Abkhazia: Russian & Georgian Perspectives
By: Demiran Asim
The Russo-Georgian War
Russia recognised Abkhazia as an independent autonomous republic, separate from Georgia, after the “Russo-Georgian” war in August 2008.
Abkhazia has struggled to develop independent foreign relations because of its strong ties to Russia and lack of international recognition.
As Russia is Abkhazia`s main economic partner, Abkhazia`s foreign affairs are heavily influenced by Russia, which has shaped the young state`s political agenda. This unrecognized or de facto status has posed to be the biggest obstacle for Abkhazia as a sovereign state.
The term “de facto state” refers to sovereignty of a state over a territory, which has not been internationally recognised, also referred to as an 'unrecognized country.' However, it has the legitimate power of ruling the country and the right to govern its own people.
Unrecognized countries often fail to gain international recognition because their independent status is not perceived to be legally obtained and as such their existence is viewed as endangering integrity of the region.
Embargoes and sanctions are often imposed to counteract instability and conflicts triggered by the presence of a newly created de facto state (unrecognized country).
Abkhazia has limited abilities to participate on the international stage because of this unrecognized status. As such, the international community is unable and unwilling to give legitimacy to the young state by entering into direct negotiations, or by allowing membership in international organizations.
Abkhazia - Russia Relations
Retaining power over post-Soviet states and influencing conflict states was a major Russian foreign policy for maintaining hegemony in the region after 1991.
Using this method, Russia entitled Abkhazians, as well as other Russian-speakers across the region, to claim Russian citizenship. This policy has allowed Russia to grant itself authority to protect its citizens from a potential conflict that might arise with Georgia or other surrounding states.
It seems however, that Russia's primary interest in Abkhazia and the Caucasus region as a whole is to counteract NATO influence entrenching on its southern border.
The diplomatic relations Russia had after the II World War were basically structured relationships based on friendship, cooperation and mutual treaties some of which served as legal basis for the growing Russian’s influence in Eastern Europe. The content of the mutual agreements depended of how important the nature of bilateral relationship with a given nation.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian government implemented similar models with its Central Asian political partners.
These structural bilateral and multilateral agreements had legal status of governance, where Russia could use its power to influence domestic and foreign affairs on both powerful and weak states, by creating legal rules of obligations and rights.
Russia also implemented structural relationship with Abkhazia, on which the de facto state economic, social and territorial integration depends.
After Abkhazia’s recognition, in September 2008, Russia signed a friendship agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, the purpose of this agreement was to extend Russian influence using the weak negotiating power of the newly-formed Abkhazian government at the time.
In return, Abkhazia's de facto independence was safeguarded by the Russian military and left Georgia with little opportunity to reclaim land it called its own.
During the negotiations, Abkhazia's interests were not taken equally into consideration and the negotiations ended up one sided. Abkhazia was trapped under the power of Russia, in the aspect of its economic and social status and became dependent on Russian protection.
Russia imposed its power in Abkhazia by offering Russian citizenship and passports to Abkhazians, who on the other hand were restricted to travel, because Abkhaz travel documents were not recognized by any other nation.
In return, Russia gained control over Abkhazia by imposing unified Russian legislation for economic and social protection and a buffer zone from western-friendly states to its south.
The Abkhazian Perspective
In order to understand the international affairs of Abkhazia with Russia, it is necessary to analyse Abkhazia`s internal political and democratic view. This mainly refers to the extent in which Abkhazia agrees on Russian influence by including the opinion of its people.
The concerns that Paul Khajimba, president of Abkhazia, raised during the presidential elections in 2009 and 2011, were related to the Russian influence, foreseen as a “colonization” and “unfair agreement” with Russia.
Also, public opinion in Abkhazia was not different. As per Bakke’s findings, 63% of the Abkhazian population and 80% of the ethnic Abkhazians across the region, agreed to be independent from Russia. This demonstrates Abkhazia's insecurity towards increased Russian control and the fear of losing their own territory.
With the above said, Russia has been a huge help for Abkhazia by supporting its reconstruction, welfare and economy. The Russian contribution accounted for 50-60% of the Abkhazian budget in the form of financial assistance towards to social benefits and pension expenditures after Abkhazia`s recognition.
This support allowed the new state to pay pensions for thirty-two thousands Abkhazian citizens, a total of 1.8 billion rubbles between 2008 and 2013, and to invest in infrastructure reconstruction between 2010 and 2012.
In addition, when Turkey become a less welcoming trading partner, the super power became a major trading partner with exports and imports reaching 90% and 80% between the two nations respectively.
Although the goal of the Russian draft on “alliance and integration “was to integrate Abkhazia into the Russian Federation, Abkhazia was striving to become jurisdictional separate from Russia, by both promoting mutual beneficial agreement and seeking for a help from Russia for its integration into “International organizations and associations”.
Abkhazia is aiming for complete sovereign, rather than being influenced by Russia, despite its weaker military, social and economic position. Despite being challenged by Russia, Abkhazia is working towards building an independent state and nation, recognized by the international community.
Abkhazia - Georgia Conflict
Although this conflict goes back centures, the modern division between the two nations can be understood as a result of nationalism and conflicts between the two ethnic groups. Abkhazia fell victim to Georgian nationalism resulting in a recession following the 1992-1993 civil war.
Since the war, Georgia has made it a primary policy goal to build relationships with the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Corporation in Europe.
Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, in one of his speeches at the UN General Assembly in September 2004, stated that he cannot go to a war against its own people - referring to Abkhazians.
International organizations such as UN, have played an indispensable role in mediating between the Abkhazian government and the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia for fire-arm ceasing, but have made little progress in resolving the conflict.
Saakashvili during the General Assembly summit meeting in September 2005, encouraged the international organization that it needed to act rather than just giving promises due to the “lawless and immoral annexation” of Abkhazia”.
In addition, Georgia extended its international relations with the US and the EU, seeking for its sovereignty and territorial integrity to be respected, while at the same time for Abkhazia to become autonomous and self-governing, but not independent.
Abkhazia gained financial aid and help after the Georgian and EU relationship, for its reconstruction, basic needs, healthcare and providing jobs.
The EU has also helped Georgia with border security. The border between Abkhazia and Russia have raised a concern to Georgia, as per Russia`s non alignment with the agreement.
Georgia claims, the presence of the EU in the region and its role as a border monitor, ensure the region`s peace and stability because of its direct access to information. The EU recommends that political compromises and peaceful settlement are the keys for conflict resolution to keep the region stable and secure.
Furthermore, Georgia has raised awareness that solving the conflict by military means would not be a solution, but rather a danger to increase instability in the region.
The Future of the Unrecognized Country
Abkhazia’s international relations are mostly bilateral, based on mutual agreements and dependence on Russia. Abkhazia faces limitations in integrating to the in the international system because of the conditions in which it declared independence and its relationship with Russia.
By analyzing this case, there is a clear dilemma for Abkhazia to remain in an alliance with Russia, which inhibits its full independence, while at the same time is a primary factor for its very existence. The increased social, economic and military influence of Russia has made Abkhazia dependant and unable to stand on its own against the international community.
Georgia on the other hand, does not recognize Abkhazia as independent, despite its self-ruling. With that said, Georgia seems adamant to continue its policy of warming ties with western nations in order to solve its conflict with Russia over both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
From the Abkhazian perspective, the unrecognized country will have to choose whether it will go down the path of 'Ossetization,' or whether it will seek further international recognition by distancing itself from its main ally - Russia.
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