May 16, 2013

Abkhazia: Change For The Better

The head of the Caucasus Studies Sector in the Center of the Post-Soviet States Problems Studies under the Russian Strategic Research Institute, Yana Amelina, stated her vision on relations between Moscow and Tbilisi and the situation over Abkhazia.

Below is an article published by Vestink Kavkaza:


- How would you assess the current state of Russian-Georgian relations?


- The current state of Russian-Georgian relations remains tense. The situation is quite complicated, despite the fact that the team of Bidzina Ivanishvili has been in power for six months by now. And it's not simply because Mikhail Saakashvili - persona non grata for Russia, with whom it will never have any business under any circumstances - is still the president of Georgia. It is also the fact that Bidzina Ivanishvili’s policy in the North Caucasus and towards Russia is exactly the same as that of Saakashvili’s government. That is, Georgian policy remains the same, is based on the same principles and the priorities of the foreign policy of Georgia - it's entry into the EU and NATO - remain the same. This has been confirmed by the new team on multiple occasions. The amendments to the law on occupied territories have not been passed yet. But even if this happens, it will only be a formality, which should not blind anyone, because Russia has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and if Georgia considers them to be occupied territories, then this is a problem of Georgia. Concessions in such trifles, and this cannot even be called a concession, are not very interesting for Russia, or rather, are of no interest at all.


Georgia continues to make claims about the restoration of its territorial integrity, that is, that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be brought back into its territory. Well, needless to say, this, of course, will never happen. Anyway, this would have been possible to achieve only by force, by the extermination of the population of these states. Russia will never let this happen, and Georgia at the moment will not dare. It is difficult to predict anything for the future. Thus, all major areas of Georgia's foreign policy remain absolutely the same. Nothing has been changed. Oh, and as for the opening of the Russian market to Georgian goods, it is really the only thing, perhaps, the only change, which, however I would characterize as positive. It is beneficial only to Georgia, for Russia it has no benefits. It makes no sense for us to do so. Georgian wine is gone from the Russian market, it was good, and naturally we are very sad about it, but it's not something that could replace Georgia apologising for the events of 2008. And there have been no apologies offered. Then, it is not clear why we should meet Georgia half way.


- It’s five years since Abkhazia and Ossetia became independent. Is it possible to sum up some results? What journey have the republics made over these past five years?


- This is a complicated and difficult question, unfortunately. When, on August 26, 2008, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the inhabitants of these countries, and the majority of Russians, were confident that the republics would now have a new impetus for their development, would become some sort of showcase of Russia and its policy in the Caucasus. Unfortunately, we have to admit that this has not happened yet. For many different reasons, including badly regulated financial flows and many other administrative things, which are, of course, unacceptable and could be fixed quickly. But this has not been done. South Ossetia has not yet been reborn from the ashes, despite the huge financial assistance from Russia. Thank God, the situation is different in Abkhazia. The Abkhaz leadership has quite a clear understanding of the socio-economic and political development of the republic, and acts in this direction. Of course, we must not forget that the war in Abkhazia happened twenty years ago, not recently. It's quite a long time, during which you can change quite a lot, and that has been done successfully. The success of President Ankvab’s team, and Prime Minister Lakerbaia’s government, should be noted. They use the funds from Russia in a very competent, harmonious way. Abkhazia is changing in front of our eyes, is changing for the better, there is construction of new homes, infrastructure and social amenities. This is all fine, especially since only very recently it has not been so. God willing, we will soon see the same in South Ossetia. Oh well, these republics - these are our loyal allies and partners. And in this respect, in the socio-political partnership, of course, the three of us represent a single line in the Caucasus. I believe that this partnership cannot be destroyed by anything, even some small problems that sometimes occur in the relationship.


- Many experts believe that Turkey is actively gaining influence in the territory of Abkhazia. Could it be that centrifugal force that will break the coalition?


- I believe that there is no foundation for the talk that Turkey has gained special influence in Abkhazia. I can explain my position. The fact is that the Abkhazians from the outset were building an Abkhaz nation state. This is, perhaps, an ambiguous theory, especially from the point of view of some liberal political scientists. But what’s important for us – they are building an Abkhaz state, not a Turkish, pro-Turkish or under Turkish influence kind of state. For them, it is important that all power remains, as it is now, in the hands of the Abkhaz national elite. By the Abkhaz elite I mean the one that resides in the Republic of Abkhazia, it includes representatives of other nationalities as well, although the Abkhaz are the core of it. And to say that there will be a growing influence of Turkey – it will not happen. We will not see this.

In any case, under the current national, pro-Abkhaz, in the best sense of the word, leadership. It is clear where these talks about Turkish influence are coming from. There is a very large Abkhaz diaspora in Turkey. And we see how the descendants of Muhajirs in small groups, though it is possible to speak of rather large groups, up to a hundred people, migrate to their historic homeland. God, let them be happy! But it is clear that such a process cannot by definition be large scale. It cannot be large scale for financial reasons, and most importantly, as I said, for political reasons. There are many other factors as well. For people who have lived for four or five generations in a completely different environment, it is hard enough to feel at home in Abkhazia. Previous experience of immigrants indicates this very clearly, unfortunately. Moreover, Abkhazia does not have the capacity to offer effective financial and material support to the migrants, this is difficult given the current economic situation. And, of course, we should say openly, Russia is not very happy that the ethnic and religious balance in the North Caucasus and Abkhazia, could be changed. It is clear that the mass relocation of the descendants of Muhajirs, hypothetically speaking, will mean a change of the confessional balance, because most of these people can be called observant Muslims. There are many nuances here, I do not want to go into them now. Also, there are people who have been living away from Russian culture, from Russian civilization and, as a rule, do not share its values, but also have no idea of what they are. Adaptation is always a very big problem. And of course, neither the Abkhaz leadership nor the Russian have any need for this. So there is nothing to worry about. This is a topic that will not get out of the well-marked boundaries.