrated that haggling with Russia over border jurisdiction, and, further, over the Abkhazian territory is possible. For the first time since the recognition, Russia, in fact, disavowed Abkhazia’s jurisdiction over its borders, and, consequently, its sovereignty, albeit in very streamlined formulations. But the fact remains: it is at Georgia’s request, and it is Georgia, not the WTO or any other country or international organization, that signs an agreement on the monitoring of our border. Secondly, Georgia among other things gets first-hand information of, primarily military and strategic importance. And, finally, the most important thing. The Russian-Georgian agreement is directly related to the practical implementation of the new policy of Georgia concerning Abkhazia, the so-called “strategic waiting”, which involves not only the passive waiting for changes in the overall geopolitical situation in the region, but also actively working for just deterioration of the Russian-Abkhazian relations … “- she says.

The analyst Akhra Bzhania shares his colleague’s opinion. “The evidence lies in the fact that they signed an intergovernmental agreement that virtually eliminates the international and political status of Abkhazia” – he says. According to the Member of Parliament Daur Arshba, signing of this agreement just demonstrates ignoring of the Abkhazian interests by Russia. “According to the Framework Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Abkhazia, Russia shall hold consultations with Abkhazia, if its interests are affected. This has not been done … “, – the Deputy says. His colleague, Batal Kobakhia blames the Abkhazian leadership for such an attitude, displayed by Russia.  “We should have reminded Russia promptly, i.e., during her preparation stage to WTO accession, that we had signed the agreement on peace, friendship and cooperation, the fundamental document, according to which, Russia legibly recognized the borders of the independent sovereign state. We should have done it through diplomatic negotiations, discussions, consultations at the level of appropriate bodies, as stipulated for the two states, having diplomatic relations. And perhaps, if there had been a timely reaction to the expected consequences, it would have been reflected in the final document, or the latter would not have been signed at all in the form, that we got acquainted… We should have directly pointed out to the Russian officials, preparing the draft, that if any agreement, not clearly indicating our borders, recognized by the same Russia, was signed, then it would be violation of the basic treaty, determining the relations between two countries. So my complaint is that all mentioned has not been taken into account in this document.”

Meanwhile, early this year, the Customs Committee of Abkhazia announced about establishing customs checkpoints at the Georgian-Abkhazian border, which means legalization of the border trade between two countries.

According to the Head of the Customs Committee of Abkhazia Sayid Tarkil, the organization of customs checkpoints on the Georgian side of the Inguri River, as stipulated by Russia’s WTO accession, means “actual recognition of the economic sovereignty of Abkhazia by Georgia.”

The “bird language” of the Georgian-Russian agreement allows each party to interpret the situation on its own.

On March 12, parliamentary elections will take place in Abkhazia. The strategic partnership between Abkhazia and Russia: how to make it a successful and mutually beneficial? Abkhazia has entered into a new 2012 with this topic, and this is the question that voters address every day in a live TV show to Abkhazian candidates for the parliament. This question is like a test. And the candidates know that the outcome of their struggle much depends on how they will answer it.

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