Governments of Russia and breakaway Abkhazia have endorsed for signing final draft of new treaty on “alliance and strategic partnership”.
The final text of the treaty incorporates many, but not all, of those changes which were made by the Abkhaz side in the initial, Russia-proposed draft.
Although Russia-proposed initial draft, which was criticized in Sokhumi, has been revised, concerns about the final draft still remain in part of the Abkhaz society. Council of Public Chamber of Abkhazia said on November 21 that despite changes, the final text still contains some provisions, which “may have undesirable consequences for the sovereignty” of Abkhazia. Sokhumi-based think-tank, Ainar, spoke out against signing of the revised draft and called on the authorities to negotiate with Russia a treaty, which would “rule out threats for the Abkhaz statehood.”
Opposition political party, Amtsakhara, plans to hold a rally in Sokhumi on November 24. A parallel rally in support of signing the new treaty with Russia has been scheduled on the same day by a group of political parties and movements, which ousted previous Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab, and which backs incumbent Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba.
The agreement sets following priorities of the “alliance and strategic partnership”: carrying out “coordinated” foreign policy; creation of “common defense and security space”, as well as of “common social and economic space”; assisting Abkhazia in social-economic development; “creation of conditions for Abkhazia’s full-fledged participation in integration projects on the post-Soviet space, implemented upon the initiative of or/and with assistance of the Russian Federation”, and “maintaining common cultural, spiritual and humanitarian space.”
“Coordinated” foreign policy, according to the final draft of the treaty, involves taking into consideration mutual interests in “various areas of cooperation” and “informing” each other of steps taken in this direction.
It also entails “close interaction in strengthening peace, increasing stability and security in the Caucasus region.”
Russia pledges to take efforts for “broadening” international recognition of Abkhazia. Apart of Russia, Abkhazia is now recognized only by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
Russia also pledges to “create conditions” to help Abkhazia become a member of the international organizations, including of those, which are created upon the initiative of Russia.
Defense and Security
Creation of the “common security and defense space” entails establishment of “combined group of forces” for the purpose of “repelling aggression”; it also envisages “joint measures” for protection of the Abkhaz borders.
The final draft entails collective defense, according to which attack against one shall be considered an attack against another and they should provide “necessary assistance”, including military, to each other in case of such attack.
According to the treaty the Combined Group of Forces should be established within one year after the agreement goes into force.
The final draft takes into account Abkhaz proposal and specifies that this joint group of forces should be established with units from the Abkhaz and the Russian armed forces, meaning that the entire Abkhaz forces will not be part of the Combined Group of Forces.
In the time of war or when there is an “immediate threat of aggression” commander of the Combined Group of Forces will be appointed by Russia. The final text incorporates Abkhaz proposal and deputy commander will be appointed by the Abkhaz side.
The Combined Group of Forces will be put into operation if there is “an immediate threat of aggression”, according to the final draft.
Existence of such threat should be determined through a “mutually agreed decision of authorized agencies” of Russia and Abkhazia.
The text reads that decision on use of the Combined Group of Forces on the territory of Abkhazia should be “agreed” with the Commander-in-Chief of the Abkhaz Armed Forces – that is the president of the breakaway region.
In the peacetime, according to the final draft, military units within the Combined Group of Forces will be under the supervision of the Operative Group made up of representatives nominated by “the authorized agencies” of Russia and Abkhazia. The Abkhaz-proposed draft envisaged joint command in the peacetime on the rotational basis by the Abkhaz and Russian sides.
Other details of functioning of the Combined Group of Forces have to be laid out in a separate agreement, which should be signed no later than six months after entry into force of this treaty.
According to the final draft, the both sides take commitment to take measures aimed at “modernization” of the Abkhaz armed forces within three years after entry into forces of the treaty.
Those measures, according to the draft, include “gradual unification of standards” of command and control systems, logistics, as well as salaries and social guarantees of servicemen of the Abkhaz forces.
The final draft also envisages supply of the Abkhaz forces with “modern weapons.”
Russia takes commitment to fund these measures, according to the treaty. A separate agreement has to be signed within six months, which will define funding and implementation details of these provisions.
Taking into consideration Sokhumi’s proposals, the final draft says that measures should be carried out within two years after entry into force of the treaty to provide joint protection of not only border with Georgia, but also of other sections of the land and maritime borders of the breakaway region.
According to the final draft, Moscow and Sokhumi would jointly provide “engineering and technical” equipping of the border infrastructure with Georgia within two years after entry into force of this treaty.
The treaty will also introduce “complete freedom of movement across the Russian-Abkhaz state border”, but it also says that this regime will be subject of “restrictions” for security reasons.
The Abkhaz side takes commitment to “harmonize” its legislation related to customs control with the regulations of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union within three years after entry into force of this treaty.
The Abkhaz side should also elaborate regulations, which will put practices of its customs authority in line with the Russian one.
Russia takes commitment to provide technical and “methodological” assistance to Abkhazia in carrying out these measures. A detailed action plan for implementing these measures should be laid out within six months after entry into force of this agreement.
Taking into account Abkhaz concerns, the final draft no longer includes a clause, which was in the initial, Russia-proposed draft, offering “joint” customs control on movement of people, transport and cargo at entry points in Abkhazia, including at ports. According to the final draft, Sokhumi and Russia agree on mutual recognition of each other’s customs control results, if such control is carried out in line with procedures set by the parties.
The Abkhaz side also has to “approximate” its budgetary legislation with the Russian one within three years.
Cooperation of Law Enforcement Agencies
Moscow and Sokhumi will establish Joint Information-Coordinating Center of law enforcement agencies within year after entry into force of this treaty for the purpose of “coordinating” fight against “organized crime and other grave crimes.”
Functions of this center, envisaged by the final draft, are more in line with those proposals, which were put forth by the Abkhaz side rather than in the initial, Russia-proposed draft.
According to the final draft, the center will be in charge of sharing information related to fight against crime and compiling data base of organized crime groups whose activities affect both Abkhazia and Russia. The center will also be in charge of tracking down individuals wanted in Russia and Abkhazia. The center should also help coordinate joint actions between the law enforcement agencies of Russia and Abkhazia to fight against crimes, “which pose threat to the security” of the both parties.
The two sides also take commitment to “gradually” increase salaries of employees of the Abkhaz Interior Ministry. The measure should be “co-funded” by the Abkhaz side, according to the draft.
According to the final draft, Russia takes commitment to “undertake additional measures” to ease procedures required for obtaining Russian citizenship for the “citizens of Abkhazia”.
Most of the residents in the breakaway region are Russian passport holders.
Initial draft, proposed by Moscow also envisaged simplifying procedures for granting Abkhaz citizenship to the citizens of Russia, but this clause was removed from the final draft upon the Abkhaz side’s request.
Sokhumi’s strong opposition to simplify granting of citizenship to the Russian citizens is caused by its fear that it may pave the way for buying or reclaiming of property in Abkhazia by those ethnic Georgians, who fled Abkhazia as a result the armed conflict in early 1990s and who now reside in Russia and are now Russian citizens.
Social Protection, Pensions and Healthcare
The final draft keeps mostly unchanged clauses related to the integration of the breakaway region’s social protection, pensions and healthcare systems to the southern federal districts of Russia.
According to the final draft, Russia takes commitment to “co-finance” gradual increase of salaries of employees of the state-funded entities in Abkhazia, including in healthcare, education, social service, sport and culture sectors. Salaries in these state-funded entities should be increased to the amount existing in Russia’s Southern Federal District.
Russia and Abkhazia will sign a separate agreement within three months after entry into force of this treaty to lay out detailed timeframe and funding scheme of these measures.
Starting from January 1, 2015, and within next three years, Russia will increase monthly pension for those pensioners, who are the citizens of Russia and who permanently reside on the territory of Abkhazia, to the level of average pension available in the Southern Federal District of Russia.
Moscow also takes commitment to make Russian citizens, residing in Abkhazia, part of its federal compulsory health insurance system, which will allow them to have access to Russian-funded healthcare services in Russia. According to the final draft, it should be done within one year, instead of initially offered three years, after entry into force of this treaty.
On education, the final draft says that Abkhazia will adopt legal acts and regulations “corresponding” Russian legislation on education within three years.
Taking into consideration the Abkhaz proposal, the final draft also says that Russia will assist Sokhumi in implementing “program for development of the Abkhaz language.”
The agreement will be valid for ten years, but it will be extended automatically for five years if none of the parties notify about intention to terminate it.