Georgia remains determined to restore its territorial integrity, and hawks in Tbilisi are seriously considering the military option, the Brussels-based think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), said in a report released on June 5.
It, however, also notes that moderates within President Saakashvili’s administration still hold the upper hand.
The comprehensive report - Georgia and Russia: Clashing over Abkhazia – is based on interviews with diplomats and officials in Georgia.
“Tbilisi urges a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but influential hawks in the government, especially in some of its power centres, and several key National Movement parliamentarians are pushing for more robust action,” the report says. “So far moderates, urging caution so as to protect foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic development, appear to have kept the upper hand.”
The report quotes an unnamed “well-connected source” as saying that Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze argued against the use of force at a National Security Council discussion over recent Russian moves in Abkhazia.
According to the report, those within the Georgian administration in favor of a military offensive in Abkhazia think it should occur either in response to a Russian provocation or after “an arranged incident,” so as to regain as much territory as quickly as possible and then partition the region until such time as all Abkhazia can be regained.
Although western allies have warned Tbilisi against attempting a military solution, the report says, there are “strong feelings in Tbilisi that something must be done to change a status quo in which Russia challenges the country’s sovereignty.”
It also says that although Georgia “responded diplomatically” to the escalating tensions following Russia’s recent moves in Abkhazia, several sources, including senior diplomats, confirmed that the military base in Senaki, western Georgia, was strengthened and put on combat alert.
“Two mid-level Georgian commanders stationed in Upper Kodori told Crisis Group there is no need for additional military preparations there [in the gorge]. They say all necessary military hardware, offensive and defensive, is already present, and the terrain was prepared for movement of heavy vehicles in summer 2007, when Tbilisi built roads and bridges to develop the area,” the report reads. “Senior diplomat confirmed that the area’s infrastructure has been developed, including with communications well beyond the needs of its several hundred local inhabitants. Additional sources also indicated that weapons and other military items have been sent to Kodori.”
Although Tbilisi has proposed a peace initiative for Abkhazia, the report says, Georgia should now persuade the Abkhaz side that the initiative is not meant “primarily to satisfy Western partners.”
“This requires an immediate end to bellicose rhetoric,” the report says, adding that there has been “too many mixed messages” in Tbilisi’s language to date.
The report also says that the Abkhaz side fears that it will be the biggest losers in the Russian-Georgian dispute.
“Russia has been their [Abkhazia’s] sole support… but there is little likelihood Moscow would ever formally recognise their independence. Instead, the Abkhaz find themselves being used for purposes having little to do with their own cause and in danger of being absorbed as a small minority into the giant Russian Federation,” the report reads.
“That realisation is sinking in and could provide the basis for new, more promising Tbilisi-Sukhumi talks.”
The report also calls on the United States and the European Union to persuade Russia to withdraw any troops and equipment from Abkhazia which do not fit with its peacekeeping mandate.
“The U.S. and EU should also be unequivocal about the negative impact that a conflict in Abkhazia would have on the 2014 Sochi Olympics,” the report says.