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Who to talk to about Abkhazia

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Tuesday, January 29
The UN diagnosis: relations between separatist Abkhazia and Tbilisi are at their lowest point since 1998, and the political process between the two sides is at a total standstill.

The incoming state minister for reintegration issues, Temur Iakobashvili, told a parliamentary committee yesterday that the situation has changed since that report was filed. The election is past, he said, and Tbilisi is ready for new strides in conflict settlement.

Unfortunately, Sokhumi is less eager to parlay with the slightly-remade government of Saakashvili’s second term. In fact, de facto Abkhaz foreign minister Sergey Shamba said that due to Tbilisi’s decision to appoint a ‘reintegration’ official, rather than one under previous title of ‘conflict resolution,’ they won’t be meeting with the new representatives at all.

Empty threats, probably; provocative it may be, but using the term ‘reintegration’ on the state minister’s business cards doesn’t mean Tbilisi has sprung new demands on the separatists—reintegration into Georgia was always a categorical condition for conflict settlement. Relations with Sokhumi may be at a low point, but they’re not fundamentally derailed.

In the meantime, relations with Moscow may be improving. Last September, Saakashvili had harsh words for the Russian peacekeepers in an address to the UN; a month later, parliament formally demanded that Russian peacekeepers be withdrawn from the conflict zones.

That resolution lies forgotten as Georgian-Russian relations show hints of perking up. Iakobashvili says there is still a place for Russian forces within a new peacekeeping format, and Russia’s foreign minister assured the world there are no plans to immediately recognize South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence in retaliation for Kosovo’s impending secession.

The separatists depend on Russia, making reasonable cooperation with the Kremlin the one sure path for peaceful conflict resolution. Georgian-Abkhaz talks may have shuttered to a halt, but movement in Georgian-Russian relations offers another way forward.