The Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict


(Edited by Gennady Chufrin). Oxford University press, 2001.

I. Introduction

The Abkhaz have long populated the western Caucasus. Theycurrently number about 100 000 people, speak one of the languages of theAbkhazo-Adygeyan (west Caucasian) language group, and live in the coastalareas on the southern slopes of the Caucasian ridge and along the Black Seacoast. Together with closely related peoples of the western Caucasus (forexample, the Abazins, Adygeyans and Kabardians (or Circassians)) they playan important role in the Caucasian ethno-cultural community and considerthemselves an integral part of its future. At the same time, the peopleliving in coastal areas on the southern slopes of the Caucasian ridge haveachieved broader communication with Asia Minor and the Mediterraneancivilizations than any other people of the Caucasus. The geographicalposition of Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast has made its people a majorfactor in the historical process of the western Caucasus, acting as aneconomic and cultural bridge with the outside world.

Georgians and Abkhaz have been neighbours from timeimmemorial. The Georgians currently number about 4 million people. Theprocess of national consolidation of the Georgian nation is still far fromcomplete: it includes some 20 subgroups, and the Megrelians (sometimescalled Mingrelians) and Svans who live in western Georgia are so differentin language and culture from other Georgians that it would be more correctto consider them as separate peoples. Some scholars, Hewitt, for example,1suggest calling the Georgian nation not Georgians but by their own name,Kartvelians, which includes the Georgians, Megrelians and Svans.2 To callall the different Kartvelian groups Georgians obscures the true ethnicsituation. Increasingly, scholars prefer to distinguish between Georgians,Megrelians and Svans, the Georgians being the population of easternGeorgia.3

Historically, Georgian-Abkhaz interaction has alternated between closecooperation and bitter fighting. The beginning of the current Georgian-Abkhazconflict can be traced back to the 1870s when, after the end of theCaucasian war, there was a mass resettlement of Abkhaz to Turkey (theMahajeers). As a result the Abkhaz territory along the Black Sea-dividedinto two parts, the north-west (Bzibean) and the south-east (Abjuan)-hassince been populated by various nationalities, including Armenians, Greeks,Megrelians and Russians, thus giving modern Abkhazia its multi-ethniccharacter.

The Georgian nationalist movement that emerged in the 19thcentury defined the primordial Georgian territory as being that which laywithin the borders of the medieval Georgian empire of the 10th-13thcenturies. This ignored the initially multi-ethnic character of the state.The first attempts by the movement to base the development of the Georgianstate on these historical lands were made after the Russian Empiredisintegrated, during the period of the independent Georgian republic(1918-21). In Abkhazia and other ethnic minority areas a policy ofassimilation began, with the mass resettlement of Georgians to Abkhazia andthe declaration of Georgian as the state language. This policy combined withacts of violence and robberies by the Georgian armies caused many protestsamong the population of Abkhazia, including some of the local Megrelians.4The establishment of Soviet rule in Abkhazia in March 1921 was, therefore,welcomed by the people and heralded as the end of national oppression and ofthe Georgian occupation.

In 1921 Abkhazia received the status of a Soviet Republicallied with Georgia by a special treaty, but its status was downgraded inFebruary 1931 to that of an autonomous republic within Georgia with the aimof facilitating the assimilation of the Abkhaz by Georgians. SovietCommunist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin (a Georgian) regarded theAbkhaz as a primitive people who were to be assimilated by the culturallyadvanced Georgians.5 The period from 1931 to the early 1950s wasparticularly tragic in the history of Abkhazia. It saw the Georgianizationof Abkhazia, which for all intents and purposes meant the genocide of itsindigenous population and included the physical extermination of the Abkhazintelligentsia, the expulsion of Abkhaz from the management of alladministrative and public organizations and state enterprises, the closureof Abkhaz schools and the forcible enrolment of Abkhaz children intoGeorgian schools, the prohibition of teaching in the Abkhaz language in highschools, the replacement of Abkhaz names with Georgian ones, restrictedsocial security for persons of Abkhaz ethnicity, unwritten privileges forGeorgians, the massive resettlement of Georgians into Abkhazia, thepersecution of Abkhaz culture and the falsification of Abkhaz history.6

All through the Soviet period the main goal of the Georgianleadership and of the Georgian nationalist movement as a whole was thecreation of a consolidated Georgian nation in the shortest possible time.With Stalin in power, when the influence of the Georgian lobby in theKremlin was at its greatest, this policy was carried out by repressivemethods. Some peoples were deported from Georgia (Greeks, Kurds andMeskhetian Turks). Others, not even related to the Kartvelians, weredeclared part of the Georgian tribes and along with Svans and Megrelianswere quickly assimilated.

After Stalin's death the Georgian lobby in the central SovietGovernment remained but was weakened. From the mid-1950s the Georgianrepublican authorities were forced by the Soviet Government to stop theworst forms of discrimination against the Abkhaz, but the mass resettlementof Georgians to Abkhazia continued. As a result, at the end of the 1980s theshare of Abkhaz in the 525 000-strong population of Abkhazia was reduced to17.8 per cent while the share of the Georgian population reached 45.7 percent.7 In the mid-1950s, in line with the ideological goals of theresettlement policy, a theory was fabricated declaring the true Abkhaz to bean ancient cultural Georgian tribe living on the territory of Abkhazia anddescribing the modern Abkhaz as descendants of backward highlanders,Apsuaers,8 who ostensibly moved into Abkhazia from the north in the17th century.9 The thesis of the resettlement of the Apsuaers became partof a racist theory asserting a supposed primordial superiority of thecivilized Georgians over their neighbours-a theory which dominated inGeorgian science and public consciousness. Widespread promotion of thistheory caused sharp protests from the Abkhaz intelligentsia and aggravatedinter-ethnic relations. Tensions between Abkhaz and Georgians becameparticularly evident in 1957, 1964, 1967 and 1978 when there were massprotest actions by the Abkhaz population and only emergency intervention bythe central government prevented further escalation of the conflict.10

At the end of the 1980s, in conditions of a growing crisis ofthe central government, the contradictions between the Abkhaz and theGeorgians assumed much sharper forms. The Georgian nationalist movementraised demands for national independence and the creation of a mono-ethnicGeorgian state within its historical borders. The Abkhaz actively opposedGeorgian separatism. The Abkhaz letter of 1988 formulated a demand for therestoration to Abkhazia of the status of Soviet Socialist republic itenjoyed in 1921-31.11

In 1989-91 a wave of inter-ethnic conflicts swept throughGeorgia, behind which Georgian radicals saw the hand of Moscow. In fact thegrowth of inter-ethnic tensions could be attributed to the activists forGeorgian independence, who called for policies of de-Armenianization and de-Azerbaijanization,the abolition of all autonomies, and even a state birth control programme tolimit the expansion of the non-Georgian population. In 1990 the ultra-radical(later President) Zviad Gamsakhurdia elevated the idea of a mono-ethnicGeorgian state into official policy. The autonomy of South Ossetia wasabolished and open persecution of the non-Georgian population began.12

In Abkhazia, following major clashes in 1989 between Abkhazand Georgians, the conflict was reflected in legislation. Under the sloganof a return to the independent republic of 1918-21, Tbilisi annulled alllegal acts of the Soviet period, including those on the allied status ofGeorgia and Abkhazia (1921) and on the autonomy of Abkhazia within theGeorgian Soviet Socialist Republic (1931). In response, in August 1990, theSupreme Soviet of Abkhazia adopted a Declaration of the State Sovereignty ofthe Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It declared Abkhazia asovereign socialist state having all the power of authority on its territoryexcept the rights voluntarily delegated by it to the USSR and GeorgianSoviet Socialist Republic by the previous agreements.13 A war of lawsfollowed: all Abkhazian legislation was annulled by the Georgian Government.As a result authority was increasingly paralysed in Abkhazia and Tbilisirapidly lost control of the situation.

After Gamsakhurdia's overthrow in January 1992 the situationin Abkhazia deteriorated further . The war which broke out in 1992-93 wasthe peak of the conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia, characterized by theaspirations of the Abkhaz to secure their national and physical survival andby the desire of the Georgians to achieve national consolidation on thebasis of their own ethnos and to create a mono-ethnic Georgian state on aterritory with a multinational population and within completely artificialborders.

Originally Georgian propaganda justified the militaryintervention in Abkhazia by the need to protect the safety of the railwaysand to free Georgian officials taken hostage by followers of Gamsakhurdia.Realizing the absurdity of these allegations, President Eduard Shevardnadzelater laid the blame for starting the war on Tengiz Kitovani, Minister ofDefence for Georgia and a member of the Military Council that had overthrownGamsakhurdia, alleging that Kitovani had ordered the army into Abkhaziawithout Shevardnadze's knowledge. Shevardnadze described the Georgian Army'sactions in Abkhazia as intolerable: I will not even mention the inadmissiblemethods they used. Tanks, armoured vehicles, removal of the flag from theHouse of Government as if it were a foreign country . . . Much of what wasdone then cannot be justified and cannot be regarded as normal.14

In fact there is no doubt that the Georgian-Abkhazian war wasprovoked not by the situation in Abkhazia-the situation there was calmerthan in neighbouring Megrelia, where numerous armed gangs of Zviadists15were operating-but by the situation in Tbilisi following the overthrow ofGamsakhurdia. It was probably the personal interests of the members of theMilitary Council (later the State Council of Georgia) that were behind themilitary campaign in Abkhazia. For each of them: A victory over Abkhaziacould be a new important step in his political career. For Shevardnadze,however, this war could open much broader prospects. For the "new oppositionhe was a former opponent, a stranger; he was still a Russian citizen with aMoscow residence; his strength was the support he received from Moscow, buthe could never achieve the admiration among the Georgian people thatGamsakhurdia enjoyed.16 For Shevardnadze therefore a war in Abkhazia wasabsolutely necessary without it, the consolidation of his personal power anddefeat of his political opponents were inconceivable. In fact it was the warin Abkhazia that allowed him to put down public discontent in Megrelia,17to strengthen his own position in Tbilisi, and to dismiss and then arrestthose who had overthrown Gamsakhurdia and invited Shevardnadze himself toGeorgia (for example, Djaba loseliani and Tengiz Kitovani). Thus theGeorgian-Abkhazian war was the price which the population of Georgia paidfor Shevardnadze's return to power.

Shevardnadze probably received approval for a militaryoperation in Abkhazia from Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It was hardlycoincidental that one day before fighting broke out Russia transferred tanks,helicopters, artillery pieces and other military equipment to the Georgianarmed forces. However, in spite of its overwhelming superiority in arms andnumbers over the Abkhaz militia, the Georgian Army failed to achieve a quickvictory.

The massive and fierce resistance that the Georgian Army metcame as a surprise for the Georgian leaders, but was completely natural: theAbkhaz population regarded the Georgian military intervention as a realthreat to its very existence.18 The Abkhazian leadership, relying on thesupport of the public, also succeeded in quickly creating Abkhazianterritorial armed forces. They received fast and effective help from theneighbouring peoples of the North Caucasus as a result of the traditionalethnic solidarity among the Abkhaz-Adygeya peoples. Furthermore, theactivities of the Georgian leadership appeared so scandalous and unfair thatthere was a large influx of volunteers from different parts of the formerSoviet Union, including Chechens, Ossetians, Russians and Ukrainians, tofight the Georgian Army. Usually these volunteers formed internationalbrigades but the Cossacks from southern Russia formed their own units.19

Initially the Abkhazian armed forces experienced an acuteshortage of arms. There is widespread opinion in the West that they receivedtheir arms from the Russian military.20 In the view of the present author,based on numerous interviews with local veterans of the Georgian-Abkhazianwar, arms were indeed often purchased from the Russian military but this wasthe result of private deals, reflecting the progressive disintegration ofgovernment authority under Yeltsin, and did not represent a refinedByzantine approach to the conflict on the part of the Russian authorities.Moreover, when the Georgian Army was defeated at Gagra in 1992 the AbkhazianArmy seized a large amount of modern military equipment, including tanks,surface-to-air missile systems and artillery pieces, which eased their armsand ammunition shortage.

The Georgian-Abkhazian war lasted over a year and was verybloody and destructive. About 20 000 civilians died in Abkhazia;21material damage was estimated at $11.5 billion.22 The war resulted in afundamental change in the ethnic groups in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.Although the attitudes of Georgians, Megrelians and Svans differed,23 thelocal Georgian population on the whole supported the military action. Otherethnic groups, initially neutral in the conflict, later adopted a pro-Abkhazposition as a result of robberies and other excesses by the Georgianmilitary. Thus, since 1992 the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has assumed thecharacter of a confrontation between the Georgian state and the localGeorgian community, on the one hand, and the rest of the multi-ethnicpopulation of Abkhazia, on the other hand.

II. The post-war situation

After the defeat of the Georgian Army and the flight of partof the local Georgian population from Abkhazia,24 the political positionof the Abkhazian leadership solidified. The overwhelming majority of thepopulation consistently supported independence and a strongly pro-Russianorientation. Internal political stability allowed Abkhazia leaders toresolve the country economic problems in spite of isolation from the outsideworld.

Abkhazia economic achievements were especially evident incomparison with Georgia. Its social and economic infrastructure was restoredwithout foreign aid and relied entirely on Abkhazia's domestic potential.The greatest success was in the production of electric power. While inGeorgia over the past eight years the energy crisis has resulted inrestrictions on public electricity consumption (to six hours per day, andduring the winter months of 2001 only one or two hours per day), in Abkhaziathere were no such restrictions and electric power tariffs for ordinaryconsumers remained the lowest throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1999Abkhazia harvested about 10 000 tons of tea and 1000 tons of tobacco, whileexporting over 20 000 tons of citrus crops, achieving a positive tradebalance for the first time since the end of the war.25

After the breakup of the Soviet Union the leaders of Abkhaziaconsidered reunion with Russia a priority task. An appeal of the SupremeSoviet of Abkhazia to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation dated 23March 1993 asked it to return the Republic of Abkhazia into the Russian fold,or to place it under the protection of Russia in the appropriateinternational legal form.26 A resolution adopted at a mass meeting held inAbkhazia on 16 April 1995 repeated the request to the Russian Government fora reunion of Abkhazia and Russia.27 However, there was no positivereaction to these requests. Russia policy was clearly pro-Georgian policy atthat time, and the Abkhazian leadership was forced to work towardslegalizing the state's independence. On 3 October 1999, along with thepresidential elections in Abkhazia, a referendum was held in the country inwhich the overwhelming majority of Abkhazians (97.7 per cent of voters)supported the creation of an independent and democratic Abkhazian state.28On the basis of the result, on 12 October 1999 Abkhazia adopted an Act ofState Independence of the Republic of Abkhazia.29

Understanding that in the circumstances it would beimpossible to achieve de jure recognition of Abkhazia independence by theworld community, the Abkhazian leadership agreed to possible coexistencewith Georgia in a common state within the borders of the former GeorgianSoviet Socialist Republic. At the same time Abkhazia rejected the status ofautonomy and agreed to build relations with Georgia only on the basis ofequality within a common state whose functions would be limited to foreignpolicy, defence, finance, border protection and customs services. Initiallythe Georgian leadership agreed with this approach. It was reflected in thejoint Statement on Measures for a Political Settlement of 4 April 1994 inwhich Georgia and Abkhazia agreed to act as equal sides and pledged toresume official relations on this basis.30 Later, however, the Georgianleadership changed its position and refused to build relations with Abkhaziaon the basis of equality.

The Georgian leadership did not blame Abkhazia secession onits own policies but interpreted it as an annexation and occupation of theprimordial territory of Georgia and as aggression of international terrorismagainst a sovereign state.31 For Tbilisi the only acceptable resolution tothe conflict was to grant Abkhazia the status of autonomy inside the unifiedGeorgian state, and neither the future structure of the Georgian state nor apossible form of autonomy for Abkhazia were even discussed.

For the whole post-Soviet period Georgia policy of state-buildinghas been conducted on the basis of rigid unitarism. The result of thispolicy was a profound economic crisis and the progressive disintegration ofGeorgia. The government in Tbilisi lost control over all the autonomies thatexisted during the Soviet period (Abkhazia, Adzharia and South Ossetia),over Javaheti with its compact 130 000 Armenian population, and over manymountain areas such as Svanetia and the Pankisi gorge, which is populated byChechen-Kistins.

The ruinous character of the policy of building a mono-ethnicstate in a country where the share of ethnic minorities in the population isover 30 per cent was absolutely clear. However, the majority of Georgianlegislators continued to take a negative attitude to any measures that mightundermine the unity of the Georgian state.32 The 1995 constitutionproclaimed Georgia an independent, unified and indivisible state and theterm federalism is not used in it. The constitution proclaims that citizensof Georgia regulate matters of local importance through local self-governmentas long as it does not encroach upon national sovereignty. It also statesthat when conditions are appropriate and self-government bodies have beenestablished throughout the territory of Georgia, the parliament shall beformed with two chambers: the Council of the Republic and the Senate. In thefuture the Senate will consist of members elected from Abkhazia, Adzhariaand other territorial units of Georgia as well as five members appointed bythe President.33

Consisting exclusively of ethnic Georgians, the politicalleadership of Georgia34 did not even consider the possibility of startingnational construction on the basis of federalism rather than on the basis ofa unitary state.

The Abkhazian problem remains the highest priority on Georgiasecurity agenda and it influences its approach to other conflicts. As oneSouth Ossetian leader observed, a Georgian-Ossetian settlement will hardlybe possible before a Georgian-Abkhazian settlement as South Ossetia does notanticipate having a status lower than that of Abkhazia.35 It is also clearthat Adzharia will adopt a similar position. Although the AdzharianGovernment has not formally declared its intention to secede, it operates ina completely independent way and disregards the Tbilisi authorities. Thecustoms, the office of the public prosecutor, the courts, the police and thecoastguard are under its full control. Posts with armed units have been setup on the administrative borders of Adzharia to prevent any armedinfiltration from Georgia. The authorities of Abkhazia and Adzharia maintainconstant contact, and during the Georgian-Abkhazian war Adzharia declaredits neutrality. The Adzharian authorities take their own position on theissue of the Russian military presence in the South Caucasus. They opposethe withdrawal of the Russian troops from the territory of Adzharia and haveopenly declared a pro-Russia policy.36

Tbilisi control over Javaheti is similarly only nominal. ItsArmenian population is pro-Russian and pro-Armenian, and is increasinglydemanding autonomy.37 With the progressive disintegration of the Georgianstate, such compact national minorities living in Georgia as the Megreliansand Svans, and then Georgian sub-ethnic groups such as the Cahetians,Gurians, Khevsurs and Tushins, may also demand autonomy. The possibility ofthe country splitting into many different parts as it was in the 13th-18thcenturies until Georgia became part of the Russian Empire may thereforeagain become a reality. This would mean not only the collapse of theGeorgian state but also a tragedy for the Georgian people.

It is logical therefore that the Georgian Government is onlyready to give Abkhazia autonomous status. It has concentrated all itsdiplomatic efforts on the Georgian refugee problem. The return of theGeorgian population to Abkhazia, which the Georgian leaders insist on, willobviously result in a renewal of hostilities, as it is completelyunacceptable for the people of Abkhazia and its leadership. Natella Akaba,an Abkhazian political analyst, writes that among those who fall under thedefinition of refugees:

There are many people who committed criminal and militaryoffences in 1992-93. Abkhazia is a small country: everybody knows nearlyeverything about their neighbours; the names of those who in the late 1980sdemanded the liquidation of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic and who inAugust 1992 wrote to the Georgian leaders asking for Georgian troops (whichended in bloody clashes) are well known. If they come back, another war willbe inevitable.38

At the same time neither the population of Abkhazia nor itsleaders object to a gradual, staged return of refugees, first of all to theGali region. However, the leadership of Georgia is strongly against thismode of resolving the refugee problem. In the opinion of Russian politicalanalysts these objections are raised because a staged return of refugeespresents a threat to Georgia of their "political" assimilation and gradualintegration into the Abkhazian state, in particular because the Sukhumiauthorities are taking appropriate steps in this direction: among thedeputies of the Abkhazian Parliament there are now two Georgians/Megrelianselected by the population of the Gali region.39

The mass return of Georgian refugees on which the Georgianleadership insists does not mean a peaceful resolution of the Georgian-Abkhazianconflict but is actually intended to help to create favourable conditionsfor a new military campaign for the conquest of Abkhazia, and after that ofother rebellious regions and peoples in Georgia.

III. The position ofRussia

The official position of the Russian Federation on theGeorgian-Abkhazian conflict is based on the recognition of the inviolabilityof Georgia territorial integrity, inside which Abkhazia should be givenbroad political rights. On the basis of this position Russia has acted as anintermediary helping the conflicting sides conclude the Memorandum ofUnderstanding (December 1993), the Agreement on Refugees and the Statementon Measures for Political Settlement of April 1993. At the request of bothsides, in July 1994 a Russian peacekeeping force numbering about 2500soldiers moved into a security zone along the Georgia-Abkhazia border.40

Soon after the deployment, Russian diplomacy ceased to takethe interests of the Abkhazian side into account and began to act as alobbyist for Georgian interests. The then Russian Minister of ForeignAffairs, Andrey Kozyrev, drew himself a plan for the economic suffocation ofAbkhazia, having shown a good understanding for the specific features of itssubtropical economy.41 Under this plan, in December 1994 the RussianGovernment established a special regime of economic and political relationswith Abkhazia which actually meant a blockade of Abkhazia and its isolationnot only from Russia but also from the rest of the world.42 The purpose ofRussian diplomacy at that time was to force the Abkhazian Government toaccept such conditions as would mean full capitulation to Tbilisi.43However, the economic and political blockade of Abkhazia not only did nothelp resolve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict; it strengthened the animosityof the population of Abkhazia towards Georgia. It did not, however, resultin anti-Russian feelings: both the Abkhazian authorities and the generalpublic viewed it as the result of diplomatic intrigues by Tbilisi with theGeorgian lobby in Moscow and of Western pressure on Russia.

The blockade of Abkhazia completely contradicted Russia'snational interests, and it was severely criticized in both houses of theRussian Parliament.44 It could have meant the destabilization of thesituation and the undermining of Russia's positions in the entire westernCaucasus. However, it was never completely implemented because of theprogressive crisis of the Yeltsin Administration and its inability topersuade the regions to implement decisions taken at the federal level. Manysubjects of the Russian Federation-Bashkortostan, Tatar-Stan, Krasnodar Krai(territory) and the republics of the North Caucasus-continued political andeconomic relations with Abkhazia against the wishes of the centralgovernment.

Georgian-Russian cooperation did not bring either side theexpected benefits. It did not protect Russia's geopolitical interests anddid not guarantee the preservation of its military bases in Georgia. TheGeorgian Government was extremely disappointed that Russia did not expandthe powers of its peacekeeping force by giving it police functions over theentire territory of Abkhazia: according to Tbilisi's plans, Russia shouldfirst pacify Abkhazia and then return it to Georgian rule.

Long before Yeltsin departure from office in December 1999the policy of Tbilisi turned anti-Russian. In the hope of militaryintervention by the West in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, Georgiandiplomacy called for the creation around Russia of a belt of democraticstates and actively supported the idea of creating a uniform Caucasus (withoutthe participation of Russia); the policy aimed to destabilize the situationin the North Caucasus and remove Russia from the South Caucasus.

Many Georgian leaders are convinced that after thedisintegration of the Soviet Union the confrontation between Russia and theWest continues. They therefore pin their hopes on military intervention bythe West in the Abkhazian conflict since, in their opinion, the Abkhazianproblem is not only Georgia's problem but is linked to those world processesof which we are eyewitnesses; that is, the collapse of the Soviet Union andthe beginning of a new redistribution of the world . . . Georgia becomes astable partner of the West which, in its turn, tries to complete the processwhich has been started-to crush the Russian Empire by all possible means.45

Such a policy adopted by Tbilisi could only worsen relationswith Russia. It is sharply criticised by the Georgian opposition who regardit as unceremoniously ignoring Russia's national interests and as amanifestation of irrational Russophobia on the part of the GeorgianGovernment.46

With Vladimir Putin's rise to power, Russia ceased toconsider Georgia as its political ally in the region. Its position on theGeorgian-Abkhazian conflict also changed. In September 1999 Putin, thenRussian Prime Minister, annulled the special regime on the border withAbkhazia, thus lifting the economic blockade.47 In November 2000, thePresident of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba. visited Moscow for the first timein several years for bilateral Abkhazian-Russian consultations on politicaland economic issues. In particular, discussions focused on the Abkhazianleaderships desire to maintain the Russian military presence in the SouthCaucasus as it is the one major factor for stability, and on its oppositionto the proposed closure of the Russian military base at Gudauta in Abkhazia.48

When frontier areas of Georgia were transformed into rearbases for Chechen separatists and there were allegations that officialTbilisi was supporting them,49 there was a crisis in Georgian-Russianrelations. In December 2000 Russia (for the first time within the frameworkof the Commonwealth of Independent States, the CIS) introduced a visa regimefor citizens of Georgia; however, the regime did not apply to Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia. The conclusion can be drawn that Russia has begun to developa new system for addressing its interests in the South Caucasus. Activeparticipants in this system are now not only Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgiabut also the unrecognized states in the region, including Abkhazia. Thus allthe states in the South Caucasus that exist de facto may form importantelements of stability and political balance in the region, which is astrategically important one for Russia.

IV. The position of the West

The Western countries support Georgia's territorial integrityand take a one-sidedly pro-Georgian position. During the Georgian-Abkhazianwar the West did not condemn Georgia for excessive use offeree and did notexpress concern over the violations of basic human rights and individualfreedoms perpetrated by the Georgian military. It approved the introductionof repressive sanctions against Abkhazia as the most effective means ofachieving political peace,50 refused to consider the security needs ofAbkhazia and concentrated all its criticism on the Abkhazian leadership.51This unbalanced position only increased the mistrust between the conflictingparties and caused the Abkhazian Government to take a negative attitude toany Western diplomatic initiative.

Meeting the leaders of the three South Caucasus states at theUN Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000, then US Secretary ofState Madeleine Albright made it clear that all future AmericanAdministrations will continue to consider the post-Soviet space a zone ofthe US strategic and vital interests.52 NATO's adoption in April 1999 ofthe concept of humanitarian intervention, which meant that militaryintervention by NATO in the internal affairs of foreign states would bepermissible, raised hopes in Georgia that a military action similar to thatcarried out by NATO in Yugoslavia might be taken in Abkhazia.

Georgia has expressed its interest in replacing the Russianpeacekeeping force with other foreign forces.53 Although this initiativefound support in Turkey and Ukraine, the West refused to consider sendingforces to Abkhazia as it could not risk sustaining losses there similar tothose incurred in previous years by the Russian contingents participating inpeace-making operations.54

Hoping to attract the military intervention of the West inthe conflict, Georgia expressed its determination to join NATO quickly.55This appeared impossible. Conditions for the acceptance of new membersinclude economic stabilization, the resolution of conflicts on the territoryof an applicant, the attainment of NATO standards of military equipment andtraining, and constructive relations with neighbours. As a result, despitethe constant expansion of cooperation between Georgia and NATO in themilitary sphere, the West has limited its activity in the Georgia-Abkhaziaconflict to sending military observers.56

In recent years the policy of Western countries in theCaucasian region has been increasingly influenced by the oil factor. In themid-1990s the Western countries adopted a new energy security doctrine whichcalled for the diversification of energy transport routes to Europe. TheEuropean Union (EU) introduced the TRACECA (the Transport Corridor EuropeCaucasus Asia) and INOGATE (Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe)projects.57 On this basis development began of a new system of transportroutes for petroleum and gas to Europe from Central Asian and the SouthCaucasus. An oil pipeline from Baku to Supsa was laid through the territoryof Georgia, its final section being close to the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazianconflict. The economic penetration of the West into the South Caucasus andCentral Asia also led to an increase of its political influence in theseregions.

The construction, with Western investment, of a new system ofoil and gas pipelines that would bypass Iran and Russia was received withapprehension in Russia as it could deprive it of revenues from oil transit.Repeated statements made in Western countries to the effect that theyrefused to consider the region as part of the Russian sphere of influence,58while at the same time regarding it as a zone of NATO's strategic interests,were recognized by Russia as clear proof of the West ambition to exclude itfrom the region.

V. Conclusions

At present the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has little chanceof being resolved politically: the interests of the conflicting sides are incomplete contradiction. While political efforts to halt the fighting have sofar been unsuccessful, the resumption of hostilities would cause thedestabilization not only of Abkhazia but also of the entire west Caucasianregion. It is unacceptable, therefore, either from the point of view ofRussia interests (the threat of destabilization in the North Caucasus) orfrom that of the West (the danger of military operations spreading to thesystems of oil and gas pipelines between Central Asia, the Caucasus and theoutside world).

The political normalization of the conflict is impossibleunless Georgia puts an end to its policy of unitarism. A single Georgianstate within the borders of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic ispossible only as a federation of equal peoples like Belgium or Switzerland.Each people must be granted its own form- of statehood and representation inthe central government. There should also be international guarantees of therights of ethnic minorities and of the territorial integrity of Georgia. Onthe other hand, a continuation of the policy of unitarism may result in thefurther disintegration of the Georgian state; in that case Abkhazia mayaspire to international recognition as an independent state.

Contradictions between Russia and the West in the SouthCaucasus present a serious potential danger. Under the existing conditionsof general instability in the region, further escalation may be caused withthe minimum of effort. Russia and the West should, therefore, be interestednot in continuing their rivalry but in closer coordination of their regionalpolicies. The basis of such cooperation might be mutual recognition of eachothers strategic interests in the region. The development of a coordinatedpolicy might be an effective means of stabilizing the entire Caucasianregion and creating a basis for the resolution of local conflicts, includingthe Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.

Coppieters et al. (note I)

1.Hewitt. G. (ed.), The Abkhazians: A Handbook, Peoples ot"the Caucasus Handbooks (St Martins Press: New York, 1999), pp. 13-16. Seealso Coppieters, B., Darchiashvili. D. and Akaba, N. (eds). PraktikaFnderali:ma: Poiski Aliernativ diva Gruzii i Abkha:ii Practice offederalism: exploring alternatives for Georgia and Abkhazia (Vesmir: Moscow.1999) p. 21.

2.The names Georgia and Georgian most likely derive from thePersian Gurgistan and Gurg ("the country of wolves, "wolf). They firstappear in Russian chronicles and documents in the 15th century. TheMegrelians are the most numerous in the Kartvelian linguistic group:estimates range from 20% to 30% of the group. This is the primary factorwhich has prevented their rapid assimilation by Georgians.

3.Mehtiev, A., Baku i Tbilisi nuzhny drug drugu Baku and Tbilisi need eachother), e:avisimaya Ga:eta, 17 Sep. 1992; and Zhidkov, S., Brosok MalovImperil The spurt of a small empire) (Adygeya: Maikop, 1996).

4.Mescheryakov, N. V., Menshevistskom rayu: iz vpechatlenii poezdki v GruziyuIn Menshevist paradise: from impressions of a trip to Georgia (Gosizdat:Moscow, 1921); and Denikin, A., Ocherki russkoy smuty Studies in Russiantroubled times (Slovo: Berlin. 1925).

5.Stalin, 5.. Sochineniya Works (Politizdat: Moscow, 1946), vol. 2, pp.350-51.

6.Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociopolitical Studies, OBezopasnosti Rossii v Svyaii s Sobytiyami v Abkhazii On Russia security inconnection with events in Abkhazia, Analytical paper (Russian Academy ofSciences: Moscow, 1993), pp. 3-4.

7.Belaya Kniga Abkhazii: Dokumenty, Materialy, Svidetel stvaWhite book of Abkhazia: documents, materials, evidence (Vnekom: Moscow,1993), p. 30. The remainder of the population was made up of Armenians,Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians and others.

8.From the Abkhaz own name for themselves, Apsua.

9.Zorzoliani., G., Lekishvili, S. and Toidze, L., Istoricheskiye i Politiko-PravovyeAspelay Konflikla v Abkhccii Historical and politico-legal aspects of theconflict in Abkhazia (Metsniereba: Tbilisi, 1995), pp. 12-13; and Pipia, B.and Chikviladze, Z., Raspyalaya Gruziya Crucified Georgia (Pechatny Dvor:St Petersburg, 1995), p. 9.

10. Vasilyeva, O., Gmziya kak Model Poskommunisticheskoy Transformatsii Georgiaas a model of post-communist transformation (Gorbachev-Fond: Moscow, 1993),p. 31.

11. Abkhaziya v Sovetskuyu Epokhu: Abkhazskiye Pisma /1947-1989); SbornikDokumemov Abkhazia during the Soviet epoch: Abkhaz letters (1947-1989):Collection of documents (El-Fa: Sukhumi, 1992), vol. 1, p. 435. The appealsby Abkhaz political and public figures to the central Soviet Governmentknown as the Abkhaz letters played an important role in the Abkhaz nationalmovement and the history of inter-ethnic relations in Abkhazia. The story ofthe Abkhaz letters was published in this collection.

12. Vasilyeva (note 10), pp. 29-46.

13. Deklaratsiya o gosudarstvennom suverenitete Abkhazskoy SovetskoySotsialisticheskoy respubliki: Prinyata X sessiyey Verkhovnogo SovetaAbkhazskoy ASSR 11 sozyva 25 avgusta 1990 goda The Declaration of the statesovereignty of the Abkhaz Soviet Socialist republic adopted by the 10thsession of the llth Supreme Soviet of the Abkhaz ASSR, 25 Aug. 1990,available at URL ; and Abkhaziya: Khronika Neob yavlennoy I&aoynu Abkhazia:chronicle of undeclared war (Luc&h: Moscow, 1992), part 1, pp. 12-15.

14. Kalinin. Yu., Zerkala separatizma: Eduarcl Shevardnadzevpervuye rasskazal o taynakh nachala gruzino-abkhazskoy voyny Mirrors ofseparatism: Eduard Shevardnadze discloses for the first time mysteries ofhow the Georgian-Abkhazian war began), foskovskiy Komsomolets, 10 Feb. 1996.

15. Followers of Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

16. Zhidkov(note3).

17. Gamsakhurdia was a Megrelian. and it is in Megrelia that the influence ofhis followers, the Zviadists, is strongest.

18. One month after the hostilities began the Presidium of theSupreme Soviet of the Abkhaz Republic adopted a special resolution whichdescribed mass terror, physical extermination of people, torture ofprisoners and hostages carried out by the State Council of Georgia inAbkhazia as an act of genocide of the Abkhaz nation. On genocide of theAbkhaz nation. Resolution no. 10-127, Gudauta, 16 Sep. 1992.

19. Konfederatsiya gorskikh narodov Kavkaza vstupayet v boy The Confederationof Caucasian Mountain Peoples joins the fight, Krasnaya Zve:da, 27 Aug.1992, p. I: and Leontyeva. L., The path of war, Moscow News, 6-13 Sep. 1992.

20. Gru:iya/Abkha:iya: Narusheniya Zakonov Vedeniya Voyny iRol Rossii v Konflikte Georgia/ Abkhazia: violations of the laws of war andRussia's role in the conflict (Human Rights Watch: Helsinki. 1995).

21. Slabili:atsiva Mezhetnicheskikh i SotsiokuliurnykhOlnoshemi na Kavka:e Stabilization of inter- ethnic and socio-culturalrelations in the Caucasus) (Etnosfera: Moscow, 1999), p. 87.

22. Mukhin, V., Abkhaziya nikogda ne stanet avtonomnoyedinitsey Gruzii Abkhazia will never become an autonomy of Georgia,Nezavisimaya Gazeta. 29 Sep. 2000.

23. The attitude taken by Megrelians towards the war is described in Zhidkov (note3), pp. 236-37.

24. According to the Department of Statistics of the Government of Abkhazia, by1995 the population of Abkhazia was reduced to 313 000, of which 29.1% wereAbkhaz, 28.7% Georgians, 19.8% Armenians, 16.5% Russians, 2.6% Ukrainians,1.1% Greeks and 2.2% others. Krylov, A.. Post-Sovelskaya Abkha:iya:Traditsii. Religii, Narod Post-Soviet Abkhazia: traditions, religions,people (OOAgent: Moscow, 1999), p. 11.

25. Mukhin (note 22).

26. Gruzino-Abkhazskiy Konjlikt: Proshloye, astovascheye. PerspectiveUregulirovaniya The Georgian-Abkhazian conflict: past, present andprospects of settlement (Institute of Diaspora and Integration, Instituteof the CIS Countries: Moscow, 1998), p. 27.

27. Obrashcheniye skhoda mnogonatsionalnogo naroda Abkhazii, posvyashchennogo185-letiyu dobrovolnogo vkozhdeniya Abhazii v sostav Rossii Appeal of themass meeting of the multinational people of Abkhazia devoted to the 185thanniversary of the voluntary entry of Abkhazia into Russia, Sukhumi, 16 Apr.1995 (copy in SIPRI archive).

28. See the Internet site of the Republic of Abkhazia (Apsny),URL.

29. Akt Gosudarstvennoy Nezavisimosti Respubliki Abkhaziya Actof state independence of the Republic of Abkhazia, Sukhumi. 12 Oct. 1999 (copyin SIPRI archive).

30. The text of this Statement was published in Sukhumi on 5Apr. 1994.

31. Gru:ino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 15.

32. Gru:ino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 15.

33. The Constitution of Georgia, available at URL .

34. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 48.

35. 35 Hanbabjan. A., Gruziya-Abkhaziya . . . Obsuzhdeniyekonstuutsionnogo statusa samo- provozglashennoy respubliki chrevatoseryoznymi posledstviyami Georgia-Abkhazia. . . Discussion of theconstitutional status of the self-proclaimed republic is fraught withserious consequences, ,e:a-visimaya Ga:eta, 19 Sep. 2000.

36. Soidze, O. and Berdzenishvili. D., Protivostoyaniye mezhduTbilisi i Batumi ili o problemakh sobrannosti natsii i polnote gosudarstva Confrontationbetween Tbilisi and Batumi, or on problems of consolidation of the nationand completeness of the state, Tsentralnaya A:iya i Kavka: (Lulea), no. 2(2000), p. 214. On the Russian military presence, see section III in thischapter.

37. Soidze and Berdzenishvili (note 36), pp. 217-18.

38. Akaba, N., Georgian-Abkhazian conflict: rooted in the past,resolved in future. Central Asia and the Caucasus (Lulea), no. 6 (2000), p.119.

39. Gncino-Abkhazskiy Konfltkt (note 26), pp. 19-20.

40. The number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia is notconstant. Initially they numbered 2500. but by the end of 1996 that wasreduced to 1500. By the end of 2000 the number of Russian peacekeepers inAbkhazia was 1747. Figure supplied by the Russian Embassy in Stockholm. 26Feb. 2001.

41. Gruzino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 25.

42. Government of the Russian Federation Decree no. 1394. 19Dec. 1994.

43. The dominance of the Georgian lobby in the RussianMinistry of Foreign Affairs was largely explained by a personnel heritageleft by Eduard Shevardnadze, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSRunder Mikhail Gorbachev. Reflecting this, in the middle of 1990s a popularjoke was to call the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the RussianMinistry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.

44. Resolution of the State Duma no. 1640, 2 June 1997; Appeal of the FederationCouncil to President Boris Yeltsin no. 166, 15 May 1997; and Appeal of theState Duma to the Government of the Russian Federation, 11 Jan. 1999.

45. Nadareishvili, T., Ya ne nadeyus chto abkhazskiy vopros reshitsya mirnymputyom I do not believe that the Abkhazian problem will be resolvedpeacefully, Tseniralnaya Aziva i Kavkaz (Lulea), no. 2 (2000), p. 27.

46. Kobalia, V., Rossiya zakhlopnula dver k spaseniyu Russiaslams the door to rescue, ezavisimaya Gazeta, 24 Feb. 2001.

47. Government of the Russian Federation Decree no. 1029. 9Sep. 1999.

48. O kharaktere rossiyskogo-abkhazskikh peregovorov Thecharacter of the Russian-Abkhazian negotiations, Apsnipress (Sukhumi), no.225 (22 Nov. 2000). In June 2001 the Abkhazian leadership initiated ablockade of the base at Gudauta, thus preventing its closure and withdrawalof military equipment from the base. TV1 (Tbilisi), 14 June 2001, inGeorgia: Abkhaz foreign minister says Russian hardware should remain inAbkhazia, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report-CentralEurasia (FB1S-SOV), FBIS-SOV-2001-0614, 14 June 2001; and Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty (RFE/RL), RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, no. 127, Part 1 (9 July 2001).

49. Broladze, N., -Kuda ischezli narushiteli granitsy? Wherehave border infringers disappeared?, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 23 Nov. 2000; andAleksandrov. V.. Na kholmakh Gruzii-bandity Gangsters on the hills ofGeorgia, Tntd, 28 Nov. 2000.

50. Gntzino-Abkhazskiy Konjlikt (note 26), p. 25.

51. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 63.

52. Nuriev. E., No war, no peace in the Caucasus: thegeopolitical game continues!, Central Asia and the Caucasus (Lulea), no. 6(2000), p. 13.

53. Gruziya predlagayet peresmotret mandat mirotvortsevGeorgia propose to review the peace keepers mandatel, Segodnya, 24 Mar.1997. p. 1. See also Lynch, D.. The Conflict in Abkhazia: Dilemmas inRussian Peacekeeping Policy (Royal Institute of International Affairs:London. 1998), pp. 31-36.

54. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 58.

55. Associated Press, Georgian leader hopes to join NATO, 29 Apr. 1999.

56. In the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOM1G), taskedwith verifying the compliance of both sides with the ceasefire agreement.

57. For details see the TRACECA Internet site, URL ; and the INOGATE Internetsite, URL .

The Security of theCaspian Sea Region, Oxford University Press, 2001

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