Jan 30, 2006

Abkhazia: Russia Raises Fears over Breakaway Province

The Security Council was expected to agree a short-term technical rollover of the peacekeeping process. A recent UN report warned of an increasingly difficult and complex situation
Russia has withdrawn support for an international plan to grant autonomy to the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, raising fears it could shift its backing more clearly towards Abkhazian calls for secession.

The move came as the United Nations Security Council prepared to renew the mandate of a UN monitoring force there, and has prompted western diplomatic concern over Russia’s intentions in the region.

Russia said during a closed-door meeting in New York that it could no longer allow reference to a 2000 paper drafted by the former UN special representative Dieter Boden on Abkhazia’s future. The paper talked of a “distribution of competencies” but based on a core respect for Georgian territorial integrity.

A Russian diplomat said Moscow was not rejecting the plan per se, and continued to support Georgia’s territorial integrity, but that the Boden paper had been dismissed by the Abkhaz side and was not a useful basis for intensified talks.

“We cannot begin full-fledged negotiations on a document totally rejected by one side,” the diplomat said. Western diplomats feared the move could bolster moves towards a de facto merger with Russia, and noted Russia had drawn parallels with plans to grant Kosovo independence.

Revaz Adamia, Georgia’s ambassador to the UN, claimed the decision marked a “major shift in Russian policy”, and argued that it was meaningless to support Georgian territorial integrity without Abkhazia.

Ghia Nodia, a Georgian political analyst, said growing tension in Russian-Georgian relations was connected to moves in Tbilisi towards demanding the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Tbilisi accuses Moscow of using its peacekeepers to promote a policy of “creeping annexation” of the two breakaway regions. “Georgia’s government feels that if they do not do something [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] will be forgotten and will remain as they are forever,” Mr Nodia said.

Georgia’s parliament warned last year that the peacekeepers could face an expulsion order, and is expected to renew debate on the issue this month.

Russia is part of a “group of friends”, which also includes Germany, the US, the UK and France, who are trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Abkhazia, a region of north-west Georgia on the Black Sea coast, was a separate Soviet Socialist Republic until 1931, and demanded the restoration of that status during the break-up of the Soviet Union. Armed conflict began in August 1992.

Large-scale hostilities ended after the Abkhaz side captured the city of Sukhumi in 1993, and much of the Georgian population fled or was forcibly expelled. In 1994 a ceasefire and separation of forces agreement was signed in Moscow, and both a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force and a UN observer mission were deployed.

The Security Council was expected today to agree a short-term “technical rollover” of the mission, while discussions continued. A recent UN report on the situation warned of an “increasingly difficult and complex situation”, citing Georgian allegations of killings and human rights abuses in the Gali district. The Abkhaz side said the Gali tension was due to an alleged renewal of activity by Georgian partisan groups.


Source: Financial Times