The announcement of the launch of the development of a detailed roadmap over the Abkhaz conflict resolution and appointment of Irakli Alasania as the Georgian President’s aide for Abkhaz issues have signaled Tbilisi’s efforts to revitalize the Abkhazia peace process.
President Saakashvili appointed Irakli Alasania, Chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, as his assistant for Abkhazian conflict issues on March 20.
This new appointment and resignation from his previous position paves the way for Alasania to participate in official talks with officials from breakaway Abkhaz. Despite a good personal relationship between Alasania and some representatives of the breakaway Abkhaz authorities, the Abkhaz side has always refused to hold official talks with Alasania, as Sokhumi denounces the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile as illegitimate.
Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Shamba welcomed the new appointment and said that the Abkhaz authorities have “very positive impressions” about Irakli Alasania, the Georgian media sources reported on March 20. “He is a person with whom it is possible to speak,” Shamba added.
The Georgian President’s spokesman Gela Charkviani said on March 20 that the new appointment was made in an attempt “to increase the level of coordination” over the Abkhaz conflict settlement within the Georgian government. Alasania also retained his position of the Georgian President’s personal representative for the Abkhaz conflict settlement.
The first announcement by Irakli Alasania after taking the position of presidential aide regarded the launch of the development of an action plan for settelment of the Abkhaz conflict. In October, 2005 the Georgian Parliament instructed the government to submit a detailed roadmap over resolution of the Abkhaz conflict by May 1, 2006.
“Yesterday [on March 21] I met with State Minister [for Conflict Resolution Issues] Giorgi Khaindrava to discuss future plans. We launched the development of a national policy and strategy over resolution of the Abkhaz conflict,” the President’s aide said.
“In the near future we plan to have direct contacts with the Abkhaz side to discuss the issues which are important for both sides, such as security, the return of displaced persons, confidence building, as well as economic cooperation,” Alasania added.
This roadmap over Abkhazia is most likely to be laid out in a similar format as the one unveiled by the Georgian authorities regarding South Ossetia (see doc. file of South Ossetia roadmap).
It is also expected that the roadmap, described by Alasania as “a national strategy on Abkhazia,” will include a policy of pro-active engagement with Abkhazia. In an interview with Civil Georgia in January, Irakli Alasania explained that this new policy aims at putting an end to the isolation of the Abkhaz society.
“Frankly speaking, the previously existing policy, which envisaged the isolation of the Abkhaz society, is completely counterproductive. The Abkhaz society should be given more opportunities, more access to the international arena in order to see those values, which links us – the Georgian society - with the European [society],” Alasania said.
Finalization of a joint Georgian-Abkhaz agreement on security guarantees and non-resumption of hostilities will be another major task for Alasania.
The document’s official name is "a joint declaration on the results of meeting," referring to a potential meeting which might take place between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh.
According to the draft document, the Georgian and Abkhaz sides will commit themselves to solving the conflict solely through peaceful means. The document also includes provisions recognizing the right of displaced persons to return to Abkhazia in safety and dignity. According to Irakli Alasania, the joint declaration also deals with the issues related to economic cooperation and human rights in the pre-dominantly Georgian populated Gali district of breakaway Abkhazia.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia on March 17 of hampering the finalization of this document. “The document, which was agreed between the Georgian and Abkhaz delegations and prepared to be signed by early December, 2005, was withdrawn by the Georgian side in mid-December under far-fetched pretexts,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
One of the major controversies over the document is related to the role of the Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the conflict zone under the aegis of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
“There is a position [of the Abkhaz side] to specify the role of the CIS peacekeepers more, which is not acceptable for us. On the one hand this is a bilateral [Georgian-Abkhaz] agreement and on the other hand discussions will take place in the near future about how appropriate this peacekeeping operation is,” Alasania told Civil Georgia in January.
He was referring to the Georgian Parliament’s October, 2005 resolution instructing the government to launch the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers, starting from July 15, 2006, if their performance is assessed negatively. But it is expected that the Parliament will adopt a flexible resolution on Abkhazia, similar to the one which was adopted in February regarding the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.
Alasania also said that finalization of the joint agreement will not be an easy process, “but we are ready for compromises.”