Saturday, September 20, 2008

Moving forward or standing still in Georgia

TBILISI -- While most Georgians want to reintegrate South Ossetia and Abkhazia into the country, there are some who feel Georgia would be better off to cut its losses.

Undoubtedly, the country has no good options for moving forward. Since Russian peacekeepers entered the breakaway provinces in 1992, the separatists and Tbilisi have been unable -- and at times unwilling -- to find a common solution to the conflict. And Russia has not been interested in resolving the conflict either.

The day before open fighting broke out between Russian and Georgian forces, the Georgian government said President Mikheil Saakashvili had offered a ceasefire and promised wide autonomy and amnesty to separatists in South Ossetia, which Georgian military forces were already fighting.

Russia has made it clear it intends to remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It plans to station 8,000 troops for the long-term in the two provinces, well over the 3,000 allowed under the 1995 peacekeeping agreement.

The AP reported yesterday that France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said no one should expect Russia to leave soon. His comments might signal a new sentiment in the European Union that Georgia is unlikely to regain South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

Recovering the areas remains the goal of the government and most Georgians, but some are not sure it is in their country's best interest.

I talked separately with two local journalists who both think the provinces are lost forever and the sooner their country comes to grips with it, the better.

Part of the Silk Road once ran through Georgia, moving goods East and West and making money for many places along the way. Today, Georgia carries gas and oil to the Black Sea from the Caspian Sea. It could also be a major conduit of overland transportation between East and West, if it can repair the railroad line crossing into Abkhazia and maintain an open border with Russia.

But that will be impossible until the present situation is resolved.

At the same time, as one of the journalists said to me, if South Ossetia and Abkhazia are granted independence, they will likely be annexed by Russia. Both depend on their northern neighbor for economic support already. The idea of Russia controlling land south of the Caucasus Mountains frightens many Georgians, even those who question the value of reintegrating the two breakaway provinces.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a fact check - Russia didn't really "move" peacekeeping forces into the conflict zones. They kept existing troops (from the Soviet period) in situ and started calling them peacekeepers.

Also, the peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia started in 1992, not 1994.