Wednesday, August 1, 2007, #145 (1412)

Bagapsh: International recognition of Abkhazia sure to follow Kosovo precedent

By Nino Mumladze

The frequently referenced "uniqueness" of the Kosovo case is "unsound," but an impending recognition of Kosovo independence will accelerate the same process for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, claims Sergey Bagapsh, secessionist leader of Abkhazia, in a July 31 interview with the Russian daily Kommersant.

"The fate of Kosovo has been ordained, thus our fate will also be determined in the nearest future…And if such a decision [recognition] is taken towards the end of the year, it will untie the hands of other countries for recognizing Abkhazia, Transdniester, Nagorno Karabakh, and South Ossetia," said Bagapsh, adding that his region has "even more historical and legal grounds for independence than Kosovo."

Presuming recognition of an independent Kosovo just around the corner, the de facto president of breakaway Abkhazia spelled out what he imagines to be Russia's game plan for supporting Abkhaz independence.

"Of course the double standards in big politics influence our case as well, but Russia's position was constructive from the very beginning," Bagapsh said.

He added that while many in Abkhazia were upset that Russia favored Serbia's territorial integrity and opposed recognition of an independent Kosovo, this position of a "great country" towards a geo-strategic partner, Serbia, "is understandable."

And now, Bagapsh said, if the international community flies past Russia's objections, Moscow will say, "we didn't want this precedent, but now having your decision on Kosovo recognition in violation of all international norms-what hinders us in recognizing Abkhazia?"

The interviewing Kommersant journalist then posited a hypothetical for Bagapsh: what if Tbilisi tried to use a repeat of its 'South Ossetia project' in the Abkhazia conflict?

That is, if Tbilisi countered the upcoming de facto elections in Abkhazia, two years ahead, with alternative elections among IDPs from Abkhazia. The international community could then talk with that elected government-in-exile, the journalist suggests, entirely sidelining Bagapsh's administration.

"Let [Europe] talk with them. I've already warned those mediators [the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General]: we do respect you, but the sides in the negotiation process are Georgia and Abkhazia and if you violate these agreements, we won't end up with a dialogue," Bagapsh said to Kommersant.

Commenting on international insistence on renewing dialogue, Bagapsh reiterated his preconditions for resuming talks with Tbilisi. His government would only negotiate with Tbilisi after they pull out their forces from upper Kodori Gorge, the only Georgian-controlled territory in Abkhazia.

"They fail to understand that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not just little boys in shorts, but full-fledged partners in negotiations," Bagapsh declared, reproaching President Mikheil Saakashvili for sending Georgian forces to upper Kodori, which served to break off talks with secessionist Sokhumi. He also expressed doubts about Georgia's sincerity in proposing high-level dialogue.

"I know why [Tbilisi] needs face-to-face talks between the presidents [meaning Saakashvili and Bagapsh]; it's so that they'll be able to say that Bagapsh and Saakashvili are meeting for talks and they would have had normal relations if not for Russia's interference. We won't give them the opportunity," he said.

Bagapsh predicted that the 'South Ossetia project,' with Tbilisi-backed Dmitry Sanakoyev establishing a government kilometers away from secessionist Tskhinvali, will only lead to war in the region. And it couldn't happen in Abkhazia, Bagapsh said.

"We have by definition a different situation than that of South Ossetia. It's impossible to find another Sanakoyev in Abkhazia," Bagapsh stated, going on to label Sanakoyev a "traitor."

And why has a "traitor" been invited to speak in front of European parliament members, while the de facto leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are shunted aside? It reflects poorly on the West, says Bagapsh.

"Neither Kokoity, nor I, nor our foreign minister have ever appeared in the European parliament…And here everything is so simple: Georgia requested and Sanakoyev was offered a tribune [to speak to]. And after that, how should we treat Europe and the US, if they are always listening to only one side of the conflict?" he asked.

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