Tbilisi has activated attempts to win over the support of the US and NATO in settling the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on June 16 that he sent a letter with plans of the settlement of the situation in Abkhazia to Washington. The president noted that “the US administration is actively discussing the Abkhazian problem. The US is interested in the situation in Abkhazia and paths to solving this conflict.” He noted that “it is hard to say if Washington’s position will be connected with a military solution or a political dialogue”. However, the Georgian leader is sure that the US and Russia will cooperate in settling the conflict.
Abkhazia interpreted Shevardnadze’s statement as NATO’s intention to solve the problem of “separatism” according to the Kosovo scenario. Abkhazian Defense Minister Vyachslav Eshba thinks that Georgia’s attempts to solve Abkhazia’s problem using military methods are senseless.
Eshba is sure that “Abkhazia will be able to defend itself”. According to him, Abkhazia must strengthen its army and create units of mountain riflemen. Precisely these units must become the foundation of the Abkhazian armed forces, which the republic intends to create in 2003.
According to Eshba, “such an approach to military construction is dictated by the geographic situation of the republic and political factors”.
Eshba noted: “Events in the Kodori Gorge, where members of a Georgian illegal armed group abducted four UN observers on June 5, have shown that we need special troops for combating such armed groups.”
It is not ruled out that a war between Georgia and Abkhazia will begin precisely in the Kodori Gorge – the only place in Abkhazia controlled by Georgian troops. It should be noted that Georgia is sending additional military contingents to the Kodori Gorge. It should be noted that Russia proposes to demilitarize this zone and deploy peacekeepers and UN observers in the gorge. Georgia opposes this plan. Tbilisi currently uses additional contingents of reservists of the Georgian National Guard in order to protect patrols of UN military observers who regularly monitor the Kodori Gorge. This statement was made by Colonel Besarion Kvitsiani, chief of the Kodori Gorge operational department, on June 17. In other words, Georgia’s and Abkhazia’s attempts to gain control over the Kodori Gorge may lead to another round of confrontation.
To all appearances, Russia understands that this is a very complicated problem, and activates measures aimed at settling the conflict. The Interior and Defense Ministries’ effort to demilitarize the Kodori Gorge has failed. Georgia protests against the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the gorge.
The Russian Foreign Ministry held a range of working meetings with Georgian and Abkhazian representatives regarding the problems of the Galskii district. The ministry said that this was the first meeting of joint working groups established according to an agreement reached by the Russian and Georgian leaders in Sochi in March 2003. The Georgian delegation was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze. The Russian delegation was headed by ambassador Vasily Kolotusha. The UN sent its representatives to the meeting too.
Participants in the consultations met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin, Russian presidential plenipotentiary for the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Interfax reports that a few days before V. Kolotusha held consultations with the Abkhazian delegation. Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said that “the meeting concerned the implementation of agreements reached in Sochi, and the warrant issued to Russian peacekeepers”.
A source in the Foreign Ministry noted that at the first phase Russia will hold such consultations with Georgian and Abkhazian representatives separately. Later these negotiations will be held on a trilateral basis. The source said that as a result of the meetings in Moscow “the parties shared opinions regarding conceptual approaches to the problem of refugees”. The source said that “the working groups will again meet by the end of July in order to discuss this problem”.
In other words, Russia has made realistic moves aimed at settling the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia. As is known, Abkhazia does not oppose refugees’ return to the Galskii district. However, it demands that this district must be controlled by Abkhazian police. Georgia insists that the zone must be controlled by Russian peacekeepers. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Zurab Abashidze said after the end of the Russian-Georgian consultations regarding the warrant of the peacekeeping force in the conflict zone that Tbilisi is interested in expanding the geographic zone of responsibility of peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia.
Z. Abashidze said: “The peacekeeping operation currently covers only part of the Galskii district. We seek to expand the border of the operation to the entire district.”
The ambassador noted that the CIS leaders set the task to consider the possibility of expanding the geographic zone of responsibility in March 2001. However, this task has not been accomplished yet.
In the meantime, the beginning of negotiations shows that the affair has gotten off the ground. However, it is hardly likely that the problem of refugees will be solved in the near future. In the meantime, it is evident that internationalization of the conflict and involvement of other nations in solving this problem may aggravate negotiations.