Logo Thing main logo

Ostatnie wpisy


Attempts to Resolve the Georgian–Abkhaz Conflict


AbstractThe article discusses the attempts to resolve the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, which were put forward by the conflict sides as well as by different actors, who participated in the peace process. It analyzes the peace initiatives and explores their asset. It points out the problem of the conflict perception by different actors, which leads to a stalemate and constitutes a serious obstacle for future reconciliation.Key words: Abkhazia. Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Peace process.StreszczeniePróby rozwiązania konfliktu gruzińsko-abchaskiegoArtykuł porusza kwestie dotyczące prób rozwiązania konfliktu gruzińsko-abchaskiego, które zostały podjęte przez strony konfliktu oraz przez podmioty zaangażowane w procesie pokojowym. Celem artykułu jest analiza inicjatyw pokojowych oraz zbadanie ich atutów. Artykuł wskazuje na problem percepcji konfliktu przez różne podmioty, co prowadzi do sytuacji patowej oraz stwarza poważną przeszkodę dla przyszłego pojednania.Słowa kluczowe: Abchazja. Konflikt gruzińsko-abchaski. Proces pokojowy. IntroductionAbkhazia is a de facto state, which is located in the north-west of Georgia. In the Soviet times, it had a status of an autonomous republic within Georgia with its own constitution. In the late 1980s, the separatist tendencies grew stronger. At that times, Abkhazians constituted around 18 per cent of the population of Abkhazia, however, they demanded that the legal status of Abkhazia be upgraded to a union republic.In August 1992, the disagreements between the central government in Tbilisi and the separatist leaders in Sukhum(i) grew into an armed conflict, which lasted fourteen months. In September 1993, Abkhaz forces managed to recapture Sukhum(i) and oust Georgian troops out of Abkhazia. The armed conflict resulted in an extensive material damage, the displacement of more than 200,000 ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia and in the secession of Abkhazia from Georgia. Since 1993, Georgia has not been exercising effective control over the territory of Abkhazia. Nowadays, Abkhazia is recognized as a state by the Russian Federation, Nauru, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela. Early Peace InitiativesAfter the end of direct hostilities in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, a dialogue process started. The Russian Federation acted as a facilitator in the attempt to preserve the territorial integrity of Georgia. This led to the adoption of the Declaration on measures for political settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, signed in Moscow on 4April1994. Pursuant to the Agreement, Abkhazia was to have its own constitution, legislation, and appropriate state symbols (anthem, emblem, and flag). The parties reached a compromise regarding joint actions in the fields of foreign policy and foreign economic ties, border guard arrangements, customs, energy, transport and communications, ecology and elimination of consequences of natural disasters as well as human and civil rights and freedoms and the rights of national minorities. It also needs to be mentioned that the parties signed a quadripartite agreement providing for the return and repatriation of refugees and displaced persons in accordance with the existing international practice [Declaration 1994]. Nevertheless, this agreement turned out to be problematic for both parties of the conflict—the Abkhaz side was delaying the process of repatriation [UN SC Resolution 1036], while the Georgian side did not implement the provisions of the agreement concerning the distribution of powers [Лакоба 2000].In 1998, a new peace process with confidence-building measures, based on common meetings, started under the auspices of the United Nations. The first meeting between the Abkhazian and Georgian sides was held in Athens in October 1998. It was followed by a meeting in Istanbul in June 1999. The discussions were mainly focused on the implementation of commitments and on the return of refugees and IDPs [Istanbul Statement…]. It did not, however, bring any concrete results.In the same year, a new proposal on Georgian-Abkhaz relations by Ivlian Khaindrava appeared, according to which Abkhazia was supposed to be divided based on ethnic structure. The division line was to go to the north from Sukhum(i) up to the confluence of the rivers Eastern Gumista and Western Gumista, further it was to follow the Eastern Gumista River up to the Bzyp River and then along the Bzyp River to the administrative borders of the Gulripsh region. The territories on the eastern side of the division line were supposed to be Georgian and the territories on the western side were meant to be Abkhaz. Similarly, the city of Sukhum(i) was to be divided into two equal parts. According to the plan, the western territories were supposed to be granted the status of the Republic of Abkhazia within Georgia, whilst the eastern territories, including the Georgian part of Sukhum(i), were supposed to be transformed into the Abkhaz region as an integral part of Georgia [Хаиндрава 1999: 356–359]. Even though the purpose of this proposal was to erase possible future tensions between Abkhazians and Georgians based on the ethnic division of Abkhazia, I remain skeptical about the effectiveness and durability of such project. Firstly, it was likely to aggravate the dissatisfaction of ethnic Georgians who had previously lived in the western territories and vice versa. Secondly, such ethnic division could have transformed into an actual division of Abkhazia between Russia and Georgia.Map 1: Division of Abkhazia according to I. Khaindrava’s plan[Хаиндрава 1999: 358]In 1999, a meeting between the Abkhazian and Georgian sides, chaired by UN Special Representative D. Boden, was held in Yalta, Ukraine. At the end of the meeting, Programme of Action on Confidence-building between the Georgian and Abkhaz Sides was approved. Apart from the commitment to implement previous agreements, the parties agreed to establish a mechanism for reporting on their progress [Yalta Declaration…]. Additionally, they approved an annex to the Programme, which included a list of specific measures aimed at confidence-building between the parties.The Boden Plan and the Key to the FutureIn 2001, the document titled The Principles of Distribution of Competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, prepared by German diplomat and UN Special Representative Dieter Boden, was introduced. The title of the document itself indicated avoidance of the terms “Georgia” and “Abkhazia”, replacing them with the names of the capitals instead. The basic principles of the document were as follows [The Principles for Division…]:Georgia is a sovereign state and its borders may not be subject to alteration unless it complies with the Constitution of Georgia;Abkhazia is a sovereign entity established within the Georgian state with a special status within the state;The distribution of competences between Tbilisi and Sukhum(i) is based on the Federal Agreement (constitutional law); The Federal Agreement shall not be subject to any changes or amendments without mutual consent of both sides;The distribution of competences shall be determined, among others, on the basis of Declaration of measures on a political settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict of 4April1994;The Constitution of Georgia shall be changed in accordance with the distribution of competences determined in the Federal Agreement;The Constitution of Abkhazia, on the basis of which it is possible to lay the Constitution of Abkhazia of 26November1994, shall be changed in accordance with the agreement on the distribution of competences between Tbilisi and Sukhum(i) as determined in the Federal Agreement;Both the Constitution of Georgia and the Constitution of Abkhazia should consist of similar provisions with regard to the protection of everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms, eliminating the discrimination of national minorities. Both in the Constitution of Georgia and in the Constitution of Abkhazia, nothing shall violate the indisputable rights to safe return to their homes for all displaced people in conformity with international law;The Georgian state and Abkhazia should agree on the composition and activity of the Constitutional Court.Even though the document attempted to appease both Georgia and Abkhazia, none of the parties was enthusiastic enough to implement the so-called Boden-document for a number of reasons. First of all, the framing of the position of Abkhazia as a “sovereign entity” was hardly acceptable to Georgia since it feared that granting “sovereignty” to Abkhazia would imply its statehood and independence. Secondly, as D. Boden noted himself, too much time had been wasted because “the Georgian political leadership avoided speaking out positively on the document for some time, adopting a position of ‘wait and see’ instead” [Boden 2011]. Furthermore, the Russian Federation refused to put any pressure on the Abkhaz side and requested that “nothing should be imposed on the conflict sides” [Ibidem]. In the meantime, the Abkhazians, encouraged by Russia, stepped out of any commitment. At the UN Security Council’s meeting in January 2006, Russia declared that the Boden-document could no longer be considered a basis for negotiations on the future status of Abkhazia [Moscow kills…].In 2006, the Abkhaz side presented a draft for the peaceful settlement of the conflict, known as “Key to the Future”. The document suggested that Georgia should acknowledge and apologize for its past mistakes, especially the internal colonization of Abkhazia by ethnic Georgians during Stalin’s regime and the launch of the war in 1992, which remains an essential prerequisite from the Abkhaz side: “The political acts that were carried out by Georgia in the Communist period were of discriminatory nature, artificially underestimated the ethnic Abkhaz population, changed Abkhaz [geographical names—P.S.] and transformed Abkhaz statehood” [The Proposal of the Abkhaz side…]. Besides, the document called for renouncement of the blockade, including political and economic pressure on Abkhazia, which “deprives the Abkhaz people of a substantial part of their income” [Ibidem] by preventing Abkhazia from establishing contacts with the outside world and from economic development. The document also suggested “practical steps to strengthen trust building measures”, which were supposed to be reached mainly through demilitarization. The new phase in the peaceful process was to be demonstrated by high-level meetings of Georgian and Abkhaz representatives. The return of refugees, not limited only to the Gal(i) region, was supposed to be preceded by an assessment of its scope with the support of international organizations. With regard to the question of the future status of Abkhazia, Georgia was expected to initiate the recognition of Abkhazia’s independence. After the recognition, mutual cooperation in the fields of economy, energy sector and security, as well as science and culture, could become the “key to the future” of friendly relations between the two independent countries. Finally, it stressed the fact that Abkhazia is a party to the conflict as well as the need for the presence of an Abkhaz representative at the sessions of the UN Security Council. It perhaps does not come as a surprise that the Georgian side was not in favor of the aforementioned proposal, mostly because it still advocated its territorial integrity and was not ready to commit to perceiving Abkhazia as an independent state.The relations between Sukhum(i) and Tbilisi deteriorated as the Georgian side launched a military operation in the Kodor(i) Valley in July 2006 in order to “reestablish order in the upper part of the valley” [Lewicki 2012: 105]. Georgian military groups had been stationed in the Kodor(i) Valley since 2001 in violation of the 1994 Moscow Agreement and had been a matter of dispute between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides. “A major stumbling block has been the continued presence of Georgian troops in the Kodori Valley in violation of the 1994 Moscow Agreement. […] The Abkhaz side has stated that it is not willing to discuss any subject with the Georgian side as long as these forces have not been withdrawn” [Report of the Secretary-General… 2002]. Moreover, in July 2006, Georgia relocated the Government of the Abkhaz Autonomous Republic to the Kodor(i) Valley (the so-called government in exile). Tbilisi continued arguing that the installment of the Government of the Abkhaz Autonomous Republic in the Kodor(i) Valley did not violate the Moscow Agreement and was aimed at forestalling the recognition of Abkhazia [Report of the Secretary-General… 2007]. Consequently, the relations between Tbilisi and Sukhum(i) deteriorated and so did the relations between Tbilisi and Moscow as the Abkhaz Parliament suspended negotiations with the Georgian side until the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the Kodor(i) Valley, while Russia announced that it was no longer bound by the 1996 Decision of the CIS Council of Heads of States on measures to settle the conflict in Abkhazia, in which it imposed sanctions on Abkhazia and proposed that other countries do the same [Report of the Secretary-General… 2008a].Towards the StalemateIn March 2008, President Saakashvili announced Georgia’s proposal for the resolution of the conflict, which included: “unlimited autonomy and wide federalism, supported by international guarantees; broad Abkhaz political representation in the official structures of Georgia, including a new post of Vice-President to be occupied by an Abkhaz; the right to veto legislation and decisions related to the constitutional status of Abkhazia, Georgia and to issues related to Abkhaz culture, language and ethnicity; the establishment of jointly controlled free economic zones in the Gal(i) and Ochamchira districts; and the gradual merger of law enforcement and customs services” [Ibidem]. However, the Abkhaz side rejected this proposal, stating that it was not acceptable and that the only option it was prepared to consider was building good neighborly relations with Georgia on an equal basis.In July 2008, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, presented a plan for reconciliation between Abkhazia and Georgia, which consisted of three phases. The first phase envisaged a year of trust-building measures including the return of approximately 250,000 IDPs to Abkhazia. The second phase envisaged reconstruction work, and the last phase included a political solution of the conflict, i.e. either reintegration of Abkhazia into Georgia or granting independence to Abkhazia [Germany Proposes Peace Plan…]. Despite the fact that the plan initially met with the approval from both Russia and the U.S., it was later disrupted by the outbreak of a military conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008.Following the outbreak of hostilities in South Ossetia and shelling of Tskhinval(i) by Georgian artillery, Abkhazians joined the fighting on 8August and bombed the Kodor(i) Valley, which had been under Georgian control. The Abkhaz side feared that it could become a likely target after South Ossetia and claimed to have found a number of heavy artillery pieces as well as facilities suitable for thousands of military personnel in the Kodor(i) Valley [Report of the Secretary-General… 2008b: 3-12]. By 12August, the Abkhazian forces, backed by Russian military, established control over the upper Kodor(i) Valley, which resulted in the displacement of approximately 3,000 ethnic Georgians [Russia vs Georgia… 3]. The 2008 military conflict has severely disrupted the peace process and escalated mutual distrust. Recognition of Abkhazia by the Russian Federation and the subsequent adoption of the Law on Occupied Territories by Georgia have caused a clear shift of Abkhaz interests towards Russia and, consequently, a lack of political will on the Abkhaz side to demand anything less than recognition and “good neighborly relations”.In October 2008, a new peace platform, the Geneva International Discussions, was launched in order to address the consequences of the 2008 armed conflict. They are co-chaired by the OSCE, the EU, and the UN. This format brings together participants from Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Russia and the United States. However, all participants have an individual status.In 2010, the Government of Georgia approved the State Strategy on Occupied Territories. Engagement through Cooperation (hereinafter referred to as “Strategy”), in which it outlined the vision of cooperation with the de factoregimes, mostly relying on a soft-law approach, such as the development of a welfare system and its benefits for the inhabitants of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The aim of the Strategy is to “achieve the full de-occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, reverse the process of annexation of these territories by the Russian Federation as well as peacefully reintegrate these territories and their populations into Georgia’s constitutional ambit” [State Strategy… 2010]. The following principles of the Strategy can be identified:Respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia and the inviolability of its borders;The future political status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia can be determined only within the state boundaries of Georgia;The necessity of safe and voluntary return of internally displaced persons;The need for interaction with the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, based on people-to-people contacts;The obligation to respect human rights of the populations in compliance with international law standards.In my view, it is worth paying attention to the issue of language of the above document. The name of the Strategy refers to the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories, which are under the occupation of the Russian Federation. However, a different perception is present on the other side of the administrative border line, where the population does not perceive itself as being occupied and where Russian military forces are considered as “peacekeepers”. Even though the term “occupied territories” is perfectly correct under international law, for the sake of reconciliation, it might be worth reconsidering its use and perhaps replacing it with the terms “de facto regimes” or “territories under de facto control of the Russian Federation”. The Strategy also states explicitly that it has been developed “with the conviction that the remaining residents of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia are an integral part of Georgia’s society and future” [Ibidem].The problem of solving the frozen conflict is also connected with the issue of perception of the problem. In his book, D. Boden points out that Georgia is trying to make the impression that Russian soldiers are preventing Abkhazia and South Ossetia from their desire to join Georgia, which is a pure illusion. The wounds of the war have not yet healed, and the majority of the Abkhazian population simply does not wish to be part of Georgia [Boden 2018: 79–82]. The process of reconciliation does not seem easy and might take decades. There is, however, a growing risk that after some time contacts and personal ties between Georgians and Abkhazians might get weaker, and there will be even less that would connect Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia. Thus, in my opinion, it is inevitable to support projects based on interactions between people, the exchange of youth between Tbilisi and Sukhum(i) as well as common projects in the fields of education and culture.As regards international organizations aiming to stabilize the situation, it is worth mentioning the European Union, which is undoubtedly one of the most important international actors contributing to international peace and stability in the South Caucasus region in several ways. First and foremost, the European Union established the European Union Monitoring Mission (hereinafter referred to as “EUMM”) on 15September2008 with the following goals [Council Joint Action… 2018]:Stabilization: This point includes monitoring of and reporting on the fulfillment of normative requirements by the conflict parties, such as compliance with international humanitarian law as well as with the so-called Six Point Agreement, withdrawal of armed forces, and freedom of movement.Normalization: This group of tasks embraces monitoring of and reporting on the rule of law and public order as well as on infrastructure, security, and return of IDPs.Confidence building: The goals of the EUMM are to liaison and facilitate contacts between the conflict parties.The main tool that has already been established is the so-called “hotline”, which allows the EUMM to directly contact the conflict parties. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have denied the EUMM access to these territories. The Abkhaz de facto authorities have been blaming the EUMM for being biased and attacking the Abkhaz side of the conflict.Secondly, the European Union acts as a mediator in the conflict and participates in the Geneva International Discussions, which are meant to bring together Abkhazia, South Ossetia (the breakaway regions), Georgia, Russia, the United States, the EU, and the OSCE.Thirdly, the European Union, as a regional international organization, supports the territorial integrity of Georgia and keeps condemning the ongoing presence of the Russian Federation in the territory of Abkhazia as a violation of international law. This view was expressed by the High Representative at the 10th anniversary of the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia, stating that “the European Union reiterates its firm support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders” [Declaration by the High Representative…].ConclusionDespite a number of peace initiatives, the Georgian–Abkhaz conflict remains frozen. While the Georgian side insists that Abkhazia is an integral part of Georgia, the Abkhaz side claims that Abkhazia is an independent state and denounces any proposals on a common state solution with Georgia. One of the most feasible peace proposals was introduced by German diplomat Dieter Boden, however, it has never been adopted by any of the conflict parties.In 2008, the Russian Federation recognized the independence of Abkhazia and claimed that the Georgian–Abkhaz conflict had been ultimately solved. Undoubtedly, the recognition has deteriorated the relations between the Russian Federation and Georgia, and has put an insurmountable obstacle into the peace process. What is more, Georgia maintains that the conflict exists solely between Georgia and the Russian Federation, and considers Abkhazia as an occupied territory. The vast majority of the international community reaffirms the territorial integrity of Georgia.The Geneva International Discussions, which have been taking place since 2008, have not brought any concrete effects so far. Therefore, a soft-policy approach might have higher chances to gain trust among the Abkhaz population. Undoubtedly, there is a paramount need to reestablish dialogue between the conflict sides on both official and non-official level.BibliographyBoden, D. 2011. 10 years after the peace plan. [online:] https://dfwatch.net/10-years-after-the-peace-plan-95247-894 [last retrieved 10-03-2021].Boden, D. 2018. Georgien. Ein Länderporträt. Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag.Cf. Лакоба, С. 2000. Грузино-абхазские отношения в контексте российской политики на Кавказе [Stosunki gruzińsko-abchaskie w kontekście rosyjskiej polityki na Kaukazie]. In Аспекты грузино-абхазского конфликта. Но 4. Материалы грузино-абхазской конференции: гражданское общество, беженцы, государственное устройство. Irvine: University of California.Council Joint Action 2008/736/CFSP of 15 September 2008 on the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia, EUMM Georgia. [online:] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:248:0026:0031:EN:PDF[last retrieved 10-04-2021].Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the 10-year anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Georgia. [online:] https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/georgia/49171/node/49171_me [last retrieved 19-04-2021].Declaration on measures for political settlement of the Georgian/Abkhaz conflict signed on 4April1994. [online:] https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/GE_940404_DeclarationOnMeasuresForPoliticalSettlementGeogianAbkhazConflict.pdf[last retrieved 18-10-2021].Germany Proposes Peace Plan for Abkhazia. [online:] https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/calming-the-caucasus-germany-proposes-peace-plan-for-abkhazia-a-564246.html [last retrieved 22-04-2021].Istanbul Statement of the Georgian and Abkhaz Sides on Confidence-Building Measures. [online:] https://reparations.qub.ac.uk/assets/uploads/1999-Istanbul-Statement-of-the-Georgian-and-Abkhaz-Sides-on-Confidence-Building-Measures.pdf [last retrieved 08-04-2021].Lewicki, Z. 2012. Konflikt gruzińsko-abchaski w świetle działań pokojowych ONZ (1992-2009). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo AON.Moscow kills Boden Paper, threatens to terminate UNOMIG in Georgia. [online:] https://jamestown.org/program/moscow-kills-boden-paper-threatens-to-terminate-unomig-in-georgia/ [last retrieved 10-03-2021].Report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. S/2002/88. [online:] https://undocs.org/S/2002/88 [last retrieved 20-04-2021].Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. S/2007/15. [online:] https://undocs.org/S/2007/15[last retrieved 21-04-2021].Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. S/2008/219. (a) [online:] https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Georgia%20S2008%20219.pdf [last retrieved 21-04-2021].Report of the Secreatry-General on the Situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. S/2008/631 (b). [online:] https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Georgia%20S2008%20631.pdf [last retrieved 26-04-2021].Russia vs Georgia: The Fallout. Europe Report no. 195—22 August 2008. [online:] https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/195-russia-vs-georgia-the-fallout.pdf [last retrieved 26-04-2021].State Strategy on Occupied Territories. Engagement through Cooperation. 2010. [online:] http://gov.ge/files/225_31228_851158_15.07.20-StateStrategyonOccupiedTerritories-EngagementThroughCooperation(Final).pdf [last retrieved 06-03-2021].The Principles for Division of Competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. [online:] http://www.iccn.ge/files/boden__document_2002.pdf [last retrieved 08-03-2021].The proposal of the Abkhaz side on a comprehensive settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. “Key to the Future“.[online:] http://www.kapba.de/KeyToTheFuture.html [last retrieved 16-10-2021].UN SC Resolution 1036. [online:] http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/1036 [last retrieved 18-10-2021].Yalta Declaration of the Georgian and Abkhaz Sides. [online:] https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/GE_010316_YaltaDeclarationGeorgianAbkhazSides.pdf [last retrieved 08-04-2021].Хаиндрава, И. 1999. Конфликт в Абхазии и возможный путь его урегулирования [Konflikt w Abchazji i możliwy sposób jego uregulowania]. In Практика федерализма. Поиски альтернатив для Грузии и Абхазии. Москва: Весь Мир.Picture: C.C. via Flickr______________________Piotr SieniawskiInstytut Nauk o Polityce i Administracji, Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego w WarszawieORCID 0000-0002-4654-7170