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Moscow’s plan for the separatists

By M. Alkhazashvili

(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Tuesday, March 18
The Russian Duma is considering whether to advise Moscow to formally recognize separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The recommendations they’ve concocted so far represent a continuation of the policy of ‘creeping annexation,’ though not the far more combustible step of outright recognition.

It is no secret that the leadership of South Ossetia and (at least amid some factions) Abkhazia wish to be annexed entirely by Russia; true independence would be only a way station toward inclusion in the Russian Federation.

Portions of Russian leadership seem happy to oblige. The lower house of Russia’s parliament, wholly subservient to the plans of the Kremlin, is deliberately signaling Moscow’s willingness to escalate the situation by taking up the issue in an advisory capacity.

February’s independence of Kosovo offers a convenient justification for redrawing formal relations between Moscow and its client regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in turn a justification for increased Russian meddling in its surrounding areas.

But outright recognition would undermine Moscow’s regional credibility and conceivably endanger its own territorial integrity, without doing much to practically strengthen the separatist regimes. So they instead take less explicit measures which are nonetheless effective in binding the Abkhazia and South Ossetia tighter to Russia.

On March 6, Russia withdrew from the economic embargo on Abkhazia. The move was strictly formal, as the ban was widely violated over the last decade, but it allows Moscow to dispense with the pretense that it is merely private businesses establishing bilateral ties with the Abkhaz.

Now the Duma is expected to recommend establishing quasi-official Russian missions to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The best and safest response for Tbilisi is to use this to make its moral case, domestically and internationally. Georgians see an aggressive Russia trying to eat away at their nation, and the international community sees Moscow officially recognizing Georgian territorial integrity but disrespecting the spirit of that arrangement in every way.