A Georgian pundit and a frequent commentator on Caucasian affairs and conflict issues, Mamuka Areshidze, put an exceptionally rare twist to a discourse within Georgian society on future Tbilisi-Sokhumi relations by saying that Georgia should consider recognizing Abkhazia’s independence.
Areshidze acknowledged, that the idea, which seems to be hugely unpopular within Georgia and which actually has never been a major part of public discussion on Abkhaz-related matters mainly focused on territorial integrity concept, is expected to draw lots of criticism.
“Not only the present government, in the condition of present society in overall there will be lots of obstacles; many people will set against me,” Mamuka Areshidze, the head of Caucasus Center for Strategic Research, said in an interview with the Georgian daily, Rezonansi, published on June 15.
He said that Tbilisi should start considering this approach for very pragmatic reasons.
“We have to take extraordinary measures in order to return not Abkhazia, but to return Abkhazians… If we want to return Abkhazians, we should save them,” Areshidze said.
“Return of Abkhazians will be impossible if we leave them in the situation in which they currently are. Russia is vigorously changing demographic landscape of Abkhazia."
He said that Russia’s policy of encouraging its military personnel serving in Abkhazia and their families to stay in the region after end of service would further change the demographic situation by decreasing already diminished share of ethnic Abkhazians.
He said that independence for Abkhazia should not in any way be unconditional and it should be linked to set of preconditions, including return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
“I am not saying that we should directly give Abkhazia independence and put an end on that. We should put forth preconditions in the context of giving independence, for example return of refugees,” Areshidze said and added that by recognizing Abkhaz independence Tbilisi will distance Sokhumi from Moscow.
“That would be the only way for us to speak with the Abkhazians in presence of the international community without Russia,” Areshidze said.
“I want to say one thing: the time of traditional approaches is over. Our adversary, which has very strong political, diplomatic, as well as military resources, outdistances us in every way. So we have to make such a surprise move which will disarm our adversary – that means the move which will distance our adversary from the Abkhazians,” he said.
The case of South Ossetia is different, Areshidze said.
“Ossetians are not concerned with the problems, which Abkhazians are facing. Russian occupied South Ossetia is purely military territory. Expelling Ossetians from that territory is not on [Russia’s] agenda, while that is on the agenda in case of Abkhazia,” he said.
“The current situation in Abkhazia gives no reason for optimism. The Georgian society got accustomed to the idea that Abkhazia will return back to Georgia’s fold, but it can be dragged out for many years. But situation in this regard is much more difficult with Abkhazia than in respect of South Ossetia, because return of this latter back to Georgia’s fold is more realistic than of Abkhazia,” Areshidze said.