Russia proposes profound deepening of partnership with Georgia’s breakaway republic Abkhazia

Tue 21 Oct 2014

Russia proposes profound deepening of partnership with Georgia’s breakaway republic Abkhazia

On 13 October a draft text on an “Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia on Alliance and Integration” was posted on the website of Apsnipress - an Abkhaz news agency. The Moscow-proposed agreement was presented to the parliament in Sukhumi, which was subsequently asked “to prepare their remarks and proposals.” The draft text – intended to be signed this year - proposes a profound deepening of Abkhazian-Russian relations in among others the areas of defence and security, foreign policy and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). In a first response, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on 17 October that the Russian draft treaty with Abkhazia is “alarming” and if signed it will first and foremost pose a threat to the self-identity of “the proud Abkhaz nation.” 
Agreement on Alliance and Integration

A few of the most significant aspects of this Kremlin-proposed agreement are: setting up of a joint Russian-Abkhaz group of forces for collective defence, joint law enforcement structures for fighting crime, as well as a broad range of Moscow-funded measures for Abkhazia’s further integration into Russia’s economic, social protection and healthcare systems. The draft agreement also includes a collective defence clause, according to which attack against one shall be considered an attack against another. Moscow and Sukhumi would also pledge to set up a Joint Coordinating Centre of the Russian and Abkhaz law enforcement agencies within a year after the entry into force of the agreement for the purpose of fighting “crime and extremism” on the territory of Abkhazia. Sukhumi will similarly have to “harmonise” its budget and tax legislation with the Russian system within three years after the entry into force of the agreement, according to the draft.  In terms of foreign policy, Russia pledges to undertake efforts to “broaden” international recognition of Abkhazia and for “creating preconditions” to help Abkhazia become a member of international organisations. At present, besides Russia, only Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru have recognised Abkhazia’s independence.

Abkhazian doubts

In Abkhazia, the Agreement on Alliance and Integration with Russia has received mixed responses. Although Sukhumi wants to upgrade its ties with Moscow, there are concerns over a possible “loss of sovereignty.” Valery Bganba, speaker of the breakaway region’s parliament, said: “we all understand that integration with Russia is necessary, we understand that Russia is our strategic ally. But at the same time it does not mean that we have to lose our sovereignty because of that. Therefore we will of course build our policy on strengthening friendship with the Russian Federation, but at the same time to have these relations on equal basis. It is not about big and small states, it is about two states and of course they have to sign treaties as equal entities.”

Meanwhile a member of Amtsakhara, an opposition political party, said on October 16 that “no one can agree” with the proposed draft, because it contains clauses “seriously limiting […] the sovereignty and independence” of Abkhazia. Even though at present, Abkhazia is highly dependent on the Russian military for security and on Moscow’s market for economic support, the region is very serious about its claim to achieving independence from everyone, including from Russia. A working group of Abkhaz officials has been set up to develop its version of treaty.  

Tbilisi’s response

Abkhazia – as well as South Ossetia - are two Georgian breakaway republics. Even though they are de facto independent since the war with Russia in 2008, the government in Tbilisi - as well as a great majority of the states of the international community (excluding the aforementioned four countries) - still consider the two regions to be part of its sovereign territory.
After a meeting of the Georgian State Security and Crisis Management Council on Saturday the 18th of October, senior Georgian officials said they intend to take measures aimed at “consolidating” and heightening the international focus on Moscow’s “attempt to annex” Abkhazia. Georgian Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs Chairperson Tedo Japaridze called for boycotting the next round of talks between Georgian and Russian negotiators, but Georgia's point man for the talks, Zurab Abashidze, has ignored such calls. Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze argued that the meeting is more important now than ever and that, at least this time, Georgia will not be discussing problems of selling fruit and veggies to Russia. Tbilisi has sarcastically called this latest Russian move “pulling a Crimea,” referring to the de facto Russian annexation of the previously Ukrainian Crimea. 

The Kremlin’s reaction

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Tbilisi’s at most lukewarm reaction by saying: “nobody has a right, and ability either, to obstruct Russia and Abkhazia in enhancing their inter-state relations based on new stage of modern development, including in the view of deepening integration trends in the post-Soviet space and globally as a whole. We have no doubt that open and vigorous discussions of the draft treaty, which is now underway in Abkhazia, will help to jointly elaborate a document fully meeting national interests of the both countries.”

Sources: (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Eurasianet, European Forum