Abkhazia: Leader Comments on Russo-Georgian Tensions
"If war breaks out in Tskhinvali it will spread across the entire Caucasus," de facto president of the breakaway Abkhaz Republic Sergei Bagapsh told the Russian newspaper Vremya Novosti Monday.
The de facto Abkhaz leader was visiting the Moscow administration
for talks on the resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
"I have been pretty satisfied and have received clear and constructive answers," Bagapsh told Vremya Novosti without specifying the details of the negotiations.
During his visit Bagapsh met with another leader who shares many of his breakaway republic's concerns - de facto South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity. "The situation in South Ossetia is directly linked to the interests of Abkhazia," Bagapsh stated.
Talking about the visa regime which Georgia introduced for Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia last week, Bagapsh noted that only those peacekeepers who are stationed on the Zugdidi side of the Enguri river will have to apply for Georgian visas. "They will not need visas to cross our borders," he stated.
Bagapsh also expressed his opinion concerning the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers saying "Abkhazia is categorically against this; the peacekeepers are doing their job perfectly, without engaging in any kind of political squabbles."
Regarding the negotiation processes in the conflict zone Bagapsh stated that "Georgian military rhetoric, certainly hampers the negotiations between the sides, but we still carry on," hoping Georgians will not start a war in the conflict zones.
"I hope that there are some wise people left in Georgia, who understand that there should not be any local conflict. If war breaks out in Tskhinvali it will spread across the entire Caucasus," Bagapsh said noting that once this process starts "it is difficult to put a stop to."
Despite the fact that he sees Georgia as an aggressor, which has been "intensely militarizing within the last few years," Bagapsh believes that the renewal of military activities is unlikely.
Georgian President Saakashvili seems to concur. Over the weekend in an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy he stated "I am not going to order the launching of a military operation. I do not want people to die because a slaughter in the Caucasus will last not for decades, but for centuries."
"We will achieve everything through negotiations and consultations," Saakashvili said.
Not everyone is as optimistic. Retired Russian Major General Yuri Netkachov and military expert in the South Caucasus believes that war in South Ossetia is unavoidable. "We can only prevent war if the number of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zones is increased five or six-fold," Netkachov stated, as quoted by the newspaper Rezonansi on Sunday.
The Russian military seems to be preparing for the worst. Near the Georgian border, on the territory of North Ossetia, it has been reported by Georgian media sources that up to 80,000 Russian soldiers have been carrying out military exercises.
According to official information these trainings are routine
and a part of the overall Russian military schedule, Rezonansi reports.
While Russia maintains that such activity is nothing out of the ordinary, Georgian media sources have interpreted the events in a different light. According to Rezonansi these trainings, along with the statements made by Netkachov, show that Russia is openly preparing for war.
In his radio interview on Monday Bagapsh referred to nationality statistics of Abkhazian and South Ossetian citizens, claiming that 90 percent of them are citizens of the Russian Federation, and he thinks that Russia is responsible for the protection of their rights. "Russia will protect its citizens," he told Vremya Novosti.
Asked about the possible results of Russian involvement in the affairs of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia which might end with the merging of the two de facto republics with the Russian Federation, Bagapsh categorically denied the possibility saying "Russia's position is very clear."
"Firstly Russia is against military actions, especially on territories where Russian citizens reside. Secondly the conflicting sides have to deal with these tensions themselves," Bagapsh said adding that "the reason for the desire of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to gain independence is not to become part of Russia."
Bagapsh went on to accuse former Georgian presidents Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze of starting the wars in the South Ossetian and Abkhazian Republics.
"If this happens again, everyone will find themselves in a bad situation, including Georgia," Bagapsh cautioned.
In his quest for formal independence, the de facto president has cast a hopeful gaze on the development of events in Kosovo, stating that if the latter's independence is recognized, then Abkhazian independence will be recognized three days after such a decision is made.
"As for Georgia, someday it will become so attractive that even the Switzerland will want to join it. Nowadays this is not the reality. I want to highlight that political issues are being solved through economics and not by means of saber-rattling," Bagapsh concluded.