(Edited by Gennady Chufrin). Oxford University press, 2001.
The Abkhaz have long populated the western Caucasus. They
currently number about 100 000 people, speak one of the languages of the
Abkhazo-Adygeyan (west Caucasian) language group, and live in the coastal
areas on the southern slopes of the Caucasian ridge and along the Black Sea
coast. Together with closely related peoples of the western Caucasus (for
example, the Abazins, Adygeyans and Kabardians (or Circassians)) they play
an important role in the Caucasian ethno-cultural community and consider
themselves an integral part of its future. At the same time, the people
living in coastal areas on the southern slopes of the Caucasian ridge have
achieved broader communication with Asia Minor and the Mediterranean
civilizations than any other people of the Caucasus. The geographical
position of Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast has made its people a major
factor in the historical process of the western Caucasus, acting as an
economic and cultural bridge with the outside world.
Georgians and Abkhaz have been neighbours from time
immemorial. The Georgians currently number about 4 million people. The
process of national consolidation of the Georgian nation is still far from
complete: it includes some 20 subgroups, and the Megrelians (sometimes
called Mingrelians) and Svans who live in western Georgia are so different
in language and culture from other Georgians that it would be more correct
to consider them as separate peoples. Some scholars, Hewitt, for example,
suggest calling the Georgian nation not Georgians but by their own name,
Kartvelians, which includes the Georgians, Megrelians and Svans. To call
all the different Kartvelian groups Georgians obscures the true ethnic
situation. Increasingly, scholars prefer to distinguish between Georgians,
Megrelians and Svans, the Georgians being the population of eastern
Historically, Georgian-Abkhaz interaction has alternated between close
cooperation and bitter fighting. The beginning of the current Georgian-Abkhaz
conflict can be traced back to the 1870s when, after the end of the
Caucasian war, there was a mass resettlement of Abkhaz to Turkey (the
Mahajeers). As a result the Abkhaz territory along the Black Sea-divided
into two parts, the north-west (Bzibean) and the south-east (Abjuan)-has
since been populated by various nationalities, including Armenians, Greeks,
Megrelians and Russians, thus giving modern Abkhazia its multi-ethnic
The Georgian nationalist movement that emerged in the 19th
century defined the primordial Georgian territory as being that which lay
within the borders of the medieval Georgian empire of the 10th-13th
centuries. This ignored the initially multi-ethnic character of the state.
The first attempts by the movement to base the development of the Georgian
state on these historical lands were made after the Russian Empire
disintegrated, during the period of the independent Georgian republic
(1918-21). In Abkhazia and other ethnic minority areas a policy of
assimilation began, with the mass resettlement of Georgians to Abkhazia and
the declaration of Georgian as the state language. This policy combined with
acts of violence and robberies by the Georgian armies caused many protests
among the population of Abkhazia, including some of the local Megrelians.
The establishment of Soviet rule in Abkhazia in March 1921 was, therefore,
welcomed by the people and heralded as the end of national oppression and of
the Georgian occupation.
In 1921 Abkhazia received the status of a Soviet Republic
allied with Georgia by a special treaty, but its status was downgraded in
February 1931 to that of an autonomous republic within Georgia with the aim
of facilitating the assimilation of the Abkhaz by Georgians. Soviet
Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin (a Georgian) regarded the
Abkhaz as a primitive people who were to be assimilated by the culturally
advanced Georgians. The period from 1931 to the early 1950s was
particularly tragic in the history of Abkhazia. It saw the Georgianization
of Abkhazia, which for all intents and purposes meant the genocide of its
indigenous population and included the physical extermination of the Abkhaz
intelligentsia, the expulsion of Abkhaz from the management of all
administrative and public organizations and state enterprises, the closure
of Abkhaz schools and the forcible enrolment of Abkhaz children into
Georgian schools, the prohibition of teaching in the Abkhaz language in high
schools, the replacement of Abkhaz names with Georgian ones, restricted
social security for persons of Abkhaz ethnicity, unwritten privileges for
Georgians, the massive resettlement of Georgians into Abkhazia, the
persecution of Abkhaz culture and the falsification of Abkhaz history.
All through the Soviet period the main goal of the Georgian
leadership and of the Georgian nationalist movement as a whole was the
creation of a consolidated Georgian nation in the shortest possible time.
With Stalin in power, when the influence of the Georgian lobby in the
Kremlin was at its greatest, this policy was carried out by repressive
methods. Some peoples were deported from Georgia (Greeks, Kurds and
Meskhetian Turks). Others, not even related to the Kartvelians, were
declared part of the Georgian tribes and along with Svans and Megrelians
were quickly assimilated.
After Stalin's death the Georgian lobby in the central Soviet
Government remained but was weakened. From the mid-1950s the Georgian
republican authorities were forced by the Soviet Government to stop the
worst forms of discrimination against the Abkhaz, but the mass resettlement
of Georgians to Abkhazia continued. As a result, at the end of the 1980s the
share of Abkhaz in the 525 000-strong population of Abkhazia was reduced to
17.8 per cent while the share of the Georgian population reached 45.7 per
cent. In the mid-1950s, in line with the ideological goals of the
resettlement policy, a theory was fabricated declaring the true Abkhaz to be
an ancient cultural Georgian tribe living on the territory of Abkhazia and
describing the modern Abkhaz as descendants of backward highlanders,
Apsuaers, who ostensibly moved into Abkhazia from the north in the
17th century. The thesis of the resettlement of the Apsuaers became part
of a racist theory asserting a supposed primordial superiority of the
civilized Georgians over their neighbours-a theory which dominated in
Georgian science and public consciousness. Widespread promotion of this
theory caused sharp protests from the Abkhaz intelligentsia and aggravated
inter-ethnic relations. Tensions between Abkhaz and Georgians became
particularly evident in 1957, 1964, 1967 and 1978 when there were mass
protest actions by the Abkhaz population and only emergency intervention by
the central government prevented further escalation of the conflict.
At the end of the 1980s, in conditions of a growing crisis of
the central government, the contradictions between the Abkhaz and the
Georgians assumed much sharper forms. The Georgian nationalist movement
raised demands for national independence and the creation of a mono-ethnic
Georgian state within its historical borders. The Abkhaz actively opposed
Georgian separatism. The Abkhaz letter of 1988 formulated a demand for the
restoration to Abkhazia of the status of Soviet Socialist republic it
enjoyed in 1921-31.
In 1989-91 a wave of inter-ethnic conflicts swept through Georgia, behind which Georgian radicals saw the hand of Moscow. In fact the growth of inter-ethnic tensions could be attributed to the activists for Georgian independence, who called for policies of de-Armenianization and de-Azerbaijanization, the abolition of all autonomies, and even a state birth control programme to limit the expansion of the non-Georgian population. In 1990 the ultra-radical (later President) Zviad Gamsakhurdia elevated the idea of a mono-ethnic Georgian state into official policy. The autonomy of South Ossetia was abolished and open persecution of the non-Georgian population began.
In Abkhazia, following major clashes in 1989 between Abkhaz
and Georgians, the conflict was reflected in legislation. Under the slogan
of a return to the independent republic of 1918-21, Tbilisi annulled all
legal acts of the Soviet period, including those on the allied status of
Georgia and Abkhazia (1921) and on the autonomy of Abkhazia within the
Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (1931). In response, in August 1990, the
Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia adopted a Declaration of the State Sovereignty of
the Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It declared Abkhazia a
sovereign socialist state having all the power of authority on its territory
except the rights voluntarily delegated by it to the USSR and Georgian
Soviet Socialist Republic by the previous agreements. A war of laws
followed: all Abkhazian legislation was annulled by the Georgian Government.
As a result authority was increasingly paralysed in Abkhazia and Tbilisi
rapidly lost control of the situation.
After Gamsakhurdia's overthrow in January 1992 the situation
in Abkhazia deteriorated further . The war which broke out in 1992-93 was
the peak of the conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia, characterized by the
aspirations of the Abkhaz to secure their national and physical survival and
by the desire of the Georgians to achieve national consolidation on the
basis of their own ethnos and to create a mono-ethnic Georgian state on a
territory with a multinational population and within completely artificial
Originally Georgian propaganda justified the military
intervention in Abkhazia by the need to protect the safety of the railways
and to free Georgian officials taken hostage by followers of Gamsakhurdia.
Realizing the absurdity of these allegations, President Eduard Shevardnadze
later laid the blame for starting the war on Tengiz Kitovani, Minister of
Defence for Georgia and a member of the Military Council that had overthrown
Gamsakhurdia, alleging that Kitovani had ordered the army into Abkhazia
without Shevardnadze's knowledge. Shevardnadze described the Georgian Army's
actions in Abkhazia as intolerable: I will not even mention the inadmissible
methods they used. Tanks, armoured vehicles, removal of the flag from the
House of Government as if it were a foreign country . . . Much of what was
done then cannot be justified and cannot be regarded as normal.
In fact there is no doubt that the Georgian-Abkhazian war was
provoked not by the situation in Abkhazia-the situation there was calmer
than in neighbouring Megrelia, where numerous armed gangs of Zviadists
were operating-but by the situation in Tbilisi following the overthrow of
Gamsakhurdia. It was probably the personal interests of the members of the
Military Council (later the State Council of Georgia) that were behind the
military campaign in Abkhazia. For each of them: A victory over Abkhazia
could be a new important step in his political career. For Shevardnadze,
however, this war could open much broader prospects. For the "new opposition
he was a former opponent, a stranger; he was still a Russian citizen with a
Moscow residence; his strength was the support he received from Moscow, but
he could never achieve the admiration among the Georgian people that
Gamsakhurdia enjoyed. For Shevardnadze therefore a war in Abkhazia was
absolutely necessary without it, the consolidation of his personal power and
defeat of his political opponents were inconceivable. In fact it was the war
in Abkhazia that allowed him to put down public discontent in Megrelia,
to strengthen his own position in Tbilisi, and to dismiss and then arrest
those who had overthrown Gamsakhurdia and invited Shevardnadze himself to
Georgia (for example, Djaba loseliani and Tengiz Kitovani). Thus the
Georgian-Abkhazian war was the price which the population of Georgia paid
for Shevardnadze's return to power.
Shevardnadze probably received approval for a military
operation in Abkhazia from Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It was hardly
coincidental that one day before fighting broke out Russia transferred tanks,
helicopters, artillery pieces and other military equipment to the Georgian
armed forces. However, in spite of its overwhelming superiority in arms and
numbers over the Abkhaz militia, the Georgian Army failed to achieve a quick
The massive and fierce resistance that the Georgian Army met
came as a surprise for the Georgian leaders, but was completely natural: the
Abkhaz population regarded the Georgian military intervention as a real
threat to its very existence. The Abkhazian leadership, relying on the
support of the public, also succeeded in quickly creating Abkhazian
territorial armed forces. They received fast and effective help from the
neighbouring peoples of the North Caucasus as a result of the traditional
ethnic solidarity among the Abkhaz-Adygeya peoples. Furthermore, the
activities of the Georgian leadership appeared so scandalous and unfair that
there was a large influx of volunteers from different parts of the former
Soviet Union, including Chechens, Ossetians, Russians and Ukrainians, to
fight the Georgian Army. Usually these volunteers formed international
brigades but the Cossacks from southern Russia formed their own units.
Initially the Abkhazian armed forces experienced an acute
shortage of arms. There is widespread opinion in the West that they received
their arms from the Russian military. In the view of the present author,
based on numerous interviews with local veterans of the Georgian-Abkhazian
war, arms were indeed often purchased from the Russian military but this was
the result of private deals, reflecting the progressive disintegration of
government authority under Yeltsin, and did not represent a refined
Byzantine approach to the conflict on the part of the Russian authorities.
Moreover, when the Georgian Army was defeated at Gagra in 1992 the Abkhazian
Army seized a large amount of modern military equipment, including tanks,
surface-to-air missile systems and artillery pieces, which eased their arms
and ammunition shortage.
The Georgian-Abkhazian war lasted over a year and was very bloody and destructive. About 20 000 civilians died in Abkhazia; material damage was estimated at $11.5 billion. The war resulted in a fundamental change in the ethnic groups in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Although the attitudes of Georgians, Megrelians and Svans differed, the local Georgian population on the whole supported the military action. Other ethnic groups, initially neutral in the conflict, later adopted a pro-Abkhaz position as a result of robberies and other excesses by the Georgian military. Thus, since 1992 the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has assumed the character of a confrontation between the Georgian state and the local Georgian community, on the one hand, and the rest of the multi-ethnic population of Abkhazia, on the other hand.
II. The post-war situation
After the defeat of the Georgian Army and the flight of part
of the local Georgian population from Abkhazia, the political position
of the Abkhazian leadership solidified. The overwhelming majority of the
population consistently supported independence and a strongly pro-Russian
orientation. Internal political stability allowed Abkhazia leaders to
resolve the country economic problems in spite of isolation from the outside
Abkhazia economic achievements were especially evident in
comparison with Georgia. Its social and economic infrastructure was restored
without foreign aid and relied entirely on Abkhazia's domestic potential.
The greatest success was in the production of electric power. While in
Georgia over the past eight years the energy crisis has resulted in
restrictions on public electricity consumption (to six hours per day, and
during the winter months of 2001 only one or two hours per day), in Abkhazia
there were no such restrictions and electric power tariffs for ordinary
consumers remained the lowest throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1999
Abkhazia harvested about 10 000 tons of tea and 1000 tons of tobacco, while
exporting over 20 000 tons of citrus crops, achieving a positive trade
balance for the first time since the end of the war.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union the leaders of Abkhazia
considered reunion with Russia a priority task. An appeal of the Supreme
Soviet of Abkhazia to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation dated 23
March 1993 asked it to return the Republic of Abkhazia into the Russian fold,
or to place it under the protection of Russia in the appropriate
international legal form. A resolution adopted at a mass meeting held in
Abkhazia on 16 April 1995 repeated the request to the Russian Government for
a reunion of Abkhazia and Russia. However, there was no positive
reaction to these requests. Russia policy was clearly pro-Georgian policy at
that time, and the Abkhazian leadership was forced to work towards
legalizing the state's independence. On 3 October 1999, along with the
presidential elections in Abkhazia, a referendum was held in the country in
which the overwhelming majority of Abkhazians (97.7 per cent of voters)
supported the creation of an independent and democratic Abkhazian state.
On the basis of the result, on 12 October 1999 Abkhazia adopted an Act of
State Independence of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Understanding that in the circumstances it would be
impossible to achieve de jure recognition of Abkhazia independence by the
world community, the Abkhazian leadership agreed to possible coexistence
with Georgia in a common state within the borders of the former Georgian
Soviet Socialist Republic. At the same time Abkhazia rejected the status of
autonomy and agreed to build relations with Georgia only on the basis of
equality within a common state whose functions would be limited to foreign
policy, defence, finance, border protection and customs services. Initially
the Georgian leadership agreed with this approach. It was reflected in the
joint Statement on Measures for a Political Settlement of 4 April 1994 in
which Georgia and Abkhazia agreed to act as equal sides and pledged to
resume official relations on this basis. Later, however, the Georgian
leadership changed its position and refused to build relations with Abkhazia
on the basis of equality.
The Georgian leadership did not blame Abkhazia secession on
its own policies but interpreted it as an annexation and occupation of the
primordial territory of Georgia and as aggression of international terrorism
against a sovereign state. For Tbilisi the only acceptable resolution to
the conflict was to grant Abkhazia the status of autonomy inside the unified
Georgian state, and neither the future structure of the Georgian state nor a
possible form of autonomy for Abkhazia were even discussed.
For the whole post-Soviet period Georgia policy of state-building
has been conducted on the basis of rigid unitarism. The result of this
policy was a profound economic crisis and the progressive disintegration of
Georgia. The government in Tbilisi lost control over all the autonomies that
existed during the Soviet period (Abkhazia, Adzharia and South Ossetia),
over Javaheti with its compact 130 000 Armenian population, and over many
mountain areas such as Svanetia and the Pankisi gorge, which is populated by
The ruinous character of the policy of building a mono-ethnic
state in a country where the share of ethnic minorities in the population is
over 30 per cent was absolutely clear. However, the majority of Georgian
legislators continued to take a negative attitude to any measures that might
undermine the unity of the Georgian state. The 1995 constitution
proclaimed Georgia an independent, unified and indivisible state and the
term federalism is not used in it. The constitution proclaims that citizens
of Georgia regulate matters of local importance through local self-government
as long as it does not encroach upon national sovereignty. It also states
that when conditions are appropriate and self-government bodies have been
established throughout the territory of Georgia, the parliament shall be
formed with two chambers: the Council of the Republic and the Senate. In the
future the Senate will consist of members elected from Abkhazia, Adzharia
and other territorial units of Georgia as well as five members appointed by
Consisting exclusively of ethnic Georgians, the political
leadership of Georgia did not even consider the possibility of starting
national construction on the basis of federalism rather than on the basis of
a unitary state.
The Abkhazian problem remains the highest priority on Georgia
security agenda and it influences its approach to other conflicts. As one
South Ossetian leader observed, a Georgian-Ossetian settlement will hardly
be possible before a Georgian-Abkhazian settlement as South Ossetia does not
anticipate having a status lower than that of Abkhazia. It is also clear
that Adzharia will adopt a similar position. Although the Adzharian
Government has not formally declared its intention to secede, it operates in
a completely independent way and disregards the Tbilisi authorities. The
customs, the office of the public prosecutor, the courts, the police and the
coastguard are under its full control. Posts with armed units have been set
up on the administrative borders of Adzharia to prevent any armed
infiltration from Georgia. The authorities of Abkhazia and Adzharia maintain
constant contact, and during the Georgian-Abkhazian war Adzharia declared
its neutrality. The Adzharian authorities take their own position on the
issue of the Russian military presence in the South Caucasus. They oppose
the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the territory of Adzharia and have
openly declared a pro-Russia policy.
Tbilisi control over Javaheti is similarly only nominal. Its
Armenian population is pro-Russian and pro-Armenian, and is increasingly
demanding autonomy. With the progressive disintegration of the Georgian
state, such compact national minorities living in Georgia as the Megrelians
and Svans, and then Georgian sub-ethnic groups such as the Cahetians,
Gurians, Khevsurs and Tushins, may also demand autonomy. The possibility of
the country splitting into many different parts as it was in the 13th-18th
centuries until Georgia became part of the Russian Empire may therefore
again become a reality. This would mean not only the collapse of the
Georgian state but also a tragedy for the Georgian people.
It is logical therefore that the Georgian Government is only
ready to give Abkhazia autonomous status. It has concentrated all its
diplomatic efforts on the Georgian refugee problem. The return of the
Georgian population to Abkhazia, which the Georgian leaders insist on, will
obviously result in a renewal of hostilities, as it is completely
unacceptable for the people of Abkhazia and its leadership. Natella Akaba,
an Abkhazian political analyst, writes that among those who fall under the
definition of refugees:
There are many people who committed criminal and military
offences in 1992-93. Abkhazia is a small country: everybody knows nearly
everything about their neighbours; the names of those who in the late 1980s
demanded the liquidation of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic and who in
August 1992 wrote to the Georgian leaders asking for Georgian troops (which
ended in bloody clashes) are well known. If they come back, another war will
At the same time neither the population of Abkhazia nor its
leaders object to a gradual, staged return of refugees, first of all to the
Gali region. However, the leadership of Georgia is strongly against this
mode of resolving the refugee problem. In the opinion of Russian political
analysts these objections are raised because a staged return of refugees
presents a threat [to Georgia] of their "political" assimilation and gradual
integration into the Abkhazian state, in particular because the Sukhumi
authorities are taking appropriate steps in this direction: among the
deputies of the Abkhazian Parliament there are now two Georgians/Megrelians
elected by the population of the Gali region.
The mass return of Georgian refugees on which the Georgian leadership insists does not mean a peaceful resolution of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict but is actually intended to help to create favourable conditions for a new military campaign for the conquest of Abkhazia, and after that of other rebellious regions and peoples in Georgia.
III. The position of Russia
The official position of the Russian Federation on the
Georgian-Abkhazian conflict is based on the recognition of the inviolability
of Georgia territorial integrity, inside which Abkhazia should be given
broad political rights. On the basis of this position Russia has acted as an
intermediary helping the conflicting sides conclude the Memorandum of
Understanding (December 1993), the Agreement on Refugees and the Statement
on Measures for Political Settlement of April 1993. At the request of both
sides, in July 1994 a Russian peacekeeping force numbering about 2500
soldiers moved into a security zone along the Georgia-Abkhazia border.
Soon after the deployment, Russian diplomacy ceased to take
the interests of the Abkhazian side into account and began to act as a
lobbyist for Georgian interests. The then Russian Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Andrey Kozyrev, drew himself a plan for the economic suffocation of
Abkhazia, having shown a good understanding for the specific features of its
subtropical economy. Under this plan, in December 1994 the Russian
Government established a special regime of economic and political relations
with Abkhazia which actually meant a blockade of Abkhazia and its isolation
not only from Russia but also from the rest of the world. The purpose of
Russian diplomacy at that time was to force the Abkhazian Government to
accept such conditions as would mean full capitulation to Tbilisi.
However, the economic and political blockade of Abkhazia not only did not
help resolve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict; it strengthened the animosity
of the population of Abkhazia towards Georgia. It did not, however, result
in anti-Russian feelings: both the Abkhazian authorities and the general
public viewed it as the result of diplomatic intrigues by Tbilisi with the
Georgian lobby in Moscow and of Western pressure on Russia.
The blockade of Abkhazia completely contradicted Russia's
national interests, and it was severely criticized in both houses of the
Russian Parliament. It could have meant the destabilization of the
situation and the undermining of Russia's positions in the entire western
Caucasus. However, it was never completely implemented because of the
progressive crisis of the Yeltsin Administration and its inability to
persuade the regions to implement decisions taken at the federal level. Many
subjects of the Russian Federation-Bashkortostan, Tatar-Stan, Krasnodar Krai
(territory) and the republics of the North Caucasus-continued political and
economic relations with Abkhazia against the wishes of the central
Georgian-Russian cooperation did not bring either side the expected benefits. It did not protect Russia's geopolitical interests and did not guarantee the preservation of its military bases in Georgia. The Georgian Government was extremely disappointed that Russia did not expand the powers of its peacekeeping force by giving it police functions over the entire territory of Abkhazia: according to Tbilisi's plans, Russia should first pacify Abkhazia and then return it to Georgian rule.
Long before Yeltsin departure from office in December 1999
the policy of Tbilisi turned anti-Russian. In the hope of military
intervention by the West in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, Georgian
diplomacy called for the creation around Russia of a belt of democratic
states and actively supported the idea of creating a uniform Caucasus (without
the participation of Russia); the policy aimed to destabilize the situation
in the North Caucasus and remove Russia from the South Caucasus.
Many Georgian leaders are convinced that after the
disintegration of the Soviet Union the confrontation between Russia and the
West continues. They therefore pin their hopes on military intervention by
the West in the Abkhazian conflict since, in their opinion, the Abkhazian
problem is not only Georgia's problem but is linked to those world processes
of which we are eyewitnesses; that is, the collapse of the Soviet Union and
the beginning of a new redistribution of the world . . . Georgia becomes a
stable partner of the West which, in its turn, tries to complete the process
which has been started-to crush the Russian Empire by all possible means.
Such a policy adopted by Tbilisi could only worsen relations
with Russia. It is sharply criticised by the Georgian opposition who regard
it as unceremoniously ignoring Russia's national interests and as a
manifestation of irrational Russophobia on the part of the Georgian
With Vladimir Putin's rise to power, Russia ceased to
consider Georgia as its political ally in the region. Its position on the
Georgian-Abkhazian conflict also changed. In September 1999 Putin, then
Russian Prime Minister, annulled the special regime on the border with
Abkhazia, thus lifting the economic blockade. In November 2000, the
President of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba. visited Moscow for the first time
in several years for bilateral Abkhazian-Russian consultations on political
and economic issues. In particular, discussions focused on the Abkhazian
leaderships desire to maintain the Russian military presence in the South
Caucasus as it is the one major factor for stability, and on its opposition
to the proposed closure of the Russian military base at Gudauta in Abkhazia.
When frontier areas of Georgia were transformed into rear
bases for Chechen separatists and there were allegations that official
Tbilisi was supporting them, there was a crisis in Georgian-Russian
relations. In December 2000 Russia (for the first time within the framework
of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the CIS) introduced a visa regime
for citizens of Georgia; however, the regime did not apply to Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. The conclusion can be drawn that Russia has begun to develop
a new system for addressing its interests in the South Caucasus. Active
participants in this system are now not only Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia
but also the unrecognized states in the region, including Abkhazia. Thus all
the states in the South Caucasus that exist de facto may form important
elements of stability and political balance in the region, which is a
strategically important one for Russia.
IV. The position of the West
The Western countries support Georgia's territorial integrity
and take a one-sidedly pro-Georgian position. During the Georgian-Abkhazian
war the West did not condemn Georgia for excessive use offeree and did not
express concern over the violations of basic human rights and individual
freedoms perpetrated by the Georgian military. It approved the introduction
of repressive sanctions against Abkhazia as the most effective means of
achieving political peace, refused to consider the security needs of
Abkhazia and concentrated all its criticism on the Abkhazian leadership.
This unbalanced position only increased the mistrust between the conflicting
parties and caused the Abkhazian Government to take a negative attitude to
any Western diplomatic initiative.
Meeting the leaders of the three South Caucasus states at the
UN Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000, then US Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright made it clear that all future American
Administrations will continue to consider the post-Soviet space a zone of
the US strategic and vital interests. NATO's adoption in April 1999 of
the concept of humanitarian intervention, which meant that military
intervention by NATO in the internal affairs of foreign states would be
permissible, raised hopes in Georgia that a military action similar to that
carried out by NATO in Yugoslavia might be taken in Abkhazia.
Georgia has expressed its interest in replacing the Russian
peacekeeping force with other foreign forces. Although this initiative
found support in Turkey and Ukraine, the West refused to consider sending
forces to Abkhazia as it could not risk sustaining losses there similar to
those incurred in previous years by the Russian contingents participating in
Hoping to attract the military intervention of the West in
the conflict, Georgia expressed its determination to join NATO quickly.
This appeared impossible. Conditions for the acceptance of new members
include economic stabilization, the resolution of conflicts on the territory
of an applicant, the attainment of NATO standards of military equipment and
training, and constructive relations with neighbours. As a result, despite
the constant expansion of cooperation between Georgia and NATO in the
military sphere, the West has limited its activity in the Georgia-Abkhazia
conflict to sending military observers.
In recent years the policy of Western countries in the
Caucasian region has been increasingly influenced by the oil factor. In the
mid-1990s the Western countries adopted a new energy security doctrine which
called for the diversification of energy transport routes to Europe. The
European Union (EU) introduced the TRACECA (the Transport Corridor Europe
Caucasus Asia) and INOGATE (Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe)
projects. On this basis development began of a new system of transport
routes for petroleum and gas to Europe from Central Asian and the South
Caucasus. An oil pipeline from Baku to Supsa was laid through the territory
of Georgia, its final section being close to the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian
conflict. The economic penetration of the West into the South Caucasus and
Central Asia also led to an increase of its political influence in these
The construction, with Western investment, of a new system of oil and gas pipelines that would bypass Iran and Russia was received with apprehension in Russia as it could deprive it of revenues from oil transit. Repeated statements made in Western countries to the effect that they refused to consider the region as part of the Russian sphere of influence, while at the same time regarding it as a zone of NATO's strategic interests, were recognized by Russia as clear proof of the West ambition to exclude it from the region.
At present the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict has little chance
of being resolved politically: the interests of the conflicting sides are in
complete contradiction. While political efforts to halt the fighting have so
far been unsuccessful, the resumption of hostilities would cause the
destabilization not only of Abkhazia but also of the entire west Caucasian
region. It is unacceptable, therefore, either from the point of view of
Russia interests (the threat of destabilization in the North Caucasus) or
from that of the West (the danger of military operations spreading to the
systems of oil and gas pipelines between Central Asia, the Caucasus and the
The political normalization of the conflict is impossible
unless Georgia puts an end to its policy of unitarism. A single Georgian
state within the borders of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic is
possible only as a federation of equal peoples like Belgium or Switzerland.
Each people must be granted its own form- of statehood and representation in
the central government. There should also be international guarantees of the
rights of ethnic minorities and of the territorial integrity of Georgia. On
the other hand, a continuation of the policy of unitarism may result in the
further disintegration of the Georgian state; in that case Abkhazia may
aspire to international recognition as an independent state.
Contradictions between Russia and the West in the South Caucasus present a serious potential danger. Under the existing conditions of general instability in the region, further escalation may be caused with the minimum of effort. Russia and the West should, therefore, be interested not in continuing their rivalry but in closer coordination of their regional policies. The basis of such cooperation might be mutual recognition of each others strategic interests in the region. The development of a coordinated policy might be an effective means of stabilizing the entire Caucasian region and creating a basis for the resolution of local conflicts, including the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.
Coppieters et al. (note I)
1. Hewitt. G. (ed.), The Abkhazians: A Handbook, Peoples ot" the Caucasus Handbooks (St Martins Press: New York, 1999), pp. 13-16. See also Coppieters, B., Darchiashvili. D. and Akaba, N. (eds). Praktika Fnderali:ma: Poiski Aliernativ diva Gruzii i Abkha:ii [Practice of federalism: exploring alternatives for Georgia and Abkhazia] (Vesmir: Moscow. 1999) p. 21.
2. The names Georgia and Georgian most likely derive from the Persian Gurgistan and Gurg ("the country of wolves, "wolf). They first appear in Russian chronicles and documents in the 15th century. The Megrelians are the most numerous in the Kartvelian linguistic group: estimates range from 20% to 30% of the group. This is the primary factor which has prevented their rapid assimilation by Georgians.
3. Mehtiev, A., Baku i Tbilisi nuzhny drug drugu [Baku and Tbilisi need each other), e:avisimaya Ga:eta, 17 Sep. 1992; and Zhidkov, S., Brosok Malov Imperil [The spurt of a small empire) (Adygeya: Maikop, 1996).
4. Mescheryakov, N. V., Menshevistskom rayu: iz vpechatlenii poezdki v Gruziyu [In Menshevist paradise: from impressions of a trip to Georgia] (Gosizdat: Moscow, 1921); and Denikin, A., Ocherki russkoy smuty [Studies in Russian troubled times ] (Slovo: Berlin. 1925).
5. Stalin, 5.. Sochineniya [Works] (Politizdat: Moscow, 1946), vol. 2, pp. 350-51.
6. Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Sociopolitical Studies, O Bezopasnosti Rossii v Svyaii s Sobytiyami v Abkhazii [On Russia security in connection with events in Abkhazia], Analytical paper (Russian Academy of Sciences: Moscow, 1993), pp. 3-4.
7. Belaya Kniga Abkhazii: Dokumenty, Materialy, Svidetel stva [White book of Abkhazia: documents, materials, evidence] (Vnekom: Moscow, 1993), p. 30. The remainder of the population was made up of Armenians, Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians and others.
8. From the Abkhaz own name for themselves, Apsua.
9. Zorzoliani., G., Lekishvili, S. and Toidze, L., Istoricheskiye i Politiko-Pravovye Aspelay Konflikla v Abkhccii [Historical and politico-legal aspects of the conflict in Abkhazia] (Metsniereba: Tbilisi, 1995), pp. 12-13; and Pipia, B. and Chikviladze, Z., Raspyalaya Gruziya [Crucified Georgia] (Pechatny Dvor: St Petersburg, 1995), p. 9.
10. Vasilyeva, O., Gmziya kak Model Poskommunisticheskoy Transformatsii [Georgia as a model of post-communist transformation] (Gorbachev-Fond: Moscow, 1993), p. 31.
11. Abkhaziya v Sovetskuyu Epokhu: Abkhazskiye Pisma /1947-1989); Sbornik Dokumemov [Abkhazia during the Soviet epoch: Abkhaz letters (1947-1989): Collection of documents] (El-Fa: Sukhumi, 1992), vol. 1, p. 435. The appeals by Abkhaz political and public figures to the central Soviet Government known as the Abkhaz letters played an important role in the Abkhaz national movement and the history of inter-ethnic relations in Abkhazia. The story of the Abkhaz letters was published in this collection.
12. Vasilyeva (note 10), pp. 29-46.
13. Deklaratsiya o gosudarstvennom suverenitete Abkhazskoy Sovetskoy Sotsialisticheskoy respubliki: Prinyata X sessiyey Verkhovnogo Soveta Abkhazskoy ASSR 11 sozyva 25 avgusta 1990 goda [The Declaration of the state sovereignty of the Abkhaz Soviet Socialist republic adopted by the 10th session of the llth Supreme Soviet of the Abkhaz ASSR, 25 Aug. 1990], available at URL ; and Abkhaziya: Khronika Neob yavlennoy I&aoynu [Abkhazia: chronicle of undeclared war] (Luc&h: Moscow, 1992), part 1, pp. 12-15.
14. Kalinin. Yu., Zerkala separatizma: Eduarcl Shevardnadze vpervuye rasskazal o taynakh nachala gruzino-abkhazskoy voyny [Mirrors of separatism: Eduard Shevardnadze discloses for the first time mysteries of how the Georgian-Abkhazian war began), foskovskiy Komsomolets, 10 Feb. 1996.
15. Followers of Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
17. Gamsakhurdia was a Megrelian. and it is in Megrelia that the influence of his followers, the Zviadists, is strongest.
18. One month after the hostilities began the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Abkhaz Republic adopted a special resolution which described mass terror, physical extermination of people, torture of prisoners and hostages carried out by the State Council of Georgia in Abkhazia as an act of genocide of the Abkhaz nation. On genocide of the Abkhaz nation. Resolution no. 10-127, Gudauta, 16 Sep. 1992.
19. Konfederatsiya gorskikh narodov Kavkaza vstupayet v boy [The Confederation of Caucasian Mountain Peoples joins the fight], Krasnaya Zve:da, 27 Aug. 1992, p. I: and Leontyeva. L., The path of war, Moscow News, 6-13 Sep. 1992.
20. Gru:iya/Abkha:iya: Narusheniya Zakonov Vedeniya Voyny i Rol Rossii v Konflikte [Georgia/ Abkhazia: violations of the laws of war and Russia's role in the conflict] (Human Rights Watch: Helsinki. 1995).
21. Slabili:atsiva Mezhetnicheskikh i Sotsiokuliurnykh Olnoshemi na Kavka:e [Stabilization of inter- ethnic and socio-cultural relations in the Caucasus) (Etnosfera: Moscow, 1999), p. 87.
22. Mukhin, V., Abkhaziya nikogda ne stanet avtonomnoy edinitsey Gruzii [Abkhazia will never become an autonomy of Georgia], Nezavisimaya Gazeta. 29 Sep. 2000.
23. The attitude taken by Megrelians towards the war is described in Zhidkov (note 3), pp. 236-37.
24. According to the Department of Statistics of the Government of Abkhazia, by 1995 the population of Abkhazia was reduced to 313 000, of which 29.1% were Abkhaz, 28.7% Georgians, 19.8% Armenians, 16.5% Russians, 2.6% Ukrainians, 1.1% Greeks and 2.2% others. Krylov, A.. Post-Sovelskaya Abkha:iya: Traditsii. Religii, Narod [Post-Soviet Abkhazia: traditions, religions, people] (OOAgent: Moscow, 1999), p. 11.
25. Mukhin (note 22).
26. Gruzino-Abkhazskiy Konjlikt: Proshloye, astovascheye. Perspective Uregulirovaniya [The Georgian-Abkhazian conflict: past, present and prospects of settlement] (Institute of Diaspora and Integration, Institute of the CIS Countries: Moscow, 1998), p. 27.
27. Obrashcheniye skhoda mnogonatsionalnogo naroda Abkhazii, posvyashchennogo 185-letiyu dobrovolnogo vkozhdeniya Abhazii v sostav Rossii [Appeal of the mass meeting of the multinational people of Abkhazia devoted to the 185th anniversary of the voluntary entry of Abkhazia into Russia], Sukhumi, 16 Apr. 1995 (copy in SIPRI archive).
28. See the Internet site of the Republic of Abkhazia (Apsny), URL.
29. Akt Gosudarstvennoy Nezavisimosti Respubliki Abkhaziya [Act of state independence of the Republic of Abkhazia], Sukhumi. 12 Oct. 1999 (copy in SIPRI archive).
30. The text of this Statement was published in Sukhumi on 5 Apr. 1994.
31. Gru:ino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 15.
32. Gru:ino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 15.
33. The Constitution of Georgia, available at URL .
34. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 48.
35. 35 Hanbabjan. A., Gruziya-Abkhaziya . . . Obsuzhdeniye konstuutsionnogo statusa samo- provozglashennoy respubliki chrevato seryoznymi posledstviyami [Georgia-Abkhazia. . . Discussion of the constitutional status of the self-proclaimed republic is fraught with serious consequences], ,e:a-visimaya Ga:eta, 19 Sep. 2000.
36. Soidze, O. and Berdzenishvili. D., Protivostoyaniye mezhdu Tbilisi i Batumi ili o problemakh sobrannosti natsii i polnote gosudarstva [Confrontation between Tbilisi and Batumi, or on problems of consolidation of the nation and completeness of the state], Tsentralnaya A:iya i Kavka: (Lulea), no. 2 (2000), p. 214. On the Russian military presence, see section III in this chapter.
37. Soidze and Berdzenishvili (note 36), pp. 217-18.
38. Akaba, N., Georgian-Abkhazian conflict: rooted in the past, resolved in future. Central Asia and the Caucasus (Lulea), no. 6 (2000), p. 119.
39. Gncino-Abkhazskiy Konfltkt (note 26), pp. 19-20.
40. The number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia is not constant. Initially they numbered 2500. but by the end of 1996 that was reduced to 1500. By the end of 2000 the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia was 1747. Figure supplied by the Russian Embassy in Stockholm. 26 Feb. 2001.
41. Gruzino-Abkha:skiy Konflikt (note 26), p. 25.
42. Government of the Russian Federation Decree no. 1394. 19 Dec. 1994.
43. The dominance of the Georgian lobby in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was largely explained by a personnel heritage left by Eduard Shevardnadze, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev. Reflecting this, in the middle of 1990s a popular joke was to call the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.
44. Resolution of the State Duma no. 1640, 2 June 1997; Appeal of the Federation Council to President Boris Yeltsin no. 166, 15 May 1997; and Appeal of the State Duma to the Government of the Russian Federation, 11 Jan. 1999.
45. Nadareishvili, T., Ya ne nadeyus chto abkhazskiy vopros reshitsya mirnym putyom [I do not believe that the Abkhazian problem will be resolved peacefully], Tseniralnaya Aziva i Kavkaz (Lulea), no. 2 (2000), p. 27.
46. Kobalia, V., Rossiya zakhlopnula dver k spaseniyu [Russia slams the door to rescue], ezavisimaya Gazeta, 24 Feb. 2001.
47. Government of the Russian Federation Decree no. 1029. 9 Sep. 1999.
48. O kharaktere rossiyskogo-abkhazskikh peregovorov [The character of the Russian-Abkhazian negotiations], Apsnipress (Sukhumi), no. 225 (22 Nov. 2000). In June 2001 the Abkhazian leadership initiated a blockade of the base at Gudauta, thus preventing its closure and withdrawal of military equipment from the base. TV1 (Tbilisi), 14 June 2001, in Georgia: Abkhaz foreign minister says Russian hardware should remain in Abkhazia, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report-Central Eurasia (FB1S-SOV), FBIS-SOV-2001-0614, 14 June 2001; and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 5, no. 127, Part 1 (9 July 2001).
49. Broladze, N., -Kuda ischezli narushiteli granitsy? [Where have border infringers disappeared?], Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 23 Nov. 2000; and Aleksandrov. V.. Na kholmakh Gruzii-bandity [Gangsters on the hills of Georgia], Tntd, 28 Nov. 2000.
50. Gntzino-Abkhazskiy Konjlikt (note 26), p. 25.
51. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 63.
52. Nuriev. E., No war, no peace in the Caucasus: the geopolitical game continues!, Central Asia and the Caucasus (Lulea), no. 6 (2000), p. 13.
53. Gruziya predlagayet peresmotret mandat mirotvortsev [Georgia propose to review the peace keepers mandatel, Segodnya, 24 Mar. 1997. p. 1. See also Lynch, D.. The Conflict in Abkhazia: Dilemmas in Russian Peacekeeping Policy (Royal Institute of International Affairs: London. 1998), pp. 31-36.
54. Coppieters et al. (note 1), p. 58.
55. Associated Press, Georgian leader hopes to join NATO, 29 Apr. 1999.
56. In the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOM1G), tasked with verifying the compliance of both sides with the ceasefire agreement.
For details see the TRACECA Internet site, URL ; and the INOGATE Internet
site, URL .
to the Abkhaz people” from the Campaign “Sorry”/ “Hatamzait
The Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict:
In Search of Ways out
The Georgian - Abkhaz Conflict:
Past, Present, Future
Developments in the Georgian-Abkhazian Dispute
A Short Chronicle
of Events of the 1992-93 Georgian-Abkhazian War