Democracy Rising

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" ~ President John F. Kennedy

Friday, July 28, 2006

Abkhazia Tension Rises

Following on from yesterday's post about President Saakashvili's decision to relocate the Abkhaz government-in-exile back to territory under Tbilisi's control, developments are happening fast.

Whilst the leaders of the unpopular and weak opposition parties united to denounce the operation, the former Foreign Minister and popular leader Salome Zourabichvili hailed the move. The leader of Georgia's Way however asked the authorities to refrain from Euphoria (something that Misha never does of course) and concentrate on South Ossetia for this year. However that is all looking unlikely...

Abkhazia today said that it would have 'no choice but to use force' if the government in exile is based in the region. Guess who then decided to turn the tension up a notch? Senior Georgian lawmakers, who claimed that "in case the Abkhaz side will pose a threat to this territory [Kodori gorge] they will be hit by a devastating strike". Smashing.

In spite of the rhetoric, I think it is a fairly small possibility that, at the moment, things are about to break out into all out war.

Whilst the de facto government is heavily backed by Moscow, I can't see Putin being prepared to risk the condemnation of the international community by blatantly meddling in another nation's affairs (although we know he does like to do so in a more opaque fashion). However im sure the Kremlin won't tolerate any attempt by Saakashvili to overrun it's peacekeeping forces and launch a full out war against Sokhumi.

Furthermore the Abkhaz government will find it hard to match the strength and quality of an American-trained Georgian army. Quite frankly a war risks Abkhazia taking a beating, losing some if not all of it's territory and of course the risk that past and some current ministers might face war crimes charges over the ethnic-cleansing that took place in the early 1990's. And all this over what? A government in exile that for now poses no real threat to Sokhumi and is likely to be deeply unpopular in the Kodori gorge.

As Gia Nodia, director of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development in Tbilisi, notes in a RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty article "we know that in the past the legitimate government of Abkhazia was rather unpopular in Kodori -- at least it was in its previous composition. When representatives of the legitimate government of Abkhazia went to the gorge in [former Georgian leader Eduard] Shevardnadze's time they got beaten up."

This point still tell's us much even 3 years after Shevvie was forced from office. The simple truth is that these 'bandits' the Georgian army removed yesterday had been allowed to freely operate for years, with little condemnation from Tbilisi. As I mentioned yesterday 'Emzar Kvitsiani made various statements in the past few days, mainly along the line that he doesn't recognise the new government in Georgia etc. Yet for many years Kvitsiani and his militia have been tolerated by the government - was this the last straw?'

Saakashvili will have to do more than sending in aid to the region if he is to get back people's support there. Like ethnic Armenians in Javakheti they feel isolated and let down by the government. The President in Tbilisi is not their President. Strong armed rhetoric and shooting bandits won't reunite Georgia. It's time for Saakashvili to sense that hearts and minds need to be won before this tiny Republic's territorial integrity can be restored.


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