ABKHAZ RHETORIC CALCULATED TO STALL TALKS WITH TBILISI
by Vladimir Socor

Eurasia Daily Monitor -- The Jamestown Foundation
Thursday, July 28, 2005 -- Volume 2, Issue 146

Abkhaz authorities are derailing political talks with Tbilisi,
ostensibly in protest against Georgian actions in a July 3 maritime
incident and in its wake. On that day, Georgia's coast guard stopped
a Turkish cargo vessel off Pitsunda en route to an Abkhaz port,
impounded the ship and its cargo in Poti, and detained the crew of
eight. The crew -- mostly Turks of Abkhaz descent -- were released
and deported to Turkey on July 20, except the captain. On July 27,
a Poti court sentenced the captain to four years imprisonment for
violating Georgia's territorial waters and international shipping
rules. The commercial cargo will be delivered to Abkhazia's populace
as a gift from Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Tbilisi is acting on the international legal premise that there are
no territorial waters or maritime borders, other than the Georgian
one in this sector. Georgia will continue to detain ships bound for
Abkhazia that trespass Georgia's territorial waters without permission
or otherwise violate international law. This is a universal obligation
for states, including Georgia.

The Abkhaz authorities, however, take the position that Abkhazia
has territorial waters and a maritime border. On July 23, Abkhaz de
facto president Sergei Bagapsh warned that "Abkhaz forces" would sink
Georgian ships if they enter Abkhazia's waters. Abkhaz authorities
have abducted 12 Georgians in Abkhaz-controlled territory and offered
to release them in a deal for the release of the Turkish captain.
After this abduction, it was Bagapsh again who accused Georgia of
engaging in "piracy at sea," which he said was incompatible with
holding political talks.

Seemingly in further retaliation, Bagapsh threatened the possible
confiscation of property in Abkhazia belonging to ethnic Georgians,
presumably in absentia. That property would be inventoried and sold at
auctions, he warned. The announcement singled out ethnic Georgians,
inferentially suggesting that property belonging to members of other
ethnic groups is not subject to such measures.

On July 26, Bagapsh and his visiting South Ossetian counterpart Eduard
Kokoiti signed a joint communique insisting that Georgian-Abkhaz and
Georgian-South Ossetian negotiations must continue "in the framework
of existing formats," and on an equal footing between the central
government and Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, respectively. Moreover,
"Russia's peacekeeping and mediating role remains the main guarantor
of peace and stability in the Caucasus," they insisted. The joint
communique appears designed to discourage international attempts,
however feeble, to transcend those decade-old, Russia-constructed
formats.

In a July 23 letter to the UN Security Council, Abkhazia's self-styled
minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Shamba, complained against Georgian
seizure of "the few commercial ships bound for Abkhazia," omitting to
mention international law in the complaint. This seemed designed as
an excuse for Sukhumi's refusal to attend a UN-brokered meeting with
Georgian officials in Tbilisi on the previous day (see below). In
the same letter, Shamba called for UN support to the signing of a
"peace treaty between Georgia and Abkhazia, to be guaranteed by all
participants in the negotiating process." This old proposal tends
to resurface periodically with some variations. It aims to obtain
Georgian recognition of Abkhazia's secession and international
recognition of Abkhazia.

The July 22 meeting in Tbilisi was attended by representatives of the
UN Secretary General's Group of Georgia's Friends, on the UN Observer
Mission's (UNOMIG) premises. Georgia's chief negotiator on Abkhazia,
Irakli Alasania, presented the Georgian side's draft of a joint
Georgian-Abkhaz statement, including provisions on non-resumption of
hostilities, security guarantees for returning refugees, and maritime
issues. While declining to attend this meeting within the multilateral
"Geneva process," the Abkhaz side declared its allegiance to the
"Sochi process" of negotiations, in which Georgia is alone facing a
common front of Russia and Abkhazia. In these circumstances, Tbilisi
would be right to try to engage the Abkhaz directly, in an informal,
unmediated dialogue.

(Imedi TV, Rustavi-2 TV, July 22; Apsynpress, July 23, 26;
Kavkasia-Press, July 26, 27; Prime-News, July 27)

--Vladimir Socor