Is there a Peaceful Solution to the Deep-frozen Georgian Conflict?
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Tbilisi has been trying to peacefully reintegrate the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for more than a decade, but to no avail. As a matter of fact, Georgia lost control over Tskhinvali and Abkhazia back in the early 90s and has been struggling to reestablish it ever since. After Georgia’s armed assault on South Ossetia back in 2008, resulting in a brief Russian-Georgian conflict, Moscow chose to recognize the breakaway regions as legitimate members of the international community, In response, Tbilisi has been busy demanding its Western sponsors to punish Russia for this step by applying both diplomatic and economic pressure on Moscow.
A year ago, the Georgian-Abkhaz-South Ossetian “peace front” put forward yet another package of reintegration initiatives that followed Tbilisi’s “comprehensive” road map to reconciliation with territories that chose to sever ties with Georgia. Yet, this time around it would be advertised as a step toward a better future for the people of the region.
This initiative implied that Georgia was willing to change its legislation to facilitate rapprochement along three main avenues:
- Simplification of trade regulations along the demarcation lines through the creation of new opportunities for Abkhaz and South Ossetian residents;
- Establishment of new educational opportunities for the residents of the breakaway regions both in Georgia and abroad;
- Creation of a mechanism that would allow former Georgian citizens of Tskhinvali and Abkhazia to legitimately travel to the EU and pursue trade venues with European residents.
However, one can’t help but notice that all of these initiatives are essentially a continuation of the reintegration program announced during the reign of Mikhail Saakashvili, that was sold to the general public under a convenient slogan – “Involvement through cooperation”. Upon suffering a painful military defeat back in 2008, Georgia stated that Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be able to return under Tbilisi’s jurisdiction through peaceful, non-militarily bilateral engagements.
However, this old candy in a new wrapper doesn’t seem to be yielding any positive results. For sure, citizens of the breakaway regions are now capable of seeking medical assistance in Georgia, but that’s pretty much it. All of the above mentioned reunification initiatives would all but fall flat. To be more specific, the educational initiative hasn’t provided local authorities with any tools to bypass the language barrier: as students all across Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not receiving any Georgian language training, which renders their applications to Georgian universities irrelevant. As for the intensification of bilateral contacts along the demarcation lines, this idea has brought more headaches to Tbilisi than good.
Essentially, what we are seeing here is a perfect example of a trust crisis, as the residents of the breakaway regions are inclined to keep a watchful eye on Georgia after its unprovoked military aggression in 2008. Additionally, both Abkhaz and Ossetian leaders insist on Georgia recognizing their independence, which renders all of the reunification initiatives senseless.
However, Georgia has no intentions of presenting apologies for its reckless military gamble of 2008, as both Washington and Brussels are determined to deny the very fact of it. To divert people’s attention from this topic, Tbilisi chose to start promoting the notion of unlimited possibilities one is to obtain from pursuing business ventures in Georgia, while taking advantage of its visa-free regime and the free trade zone with the European Union. To advance this notion, Georgia has even put in place a new system of issuing ID cards to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which according to Tbilisi, should open all roads for young entrepreneurs who want to register a company or take advantage of tax benefits they are entitled to. In a bid to placate South Ossetian and Abkhazian residents, Georgian authorities have even announced that they are going to take down the trade embargo against the regions of their origin, claiming that some day they’re going to import tax exempt goods form the break-away regions, like tobacco and alcoholic beverages produced in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Of course, this latest Georgian peace initiative received an extensive amount of lip support across Europe. However, those same exact people that Georgia wants to comfort with words about a “step toward a better future” remain extremely skeptical about their neighbor. The politicians that represent those people argue that upon exhausting all options predicated on force, Tbilisi is now trying to sweet talk its way out of the political crisis by making gestures of good will and friendship. However, people in Abkhazia and South Ossetian tend to believe that Georgia’s true intentions are much more sinister than a casual observer might assume. But in order to get a clear view of the situation we must take a step away from the Russophobic propaganda that the MSM has been spreading for years now. To establish at least some semblance of mutual trust and confidence Georgia must present a frank assessment of the events that led to yet another military clash in South Ossetia between its forces and Russia’s peace keepers stationed there, the only people who were standing in the way of a mass slaughter of the local population. This is the only way to defuse the volatile situation, since only through telling the truth about the events that led to yet another blatant act of aggression against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian authorities may ensure that it won’t happen again.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“