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Secret or not, any talks are progress

Monday, June 23
Georgia’s top officials for security and conflict issues met quietly with Abkhaz separatist leadership last week in Sweden, in direct talks of the sort which have been rare for the last two years. There are rumors of secret deals, but what was on the table in Sweden was probably not monumental—it is the very act of meeting which is encouraging.

The country's national security secretary said Tbilisi came with proposals on the free movement of civilians and rebuilding local ties. They probably also pitched the government's vision of a free economic zone for western Georgia and Abkhazia.

The national security secretary said the Abkhaz rejected all proposals. That may be true, or it may be cover for Abkhaz officials who will face challenges at home for brokering with the Georgians. So far, there are not many details known.

But one detail matters most: the two sides met on neutral territory without apparent Russian involvement.

Obvious for Georgians is that Moscow will not relax its clench on breakaway Abkhazia without exacting a price; more controversial is the notion that the Kremlin’s proxies in Sokhumi can be undermined, and more independent factions strengthened, by engaging with the right figures in Abkhaz leadership.

Georgia’s end goal is to regain control of Abkhazia. An intermediate step would be to subtly work with Abkhazia to exorcise Russia’s malignant presence from the region, eventually enlisting international forces to replace Russian troops as a security guarantee for the Abkhaz. That would produce a new status quo, and one safer for the Caucasus.

It is an arduous process fraught with pitfalls. Many agreements are a hard sell domestically on both sides, and there are short-term gains in fiery rhetoric and violence.

But while merely talking may not produce results, silence will only produce more tension. Further talks—secret if they must be, public if they can be—would be small steps toward cooling down the frighteningly hot situation in the conflict zone.