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Russia’s prophecy of Abkhazia violence self-fulfilling

By M. Alkhazashvili
Thursday, June 19
Russia is staunchly refusing any change to the peacekeeping format in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Moscow’s troops are an occupying force in all but name.

A Russian Foreign Ministry official said this week that it would be ‘reckless’ to withdraw the Russian peacekeepers, suggesting more violence and instability would be the inevitable result.

That is a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

The Abkhaz, despite official protestations that they rely on the Russians for security, know that Moscow is not sincerely interested in their independence. Their legitimate needs for personal security and assurances would be served just as well, if not better, by an internationalized peacekeeping force.

It is Russia alone that has strong incentive to keep its boots on the ground in Abkhazia. If its troops withdrew, Moscow could continue to use Abkhazia and, to an even greater extent, South Ossetia as client regimes in the South Caucasus—but its direct, immediate influence would lessen.

Rather than remove those partisan troops, Russia will fight a format revision by saying Abkhaz consent is needed—something the Kremlin will strongly bar the Sokhumi administration from giving. And to fulfill their own prophecy, they will create provocations which justify the need for the peacekeepers.

Both are destructive tactics. This all points to the benefit of dealing directly with the Abkhaz when and where possible. That is difficult now, with a near-total lack of mutual confidence. Abkhaz officials understandably refuse to talk with Tbilisi when the Georgian government makes the eventual return of Abkhazia to state control a precondition to any agreement.

But Tbilisi can acknowledge Abkhaz interests and work on building confidence by talking about immediate issues—trade, security, law enforcement—without insisting on predetermining the eventual status of the separatist enclave. It benefits Tbilisi to strengthen Sokhumi as an independent bargainer: Georgia and Abkhazia can find more to agree on than Georgia and Russia.

The alternative is a status quo dominated and determined by Russia. And that carries far more threat of instability and violence than transitioning to an international peacekeeping force.