Informal trade is increasing between Georgia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and between Abkhazia and countries outside the region. Trade alone cannot transform the parties’ core political differences. But talks among them on mutually beneficial commerce could open lines of communication long cemented shut.
During 45th round of Geneva International Discussions 9-10 Oct, launched in 2008 as main negotiation forum for Georgian conflicts, UN, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), EU co-chairs and U.S. and Georgian representatives urged all participants to resume Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings (aimed at defusing tensions along boundary line) after participants from South Ossetia walked out of meeting in Sept. Participants from Moscow, Abkhazia and South Ossetia expressed support for joint steps to restart IPRM meetings. Co-chairs acknowledged achievements of discussions over last ten years, emphasising however that “core issues remain to be resolved”, including adoption of a joint statement on non-use of force and situation of IDPs and refugees. In presidential elections 28 Oct, no candidate received more than 50% required to avoid runoff; second round scheduled early Dec between two candidates: independent Salome Zourabishvili, supported by ruling Georgian Dream party, who won 39% of votes in first round, and Grigol Vashadze from opposition United National Movement-led coalition, with some 38%. OSCE observers concluded voters had genuine choice despite an unlevel playing field, and voting generally orderly and transparent.
Whether the smooth transfer of power Georgia achieved after October’s bitter election sets a standard for democracy in its region depends on whether the new government can strengthen the independence and accountability of state institutions in what remains a fragile, even potentially explosive political climate.
On the third anniversary of their war over South Ossetia, talks between Georgia and Russia are needed to create positive momentum in a still unstable environment.
Georgia has maintained political and economic stability despite the shock of the 2008 war with Russia, but the government needs to use the two years before the next elections to create public trust in democratic institutions by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the opposition over further reforms.
The historically coveted region of Abkhazia has become even more dependent on Moscow since Russia’s controversial recognition a year and a half ago.
Ten months after the “August war” between Georgia and Russia, violent incidents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could again erupt.
The Georgian government has been in crisis for quite a long time. Mr. Ivanishvili’s comeback and popular protests are just symptoms of this process.
Over the last three years, we have been seeing a serious decline in the situation in the districts [of South Ossetia] mainly populated by ethnic Georgians.
There was a social media campaign two years ago [in Abkhazia] encouraging people to boycott the funerals of anyone who died after seeking medical care in Tbilisi.
Renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine is quickly turning into a litmus test of Russia’s intentions in backing Ukrainian separatist rebels, and the real willingness of the West, in particular the United States, to support Kyiv. Fears over Washington’s wavering may also cause positions to harden in the protracted conflicts in Europe’s East, most immediately in Georgia.
Originally published in Today's Zaman
Originally published in Bloomberg
Georgia is in the midst of transitioning from a presidential to a mixed parliamantary system, in which much power will lie with the office of the Prime Minister. Elections later this year will determine whether current President Mikheil Saakashvili's party, United National Movement, will retain control of government. Medea Turashvili, Caucasus analyst for the International Crisis Group, discusses what implications this might have on Georgia's domestic and foreign policy.