Thursday 10 July 2008

Rising tensions in Abkhazia

On the eastern rim of the European continent, rising tensions between Georgia and its breakaway region Abkhazia (some would say: the unrecognised country Abkhazia) are making me concerned if a rather "frozen" conflict could become a new war.

Abkhazia, situated on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, on the southern side of the Caucasus, and in the north-western part of Georgia, has been a self-proclaimed Autonomous Republic since 1992 and since the 1994 ceasefire agreement, the conflict has been frozen with different levels of activity over the years.

In fact, the region is a geopolitical "playground" of Russia, the USA and the European Union. Russia has established semi-official links to what (behind the scenes) it considers an independent country. It can control the situation on the ground through Peace-Keeping troops led by the Russian army, and it uses every possibility for provocations. The USA and the EU pledge for the integrity of Georgia, the latter in order to have stability in its neighbourhood and the former for geostrategic reasons (containing the influence of Russia). US foreign secretary Rice is in Georgia right now to discuss those issues.

But these days' tensions are the worst during the last two years (remark: I did not follow this region before). There is a rising number of reports about killed Abkhaz soldiers at the Georgian-Abkhaz border, arrested members of the Georgian army in the Abkhaz reasons, repeated reports of airspace violations (which have been quite usual during the last years) etc.

This is why my alarm bells are ringing. I am aware that there is no easy solution for the conflict, but all sides were "intelligent" enough during last years to have their ego-mane power games played with words (mostly) and economic policies. This is bad enough, but I hope that the region will not face a new war or not even an intensified armed conflict. In the end, this is all played on the back of the local population.

The Abkhaz authorities and the Georgian government should start to fully respect democratic standards and human rights norms in their respective areas of influence. Only on this basis, they could become credible partners and only then a truly peaceful solution can be found.

But as long as big men with big balls want to be strong daddies, I have my doubts about a positive prospect for Abkhazia...

Some press articles:

Reuters UK: "Georgian and separatists forces in armed clash" (2008-07-09)
AFP: "Georgian Rebel region calls for peace talks: report" (2008-07-09)
Reuters: "Rice urges Russia and Georgia to avoid provocation" (2008-07-08)