Abkhazia: The Question of UN Governance
During a 29 March news conference at UN headquarters in New York, Revaz Adamia, Georgia's permanent representative to the United Nations, stated that Georgia would not oppose temporary UN governance for Abkhazia. His comment likely is a trial balloon to test the reactaion of the major players, including the UN.
The suggestion to establish UN governance in Abkhazia comes at a time when Moscow is increasingly incorporating Abkhazia into Russia, the Abkhaz separatists are growing increasingly restive, and the UN stance is becoming increasingly ambiguous (see EDM, 29 March). Opponents of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili decry the situation and criticize Tbilisi's failure to work with international organizations to resolve the Abkhaz problem.
On 4 April the opposition Republican Party assessed the 31 March UN Security Council Resolution 1666 on Abkhazia as "capitulation," and a step backward in the conflict settlement process.
Tina Khidasheli, a party leader, accused Saakashvili's government of allowing Russia to railroad a resolution desirable for Moscow but harmful for Georgia. She said that while the UN Security Council was scrutinizing the text of the resolution, Saakashvili was on vacation in Italy and, aside from Adamia, no Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative was present at UN headquarters to influence the developments.
According to the Republican Party, the most alarming point in the UN resolution is that for the first time a UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia has not clearly identified the region as being an integral part of Georgia, nor does it state that the political status of Abkhazia is to be defined within an integrated Georgian state. Another negative development, according to the Republicans, is that for the first time the resolution described the Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone, operating under a CIS mandate, as a guarantee of stability.
The Republicans were concerned that the resolution unilaterally urged the Georgian side "to address seriously legitimate Abkhaz security concerns, to avoid steps which could be seen as threatening, and to refrain from militant rhetoric." According to Khidasheli, in previous resolutions the UN Security Council had given such warnings to both parties. Paata Zakareishvili, a well-known pundit on Abkhaz issues and a member of the Republican Party, said that with this resolution Russia had opened "a second front in Abkhazia." Zakareishvili reiterated his long-standing claim that the Abkhaz were ready for direct dialogue with Tbilisi without the UN and Russia, but the Georgian authorities have "continuously avoided such dialogue."
The Republican Party accused Saakashvili's government of misleading the public by boasting about successes in foreign policy and said that problems exist in relations with the UN and other international organizations. Meanwhile, Russia highly appraised the resolution, which actually retains the roles of facilitator and peacekeeper for Moscow. In July the Georgian parliament must assess the performance of the Russian peacekeeping troops in the conflict zone and decide whether to renew the operation. Therefore, the UN resolution has come at just the right time for Russia.
Merab Antadze, deputy foreign minister of Georgia, dismissed the Republicans' concerns as "untrue," "misleading," and "harmful" for society. Instead, he described the UN resolution as "important" and a "step forward" in the conflict settlement.
However, the Republican Party's concerns echo a statement by the Georgian mission to the UN. The mission said that the Security Council, while reaffirming its commitment to the sovereignty and independence of Georgia, for the first time in recent years did not include in its resolution a clause about the need to define the status of Abkhazia within Georgia. Indeed, the resolution, which extends the UNOMIG's mandate in Abkhazia until 15 October, acknowledges the "territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders," and calls for the parties "to promote a settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict only by peaceful means and within the framework of the Security Council resolutions." Tbilisi sees Moscow's hand in this wording and Adamia emphasized that Georgia is alarmed by the present format of the peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia because Tbilisi believes Russian peacekeepers cannot be impartial. The discrepancy between Adamia's alarming statements and Antadze's optimistic tone suggests a lack of coordination at the Georgian Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party claim about the Abkhaz leaders' willingness to engage in direct dialogue with the Georgians has been neutralized with statements by Raul Khajimba, Abkhaz vice-president, and Stanislav Lakoba, secretary of the Abkhaz "security council." They called on Saakashvili to reconcile himself to Abkhazia's separation from Georgia. Moreover, with Russian help the Abkhaz separatists have established an anti-terror center to "fight Georgian guerrillas." The center reportedly is heavily staffed by Russian specialists and receives financial and technical assistance from Moscow.
Saakashvili's government has few options. Georgia will likely resume its policy of conciliatory gestures toward Moscow while simultaneously urging Georgia's Western allies and international organizations to halt Russia's creeping annexation of Abkhazia. Whether the idea of UN governance in Abkhazia will find a positive reception among the international community remains to be seen. But this UN initiative, if adopted, could become leverage to stop Russia's seizure of Abkhazia.