Senior Russian and Georgian officials have denied a newspaper report on having talks on dividing Abkhazia into zones of influence. Abkhaz officials said the alleged plan would be “totally unacceptable” and “absurd.”
The Russian daily Kommersant reported on June 27, citing unnamed sources from the Georgian authorities and Russian Foreign Ministry, that the plan involved partitioning Abkhazia, with Gali and Ochamchire districts under Tbilisi control and areas to the north of Ochamchire, including the capital Sokhumi, under de facto Russian control.
“Tbilisi’s plan envisages the immediate return of internally displaced persons to Gali and Ochamchire districts… and the replacement of Russian peacekeepers in these districts with a joint Georgian-Abkhaz police force,” Kommersant reported.
It also said that formally Georgian sovereignty would be restored over the entire territory of Abkhazia, but in fact a large part of Abkhazia to the north to Ochamchire would be under Russian control.
“Hence, all the participants of the deal will achieve their goals and save face,” Kommersant wrote. “President Saakashvili will be able to announce jubilantly the return of Abkhazia to the bosom of the country; the Abkhaz side, although it would lose control over an insignificant part of the region, will guarantee its actual independence from Tbilisi. And Moscow’s reward in exchange for its help will be Tbilisi’s rejection of its NATO aspiration.”
According to the newspaper, Russia has taken the proposal seriously and discussed it with Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh, who along with other officials met President Medvedev in Moscow on June 26. Kommersant, however, also reported that the Abkhaz side seemed unenthusiastic about the proposal.
The first reports about the issue emerged earlier this month, when Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report on Abkhazia saying that partition was being considered by some senior officials in Tbilisi.
“Some have speculated that the partition solution would only be possible if choreographed with Russia, which might give up its influence over the part of Abkhazia where its investment is lowest in return for security for the 2014 Sochi Olympics,” the report reads.
Officials in Tbilisi and Moscow, however, have denied having talks on the matter.
“This is a lie,” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told journalists in Khanty-Mansiysk on June 27 where an EU-Russia summit was held. “It is absolutely removed from reality.”
“Is a groundless speculation,” Giga Bokeria, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, told journalists on June 27. “Talks are only underway on President Saakashvili’s peace initiatives, implementation of which is the fastest way to resolve the conflict peacefully.”
Batu Kutelia, the Georgian deputy defense minister, described the Kommersant report as “absurd” and even said that the newspaper “is fully controlled by the [Russian] state.”
“Any division or ceding of our territory to another country as a sphere of influence is absurd and no state would ever agree to it,” Kutelia told Civil.Ge on June 27. “There are and will be no talks involving the infringement of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Sergey Bagapsh, the Abkhaz leader, has also denied discussing the reported plan with the Russian leadership. “I have learned about the existence of a kind of plan to divide Abkhazia into zones of influence from the newspaper,” Interfax quoted Bagapsh as saying on June 27. “Claims that this plan was discussed during the meeting with Dmitry Medvedev are groundless. We didn't even discuss anything close to this.”
Stanislav Lakoba, the secretary of the National Security Council of the breakaway region, said the plan, if it existed, “will be a trap for Abkhazia and a threat to Russia itself.”