Friday, 8 February 2013

Comment on Irakli Alasania’s statement

Last week Georgia's Minister of Defence Irakli Alasania spoke at Chatham House about learning from the past, and relations with Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. ( )

In his speech Mr Alasania commented at one point that “Georgia had fought three wars with Russia in past 20 years”.

Obviously, 2008 was one, but the other two??

It is, of course, nothing new for Georgian officials and media to portray their wars (which they themselves were responsible for starting) with the Abkhazians and Ossetians as Russian–Georgian wars — consider the following from  “Rustavi 2”: “On 14 August 1992, Russian troops invaded Georgia`s region of Abkhazia and still continue to occupy the territory.” 

Once, Sergey Shamba, former Foreign Minister of Abkhazia, declared: “Falsification of Abkhazian history is a favourite method of nationalistic Georgian scholars, but it can only occcasion regret when Georgian politicians and spiritual leaders make such statements.”

Georgian governments and officials come to power and move on, but this practice seems never to change.  So let’s return to Alasania’s statement that Georgia has fought three wars with Russia in past 20 years. 

Here are the words of Guram Odisharia,  Georgia’s new Minister for Culture and Monument Protection, spoken in the documentary film “Absence of Will”: 

If I’d thought for one moment that something was about to happen I would have got my family out of there. But it was a complete shock to me when the war started. I was on holiday when it happened. I was swimming in the sea when I saw two helicopter-gunships dropping bombs on the town. I could see black smoke rising around my house. We counted 55 tanks.

Then he continues: “At first the Georgians were better armed. The Russian government gave us a whole tank division. But then they started to arm the Abkhaz too.”

And then there is the question of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s complicity in the Georgian attack on Abkhazia on 14th August 1992.

Excerpt: "Moreover, there were other indications that Russia (Yeltsin) knew of Shevardnadze's plan and was prepared to look the other way. Commenting on the unruly nature of the Kartvelian forces, Shevardnadze remarked that he was against sending his troops into Sukhum: 'I wanted our military units to go around Sukhumi and move to Gagra... When I spoke to Yeltsin on the next day [after the beginning of hostilities], he told me: "The generals can get out of control and you, as a smart man, should know it."'['The Georgian Chronicle', Monthly Bulletin, January-February 1993, p.7.]

So, Mr. Alasania, how does this fit with your assertion in your Chatham House presentation?

And of course we should not have  forgotten that most of the 1990s, especially when Shevardnadze-protege Andrei Kozyrev served as Boris Yeltsin’s Foreign Minister, Russia’s policy was by no means pro-Abkhazian, a CIS-blockade being imposed along Abkhazia’s River Psou border with Russia.

If Mr Alasania believes that they had fought with Russia, then why did he negotiate with Sergey Shamba in Tbilisi in 2005?

Let's remember what Paata Zakareishvili (currently State Ministry for Reintegration) said:

[36:10 sec.] Paata Zakareishvili: "The negotiations went on all through December and the two sides made progess. I said it was a good month because at the same time an agreement was also reached for a meeting between Saakashvili and Bagapsh, the Abkhaz president. The Abkhaz were talking to the Georgian president’s special envoy Irakli Alasania. The Georgian side accepted the offer and even prepared a draft for the Abkhaz side to consider."

"Alasania managed to gain the trust of Abkhazia and he invited [Sergey] Shamba [Abkhazian Foreign Minister] to Tbilisi. Shamba brought an important new document with him called ‘‘A Key To the Future’’. We didn’t agree with everything in it, but there were many things we welcomed, like contacts with Europe. And for the first time in the history of the conflict, there was no mention of Russia at all. Shamba took the unique step of leaving the UN Office and walking down Shardeni Street in central Tbilisi." [37:09 sec.]

[37:23 sec.] Reporters: "Do you like our culture?

Sergey Shamba: "I’ve known about Georgian culture since I was a student here a long time ago. I have always liked it. I think such an ancient, spiritual culture is the reason this nation has managed to keep hold of its identity."

Paata Zakareishvili: "Saakashvili should have at least come out and said that he welcomed such visits. But instead on that very same day he chose to go with the defence minister to visit the Senaki military base. A military base which was rebuilt to send a message to Abkhazia. It was a direct message from Saakashvili."

[38:04 sec.] Saakashvili visit to Senaki military base

The Georgian side must accept that Abkhazia is the other party to the conflict, and, if they want to resolve it, they should deal with Abkhazia(ns) directly, but, most importantly, they should accept their own responsibility and publicly acknowledge their mistakes.

Metin Sonmez

  • [11.52 sec.] Gia Karkarashvili [General - Army Commander of the State Council of Georgia]: "In the first place, the Ossetian war [1991-92] in Tskhinvali had just ended. The Georgia National Guard suffered heavy losses. We were exhausted. That’s why I thought it was reckless to go into Abkhazia. But I was told that the 13th-14th August was a good time to launch a military operation because the Russian Parliament was in recess. Unfortunately, we entered Abkhazia in a very disorganized way. We didn’t even have a specific goal [REMEMBER the claims about protect the railway] and we started looting villages along the way. As a result, in the space of a month we managed to make enemies of the entire local population, especially the Armenians."

  • Many volunteers from the North Caucasus (Circassians, Chechens, Abazas...) came to Abkhazia to fight against Georgia, but they were Russian citizens, and Georgia have always made capital out of this; indeed they are still trying to show that actually the war in Abkhazia was a Russian-Georgian war (rather than a Georgian-Abkhaz one).

    Dodge Billingsley, explains this situation very well: "Abkhazian units, which included diaspora-Abkhazians from Turkey, Syria, Jordan as well as North Caucasians, were much better prepared to fight together for a common cause. The presence of outside volunteers on the Abkhazian side prompted Georgia and many external observers to conclude Russian complicity in favour of Abkhazia. Many in Georgia and elsewhere feel that the war was really a Russian-Georgian conflict. This is a complicated issue. Technically, all volunteers from the North Caucasus were Russian citizens. The real question, however, centres on motivation and how the volunteers saw themselves. There were many indications that Chechen assistance to Abkhazia was stimulated by independent aspirations related to a pan-Caucasian federation rather than any Russian plot. The best known Chechen to fight against Georgia, Shamil Basaev (now deputy to Chechen's President Maskhadov), stated that 'as long as the small Abkhazian people suffered in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, his units would help them, but in the event of hostilities between Russia and Georgia, the volunteers would fight on the Georgian side'[30]." (Military Aspects of the War. The Battle for Gagra (The Turning-point), by Dodge Billingsley)

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Politics of Non-recognition in the Context of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

Publisher: International Alert

Date: Thu, 03/31/2011

ISBN: 978-1-906677-89-3

No. of Pages: 44 pages

In this study, Georgian and Abkhaz researchers examine one of the fundamental polarising issues of the conflict – the political status of Abkhazia. While Russia formally recognised Abkhazia as an independent state in August 2008, the ‘non-recognition’ of Abkhazia remains the cornerstone of Georgian and international policy. Georgian researchers explore how sustainable the policy of non-recognition is, under what conditions the policy might fail and what Georgia would do in those circumstances. The Abkhaz researchers examine what opportunities and limitations their current status of ‘partial’ recognition affords them, and what concessions Abkhazia might be willing to make in order to get recognition. A survey of respondents reveals some surprisingly ambivalent attitudes towards the question of recognition, though the reader should avoid drawing the wrong conclusions from this.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

No more minefields in Abkhazia

The British-registered HALO Trust charity has cleared the last of minefields in Abkhazia, a spokesman for the NGO said.

HALO Trust, which has been working in Abkhazia since 1997, has destroyed 9,700 landmines and about 50,000 items of ordnance and cleared 360 minefields.

The Abkhazian authorities describe HALO Trust’s results as impressive.

About 500 civilians were killed by landmines in Abkhazia since 1993, and 10 demolition engineers were injured.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sukhum - Angela Pataraya

BBC - As I observe the situation in Abkhazia, I have seen some positive developments the past couple of months. The process of establishing civil society is becoming more lively now and more and more people are getting involved in the social, cultural and political life of their country. Our society is starting to react to events outside the country and in the wider world, people care about what the government does, whether they are in agreement or disagreement, in short society has become more interested and it is alive. I can't help saying that it has also become more politicized and this is not that good in my opinion. Some may argue that I sound too positive about the whole process, but no one says that there is a perfect country with a super active civil society. We are moving forward, slowly but surely. There is a variety of different cultural events for example, which attract people of different ethnicities and backgrounds as both participants and audience. Of course you can see it more in Sukhum, because it's the capital. Unfortunately in other towns and villages the process is much slower.

Closer to the New Year holidays, I can feel a little change in people, no matter what age and profession. Everyone becomes a little bit happier, more attentive to others, more helpful, more kind. Sukhum has become a cleaner town, because of several social campaigns against trash in the streets; and now when it is clean, it is even nicer. For the holidays it is being decorated with bright and sparkling lights everywhere, and Santas are all around. Maybe it's a common characteristics of holiday time in all countries, but the spirit and atmosphere are unique everywhere. I am enjoying it and I'm delighted to see people forgetting their worries and frustrations. Our recognition in 2008 provided us with a feeling of security and it gave our society a new breath of air, new hope, and an inclination towards positive things. Now that society feels secure, people feel more confident and can fully devote themselves to see the New Year in. Probably it is the best thing about the recognition so far. Another development that i would like to highlight is the diversity of people in the streets. Besides Abkahz, there are Abkhaz from the diaspora, Russians, Armenians, Megrelians (more of them are coming to Sukhum to work and that is good), Uzbeks, Turks, and foreigners coming from Western countries, visiting Abkhazia for various research activities or business. I see this diversity as a positive sign, because i hope it can somehow help our country to grow and develop. We just need to promote more tolerance and treat each other with love and respect. As for myself, I feel i have more opportunities to pursue my goals and work for the better of my country and society, because i am a part of it. There are of course still very many obstacles and negative moments that we face but its a challenge, for me as much as for everyone.

Source: BBC Azeri

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Abkhazia has lots of preconditions to be a sovereign state

Interview with Fred Weir, a CIS correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor.

Fred, thanks for joining us. Patrick Buchanan in his story says that Senate had no right to criticize Russia on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, do you share this view?

I suppose it is important to know that Pat Buchanan is a very prominent member of the Republican Party, he ran in the presidential primaries twice, in the 1990s, but he is of that part of the Republican Party, that wing of the party, that is often termed isolationists, which means that his criticism is not based on any particular love of Russia or support for the Russian position. His position is that the United States should not get involved, in very large parts of the world where it can only do bad. This is his argument, and he says in the article that the United States is just unnecessarily antagonizing Russia over a matter that the United States has no business involving itself in. So this is a position, but it is a minority position within the Republican Party and it is not going to be widely accepted. But today in the Republican Party the same position is held by Ron Paul, who is part of this wing of the party the same as Buchanan is, and Ron Paul is not only running in the presidential primaries, he is doing very well in using the same arguments that the United States should get out of a lot of these foreign entanglements, there is no business being in Iraq or Afghanistan, building an empire, having troops in Korea or in Germany still. This is what is often termed isolationism, and it is surprising that it is doing well in the Republican presidential primaries so far.

Fred, have you been to Abkhazia, have you seen the developments in the republic?

Yes, I spent a couple of weeks in Abkhazia in 2008 just before the war, just weeks before the war broke out, and first of all I was stunned by the natural beauty of that place, it is really an amazing national creation that will do very well if they can solve their political problems. I am sure that even when I was there, there were enormous numbers of Russian tourists in places like Gagra, and I am sure that this will only get better, that the prospect is excellent, but especially in the southern part of Abkhazia, Sukhum and further all the way down to the border there, most of the infrastructure is still destroyed from the war; in the capital Sukhum even lots of buildings are still bombed out, they have an enormous amount of work to do.

But do you believe that they can develop into a sovereign state?

Sure, I don’t see why not. We know there are lots and lots of places that are members of the United Nations, little tiny dots on the map, which are sovereign states. It is not rocket science apparently to manage a sovereign state. There are some places in Africa or South Pacific would never make it, if they had high-standard statehood. So I am sure Abkhazia has lots of preconditions to be a sovereign state, it is just caught in the political gears or geopolitical gears, which prevented from being recognized by the world, because the world and particularly the West argues that it has to settle its issues with Georgia, and it is under international law, and it is true. Under international law it is part of Northern Georgia, and it is an issue that has to be worked out.

Fred, can I ask you one question about the Russian-American relations? So as you know this Abkhazia and South Ossetia issue is a matter of contention in our relations. So do you think it can jeopardize the reset process, it can poison our relations, or we have agreed to disagree on that subject?

I think that the worst moment of course was at the time of 2008 war, and that was when it all blew up and George W. Bush was still President of the United States, and he had a fairly hostile attitude towards Russia, so I don’t think that this is going to get worse. It remains a frozen problem. These problems remain and they can blow up in the future, there is no doubt about that.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

One small step towards recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

The recent presidential elections in Abkhazia have reignited the debate concerning the legitimacy of any internal political developments in the two newly independent states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both the EU and the US declared the elections illegitimate – notwithstanding the fact that there had not been any major violation of voters’ rights or incidents that might shed any doubt concerning the outcome. It was as simple as that – “both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are integral parts of Georgia, both are occupied by Russian military forces, hence the people of those ‘breakaway’ republics have no right whatsoever to express their will”.

Even before that, commencing its five week-long vacation, the US Senate unanimously adopted Resolution 175 which recognizes both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as integral parts of Georgia “occupied by the Russian Federation”.

Amongst all the usual Western fuss on the issue, one voice has been very distinctly (and I must say, rather unexpectedly) heard. A prominent American conservative commentator and presidential ex-candidate Patrick Buchanan wrote an opinion piece “Why Are We Baiting the Bear?” published on “The Post Chronicle” website on August 28.

“Is the Senate trying to reignite the Cold War?” asks Mr. Buchanan, and answers, “If so, it is going about it the right way.”

Next question, “What is wrong with Senate Resolution 175?” And the answer is, “Just this. Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia has been under Georgian control for 20 years. When Georgia seceded from Russia, these ethnic enclaves rebelled and seceded from Georgia.”

To this I might add. The only period in history when the two territories WERE under Georgian control, was the few decades-long Soviet period – and that was only due to the policy of “Georgianization” pursued by Stalin. When after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia chose to disintegrate, the same right was granted to all autonomous entities. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia overwhelmingly decided to remain within the former Union, which in today’s terms would be equal to uniting with Russia.

Further, Patrick Buchanan debunks a number of myths or stereotypes prevailing in Western minds.

One is the myth of the “Russian invasion, or aggression against Georgia”.

“This is neocon propaganda,” writes Mr. Buchanan. “Russian troops are in those enclaves because in August 2008 Georgia invaded South Ossetia to re-annex it, and killed and wounded scores of Russian peacekeepers.” And the ongoing presence of Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is basically “a deterrent to Saakashvili (Georgia’s necktie-eating President. – B.V.), whose agents have been working Capitol Hill to push the United States into a confrontation with Russia on Georgia’s side.”

Further on, Mr. Buchanan outlines a number of examples clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy and the double standards of the U.S. policy. What seems most significant is the rare (for any Western public figure) recognition of the fact that there is basically no difference between the situation with Kosovo and that with the two independent (but not as widely recognized) states in the South Caucasus. Kosovo’s independence, as we remember, was achieved only due to massive Western support, including 1999 NATO bombings of sovereign Yugoslavia.

“Do we not have enough on our plate in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan not to be telling Russians how they should behave in lands closer to them than Grenada or Cuba is to us?” asks Patrick Buchanan. The question hardly needs an explicit answer.

Of course, Mr. Buchanan is no longer an active public politician or official, so his opinion may be disregarded by the establishment as a personal view of just one individual. But neither has he ever been identified as a Russian (or, Soviet) crony, therefore I should say that such an opinion expressed by a well-known, prominent and influential commentator is more than just simple jabber of an ordinary man-in-the-street.

Probably it will still take a long time before the truth about Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence dawns upon decision-makers in Washington, but Patrick Buchanan’s article is a clear sign that the process has already begun.


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Abkhazia: presidential election, political future, by George Hewitt | OD

30 August 2011, openDemocracy -- The Black Sea republic of Abkhazia has elected its third president since securing effective independence from Georgia in 1993. The tiny country faces economic and social difficulties, in part deriving from its lack of international recognition. But its democratic experience deserves more attention and respect than much of the world seems prepared to give, says George Hewitt in the capital, Sukhum.

The month of August tends to be an eventful one in the small Black Sea republic of Abkhazia. In 2011, the country was already set to mark a series of anniversaries connected to the events of the last two decades: the war for survival and independence from Georgia (August 1992 - September 1993), and - after fifteen ensuing years of de facto sovereignty - the confirmation of its statehood following the Georgia-Russia conflict over South Ossetia in August 2008, a statehood which Russia itself (on 26 August) was the first formally to recognise.

Then, an unexpected event changed the character of the season: the death at an FSB hospital in Moscow on 29 May 2011 of Abkhazia’s president, Sergei Bagapsh, as a result of complications following an operation for a smoking-related complaint. The loss of Bagapsh, who had been re-elected for a second term in 2009 and was scheduled to hold the post until 2014, necessitated an election within three months (according to Abkhazia’s constitution) to choose a successor.

Three candidates competed for the post, two of whom resigned in July from their government posts in order to run their campaigns - Alexander Ankvab (the acting president following Bagapsh’s death, who had also served as prime minister, 2005-10); Raul Khadzhimba (who had served as vice-president, 2005-09 following a dispute over the presidential election of 2004 in which he had run against Bagapsh); and Sergei Shamba (the serving prime minister until the election was announced, and Abkhazia’s foreign minister, 1997-2010).