By Ulviye Filiyeva Erkec
Redacted By Sami Burgaz
Zaal Anjaparidze works as a coordinator of the program on peaceful dialogue in the Caucasus at the International Center for Conflicts and Negotiations. Prior to that, he worked in USAID’s international projects on democracy development in Georgia, the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, and also as the editor-in-chief of the weekly Georgia Today. He also worked as civil society programs manager at Europe Foundation (former Eurasia Foundation) for 11 years.
Commemoration ceremonies in Tbilisi are marking the 13th anniversary since the 2008 war which broke out between the Russian Federation and Georgia.
President of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili said, “We will all witness unification of Georgia”. Moreover, the chairperson of the Democratic Georgia Party, Irakli Kobakhidze, told reporters on Friday August 6, 2021, that the restoration of diplomatic relations, which were cut-off with Russia after the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is not on the agenda.
The conflict between Russia and Georgia known as ‘The South Ossetia War” took place in August of 2008. Following the bloodshed, Abkhazia and South Ossetia having received the support of Russia unilaterally declared their independence from Georgia. Russia recognised the so-called independence of those two regions and Georgia responded by severing diplomatic relations with Russia.
As the Asia Today Editorial Board we reached out to Mr. Zaal Anjaparidze – executive director of the Georgian Center for the Development of Democratic Resources – and kindly asked thoughts on the relations between the two states.
Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, Great Britain, the United States and Albania called Russia to cancel the recognition of the so-called independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How long do you think Russia will continue the policy of de facto annexation and the violation of international law?
Russia will not revoke the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia until the international and regional geopolitical situation changes drastically to compel Russia to do so. Thus, until a situation in Russia develops in a way that it becomes unprofitable or even impossible for Moscow to maintain its military presence in these parts of Georgia, the Kremlin is set to continue occupation of these regions. The extraordinarily strong military-political and economic pressure should be exerted on Russia from the West as it was in the case with the USSR in the last years of its existence. This prompted and forced the Soviet Union to undertake fundamental concessions. The issue of restoration of Georgian territorial integrity should become one of the highest priority issues for the international community and strategic partners of Georgia. If this does not happen, then the current “status quo” may last for decades.
The agreement between Moscow and South Ossetia simplifying the procedure for obtaining the dual citizenship and a Russian passport, which was ratified on August 4, 2021, provides Russian citizens the right to obtain South Ossetia citizenship without renouncing Russian citizenship and vice versa. Which problems will this agreement cause in the future?
It is necessary to observe the dynamics behind this scenario. The answer to the question “Why the Kremlin has taken such a step right now” is highly likely the geopolitical considerations. Attempts to unite South Ossetia with North Ossetia are still on the agenda and the distribution of Russian passports to the residents of South Ossetia can be seen as a step contributing to this. When it becomes necessary, the Russians may appoint the so-called “Referendum” or plebiscite to materialize this scenario. In addition, by granting Russian citizenship to the South Ossetian inhabitants Russia will have an official reason to protect its citizens, if a military incident occurs on the demarcation line in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetia conflict. Whichever way you evaluate this Russian-Ossetian deal, it implies even greater incorporation of this secessionist region of Georgia into the Russian political and economic space and further alienating them from Georgia.
Western states continue to blame Moscow of kidnapping and discriminating against Georgians and prohibiting residents from receiving their education in native language. What do you think about this situation?
Western states continue to assume that Russia fully controls the situation in the occupied regions and could prevent such violations. Nevertheless, this is largely an initiative of the local authorities. With regard to the Georgians, all the components of human security recognized by the United Nations are heavily violated. Unfortunately, there are no real mechanisms that could radically influence on this completely unacceptable situation.
The Georgian opposition called Putin to improve relations between the two states and to abolish the visa regime. It was Georgia not Russia that broke out diplomatic relations after Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How do you assess the future of the relations between the two states?
I would not call them opponents of Georgia; they are the same citizens of Georgia as others. They just have their own views on Russian-Georgian relations and the country’s foreign policy orientation. It is different from the mainstream views on this issue. The current relations between Russia and Georgia will not change until Russia changes its well-known approaches to the territorial integrity of Georgia and begins to accept Georgia as a full-fledged sovereign state.
This is the principal position of all political parties that create a political climate in Georgia. Thus, it is difficult to expect any positive progress soon, since Russia proposes to start normalization of relations from a clean slate, calling on Georgia to accept the realities after the August 2008 war. This is unacceptable for Tbilisi because of the obvious reasons, and the parties are moving around this vicious circle.
Lastly, how do you view the intermediary role of Switzerland between Russia and Georgia?
Firstly, Switzerland has kindly offered Geneva as a venue for international discussions on security and stability in the Caucasus following the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. Geneva discussions is the only forum and platform where Georgia and Russia interact under the co-chairmanship of the USA, EU and OSCE. The European Union (E.U.) and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are discussing issues related to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including those you have mentioned above. Although, the outcomes of Geneva forum are little, and I would say, or rather zero.
Next input is that Swiss Embassy in Georgia has a section of Russian interests, and the Swiss Embassy in Russia has a section of Georgia’s interests. Officially, Bern helped in finalising the consultations on the modalities and conditions for the implementation of the customs agreement signed between Tbilisi and Moscow in 2011. However, this process has also been stalled. In addition, the Swiss Foreign Ministry has funded an expert dialogue between Russia and Georgia for years to build mutual understanding on the salient issues between the parties. Switzerland is also undertaking mediation efforts to resolve the humanitarian issues. Moreover, the results of the mediation missions leave much to be desired but nevertheless much has been achieved.