In this testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan analyses the conflict dynamics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the breakaway territories from Georgia recognised as independent by Russia, and explains how Washington can promote stability there.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Originally published in EUREN Brief
Originally published in World Politics Review
De facto South Ossetian leader dismissed cabinet while de facto authorities in Abkhazia faced new spike in COVID-19 cases after reopening border crossing with Russia. Following public calls for his resignation, de facto South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov 28 Aug urgently dismissed cabinet of ministers. Hundreds of people 28 and 31 Aug protested in front of main governmental building after news emerged of death in custody of local 28-year-old man detained 27 Aug for alleged involvement in 17 Aug shooting on car of de facto interior minister; photos circulated on social media of body with multiple bruises, strengthening torture accusations of inmates; local medics said man died due to heart problems. Amid increasingly severe financial deficits in de facto entity Abkhazia, crossing with Russia reopened 1 Aug following July talks between de facto and Russian authorities; reopening of border with Russia, which closed in March to contain spread of COVID-19, led to most serious spike in coronavirus cases since start of pandemic, rising from 81 in July to 224 confirmed cases as of 20 Aug. De facto leadership kept southern crossing with Georgia closed, except for regular launch of temporary “humanitarian corridors” for ethnic Abkhaz and Georgians with Abkhaz documents. Several UN Security Council members – Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, U.S., and UK – along with Norway and Ireland, 6 Aug made first-ever joint statement in support of Georgia on occasion of 12th anniversary of Aug 2008 war with Russia, criticising presence of Russian military in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
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.
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.
Unresolved conflicts and breakaway territories divide five out of six of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership countries, most of them directly backed by the Russian Federation. But a policy of isolating the people living in these conflict regions narrows the road to peace.
Originally published in Today's Zaman