Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Tbilisi Now Ready for “Everything Short of Recognition” of Abkhaz and South Osetian Independence, Markedonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – Statements by the leaders of the incoming Georgian Dream government since its parliamentary victory suggest that Tbilisi in the future will be ready to talk about “everything but [diplomatic] recognition” of Abkhazia and South Osetia, according to a leading Russian specialist on the Caucasus.

            In an essay on the Politcom.ru portal today, Sergey Markedonov, who is currently a visiting scholar at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, note that that commitment markes a major change from Georgia’s policies toward these two republics over the last four years (politcom.ru/14648.html).

 During that period, Tbilisi’s approach was “consistent and predictable,” the analyst continues. “these republics according to Georgian law were declared ‘occupied territories,’ and Georgian diplomats had begun to push their own alterntive,” declarations by other governments and organizations that Abkhazia and South Osetia were occupied.

            The US Senate, the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, and the legislatures of Lithuania and Romania took that position, but despite that, Markedonov says, “Georgia was in now way able to move along the path of restoring its territorial integrity within the borders of the Georgian SSR.”

            Because there had been no movement on this issue, some members of the Georgian opposition to President Mikhail Saakashvili called for taking a more nuanced approach. Mamuka Areshidze, who is part of the Georgian Dream coalition, even said in June 2011 that “under certain circumstances, “the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia by Georgia was theoretically possible.”

            “In this regard,” Markedonov continues, the new government in Tbilisi said that one of its “first initiatives” was to formulate a conception regarding the conflict regions.” Significantly that conception bears the title: “Everything Except Recognition.” That makes movement possible in five areas.

            First, it suggests that Tbilisi for the first time since the August 2008 war is “ready for direct talks with those whom it until recently called ‘aggressive separatists’and ‘marionettes of the Kremlin.’” Second, there is an apparent willingness to negotiate on the non-use of military force regarding these conflicts.

            Third, such changes open the way for trade. Fourth, they allow for investigations of incidents along the border. And fifth, Markedonov says, they appear to set the stage for what he calls “the correction of [Georgian] legislation concerning ‘the occupied territories,’” a terminologicalshift that could further ease tensons.

            But as the Russian analyst acknowledges, the Georgian Dream leadership has designated “quite clear ‘redlines’ beyond which they do not intend to go. (Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili says he won’t recognize Abkhazia and South Osetia as independent states.  They are “part of Georgia” (grani.ru/Politics/World/Europe/Georgia/m.207206.html).)

            Moreover, he suggests, for talks to proceed, the new government in Georgia will have to “overcome” some “myths” about the conflict. On the one hand, it will need to stop “exaggerating and dramatizing” Moscow’s role in the conflicts. And on the other, it will have to realize that South Osetians are every bit as committed to independence Georgia as the Abkhaz.

            And the Georgian Dream government, Markedonov concludes, will have to recognize that any “status” talks will be long and difficult, and both its members and outside observers need to remember that “a confrontation with reality is capable of converting any ‘dove’ into a practicing ‘hawk.’”

            Tbilisi’s willingness to talk with Abkhazia and South Osetia has raised questions about Georgia’s relationships with the peoples of the North Caucasus and with Armenia, relationships that may prove equally significant not only for Georgia and the region but for the international system.

            With regard to the North Caucasus, Mamuka Areshidze told Kavkaz-uzel that “the Caucasas policy of the new authorities will be much more flexible and directed at traditional values and the inter-relationships which have existed between the North Caucasus and the South” (For a summary of these comments, see avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com/204464.html).

            That does not mean, Areshidze said, that Tbilisi will reduce its contacts with the North Caucasus; rather, the reverse, but the incoming Georgian government will seek to do things in a less propagandistic way and to ensure that any moves it does make are consistent with its broader goals.

            For example, he suggested, Georgia’s official recognition of the Circassian genocide had been “a mistake,” not because there had not been a Circassian genocide but rather because “not ony the Circassians but many other Caucasus peopes had been subjected to genocide by Russia – and if one is going to recognize it, then one should recognize these genocides as well.”

            A change in Tbilisi’s policies could have even bigger consequences for Armenia.  Writing in “Vestnik Kavkaza,”David Stepanyan says that if Tbilisi opens the railways and roads through Abkhazia to reopen, including to and from Armenia, it could change Armenia’s situation dramatically (www.vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/Gruzinskiy-pragmatizm-nuzhen-Erevanu.html).

            It would certainly reduce Yerevan’s economic isolation, but it would also likely lead, the Armenian analysis suggests, to a situation in which the Armenian authorities would end discussions of a rail line to Iran, a decision that by itself would have an impact on the region and more generally.


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