By Giorgi Kvelashvili
The leader of the Russian occupation regime in Georgia’s Abkhazia region is once again on a trip to Moscow. Sergei Baghapsh left on March 23 and this time will spend an entire week in Russia. According to a brief notice on his website, Baghapsh is scheduled to “have meetings in the government of the Russian Federation” to discuss “the issues of prospective development of Abkhaz-Russian cooperation in a number of directions, including those of socio-economic, communication and defensive character.” During his previous trip to Moscow, Russia imposed on him ten new “agreements” aimed at strengthening the Kremlin’s military and political presence in the Caucasus.
Russia has long gone beyond the occupation of Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, and its policies are now directed toward a de facto annexing of them to the Russian Federation. And this is more than mere violation of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement.
Contrary to the terms of the ceasefire accord between Russia and Georgia, Moscow is increasing its military grip over the occupied regions. Brokered by President Sarkozy, then-Chair of the rotating European Union presidency, the six-point ceasefire agreement obligates Russia to “withdraw [its troops] to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities.” Not only Russia has not complied with its international obligations, but even worse, has dramatically beefed up its military presence in those territories. On top of this, it has recognized the two provinces as independent states and established military and naval bases there.
Political, social and demographic dimensions of Russia’s presence in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali cannot be underestimated either. Moscow had apparently requested—and Baghapsh seems to have acquiesced—that Russian nationals be given preferential treatment in terms of buying land and real estate in Abkhazia. A short while ago, Russia switched telephone codes in Abkhazia from Georgian to Russian, and just a few days ago gave a Russian identification code to the Sokhumi airport in Abkhazia.
In the meantime, Russia immediately rejected as “camouflage” Georgia’s Strategy on Occupied Territories: Engagement through Cooperation, a policy paper which has found approval both in Brussels and Washington.
Recognition of Abkhazia and “South Ossetia,” which is tantamount to the recognition of Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests,” has already been endorsed by Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru, a tiny island nation in Micronesia. Recently, Sudan’s outgoing ambassador to Russia also came out in favor of the recognition. On February 28, Russian media reported him as saying that his successor to the ambassadorial position “should continue work on the establishment of diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Strangely enough, while Russia’s closest military allies in Eurasia within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, show no intention of recognizing the Russian-created “reality” and continue their support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Moscow is luring nations in Latin America, Africa and Micronesia to gain international recognition of its sphere of influence. Kazakhstan for example, currently chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has repeatedly stated that it “has no intention to reconsider its position on Georgia’s territorial integrity.”
The same position is shared by other nations in Russia’s and Georgia’s neighborhood. Although Baghapsh lately expressed his desire to join the Russia-Belarus Union, this on all accounts requires Belarus’s consent. That Minsk is not planning to acknowledge Georgia’s disintegration and that Moscow “understands this position” was confirmed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin during his recent visit to Belarus. “Normal relations of Belarus with the Western community are worth upholding this position,” Putin reportedly said on March 16.
According to the Russian Kommersant newspaper, Moscow plans to give Abkhazia three billion Russian rubles (101.5 mil USD) for socioeconomic purposes in 2010-12 and a little more to Tskhinvali for economic rehabilitation. Interestingly, the allocation of the funds is charged to the ministry of regional development of the Russian Federation, which takes care of the economic development in Russia’s regions. This is more proof that Russia is treating Abkhazia and Tskhinvali as if they were Russian regions. In the same article, Kommersant also claimed that the sums being given to the occupied Georgian lands are insignificant compared with what Russia has purportedly paid to Venezuela ($2.2 billion), Nicaragua ($1.0 billion) and Nauru ($50 million) for the recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.
On February 26, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based analysis center with worldwide acclaim, published a comprehensive account on the situation in Abkhazia. The paper, entitled Abkhazia: Deepening Dependence, highlights all alarming trends in Moscow’s treatment of the Georgian region, which has gone beyond mere occupation. The ICG calls on Moscow to “implement fully the terms of the 2008 ceasefire agreements… and withdraw from previously unoccupied areas.” It remains to be seen what the world community and first and foremost the European Union, as the guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, will do to make Russia comply with its international obligations.