Georgia and Abkhazia in the Epoch of Global Changes
Conflicts in Asian regions, where many nations live side by side, cannot be settled using European methods. They should be settled only by methods they were regulated within thousands of years. Unlike the USA which exist on the historic arena “next to no time”, Asian civilizations exist for six, if not seven, thousands of years. They have worked out mechanisms of coexistence. But the moment we bring there our European approaches they end in bloodshed.
Today we are trying to transmit our norms to the Caucasus. We are trying to arrange there our European democracy, with its Human rights and universal equality—and it all ends in blood.
The Revolution of Roses was to a large degree performed by people who considered Russia their enemy. They wanted Georgia to be involved in American orbit of influence, which could defend Georgia from Russian interference. And it is quite clear that it could not improve relations between Tbilisi and Moscow. A good deal of misunderstanding appeared from the very beginning. When Saakashvili won the elections he very quickly arrived to Moscow and his relations with Putin seemed all right. I think it was possible because Saakashvili did not formulate his aims exactly. And Putin was ready to meet him half-way. Shevardnadze was thoroughly disliked in Russia. Shevardnadze, according to many Russian politicians, particularly those connected with national security, destroyed the Warsaw Treaty, transferred significant part of our sea territories to the USA and thus contributed to the USSR disintegration. Therefore, any change in Georgian authorities seemed positive to our national security. This is why Russia was glad to meet Saakashvili half-way.
But gradually their relations began to grow worse. Abkhazia came to be the first sticking point. While Igor Ivanov in the very beginning of the Revolution of Roses went there to mitigate the revolution and rather contributed to Shevardnadze leaving without blood, during the Adzharia campaign Russia’s attitude was significantly different. Putin certainly made it possible for Abashidze leave Batumi and arrive to Russia. And many Russian politicians began to say: “How long shall we betray our allies?” Certainly, some of them were ready to support Abashidze in his decision to struggle with Tbilisi through revolution. Abashidze said then that each new president created an independent republic within Georgian borders. Gamsahurdia created South Ossetia, Shevardnadze created Abkhazia, while Saakashvili was going to create Adzharia. And Abashidze was ready to fight. As we remember, Adzharian army split: one part joined Abashidze, the other one, Saakashvili. Moscow decided to follow peaceful scenario in settling this conflict, thinking that this would lead to improvement of relations between Tbilisi and Moscow, as it had happened during the Revolution of Roses. But Saakashvili understood it differently. He decided that Moscow would help him to return under complete control of Tbilisi all the territories, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
When Saakashvili started his campaign in South Ossetia, it seems, he himself was struck by Russia’s reaction. But nobody in Russia was ready to yield our allies after Adzharia, because next step would have been war in Abkhazia, while Abkhazian war is impossible and impermissible. Adygeian and Abazian nations make a significant proportion of the Caucasus dwellers. The previous time our Chechen war began in Abkhazia. Abkhazian relatives live in the North Caucasus, and our countrymen would not stay indifferent. Our Kazaks went even to South Ossetia. What then should we expect from Adygeis, Abazians, Cherkessians, who would go to Abkhazia for certain! This would mean spread of instability to Russian territory. The Caucasus is instable in Russia. Retaining of the North Caucasus within Russian borders is very problematic today. The situation is becoming uncontrollable, and to destabilize it by a new war is no better then a suicide.
Therefore, it is impossible to predict how quickly the conflict will be settled—I mean the Caucasus as a whole. To my mind, it is one of those conflicts which is better to keep frozen or improve gradually, without spurts. Georgia demands decision too promptly—while there is no prompt decision. I do not believe a Unitarian state in Georgia may be created some day—I think it will never happen. At best, Georgia will have to agree to confederation, if it is particularly lucky, to federation, but Unitarian state, as Zviad Gamsahurdia wished, will be never achieved.
Saakashvili has already understood this problem and he is retreating gradually, but he is still not ready to go as far as the situation demands. Georgian society of today would have been able to keep Abkhazia under Georgian control in 1992. But in 1992 Georgia was not ready for this; it only wanted a Unitarian state. But 13 years of independent existence have passed. Abkhazians have gone much farther. Therefore, to retain unity Georgia must go much farther too.
Instead of this Tbilisi claims that Georgia is ready to give Abkhazia as wide latitude as Adzharia has, and immediately calls back this wide latitude from Adzharia. Thus Tbilisi does not overthrow a dictatorial regime, but completely alters political conditions. Republican party expected to receive the majority of votes and thus retain Adzharian autonomy, but already loyal to Tbilisi. But Saakashvility told them: “You were our allies before the victory, now I will run the whole show”. How can Ossetians believe Tbilisi after that? How can Abkhazians believe Tbilisi? Impossible. Only strong pressure is needed now.
Russia cannot press down Abkhazians strongly. Russia’s position is now in critical in the North Caucasus. Russia will not take the Abkhazian burden in addition. Last year elections in Abkhazia showed one more time that Russia is not as influential in Abkhazia as Georgians used to think. Russia had everything at her disposal: money, political influence, administrative resource—but Russia failed there. Regardless the blockade, it were Abkhazians who achieved the result they wished, not Russia. Hajimba today is a decorative figure. The result of the achieved compromise was that Ardzinba’s clan is being pushed away in a softer way—that is all. But there have come people whose attitude towards Russia’s interference is rather negative. Simply Russia is the only partner for Abkhazia, it has no other choice and, therefore, Abkhazia works with Russia. But they are not the people who are ready to stay under Russian control. And Russia is not going to create additional problems for herself.
My opinion always was that Russia needs strong Georgia—because weak Georgia means transparent borders in the south of Russia. Our North Caucasus is the first victim. We need strong Georgia which controls its territory. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that Georgia won’t be able to regain its territorial unity quickly. To work out norms of trust, to gradually return the refugees Georgia needs to pass a long way, working step by step. It takes a lot of time. But Georgia demanded immediate reaction from Moscow. They said that inasmuch as Georgia is a part of SIC, Abkhazia must obey her. And Moscow was to arrange it. When Moscow said it was beyond her power, Russians were blamed in supporting separatists. And Russia finally took the side of separatists indeed—because not just Georgia behaved in that way, but also the United States. The USA accused Russia of her not being interested in returning Abkhazia to Georgia. But the USA do not care what we will have in the North Caucasus.
I always used to wonder why the USA feel so miserable about Abkhazian separatism and, on the contrary, so happy about Croatian separatism, or separatism in Kosovo? Why Kurdian and Adzharian separatisms are bad, while Albanian separatism is good? My answer is that the United States welcome any separatism if it is directed against Russia. While if it is, God forbid, friendly to Russia, as in Tiraspol or Sokhumi, it cannot be supported by the USA—it is “bad”.
This is why Russia’s attitude towards West and Western interference with conflicts is predominantly unfriendly today—the USA will “establish their order” in the North Caucasus, and we will have to live then with this “order”. Considering we do not want to live with burning war, we have to tell the USA that we will settle everything ourselves.
Russia must clearly understand that tension in Asia Minor will keep growing. Disappearing resources, population growth, falling back in economical development, globalization, which results in contacts between cultures formerly unused to contact—all this leads to increasing tension. In this situation Russia should understand that stable and united Georgia is its real ally. And Russia must demonstrate this understanding. But Georgians should understand as well that Russia is unable to solve the Abkhazian problem at its wish. Georgians must understand that the Abkhazian problem must be solved within long period of time, and its solution should begin not with global problems but with local ones. One of such local problems may be restoration of the railway so that Georgians could peacefully travel through Abkhazia to Russia, make their trade. Let Georgians and Abkhazians work on this railway together. Let them provide security of refugees, including those who now in “to and fro” regime come to work on their plots of land and return to Georgia—let them gradually stay in Abkhazia.
Russia is ready to follow this way. At the same time, Georgia should refuse from imprudent steps towards Abkhazia and choose, I suppose, the way of small steps. Georgia and Abkhazia should agree to federative organization. If they cannot agree to federation, they should agree to confederation. Both Georgians and Abkhazians must understand that the world is changing so rapidly that all these forms—federation, confederation—are only a temporal phenomena. In twenty-thirty years the situation in the world will be dramatically different from the present one. And the sooner peace is established firmly on this land the better—both Abkhazians and Georgians must understand this. In case peace does not come, both sides will suffer. I’m convinced that increase of terrorism, military struggle in that region will be inevitable. Therefore, all sides should realize that all of us are integrated into the global process, where all of us are rather unhappy and where we are allies. I do not know whether in Moscow, or in Tbilisi, or in Sokhumi politicians are capable of such a strategic view. But in case we will urge settlement of the conflict, presuming that rapid steps may alter the situation—we will only pour oil on the flames.
Unfortunately, we live in a very hard time when all the processes are very rapid, and we must rather slow them down then urge.
We need constant work, constant dialogue, understanding of common responsibility—this is the main thing. All of us face one and the same threat, the global catastrophe, caused by overpopulation, exhaustion and unfair distribution of resources, different opportunities opened in different societies to people. It will inevitably lead to horrible consequences. Nobody is interested in this, therefore people should search mutual understanding to prevent catastrophic scenarios. Certainly, differences in political systems are important, but they are minor in importance compared to the main task—prevention of the global catastrophe.