The transition period in Georgia came to an end and the power is officially in the hands of the government of Bidzina Ivanishvili. And it’s with him that responsibility for government policy on the Russian-occupied regions now lies. And time will tell what the Georgian Dream will do to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back. But today we should consider the principles of strategy for reintegration of the seized territories on the basis of preliminary statements made by the political coalition.
Ivanishvili, based on his statements, counts on so-called "popular diplomacy" and overall attractiveness of Georgia for the rest of the population in the occupied regions. From a strategic point of view, there is no fundamental innovation in this approach - the same policy was declared by the former authorities. However, the new government can change tactics to give different forms and different dynamics to the process, fill it with more concrete content.
The first reaction to the Ivanishvili position is already there. Abkhazian leader Alexander Ankvab played with words directly calling plans of the Georgian Dream coalition “Georgian dreams”. And Moscow through its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would not discuss the status of its-recognized "independent republics". Such reaction from the Russian elite and its subordinate regimes is unlikely to be called unexpected.
Much more interesting it is to look at what are responses of not officials of the separatists and the Russian Federation, but representatives of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali public, who are more free to express their thoughts and who have strong political position, to the political changes in Georgia. They focused mainly on statements of the main speaker of the Georgian Dream coalition on this issue - which at this stage is Paata Zakareishvili who was appointed as state minister for reintegration.
At the level of general theses he indicated the following priorities: convince the pro-separatist population of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region in the absence of physical threats from the state of Georgia, "turn" them away from Russia with the help of Europe by implementing the concept "everything but recognition" and showing that it is better to be with Georgia than with Russia. At that, those commenting from the Abkhazian and South Ossetian sides obviously had certain expectations in connection with the appointment of Zakareishvili and were disappointed that he did not talk about recognizing the occupied territories as independent states, and all his statements were made in accordance with the principle of territorial integrity of Georgia.
Sukhumi journalist Anton Krivenyuk, Facebook:
- Here I rejoiced that adequate people came to the Georgian leadership and dialogue is possible, but then Paata Zakareishvili said:
"I am convinced that as soon as a new government is formed, in 5-6 months the public will see the first steps. And in 2-3 years we will get first concrete results that will make us understand that an irreversible peace process has started. And after 7-8 years we will be able to talk about a specific finish in the Georgian-Abkhazian relations. This will be a result that will be acceptable to the state of Georgia and the Georgian-Abkhazian public. Here I mean return of the people, and the return of people will naturally be followed by return of the territories. "
No one can convince me that Paata does not understand deep essence of the conflict. For who does he say this? Maybe for Georgians, to delight their ears? No, Paata, you should not start this process with hypocrisy, even if that is so necessary to get the starting carte blanche. The result that you promise to Georgian public now, cannot be. And you know it better than me.
Former member of the Abkhazian "parliament" Batal Kobakhia, LiveJournal:
- Paata Zakareishvili, if to keep yourself in power, you need to issue such rash suggestions, I think that not much has changed in Georgia. As the saying goes, be my guest!
Abkhazians will build relationship with all countries that will find strength and courage to be honest and talk to us as equals and be guided by realities. I hope Georgia will also become free from the suffocating embrace of America, and it will build their own relationship with their neighbours. Let's see, maybe Abkhazians will reconsider their relationship towards you, if your country becomes truly free, pragmatic, relying on their own resources, and its politicians stop dreaming and start to develop a realistic view of their possible relationship with us. All these border, customs, visa entry can be only after Georgia signs a memorandum of non-use of force and takes a step towards recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and acknowledgment of our sovereignty. In this case, we will start thinking about it. And without any delusions. And let Georgian politicians remember that we can be friends whomever we want, but we will live on our own. In our own country. Let them beguile their own people with unrealistic assumptions about the territorial integrity and the future of Abkhazia. And the Lord give them strength and understanding to hold the first peaceful transfer of power without incidents.
Quoting already well- known statement of Bidzina Ivanishivili "We Georgians are so strange - we are tied to the land. This is character of ours. Here we have Armenians living here. I marvel at them: they have homeland nearby, and they live here. You probably do not have such question. But I can not understand this." Now, I also do not understand why all non-Georgians in Georgia are suggested to go to live to their homeland, and they themselves want to send their compatriots in exile, to Abkhazia, as if they do not love their country. I am talking about refugees to whom a new member of the Georgian parliament referred.
Abkhazian journalist Roin Agrba, Facebook:
- It seems that our neighbours are aliens and the new elected government is going to run this country in the alien space ... They do not understand that the Abkhazian independence is not a Kremlin project, that this project is purely of Abkhazian roots, that this is a product of hope of several generations of Abkhazians. And what imperial Russia has to do with it?
Tskhinvali journalist Maria Plion, Civil Forum:
- Everything new in Georgia is well and fast forgotten old. Before his interview, appointment of Zakareishvili as Minister for Reintegration seemed like some positive change in the Georgian government, since Zakareishvili has extensive experience working in NGOs. And he, in contrast to all Georgian officials, often came into direct contact with representatives of civil society of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It would seem that Zakareishvili was to abandon the rhetoric: "Russia came and our relations worsened, Russia leaves and everything will be solved."
Ossetian blogger Roin Bibylty, Civil Forum:
- Paata Zakareishvili is a man who is considered one of the distinguished experts in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict in his country. But he is convinced that it is exclusively Russians that hitherto prevented Georgians from establishing contacts with Ossetians. Paata, I'm afraid we experience normal human indifference towards you. Towards those who believe that Ossetians are drawn to some communication and dialogue about life together. Perhaps in the early nineties such initiatives would have had a chance, as then we experienced the hatred - and this is, after all, a feeling. The only possible dialogue is on beginning of negotiations on the recognition of South Ossetia. Everything else interests us no more than Guzeeva’s program "Let's get married."
Abkhazian political analyst Liana Kvarchelia, newspaper “Ekho Abkhazii”
- It is unlikely that the new Georgian ruling group do not understand that for Abkhazians a state of their own is a vital necessity, and that the conflict and especially the war of 1992-1993 has finally removed the question of coexistence with Georgia in the framework of a single state from the Abkhazian agenda. So, if the new Georgian politics is not really calculated to what will "return" Abkhazia, it, at least, will remove the need to address the painful issue for the Georgian society "status" of Abkhazia from the new leadership for a long time. The losing former ruling party will try to keep this issue "painful" though. But in general there are many other things to do in Georgia. Polls show that for ordinary citizens the priority problem is unemployment, and not "the breakaway territories."
Abkhazian journalist Akhra Smyr, Facebook
- Paata does not look like someone prone to a suicide. He will not call a spade a spade - especially, after his transition from just a mere public face into an official. In short: while obvious cannot be voiced in Georgia, nothing good can be expected from this country. Georgia is a sick man of the Caucasus, but I believe that the disease will retreat. First, it will be a peaceful transfer of power, then the process of calling things by their names will begin, then - understanding all responsibilities, and then, the finish will be there. But the finish will not be like the one Paata Zakareishvili voiced. Finish must be real, that really benefits everyone. And the only thing is benefits everyone is to put the full stop, and everyone to begin to live their separate lives. In this sense, my forecast is that Georgia will recognize us, and it will happen in next ten years.
Tskhinvali political analyst Vyacheslav Gobozov, newspaper "Republic":
- Our state, all structures that determine foreign policy, should carefully analyze the changes that are taking place and definitely prepare tactical moves. No one understands our national interest better than us (pointing towards Russia on these issues are irrelevant). and the strategy, that entering into Georgia under any terms (federation, confederation, etc.),is out of the question is unchanged. Maybe we can change tactics based on the realities but not interests.
The same opinion as Gobozov, was voiced by Liana Kvarchelia. She expects that "reformatting" of the approach to the conflicts on the part of Tbilisi may create international environment "more open" for the separatists. And she points out that "many will see a trap in this openness. But it is important not to overlook new opportunities behind traps”. In tune with this view are statements of the secretary of the Abkhazian national security council Stanislav Lakoba. In an interview with Russian media, and during of a talk show on Abkhazian television on October 19, he spoke about possibility of obtaining substantial dividends from the new government of Georgia, at the same time recalling that "some prominent representatives of the Georgian Dream coalition... did not rule out independence of Abkhazia." At that Lakoba noted that they should not expect much of Tbilisi "while Saakashvili is there with a bludgeon”.
As to spheres of interest of the separatists, they are quite clearly marked in their arguments. Sukhumi and Tskhinvali will insist on raising its international status - starting with a demand to be officially recognized as the party to the conflict; and will seek direct contacts with the West - to get international organizations tribune. Intermediate goal is to get from Tbilisi bilateral agreement on non-use of force enforced with international guarantees - which will not only solve the security issue for them, but will become an indirect recognition of Abkhazia and "South Ossetia". For the separatists (or rather Moscow) this opens up a road for further international legitimization of the breakaway regimes.
However it is important to understand that separatists are fundamentally disposed to just receiving. They are categorically opposed to any compromises and slightest progress in important issues - even in return for significant political concessions. In other words, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali are committed to continuation of the one-sided old game - when the Georgian side is invited to take unilateral steps without giving anything in return.
The new government of Georgia bets on "soft power”. However, the separatists are well aware that "soft power" could pave the way for a compromise political settlement in the future - and that is why they preventively rule out its application. An illustrative example is the situation on the administrative border on Enguri. Abkhazians are prohibited from crossing the line of occupation, except by special permit from the security services. The Abkhazian leadership is trying to prevent even patients travelling for treatment to Georgian clinics - the authorities allow this only in special cases, and this approach is supported by the Abkhazian public. Moreover - Ankvab has faced severe criticism for allowing individual cases of patients travelling to save their lives.
All offers of cooperation on humanitarian or economic lines come with unacceptable political conditions, etc. Today, there is no reason to believe that this approach will change. It was best summed up by Alexander Ankvab when at the meeting of October 23rd he ruled out direct talks with Tbilisi and said: "We are not interested in the issues of territorial integrity of Georgia, the topic of refugees and others that have no relation to the existing political realities. We can discuss a legally binding agreement on non-resumption of hostilities with international guarantees. Other issues do not interest us. "
Since incorrect tactical moves can affect the overall strategy and radically worsen the situation, the new government of Georgia will have to soberly assess the situation and consider carefully exactly what unilateral steps and peace initiatives can be taken in terms of conflict resolution. The essence of the policy pursued by the separatists is the zero-sum game - when the winner takes all and the loser gets just losses. At this stage, Abkhazians and Ossetians can pursue this policy - thanks to Russia, they do not feel the need to concede anything, preferring to wait until the desired result falls into their hands. Therefore, the first and foremost task of the Ivanishvili government is to pragmatically analyze the situation and eliminate mistakes on its part that can complicate the return of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region in the future.