Abkhazia: Presidential Elections to be held in October
The vice-president of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia, Valery Arzhba, reported on Friday that, “to all appearances,” presidential elections in the unrecognized republic would be held on 3 October. It appears highly likely that Mikhail Saakashvili will launch his next operation aimed at bringing the restive lands back under central control on that day, and the contours of the operation will depend on how the Georgian president will fare at the approaches to Tskhinvali.
Russia failed to interfere in Tbilisi’s Revolution of Roses, which resulted in the dethronement of Eduard Shevardnadze, and Moscow was given no chance of forestalling Georgia’s blitzkrieg in Ajaria — Russia’s Igor Ivanov arrived in Tbilisi and then in Ajaria only to verify the political demise of the patient.
This time Moscow, apparently, decided not to let things slide again, having stepped up its reticent interference in the South Ossetian conflict. Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region constantly remind Georgia of their presence, and on Friday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted that Russia supplies flour and diesel fuel to the rebellious autonomy, with the “Georgian leadership being informed accordingly.”
Moscow’s activity is quite understandable, considering that South Ossetia will inevitably be followed by Abkhazia. The latter is, perhaps, the most pro-Russian of all Georgia’s autonomies; and Russia is believed to have its most serious economic interests focused there.
The only question is what kind of solution, exactly, the Kremlin seeks for the South Ossetian conflict and the crisis in Abkhazia. Recognizing the independence of the rebellious provinces is not even discussed, but the situation as it stands today, with the conflict smoldering between the quasi-independent republics and Tbilisi, cannot last long.
On the one hand, such a state of affairs suits Moscow as it prevents Georgia from strengthening its position in the Caucasus, while on the other hand it is a source of constant tension and instability in the region.
And most importantly, it gives Moscow only ’passive’ advantages, which are virtually impossible to convert into ’active’ benefits, that is, enhancing its real influence and economic benefits.
It seems that Moscow does understand that and is not ready to impede Mikhail Saakashvili, but, undoubtedly, would like to convert its present-day passive influence into real advantages — to secure the status of a key intermediary and full-fledged party to the talks on the future fate of the unrecognized republics, especially Abkhazia.
It is not a secret that the Russian president was extremely vexed at the failure of such mediation in Ajaria.
Georgia’s actions, on the contrary, are reminiscent of the ’Ajaria scenario.’ Belligerent statements and minor sorties annoy the Kokoita regime and prompt Russia to throw its support behind him in the traditional role of “aggressive semi-empire,” backing instablitiy and separatists operating on its borders. And this undoubtedly will undermine its role in the future talks.
Moscow could try to exchange its political influence in the region for certain economic benefits, focusing, first and foremost, on the economic revival of Abkhazia’s infrastructure in cooperation with Tbilisi.
However, for this to become possible and for Russia to retain its position and influence, Moscow should propose a constructive plan for the settlement of the Caucasian crisis.
However, aggressive imperial-conservative rhetoric of the pro-Putin majority virtually rules out initiatives of this kind.
Events of the past few years quite clearly show that as long as Russia formulates its national interests using the vocabulary of imperial-patriotic hysteria, it is doomed to lose out to its neighbors and lose influence in the post-Soviet sphere.