|Russia-Georgia War: Back to the Russian FM declaration of March 6, 2008|
|December 07, 2008|
On 6 March 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russia was withdrawing from the trade ban imposed by the Commonwealth of Independent States on Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia in 1996. The Russian Foreign Ministry also urged the heads of the other CIS countries to take similar steps and withdraw from the regime of restrictions with regards to Abkhazia.
This unilateral decision, taken and announced without any consultation with Georgia or other CIS countries, was an alarming development for Georgia, the Black Sea region and thus the world.
The ban on military and economic, financial, and other ties was imposed on Abkhazia following one of the worst episodes of ethnic cleansing of the past decades. Over 300,000 ethnic Georgians and others were chased from their homes by separatist militias, supported by Russian mercenaries. Most remain internally displaced persons, eking out a difficult living in the rest of Georgia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s communiqué claimed that most of the “refugees” (presumably meaning IDPS, internally displaced persons) of Georgian nationality from the Gali District have returned to their homes. The communiqué failed to note that about two hundred thousand IDPs originating from the other fifteen Abkhazian districts remained stuck in refugee accommodation outside the province, unable to return home. Thanks to the intransigence of the separatists and their Russian supporters, there has been no progress on the issue of their return, and thus certainly no sign of the “cardinal change” the communiqué refers to. Russia was attempting to use the situation in Gali as a fig leaf to hide a terrible, tragic reality.
Meanwhile, Russia has been issuing Russian passports to about 90% of the remaining, mostly Abkhaz, population. The Russian Government and Russian businessmen have seized assets throughout the province that legally belong to the Georgian state or to IDPs. These activities, in breach of national and international law, were clearly and transparently designed to allow Russia to absorb the territory by stealth.
Russia’s unilateral decision, taken and announced without any consultation, was deeply distressing to all Georgians and especially to those who, as IDPs, were dreaming of going home one day.
Russia has not consulted Georgia, nor has it offered to lift the sanctions that it imposed on Georgian trade and communications in 2006. By offering a normalization of trade to a Georgian separatist province, Russia continued manipulation of the Abkhazian issue and infringing Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This decision, coming a mere month before NATO was due to discuss a Membership Action Plan for Georgia, seems designed to generate tensions within Georgia and between Georgia and its allies.
Russia’s decision appears to be part of Russia’s answer to the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by a significant majority of Western countries and by the UN. It flies in the face of those countries that insist Kosovo’s independence is a unique case that cannot set a precedent for other regions.
A unilateral opening of military and trade relations with an illegal regime which does not enjoy international recognition facilitated large-scale criminal activities, including drug and weapon smuggling and money laundering.
The Russian decision heightened the risks of destabilization of the both (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) Georgian provinces, since this decision allowed Russia to provide personnel and military supplies to the separatist authorities.
Russia’s unilateral decision became provocative and destabilizing to the entire Caucasus region. It flew in the face of Russia’s international commitments, including the 32 UN Security Council resolutions which unanimously recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity and urges the return of all IDPs.
As per UN resolutions and the Moscow Ceasefire Accord (all before the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war), Russia provided the bulk of the peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia. Yet it is evident that Russia’s role was far from that of the impartial intercessor that UN resolutions demand. Instead, Russia has demonstrated that it was clearly a party in a difficult and painful conflict which Georgians and Abkhaz, not Russians, have to live with.
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