Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Russia’s Ursine Embrace of Georgia’s Abkhazia Province: Ongoing Annexation with Larger Geostrategic Consequences

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On February 16, the Russians summoned to Moscow Sergei Baghapsh, the leader from the occupied Georgian region, shortly after his inauguration as “president of Abkhazia.” The occasion, dubbed “a state visit”, was used by the Kremlin to impose on the impoverished and depopulated Georgian province ten new “agreements” meant to tighten Russia’s military grip in the strategically important Black Sea region.

The military aspect is just part of Moscow’s larger scheme, which, as the agreements explicitly show, also has significant political, economic, social and demographic dimensions. It is worth remembering that Georgia’s Abkhazia province is adjacent to Sochi, home to the 2014 Winter Olympics, which is seen by Russian Prime Minister Putin as an affair of utmost state importance. Putin has less than four years left to complete Abkhazia’s de facto annexation if he wants to avert Tbilisi’s protestations and international complications immediately before the Olympics.

Still, the agreements that the Russian leaders have signed with their client in the occupied Georgian territory could also be viewed as a blueprint for agreements they would aspire to conclude with Tbilisi should they succeed in overthrowing President Saakashvili’s liberal government, and in bringing pro-Russian forces to power in Georgia. The implications of this would first and foremost would mean a heavy Russian military presence all across Georgian territory and well beyond.

Out of ten agreements Moscow has now imposed on the regime it created in Abkhazia, one deals with the establishment of the “united Russian military base” at Gudauta, which, incidentally, must have been long closed in light of the provisions of the OSCE Istanbul Summit of 1999. The economic package of agreements allows Russia to “legitimize” the de facto takeover of the Abkhaz section of the Georgian railway system, establish direct air connection with Abkhazia without first seeking Georgian consent and monopolize the banking system in Abkhazia, which already has the Russian ruble as its currency and receives some subsidies from the Kremlin. The maritime cooperation agreement is to impose Russian rule over the Abkhaz segment of the Georgian Black Sea coastline and cooperation on migration, emergency situations and environment, and as part of the “social package,” Russia is to further incorporate Abkhazia into its social fabric.

Tellingly, during Baghapsh’s trip to Moscow, the State Duma—Russia’s legislative organ—released a statement marking the 200-year anniversary of the ukase issued by Russian Tsar Alexander I in 1810, the results of which turned Georgia’s Abkhazia principality into a Russian protectorate in the course of the Russian Empire’s gradual expansion to the Caucasus, and annexation of Georgian kingdoms and principalities in addition to the North Caucasus. This statement was made in an effort to reconnect the present-day development with the imperial experience of Tsarist Russia and to more precisely show the world what type of relationship the Kremlin aims to develop with the now “sovereign” Georgian province. The Duma declaration was understandably silent on the brutal massacres and deportations Muslim Abkhaz and Circassians were subjected to by Russian tsars throughout the 19th century in their bloody attempt to tame the Caucasus by changing its demographics.

Abkhazia, now almost depopulated as a result of yet another brutal ethnic cleansing, this time of hundreds of thousands of Georgians and other “alien elements” that Russia helped to coordinate in the early 1990s, could become re-populated again in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics. Under intense Russian pressure, Baghapsh is forced to give the Russians a right to acquire property in Abkhazia, while pledging to never allow Georgians to return to their homes except for the southernmost Gali district where Georgians living in ghettos are not even allowed to travel to other parts of Abkhazia. In light of the Russian policy legitimizing the result of the ethnic cleansing, Baghapsh recently stated: “[Efforts should be made] to help displaced [Georgians] to adapt to life in Georgia. That would be the right thing to do." What a contrast given Russian leaders’ PR declarations that they love the Georgian people in comparison to the Saakashvili government.

There is no doubt that Moscow views Abkhazia as another Russian “republic” and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, intentionally revealed this attitude at a press conference on February 17 when he said: “We are developing our interregional ties. The city of Moscow has been active in this respect, as have [been] some other Russian entities, especially those neighboring Abkhazia, Krasnodar Territory, for example. Other regions are also showing interest in developing relations [with Abkhazia].” Baghapsh’s words at the press conference, though, attested to yet another aspect of Russia’s expansionism. He said, “We began working on the agreements signed today a long time ago, before [the] recognition of our independence.” This statement unambiguously showed that even though Russia formally respected Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity before the August 2008 invasion, annexation efforts had been in full swing for “a long time” before the “recognition.”

As expected, Tbilisi’s reaction to the Kremlin’s Abkhazia annexation efforts was swift. The concluding part of the Georgian foreign ministry’s condemning statement of February 17 read, “the Kremlin regime should remember that they will answer for all committed crimes, including, and first of all, for criminal actions committed against Georgia, as its predecessor, the Soviet Union, answered for the crimes in Katin, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Afghanistan before the international community.”

Many in Georgia fear, however, that the international community is doing too little to stop Russia’s annexation of Abkhazia and allege that Moscow’s Abkhazia policy is just one small part of a larger scheme aimed at the restoration of Moscow’s domination over the whole of Georgia and the Caucasus. If Moscow’s attempts are not vigorously countered today, they contend, Russia will only intensify its efforts to bring about a regime change in Tbilisi, which would have serious geostrategic consequences not only for Georgia but the United States and the West as well.


  1. Such a emotional comment. At first you are talking on Stalin's borders. Abkhazia was full independent republic in 1921. Even Georgian Bolshevik government officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. Abkhazia as well as Georgia became union states with an equal status within the USSR. But Jozef Stalin, Georgian by origin, reduced the status of Abkhazia to an autonomy within Georgia in 1931. And the Georgianization campaign started. The Abkhazian language was banned, it was substituted by Georgian. Since the '30-40s the second wave of Georgian settlers came to Abkhazia. So, if there is an occupied area - it's occupied by Georgians.

    The author mention about the tragedy in 19. century but i should remind that In the 19th century the only people in Transcaucasia to fight against Russian encroachment were the Abkhazians, who battled alongside their cousins in Ubykhia and Circassia, whereas Georgia was already allied to Russia and thus helped the tsars to crush North Caucasian resistance.

    What about 1992 - 1993 war? It's started by Georgia - not Abkhazia. I can strongly recommend Georgian director Mamuka Kuparadze's documentary 'Absence of Will'. It can be found on net.

    So, above article a Jamestown classic. Who can take it serious?

  2. Your comments are totally irrelevant to the points the author is trying to make. Russia is undermining the existing international order. Is this not more important than your attempt to present the distorted history as truth?
    And the sad truth is that the UN Security Council's one of the five permanent members is encroaching on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a small neighbor. This is happening in front of our very eyes in the 21st century!

    Have you ever heard about the UN, OSCE, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the like?

  3. Russia is clearly taking advantage of both the concentration of the US on Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran (the latter strongly supported by Russia)and the energy dependence of Germany and other European countries on Russia. They have little time and looking at this from the perspective of the Kremlin, are trying to recreate their old empire - either the imperial or the soviet it matters not.

    From a geopolitical standpoint of the cold war this would be the normal set of moves expected. However, Russia has chosen to try and recreate something that can't last and are asking for trouble of the violent kind locally and deep distrust internationally.

    The US may have to tolerate the illegal annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the moment, but it is very clear that Russia intends to put pressure on the Baltics next.

    They believe that they have regained Ukraine - a mistaken reading of the election (a type of election, incidentally, that would not be tolerated in the "managed democracy" of Putin's Russia.

    Threatening NATO countries because of Russian ethnic residents to whom Moscow has distributed passports like candy would make Russia an enemy, not an adversary. Do they really want to go back to that losing game?

    Russia has staked out a position desired by its old hawks who cannot accept a normal relationship with Europe and other 'near abroad' and refuse to cooperate on issues of international importance unless it fits with their myopic, zero sum game.

    There will be blowback and Putin/Medvedev will not last forever. Thankfully.

  4. Dear Anonymoys,

    If 'international order' gives a green light to governments to threaten the very physical survival of this or that ethnic minority, what legitimacy can such 'international order' claim? Recognition of Georgia within its Soviet borders was a gross error made, as far as the West is concerned, by politicians and their diplomatic corps who had little or no idea of the internal complexity of the country. The Abkhazians paid dearly for that mistake, when, within weeks of Georgia's membership of the UN, Shevardnadze sent his troops across the River Ingur border, initiating a disastrous 14 month war, which he lost. As i said, watch the 'Absence of Will' documentary, listen his and others' words...

    A further attempt to capture Abkhazia by force was made in 1998 after years of government-sponsored terrorist activity, carried out by such groups as The White Legion and The Forest Brothers, based in Mingrelia. Where was your 'international order' at this time? The West quickly shifted its allegiance in 2003-4 to Shevardnadze's usurper, Saakashvili, hailing his Georgia as a 'beacon of democracy'. What did this beacon do? It tried the military option again against South Ossetia in 2004. It illegally introduced military forces into Abkhazia's Upper Kodor Valley in 2006, storing an enormous amount of weaponry there (for what purpose? - The weaponry was discovered after the Georgian troops abandoned it and fled during the 2008 hostilities).

    The 'democrat' Saakashvili set his police on peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi in November 2007. And then 'Misha' took the crazy decision to attack Tskhinval and its environs in South Ossetia shortly before midnight on 7 August 2008. It had been planned to attack Abkhazia that spring, but preemptive action was taken, and the plan changed. All this has been revealed by Georgia's former ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili. And what did the high priests of 'international order' do when Georgia under Saakashvili was frantically increasing its military budget with arms' purchases? Nothing, because the USA was the prime supplier of those arms. For what purpose did Georgia need that weaponry? Since only a mental defective would start a war with Russia (oh, wasn't that what did happen?), those weapons were presumably acquired to fight in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But just as Shevardnadze got his due desserts in 1993, so Saakashvili got his when Russia decided that enough was enough. The immediate threat to South Ossetia was taken out when the military base in Gori was laid waste, and similar action was taken against the threats to Abkhazia (the base in Senaki and the vessels in the port of Poti). This had perfect military logic to it. The political error of offering Georgia recognition within its Stalinist borders was then addressed and corrected with recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a decision which allows Abkhazians and South Ossetians to breathe more easily, having more confidence in their future security. Those in the West who precipitately recognised Georgia in 1992 (and thus bear much of the responsibility for the bloodshed that followed, since the conflicts were then deemed to be 'internal affairs' and action 'justifiable' in defence of 'territorial integrity', which meant that nothing effective was done to stop the blood-letting) should follow Russia's pattern and remedy their own errors. What matters is not 'international order' but justice.

  5. Metin,

    Again, you have very poor knowledge of the history of Georgia, but this is not the most important flaw in your argument...


    Would you also suggest dismembering Ukraine, the Baltic States, Azerbaijan and the Central Asian nations since, according to your logic, they could be also viewed by some as "artificial creations?"

    Most importantly, would you also advocate the dismemberment of the Russian Federation and the creation of myriads of new states in its place?

    Are you an anarchist?

    The Soviet Union broke up into the 15 constituent republics! That is the reality. Please read the 2009 Tagliavini Report as well as the fundamental documents signed in December 1991.

    Any attempt to reorganize the existing international borders or undermine their legitimacy will lead to the Hobsian world.

    What is the purpose of the international system?

  6. Dear Anonymous,

    No worry, i have enough knowledge about the Georgian 'propoganda'. I know that the truths give you pain but you should learn to live with this pain.

    It's not a question of artificially dismembering states. If this or that minority is happy to live in this or that state, no problem. Without going into the historical arguments, the simple fact is that, because of mistreatment from Tbilisi under a succession of leaders, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have no desire to live within a Georgian state, and who can blame them? Georgia has lost any moral claim to control these areas, which is surely obvious to anyone familiar with actions taken there by Georgians from 1989 (to go no further back in time). That's all there is to the matter. I repeat: it is a question of justice.

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  8. Hitler can not help to Georgia...

  9. I fully agree with Metin and I will not repeat his views as mostly they coincided with mine.

    Just some comments to the Anonymous:

    Do you really think that the Soviet Union breaking up into the 15 constituent republics was truly right? without taking into consideration some very important and sensible as well sensitive things which the world community preferred soshortsightednessly to agree with.
    Why do you talk about "myriads of new states"
    especially when the world community greeted the collapse of Yugoslavia even being so violent? What is better for you to have a new state or such a bloody conflict committed in Abkhazia?
    As for the borders , nowadays whe all human beings understand perfectly the nature of Stalin - monster period, are you supposing to trust the borders he did invented in the period of his fascist rule ?

  10. Incidentally, Georgia has more Ossetians living in other parts of Georgia than in South Ossetia, and many Abkhaz are currently fleeing Russian-occupied Abkhazia and guess where they come to - Tbilisi and other Georgian cities to find safety, freedom and opportunity.

    Even more than that, there have been several high-profile incidents when Russian soldiers escaped the brutalities and inhumane conditions in the Russian-occupied Georgian territories to request political asylum from the Georgian government.

    I am not even talking about hundreds of thousands of Azeris, Armenians and Russians who enjoy education in their native languages throughout Georgia.

    What a contrast with the zones of Russian occupation from where 300,000 Georgians have been ethnically cleansed!

  11. What a contrast with the zones of Russian occupation from where 300,000 Georgians have been ethnically cleansed!

    Mister Anonimous!
    What then can you say about two millions of ethnically Georgians living in Russia
    Have not you heard about it,and what do you think if they did not enjoy their life there would they ever ever stay there ?
    As for the number of Georgians who had left Abkhazia right by the time Sukhum was retaken by the Abkhaz forcers, was 241000 but you may know it perfectly, that not all left and how many of them came back to Gal region of Abkhazia, and especially are you not interested why yet they have not been registered as returneEs by the UNHCR organization?

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  14. Dear Anonymous,

    You make me laugh with your comments... You are talking about democracy and freedom like George W. Bush... Safety and freedom? That's why Georgia attacked S. Ossetia and Abkhazia again and again. That's why they even burned Abkhazia's archives and libraries.

    We remember/know very well Georgians' famous slogan ''Georgia for the Georgians''
    You can see this slogan here in YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBk-lwFXqV8 (1.28 sec.)

    Let me also remind you Gamsakhurdia's speech: ‘‘--We will stand by them as long as they right historical wrongs, leave Georgia and go back to where they came from. Don’t listen to anybody who tries to present the truth in a different way. The Abkhaz nation doesn't exist’’.

    That's why Georgian Human Rights started the SORRY campaign. As Ucha Nanuashvili's says: Choice for Georgia: Georgian Chauvinism or Abkhazia? http://www.humanrights.ge/index.php?a=article&id=4517&lang=en

    In the same documentary which i mentioned, reporter asks: - Mr. Shevardnadze, could you we have prevented the war in Abkhazia?

    And Eduard Shevardnadze says: << Of course we could. However, we need to remember the times we were living in back then and what was going on in Georgia at the time. But [Tengiz] Kitovani, the defence minister, should never have sent troops to Sukhumi. That was our biggest mistake.

    Shevardnadze: The Abkhaz got scared and they all left Sukhumi. Only a few of them stayed behind working for the government.>>

    And yes, refugees is always a big problem but it was not Abkhazia who bare responsibility for them - it is Georgia that started the war and created huge humanitarian catastrophy. By the way Georgian population fled before Abkhaz Army entered the occupied territories.

    I am wondering, how did you find 300,000 figure? Saakashvili says 500,000 (See http://www.president.gov.ge/?l=E&m=0&sm=3&st=150&id=2597



    Which one is right? 300,000 as you said - or Misha's 500,000? What is the truth?

    I can say that your figure and Saak's figure is a very good example of Georgian black propoganda.

    According to the 1989 census Abkhazia's total population was 525,061 and there were only 239,872 "Georgians" living in Abkhazia. Some of them NEVER left Abkhazia after 1992 - 93 war. Abkhazia unilaterally decided to open the gates for the (largely Mingrelian) refugees to return to Abkhazia from Georgia in 1999. Georgia at that time was actually accusing these refugees of being TRAITORS to Georgia. Since the 1992-93 Georgian - Abkhazian war, more than 60,000 refugees have been successfully resettled in Abkhazia.

    Let's see what Georgians thinks about the Armenians http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqUn1qnDWKM

    This is a recent example and now let's back to 1992. Lets read the General Karkarashvili [General - Army Commander of the State Council of Georgia]'s words:

    <<-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 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.>>

    Abkhazian society can allow the return only of those Georgians who did not fight on the Georgian side and only after they recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. And same right for return should be given also to descendants of Abkhazian refugees from the Caucasian War of the 19. century, who live mostly in Turkey.

  15. I am not even talking about hundreds of thousands of Azeris, Armenians and Russians who enjoy education in their native languages throughout Georgia.

  16. Metin, you talk about "Georgian black propaganda" while stating that "By the way Georgian population fled before Abkhaz Army entered the occupied territories."

    This is a lie, pure and simple.

    Apsu war crimes, including mass murder, rape, and deliberate ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians were well documented at the time by groups such as HRW, the UN, and Russian human rights groups such as Memorial.

    There were massive human rights abuses by Apsu separatists and their allies in places such as Gagra, where the entire Georgian and pro Georgian Apsu population were marched into the football stadium and murdered in a massacre that took around an hour to complete, even children were slaughtered.

    This process was repeated during the Apsu seizure of Sukhumi, where ethnic Georgians were killed indisctriminately of age, sex, or non combatant status, along with Apsu who were trying to shelter them.

    Abkhazia will never be recognised by the civilised world due to the massive war crimes committed (and well documented by journalists, human rights advocates, and UN observers)by the Apsu separatists.

    As for your comments that over 60,000 Georgians have been allowed to return, sorry Metin, but only 50,000 Georgians live in Abkhazia, nostly in Gali where they make up 98% of the population, and are oppressed severely by the government, having their language banned, their Church (please note that every Church built in Abkhazia since the 5th century was built by Georgians, and covered in Georgian enscriptions, see UNESCO for details) oppressed.

    As for "Georgia for Georgians", interestingly enough the (true) fascist Ardzinba was saying "Abkhazia for the Apsu" over a decade earlier in the laet 70's.

  17. Ardzinbawas certainly no democrat, but to argue that he should have uttered "Abkhazia for the Abkhazians" already in the 70's in wrong. Actually, this was his reply to similar Georgian slogans ("Georgia for the Georgians") in the early 90's. However, creating a mono-ethnic state was never a political goal for the Abkhazians, unlike what it was for Georgia. The ethnic cleansing of Georgians which you mention came only after Georgian forces under Shevardnazde had invaded Abkhazia in August 1992, and conducted their own campaign of ethnic cleansing, rape, pillage, torture, murder, destruction of cultural monuments etc, and the attrocities commited against Georgians can be seen as a direct result of this.

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  19. @Anonymous

    "What is the purpose of the international system?"

    Well, the purpose of the international governing bodies (UNO/NATO/IMF/World Bank/etc.) is to make the world ready for the New World Order. In order to do so they will destabilize the world even more, organizing more false flag terrorism and still more wars, they will wipe out the middle class, make us all ill with their "Codex Alimentarius" (Yeah, go look it up!) and Big-Pharma, and with the support of their loyal puppets like Sarko, Shaaki, illegal Obama, Gordon Browne and the like they'll bring happy enslavement for all of us when the time's right and friendly genocide to get rid of those they don't need to work for them and don't want to feed. Hey you, better wake up!

    If you truly think these Russian soldiers are an aggressive occupying force then I wonder what you think about the American soldiers bringing 'peace' and 'democracy' at gunpoint in Iraq. Better realize that more war crime and ethnic cleansing has taken place under UN rule than under any other..., except maybe for the infamous Georgian Mr. Djugashvili also known as Josef Stalin.



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