|China and Eurasia Forum
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
"New Ideas vs. Old Thinking on the Conflicts in Georgia"
February 14, 2007
Senior Fellow, Jamestown Foundation
Senior Associate Fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
New Ideas vs. Old Thinking on the Conflicts in Georgia
February 14, 2007
On February 14, 2007, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) hosted Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, who presented “New Ideas vs. Old Thinking on the Conflicts in Georgia”. The event was moderated by CACI Senior Associate Ambassador Grant Smith.
Vladimir Socor described the prevailing approach in dealing with Georgia’s frozen conflicts, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as “old thinking” promoted by Russia and accepted by Western policy makers. Russia defines these conflicts as local inter-communal ethnic conflicts and preaches patience to allow the involved parties to restore confidence in one another and build up a common state. It paints itself as an outside party and has monopolized the mediation role in the political negotiations.
Rather than seeing the conflicts as Georgia-Abkhazia and Georgia-South Ossetia, Socor contends that the problem should be viewed as between Georgia and Russia. He argues that Russia has never wanted separate states for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and is interested merely in controlling the conditions under which they reintegrate so as to gain influence over Georgia. Furthermore, Abkhazia authorities are not independent – they are controlled by Russia through the former hierarchy and by the covert economy.
Socor attributes Western acceptance of the current situation to three possible lines of reasoning: (1) Russia is entitled to dominance in its backyard, (2) the situation is a fact of life and unchallengeable, and (3) Russia’s control may be illegitimate and counter to the West but the issue is not the top priority in US-Russia and EU-Russia relations. He cautions that this acceptance may demarcate regions of responsibility for conflict management (with Western responsibility for Bosnia and Kosovo), resulting in geographical re-division into spheres of influences.
The Georgian government has presented eight new initiatives for progress in resolving these frozen conflicts:
- Peacekeeping – Russian peacekeepers are to be replaced with a multinational composition, with a focus on civilian police rather than military police. This would be follow EU peacekeeping practices currently in Bosnia, in Macedonia, and increasingly in Kosovo.
- Confidence building – All parties are to agree to refrain from the use of force.
- Direct dialogue – Greater communication at the leadership, NGO, and informal human contact levels, resulting in a break of the information monopoly held and utilized by Russia.
- Emergence of parallel authorities – Georgia has done this in the Upper Kodori Valley and in South Ossetia.
- Address issues of refugees and displaced persons – Return displaced persons to Abhazia and subsidize housing reconstruction in South Ossetia
- Transportation, communications, and customs – The top priority is to reopen the Abkhazia and South Ossetia sections of the Transcaucasus Highway on the condition that the Russian control of both sides at two border crossings in these areas be replaced by joint control.
- Rethinking role of development aid – International organizations, especially the EU and UNDP who are independent of Russian influence (unlike the UN and OSC), should leverage development aid to the advancement of conflict resolution.
- Rethinking at the UN – Current UN Security Council resolutions demonstrate “old thinking”. The UN needs to regard Russia as an interested party.
Among these initiatives, Socor highlighted the emergence of parallel authorities as a potential catalyst to making progress in negotiations. Regarding the two border crossings, Socor proposed the deployment of observers similar to the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Ukraine/Moldova to combat contraband and armament transport. Socor also argued that Russia’s full control of the border crossings was in violation of international trade law and that as a member of the WTO, Ukraine could legitimately link the issue to its support for Russia’s accession to the WTO. It was, however, pointed out that the WTO accession process for Russia was likely to be slow regardless, being hampered by issues such as intellectual property rights.
Socor concluded the formal presentation by appealing to the geopolitical interests of the international community. He cited two reasons why the United States should support the state-building interests of Georgia: (1) Georgia and Azerbaijan represent the shortest route for the West to project power into Afghanistan and Iran, and (2) Georgia is part of the East-West corridor for Caspian energy, which should also make Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan interested parties with their potential supply to Europe.
During the discussion period, Ambassador Smith asked whether the situation in Kosovo had any relevance to Georgia’s situation. Socor warned against any linkage between the ultimate result in Kosovo and the situation with Georgia’s frozen conflicts. If Russia is adamant about using Kosovo as a precedent, that precedent should be applied fully rather than selectively. This full application would not be feasible but would include allowing international presence in the enclaves and in peacekeeping, reversing ethnic cleansing, and permitting EU involvement in economic affairs. Socor did not think that Moscow has developed a clear agenda on Kosovo and pointed out the possibility that Russia could side with Serbia as a last remaining strategic outpost in the Balkans. Russia is not insisting on any particular outcome, but is trying to create linkage between the situations of Kosovo and Georgia’s enclaves.