Saturday 29 March 2008

Joint Open Letter to the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Europarådet skjuter upp MR-rapportering från Norra Kaukasien

March 28, 2008

Joint Open Letter to the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

The undersigned organizations are deeply dismayed that the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe postponed its decision on the renewed request of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to be seized to report on “Legal remedies for human rights violations in the North Caucasus”.

We are very concerned that by failing again to take up the opportunity to immediately resume separate monitoring and public reporting on the human rights situation in the North Caucasus, the Bureau of the Assembly has shown a lack of commitment to addressing the ongoing human rights abuses and the impunity for the grave human rights abuses which have taken place in the region.

While in January 2006, the Assembly’s resolution and recommendation indicated that the very serious human rights situation required attention, instead, it appears that the approach of the Bureau of the Assembly since June 2006 has been to scale down the scrutiny afforded to the region.

We consider that this approach is inconsistent with the very findings of the Assembly that the situation in the region was one of the most serious in Europe and demanded the attention of the bodies of the Council of Europe, whose core task is the protection of human rights.

Since the Assembly last reported on the region in January 2006, serious human rights violations have continued, chiefly in the context of counterterrorism operations. People have been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary detention, including in secret detention facilities. Unlawful killings have also continued. Armed groups also continued to target civilians and carry out abductions.

Individuals in the region who seek to promote respect for human rights and those who dare to speak out to expose human rights abuses continue to face harassment and intimidation. The most glaring example was the abduction on the night of 23 to 24 November 2007 of Oleg Orlov, head of the Russian NGO Human Rights Centre Memorial, and three journalists from the Russian TV station REN TV, Artem Vysotskii, Karen Sakhinov and Stanislav Goriachikh. Oleg Orlov and his REN TV colleagues were in Nazran to cover a demonstration against human rights violations by law enforcement agencies that was due to take place in Nazran the following day.

Armed masked men in camouflage seized the four men, beat and threatened to kill them, then abandoned them two hours later. The Russian news agency Interfax quoted sources within the police stating that the abduction had been carried out by “the military”. Criminal investigations into the incident have been opened under several different articles of the Russian Criminal Code but not under provisions criminalizing “abduction” (Article 126) or “threat to kill or cause serious damage to health” (Article 119).

Moreover, the few positive developments in bringing people to justice for the grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law regrettably remain exceptions to the impunity enjoyed by the vast majority of those responsible. In particular, prosecutions have not yet been brought against those suspected of responsibility for the human rights violations which have been examined in cases ruled upon by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the conflict in the North Caucasus.

We call on the Bureau of the Assembly to ensure without further delay, the resumption of the Assembly’s dedicated monitoring and public reporting on the human rights situation in the North Caucasus.

Amnesty International (AI), London
Chechen Committee for National Salvation, Nazran
Civic Assistance Committee, Moscow
“Demos” Center, Moscow
European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), London
Human Rights Center “Memorial”, Moscow, Nazran and Grozny
Human Rights Watch (HRW), New York
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Paris
Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Oslo
Russian Chechen Friendship Society, Helsinki
Russian Justice Initiative, Utrecht
Society for Threatened Peoples, Bern
Swedish Helsinki Committee, Stockholm

Thursday 27 March 2008

RUSSIA AND THE CIRCASSIANS: An Internal Problem or an International Matter?


RUSSIA AND THE CIRCASSIANS: An Internal Problem or an International Matter?

April, 8 2008

Harvard University, The Carr Center For Human Rights Policy


The Circassian Cultural Institute

Davis Center - For Russian and Eurasian Studies

The Jamestown Foundation

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Abkhazia is Abkhazia

After independence declaration of Kosovo, Abkhazia is more on the agenda of the World than ever. At a conference in London 1993, Mr.Stanislav Lakoba’s speech that’s related with this current issue can be good answer to the arguments upon it . Even it’s so actual paper that set lights to the core of the matter in order to be understood clearly.

ABKHAZIA IS ABKHAZIA by Stanislav Lakoba

Minister of Security in Abkhazia, former speaker of Abkhazian Parliament

A Report At A London Conference On North Caucasus and Abkhazia 23th April, 1993

Central Asian Survey, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 97–105, 1995

Related Issues

Human rights activist: Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's sovereignty more legitimate than Kosovo's

Regnum, March 25, 2008

Read it in Russian

“Presuming that Kosovo will incite separatist moods in other peoples, including the Abkhazian ans South Ossetian ones, is wrong. In fact, Abkhazia, for instance, has always had more grounds and more arguments for self-determination. And the recent statement of the State Duma deputies who have supported the striving of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr to independence is very timely,” head of Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Center Valery Khatazhukov.

”The statement is, of course, of more a rhetoric character than many hoped it would be. Many hoped that it would contain more clear recommendations for the executive power. But anyhow, this is a positive moment that gives us an opportunity to work with the situation at the federal level,” Mr Khatazhukov observed.

Abkhazia had once joined the USSR as an independent republic. Later, Joseph Stalin annexed it to Georgia. Today, when the USSR is extinct, Abkhazia has no formal grounds to the return of this status. However, for the last 15 years, Abkhazia has proved that she has all the normally-functioning organizations of an independent state, Mr Khatazhukov has reminded.

“Some see contradictions between international principles of self-determination and preservation of territorial integrity of states. As a matter of fact, there are no contradictions. The principle of self-determination is consistently recognized in the provisions of international organizations, first of all, in the UN bylaws. It is even possible to say that it prevails. Territorial integrity of Georgia can only be violated if Abkhazia or South Ossetia joined Russia, i. e., were annexed,” Mr Khatazhukov argues.

According to the human rights activist, argument that the Abkhazian and South Ossetian precedents could lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation is also ungrounded. “Separatist moods can be provoked by the federal authority itself, if it pursues incompetent national policies inside the Russian state.”

“This could be the result of integration of territorial units, which questions the possibility of preservation of cultural values, of cultural identification of various peoples populating Russia, including the peoples of the Northern Caucasus.”

“Besides, facts of xenophobia have become more frequent, which are not terminated by the government. Most eminent are the anti-Caucasian pronouncements of Zhirinovsky who suggests that the problems of the North Caucasus be solved by deportation of peoples residing in the region to outside the Caucasian Mountains. And Zhirinovsky is a head of a parliamentary party,” Khatazhukov noted.

“Besides, separatism may be incited by thwarting national development programs, including a number of hours for the study of indigenous people's languages,” the rights activist argues. “If in early 1990s, up to 70% of schools performed instruction in the primary school in the Kabardian and Balkarian Languages, now the percentage is becoming lower,” Khatazhukov stressed.

Friday 21 March 2008

Abkhazia, the country that doesn't exist, prepares to follow Kosovo's example

By Shaun Walkerin, Sukhum, Abkhazia, March 21, 2008 - The Independent

Underneath the red, white and green Abkhazian flag, border guards check documents on the bridge over the river Psou, just outside the Russian city of Sochi.

"Welcome to Abkhazia," says a hirsute official, wearing military fatigues and smoking a slimline cigarette. "Enjoy your stay in our country."

Abkhazia has a president, a flag, a national anthem and even a visa system for foreign visitors but the country doesn't appear on any maps. Officially, this small piece of sub-tropical Black Sea coastline with a population today of about 170,000, is a province of Georgia.

But since a vicious war in the early 1990s, it has been functioning as an independent state and, in the aftermath of Kosovo's independence, the Abkhazians hope their statehood will be recognised by the international community.

Shortly after Kosovo declared independence, the Abkhazian parliament, located in a seafront building in the capital, Sukhum, issued a call for international recognition.

"After the recognition of Kosovo by many Western states, the geopolitical situation has significantly changed," read the parliament's statement. "Any legal decision has a universal character... All people have the same rights to freedom and independence."

On the seafront promenade, in the shadow of war-damaged buildings, old men while away the days drinking Turkish-style coffee and playing chess and backgammon. "Why is Kosovo any better than Abkhazia?" asked one. "It's exactly the same situation. We're a small country trying to stand on our own two feet."

The local papers are awash with Kosovo headlines and accusations that the West is engaging in "double standards" by recognising Kosovo but not Abkhazia. Western countries have said that Kosovo is a unique case, voicing support for Georgia's "territorial integrity", and a resolution to the Abkhazian conflict that does not alter Georgia's official boundaries.

Abkhazia's main hope for recognition is Russia. Vladimir Putin has hinted on several occasions that if the West recognised Kosovo, Russia may recognise Abkhazia and three other "breakaway states" on former Soviet soil.

Russian support has been a lifeline for Abkhazia for many years, a fact that has irked Georgia and been a key factor in the poor relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. At the Psou border crossing, Abkhazian women wheel in trolleys of goods from Russia. to sell in Abkhazia. Almost everything on sale in the republic comes from Russia, save a few bootleg goods from Turkey. Russian peacekeepers are stationed in Abkhazia, the rouble is used, and Moscow has issued Russian passports to Abkhazians who want them. In the past two years, Russian tourists have flocked back to the hotels along Abkhazia's palm-fringed beaches.

Immediately after the Kosovo declaration of independence, Russia went one step further and lifted economic sanctions on Abkhazia. In reality, Moscow has long turned a blind eye to cross-border trade with Abkhazia but the full legalisation of trade will make things easier for the Abkhazians.

"I'm planning to build a hotel, and before it would've taken six months to bring the cement across the border in small loads," says Otar Kakalia, a local businessman. "Now, I'll be able to do it in a single day."

In Sukhum, the hope is now for Russia to go one step further and formally recognise Abkhaz independence. The Russian parliament will vote today on a resolution calling for Russia to recognise Abkhazia if Georgia joins Nato.

"There are different opinions within the establishment," said Sergei Markedonov, a Moscow-based political analyst. "Some want to recognise Abkhazia and others want to keep helping the Abkhaz but stop short of official recognition."

Stanislav Lakoba, a local historian and chairman of the de facto government's Security Council, said: "Russia is behaving like a football team that keeps passing the ball around the penalty area but each time it looks like a certain goal, they make another pass. We have every right to be independent and they should stop being scared of the West and go ahead."

Georgia's President, Mikheil Saakashvili , has long stated that one of the main aims of his presidency is to bring Georgia's two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under Tbilisi's control and allow the thousands of ethnic Georgians who fled their homes in Abkhazia to return.

The Abkhazians fear Mr Saakashvili will attempt a military solution to the conflict, which analysts say would be the only realistic way to return Georgian control. With American backing, the Georgians have pumped vast funds into modernising their army over recent years, and in Sukhum, Abkhaz officials claim to have information that Georgia is planning an offensive.

"The Georgians have long wanted a military solution, but they are scared of Russia getting involved, and also of the US," says Mr Markedonov. "The Saakashvili government is set on Nato membership and integration with the West and if they start a military conflict they can say goodbye to that."

A plan for Georgia's accession to Nato is on the table for the summit in Bucharest next month, and George Bush promised after meeting Mr Saakashvili this week that he would support the Georgian bid. Russia has strongly opposed Georgian membership of the alliance, and could recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia in retaliation.

In School Number 2 at Gagra, young Abkhazians are in no doubt about where their future lies.
"My father died in the war so that I could grow up in a free country," said 15-year-old Sabina Tsushba.

"We're an independent country because we've made it that way ourselves," said another 15-year-old pupil. "It doesn't really matter whether the rest of the world takes notice of us or not."

Thursday 20 March 2008

Will The Unrecognized Republics Be Recognized?

Eurasian Home - Analytical Resource, March 19, 2008


Dmitry MEDOEV, Plenipotentiary Representative of South Ossetia in Russia

It is good that a lot of MPs, experts and journalists were present at the hearings on Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria held in the State Duma of the Russian Federation on March 13. This indicates that the subject is of great interest. That’s why the parliament hearings will go on.

I would like to say that the discussion was official. Its official name is “On the state of settlement of the conflicts in the territory of the CIS and on appeal to the Russian Federation about recognition of independence of the republics South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria”.

I would like to start with the settlement process. Unfortunately, the Georgian-Ossetian settlement process reached a deadlock. Quite a few agreements, protocols, which had been signed in the course of the settlement process, were frozen. Consultations and meetings are not held any more. The only format is the Joint Control Commission that organized those meetings and that was established in 1992 according to the Sochi agreements. All the talks participants believe that this format was efficient. But after 2003, when new people came into power in Georgia, problems have arisen in the negotiations process. Now it is the Georgian authorities that are to blame for the negotiations’ reaching an impasse.

All in all, 50 protocols were signed within the framework of the Joint Control Commission. The protocols were in line with the Sochi agreements. In the main the negotiations were held on three main issues: cessation of hostilities, demilitarization of the conflict zone, return of the refugees and the economic rehabilitation in the conflict zone. The legal groundwork had been carried out. The process was based on the agreements between the Russian and Georgian governments dated 1993 and 2000. Unfortunately, later Georgia withdrew its signatures.

Those agreements provided for implementation of a whole number of the projects on the economic recovery, return of refugees to the conflict zone, etc. It was calculated that the damage, which had been caused to South Ossetia during the conflict, cost more that 40 billion rubles as of 1992. Russia undertook to give South Ossetia economic aid of one third of that amount, and Georgia agreed to cover two thirds.

Georgia complied with no clause of this agreement. Russia met its commitments and continues to do so.

Since last December till the hearings in the Parliament the situation in South Ossetia has deteriorated dramatically - provocations, explosions and kidnappings have taken place. Against that background Georgia is being militarized. Along the entire border of South Ossetia the fortifications are constructed. The Georgian party sas that it is unwilling to carry on negotiations, and that there is a need to revise the format of the Joint Control Commission.

Under the circumstances the Kosovo precedent speeded up the process connected with South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. The parliament hearings are natural development of that process. The Speakers of Abkhazia and Transnistria’s Parliaments and the Vice-Speaker of South Ossetia’s Parliament addressed the hearings. The addresses contained the reasons for raising the question of the republics’ independence. The appeal for recognition of independence of South Ossetia, which had earlier been filed with the State Duma, was also voiced.

In our view, it was a very acute discussion that will continue. This is the beginning of the process of recognition of the republics. The recognition as such is not an end in itself. We know many recognized states that de facto are not full-fledged ones. We must focus on maintenance of peace in South Ossetia, economic upsurge, establishment of close economic relations with Russia, creation of new jobs and strengthening of defense since Georgia’s threat still exists.

South Ossetia will continue fighting for its recognition. The hearings showed that Russia offered sufficient potential for doing that. The Russian community and political elite are in principle ready to take new steps and face new developments.

It would be reasonable to discuss the issues of Russia’s cooperation with the three republics at the Commissions of Defense, Security and at the other core Commissions specializing in the economy and the humanitarian ties.

As a result of such activities Russia is going to shape its principles of developing the relations with the three republics.

Guram GUMBA, Head of the Commission on Inter-Parliamentary and Foreign Relations of the Abkhaz Parliament

For over 15 years now Abkhazia has hoped to establish the intergovernmental relations with Russia. But we believe that those appeals didn’t receive proper attention from the Russian government officials.

The parliament hearings have made a double impression on me. On the one hand, Russia’s position towards Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains unchanged. But I has been reassured by the fact that a lot of MPs, public figures, experts and political scientists came out for the establishment of the intergovernmental relations with the republics.

I would like to note that the people’s aspiration for independence results from the domestic processes that have taken place in the republics for decades, rather than to their attitude towards Georgia.

Currently we expect that Russia will work out a clear position on Abkhazia and the entire South Caucasus. We do not want the relations with Russia to depend on the relations between Russia and Georgia. Those are different things.

What are we going to do? We regard Russia not only as a guarantor of the Abkhaz people’s security but also as a guarantor of the state independence and sovereignty of Abkhazia. In the future we are going to enhance cooperation with the other countries to make our vision of the situation clear.

You know that because of the information blockade Georgia’s standpoint dominates on the international arena. We have to do very much to make the world community accept the Abkhazian vision of the situation.

Sergei ARUTYUNOV, Head of the Caucasus Department of Institute of Ethnic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The current events are not a conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia or between Russia and Georgia. This is a conflict between Russia and the USA, the Western bloc that is getting more consolidated owing to the change of the situation in Europe.

More and more often France accepts the decisions made by NATO. The bloc’s Eastern members the are more loyal to the USA than to the EU.

We got used to treating all the unrecognized territories in the post-Soviet space “in a single package”. So, many were surprised not to find Nagorno-Karabakh on the list. But these cases cannot be reduced all to the same pattern because they actually are quite different. If to use the typology, Abkhazia is the most specific republic, it can be set off against the other three ones. Nagorno-Karabakh can be contrasted with Transnistria and South Ossetia that have much more in common.

As regards Kosovo, recognition of its independence is a significant precedent. Within the last centuries it is the 80-th if not the 200-th precedent. The first one was that of the self-proclaimed republic of the United States of America. The second was when the republic in question cruelly suppressed the breakaway South Confederacy that expressed the people’s will legally. Later on, there were many precedents including successful ones like Bangladesh and those cruelly suppressed like the short-lived Republic of Biafra.

What is the difference? Abkhazia’s population is a nation forming a state and there are no other territories densely inhabited by Abkhazians. There is such a situation neither in Transnistria nor in South Ossetia. In South Ossetia the South Ossetians live together with the Georgians and two governments (those of Eduard Kokoity and Dmirty Sanakoev) exist there. The South Ossetians began to settle there, mainly, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Ossetian villages were populated by the bought serfs in a large measure. After the Persian shah’s invasion the Georgian feudal lords lost some serfs and had too few of them. Ossetia witnessed land shortage and overpopulation, so minor Ossetian feudal lords were glad to sell their serfs.

This is history and it is of no fundamental importance unless you learn that in the Caucasus the historical facts and their interpretation exert the most powerful influence upon the public opinion than elsewhere. If force is to be used during the conflict, the Georgian army with the help of the Georgian population in South Ossetia will seize the territory easily. Russian forces won’t be able to help the South Ossetians because they are separated by the Bezengi Wall. Only the Roksky Tunnel passes through it, but the tunnel can be easily blocked.

This conflict will result in the fact that about 60 thousand South Ossetians, the Russian citizens, will go to Russia. Russia will have to accept 60 thousand new refugees.

The Abkhazians will not leave Abkhazia. If to look at a map, one can realize that in the event of the conflict in Abkhazia the Georgian party is doomed to defeat, as has happened before.

This is why Abkhazia has a very good chance of becoming independent. A different matter is how it will be formalized. I believe that the Russian authorities are wise enough to understand this historical tendency and to do their utmost to help Abkhazia in gaining independence.

Nothing of the kind can be expected in Transnistria or South Ossetia. So, it will be reasonable for Russia to help Abkhazia become independent and to prepare legal groundwork for that. The final solution to the Abkhazian problem will be the recognition of Georgia’s absolute rights to the Kodor gorge and the Gal district. Now nobody in Abkhazia would agree with that. For the time being, few people understand that the compromise is needed. Transnistria and South Ossetia can reckon on nothing but the well-known status of the Aland Islands. The territory has extensive autonomy, its own State Emblem, flag, laws, the Swedish language, but, for all that, it belongs to Finland.

SERGEI MARKEDONOV, Head of the International Relations Department of the Institute for Policy and Military Analysis, Russia

The stir caused by the parliament hearings is misplaced. Dozens of such hearings take place a year, experts partake in the discussion and all of the resolutions are used as guidance. The State Duma does not take the foreign-policy decisions.

I do not think that Russia’s position is consistent. Suffice it to recollect the two recent events. On February 20, 2008 Geneva hosted the regular round of the Georgian-Russian negotiations on the WTO. The parties decided that the Georgian customs posts should be on the Russian-South Ossetian and Russian-Abkhazian frontiers. In some time Russia said that it would lift the sanctions imposed on Abkhazia, which became less severe seven years ago.

I am not of the opinion that what we are witnessing now is the conflict of civilizations, the conflict with the USA and the West. Above all, these conflicts have their internal dynamics. We better not forget about the population of those republics.

If to speak about the Kosovo case, this is a matter of identity and loyalty. If we withdraw the Russian peacemakers from Inguri and South Ossetia, will the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians be loyal citizens? No, they will not. This is also true of Nagorno-Karabakh that should be considered in the same context since it also raises the question of identity and loyalty. Will the Armenians, who number 100 000 in Nagorno-Karabakh, want to be Azerbaijan’s citizens?

Here Russia’s role, whatever it is, influences nothing. At the end of 1994 Russia closed the Abkhazian frontier for men of eighteen and older. Such a situation lasted about four years. Has that made the Abkhazians more loyal towards Georgia? No, it hasn’t. Then Russia’s position was double, but this did not make the Abkhazians more loyal. The factors of the USA, Russia and Kosovo are secondary. Kosovo started being discussed in the world context in 1998. The UN adopted the resolutions on Abkhazia in 1992-93. Transnistria became a self-proclaimed territory in 1990.

The issue of the people’s choice and loyalty is not examined.

It is impossible to solve Abkhazia’s problem without the Abkhazians. The Abkhazians are entitled to be heard. They do not become the second-rate people only because they do not want to take a foreign citizenship. So Russia’s strategy should not boil down to one question – to recognize or not to recognize. This is a primitivism.

The strategy is as follows. While the status issues are not solved, there is a need to favor the humanitarian development of those territories, the integration into the world economy and the world sociocultural relations. It is necessary to emphasize the interests of the people who live in those territories. One cannot solve, for example, the Abkhazian issues through Moscow. The Abkhazians will stand their ground.

The material is based on Dmitry MEDOEV, Guram GUMBA, Sergei ARUTYUNOV and Sergei MARKEDONOV’s addresses to the round table “Will the unrecognized republics be recognized?” in Russian News and Information Agency RIA Novosti.

March 19, 2008

Moscow not Ready to Recognise Abkhazia

Russia responds to Kosovo’s independence declaration by strengthening ties with Abkhazia, but not officially recognising it.

By Oleg Papaskiri in Sukhum, Abkhazia (CRS No. 436 19-Mar-08), IWPR

Kosovo’s declaration of independence last month was awaited with keen interest in Abkhazia, with the unrecognised republic asserting its right to independence from Georgia just as the Kosovars were doing with regard to Serbia.

Even though de facto Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh had said explicitly that he did not think his republic’s future depended on the Kosovo case, attitudes among ordinary people were different, with many hoping that Moscow would now recognise Abkhazia’s claim to independence.

On March 7, the Abkhaz parliament adopted resolutions calling on the Russian parliament, the secretary general of the United Nations, and heads of government around the world to recognise Abkhazia as an independent state.

Following the 1992-94 war which left it effectively separate from Georgia, Abkhazia formally declared itself independent in 1999, although no country has yet recognised this.

In the wake of Kosovo’s February 17 declaration of independence, Russia has stopped short of recognising Abkhazia. However, it did announce on March 6 that it was withdrawing from the sanctions which the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, imposed on the territory in January 1996, thereby freeing it from many restrictions.

“This is good and pleasant news for us,” Bagapsh said in response to the move. “It tells us that relations between Abkhazia and Russia are improving. The removal of sanctions will assist the economic integration of Abkhazia into Russia.”

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, has been more vigorous in expressing support for Abkhazia and for South Ossetia, which also claims independence from Georgia, than the Russian government has.

“We will insist that the government take steps to change the format of relations with the unrecognised republics,” said Alexei Ostrovsky, head of the Duma committee for relations with other former Soviet states.

“In principle, I don’t like the term ‘unrecognized republics’ and I would like it to be changed. That does not mean that there will be immediate recognition [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia], but we could definitely take the step of moving to an international legal concept such as ‘deferred status’ for these republics. That would be logical.”

Abkhazia’s de facto foreign minister Sergei Shamba reacted coldly to this proposal, saying, “‘Deferred status’ or the term ‘frozen conflict’ are all factors for instability, so there is no point in discussing these kind of projects in the current environment.”

Russia’s decision not to recognise Abkhazia has caused some disillusionment among people there, especially the older generation.

“I’m not especially worried about what is happening with Kosovo, but Russia has promised to recognise us yet has not done so so,” said geography teacher Almaskhan Tarba. “But I think it will happen in the future.”

History student Madina Bouba, however, said she was not disappointed as what mattered were practical improvement.

“Russia can’t recognise us as that would be a violation of international law and agreements. But now that sanctions have been lifted, it’s become much easier to cross the [Russian-Abkhaz] border. And relations are so good now that [the border] will just become a mere formality soon,” she said.

Abkhazia’s only open land border is across the River Psou into southern Russia. Until recently, travellers had to undergo hours of checks before being allowed through.

Many Abkhaz are also pinning their hopes on the fact that the 2014 Winter Olympics will take place in Sochi, just a few kilometres over the border in Russia, and are hoping they too will benefit.

Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s minister for regional development, has said that when Sochi starts building Olympic facilities, it could buy construction materials and hire workers from Abkhazia

The 1996 CIS sanctions banned official contacts with “representatives or officials” of civilian and military structures in Abkhazia, and proscribed arms sales to the republic.

Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council or upper house of Russian’s parliament, said he would instruct the regional representatives who sit in the chamber that they could now pursue economic cooperation with Abkhazia.

Officials in Sukhum welcomed the fact that Moscow was signalling its withdrawal from a document that condemned Abkhazia’s “destructive position” on resolving the conflict with Tbilisi.

Stanislav Lakoba, head of Abkhazia’s security council, said Russia was adopting the “Taiwanese model” in its relations with Abkhazia. He was referring to the international practice according to which many states informally acknowledge and deal with Taiwan while not officially recognising it, for fear of offending Communist China which claims sovereignty.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Politics, agreed that “for political reasons and reasons of international law, Moscow cannot recognise the unrecognised territories, as that would lead to a grave international crisis.”

Therefore, he explained, “The path has been chosen of formally recognising the territorial integrity of Georgia, but at the same time there will be active encouragement of all kinds of economic, humanitarian and political cooperation with these territories, and the opening of representative offices.”

Oleg Papaskiri is a freelance journalist in Abkhazia.

Saturday 15 March 2008

An Interview with Paul Goble

Background: Circassians, also known as the “Cherkess”, call themselves as “Adyghe” and have very close and strong ethnic solidarity ties with the Abkhazians and Ubykhs as all these three nations have originated from a common proto-nation and share many cultural values and customs in all aspects of their national lives. Circassian tribes include Kabardians, Besleneys, Shapsughs, Chemguys, Bzhedughs and some others.

Dear visitors, launches a series of interviews with specialists and researchers of Caucasus and, particularly, Circassian related issues. First interview was made with Professor Paul Goble. Interviews will continue with different names in the near future. acknowledges with thanks the insights Mr. Goble has shared with us.

Profile: PAUL GOBLE is director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. Prior to assuming those positions in 2004, he worked in a variety of positions on similar issues in both the government and the private sector in Washington, D.C., for over a quarter of a century. Read More...

Questions for Mr. Paul Goble

CIRCASSIAN WORLD: What level in the US administration is the Circassian issue located, so to speak, and what kind of support could be forthcoming to the Circassians considering different future options ranging from the maintenance of the status quo at one extreme and a drive to independence at the other extreme and (negative) modifications in the current ethnic federalism model being in the middle of the prediction scale?

PAUL GOBLE: Circassian issue is not an orphan in Washington, but its various aspects mean that it is sometimes the focus of senior people and sometimes of more junior ones who have responsibilities for other issues. Because Circassians live in many countries and form significant groups in American allies like Turkey and Jordan, they are a major concern, but as a community in the North Caucasus, they probably don’t have any one person in the US government focusing exclusively on them. Instead, as in my time 20 years ago, they are probably followed somewhat eradically by the person responsibility for “religion, nationalities and dissent.” Your can imagine which aspect of that gets the most attention.

CW: What kind of analogies can you draw between the policies of the 19th century British Empire and 21th century USA regarding the Circassians and other North Caucasians?

GOBLE: The British were an imperial power; the United States is not. On the one hand, that means that the US is less supportive of existing arrangements than the British tended to be,something that could work in favor of the Circassians. On the other, the British were far more attentive to ethnic and religious minorities than the US tends to be, recognizing their significance as players in the great game of international politics.

CW: What can the Circassians do to make sure that Moscow does not make another attempt to undo any of the Circassian republics? What about the transitory stage of uniting all the Circassian republics into a region?

GOBLE: Moscow has only itself to blame for its current problems. It was Putin after all who opened the door to combining all the Circassian peoples in a single republic, something Stalin had made sure would not happen. That does not mean that the Circassians will achieve their goals. Some in Moscow understand how significant and thus dangerous that community could be. And they will do what they can, including the use of force, to prevent it. But that does mean Moscow will be able to stop the Circassian peoples from coming together.


Friday 14 March 2008

Russia: Duma To Weigh In On Abkhaz, South Ossetian, Transdniestrian Status

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, March 13, 2008

The leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in Georgia, and Transdniester, in Moldova, have appealed to Russia to recognize their breakaway regions' independence.

Russia's State Duma is debating whether to consider the joint bid, which comes in the wake of Kosovo's independence declaration from Serbia -- a move that many in the West encouraged but Moscow staunchly opposed.

Duma deputies planned to hear appeals by parliamentary deputies from all three separatist, former Soviet provinces as part of their bid to gain independence.

Russia's lower house of parliament is expected to adopt a resolution on the Abkhaz, South Ossetian, and Transdnistrian regions' status.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in conflicts in the early 1990s, and Transdniester have each urged the international community to recognize their sovereignty.

Their call came on the heels of the Kosovar declaration on February 19, which has since been recognized by dozens of other countries.

The self-declared presidents of the three regions -- Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh, South Ossetia's Eduard Kokoity, and Transdniester's Igor Smirnov -- met in Moscow on March 12 to discuss their joint independence bid.

Officials from Russia's Foreign, Defense, and Economic Development and Trade ministries were expected to attend the Duma debate.

Buoying Hopes

Despite strongly backing the three regions, Moscow has yet to recognize their self-declared governments.

A number of Russian politicians, like State Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin, nonetheless openly support the provinces' independence drive.

"Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester have been recognized," Baburin said. "As a lawyer, I can tell you that there are international documents signed by the presidents of these republics, by the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, by OSCE representatives, as signatories enjoying equal rights. And this means recognition."

A formal acknowledgement of independence would be sure to raise fury in Moldova and Georgia, whose ties with Moscow have soured in recent years.

Dozens of Georgians were gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi to protest the debate as the Duma convened.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze has urged Russia not to launch the process of recognition, let alone recognize, the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the Duma session.

"We count on the good sense of Russian deputies to prevail," he said.

Russia has warned the West that the recognition of Kosovo's independence will embolden separatist movements around the world, including on former Soviet territory.

Russia's new ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, also said this week that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will secede if NATO takes steps toward granting Georgia NATO membership.

But political analysts say Moscow has stopped short of recognizing Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester for fear this will boost the Chechen separatist movement on its own territory.

Mikhail Aleksandrov, a Caucasus expert at Russia's CIS Institute, said it was too early for Moscow to grant formal recognition to Georgia and Moldova's breakaway regions.

"Personally, I don't think that things now will go as far as a formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Aleksandrov said. "It would be illogical for us, after opposing the Kosovo precedent, to immediately recognize Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester. It would go against logic and undermine our whole diplomatic position on the international scene."

Moscow's stance appears to be contributing to impatience in the breakaway provinces.

In comments published by the Russian daily "Kommersant" on March 13, Transdniester's Smirnov lambasted Russia for lacking the "courage" to help the three regions achieve independence.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

Thursday 6 March 2008

Russia lifts trade, economic, financial sanctions on Abkhazia

MOSCOW, March 6 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has lifted trade, economic, financial and transport sanctions on Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, and urged other CIS countries to follow suit, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The ministry said that "due to a change of circumstances, the Russian Federation no longer considered itself bound" by a resolution on the Abkhazia-Georgia conflict, which was adopted by the CIS Heads of State Council on January 19, 1996.

It said sanctions were imposed amid a confrontation between Georgia and Abkhazia that continued after the 1992-93 war and were designed to compel Abkhazia to adopt a more flexible position, primarily on the return of refugees and other displaced persons.

"Today the situation has changed drastically. The majority of ethnic Georgian refugees have returned to Abkhazia's Galsky district," the ministry said.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze meanwhile criticized the move saying "any support of separatism from a neighboring state is illegal."

"This is a dangerous decision as we are entering an absolutely new situation that could result in any outcome," Bakradze told journalists in Tbilisi.

The Foreign Ministry of Transdnestr, the Moldovan breakaway republic which has a large ethnic Russian population, greeted Russia's decision to lift sanctions on Abkhazia, saying that this would allow Abkhazia to "stabilize the socio-economic sector and boost foreign trade."

"Russia's actions are a clear sign that the support of countrymen abroad is a priority for Moscow," the Transdnestr Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Abkhazia, an unrecognized republic with a population around 200,000, has plans to reiterate its calls for recognition of its de facto independence by Russia and major international organizations later this week.

Russia's lower house of parliament the State Duma is to discuss the issue of Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on March 13.

Shortly after Kosovo declared independence on February 17, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both involved in bloody conflicts after proclaiming independence from Georgia in 1991, said the recognition of Kosovo should now be taken into account when considering their claims for sovereignty.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of Kosovo will set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

The Russian parliament said in a statement in late February that Kosovo's independence gives Russia the right to forge new relationships with self-proclaimed states.

The decision to lift transport sanctions on Abkhazia will significantly increase passenger and freight traffic via Georgia to Armenia, Russia's rail monopoly Russian Railways said.

Monday 3 March 2008

Kabardino-Balkaria Leaders Call on Moscow to End Violence against Caucasians

Window on Eurasia by Paul Goble

Baku, March 2 – Social and political leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria have appealed to President Vladimir Putin to take steps to end the rising tide of xenophobic violence in Russian cities directed against people not only from their republic but from other parts of the Caucasus as well.
The letter, portions of which were reported by the portal on Friday, noted that “in recent weeks in Moscow alone were killed three citizens of Kabardino-Balkaria, who because of the unfavorable economic situation in the republic and the high level of unemployment were forced to work in the capital.”

“To our great regret,” the letter continued, “attacks on migrants from the southern region and their murders have become a regular phenomenon in Russia. [And] the nature of these actions demonstrates that they are being committed on the basis of ethnic hostility and hatred” (

The authors of the letter said that they were “seriously concerned” that any future attacks of this kind will exacerbate the already “complicated situation” in Kabardino-Balkaria itself, especially since people there believe that Russian police not only do not try to bring the perpetrators to justice but even support these actions. .”

The situation which today exists in our country in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations does not allow migrants from the North Caucasus republics to enjoy their constitutional rights and freedoms – the right to choose their place of residence and to move about freely.”

Such restrictions, they said, are creating a situation of “real inequality of rights and freedoms of the citizens of the country based on ethnicity.” That should generate “deep concern,” especially since “unfortunately, we do not see” the authorities taking “real measures” against this “abnormal and extremely dangerous” trend.

The authors, who signed their names, asked that Moscow move against nationalist youth groups, focus on “the struggle with manifestations of Nazism and xenophobia with the necessary commitment to principle and firmness,” and “take measures” to block “the anti-Caucasus, nationalist and chauvinist propaganda in the media.”

The day before the Kabardino-Balkaria appeal appeared on Regnum, the Moscow city committee on inter-ethnic relations and nationality policy organized a meeting between interior ministry and FSB officials and the leaders of non-Russian groups in the Russian capital (

At that session, the authorities promised to step up their efforts against skinheads and others who have been beating and even killing people from the Caucasus in increasing numbers over the last several months. But the ethnic leaders in attendance indicated that they had little confidence in these latest promises.

The meeting itself, one report suggested, became especially heated when several of the latter said that they were “convinced that the militia and the FSB could deal with the Nazis and skinheads and even knew how to do this, but do not want to.” Or, in the words of one, “they have not received an order [from above] to do so.”Given the media focus this weekend on the “election” of Putin’s hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, this rising tide of anger among those Russians often dismiss as “persons from the Caucasus” may not attract much attention. But compared to that carefully scripted vote, it will almost certainly prove more important in the long run.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Abkhazia announces military mobilization over Georgian 'threats'

The FINANCIAL - According to RIA Novosti, Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh announced on February 29 the partial mobilization of the de facto independent republic's military, citing fears that Georgian troops could cross over into the breakaway region.

"We are coming out with an appropriate response to action on the part of Georgia, which is concentrating its armed forces on the border with Abkhazia," Bagapsh said.

The Abkhazian leader said the situation had escalated following statements by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who promised to use force to liberate a Georgian journalist detained by Abkhaz police. Tensions have also been raised following a recent incident in the Gali district during which an Abkhazian police car was blown up.

Abkhazian presidential spokesman Kristian Bzhaniya said partial mobilization would take place parallel to a large-scale routine military exercise on February 29 - March 4.

Anatoly Zaitsev, the chief of the General Staff, said up to 2,500 soldiers would be involved in the exercise.

Georgian journalist Malkhaz Basilai was arrested in Abkhazia on February 26 while reporting on voting planned for the Russian presidential elections in the breakaway republic. Abkhazian authorities accused him of having illegally crossed into the Abkhazia.

Saakashvili subsequently threatened the use of force to liberate Basilai. Abkhazia then warned Tbilisi against issuing ultimatums.

Last week leaders of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which saw bloody conflicts after they declared independence from Georgia in 1991, said that Kosovo's independence should be taken into account as far as their sovereignty was concerned.

Abkhazia said on February 29 it would seek recognition from Russia and the European Union.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of the Balkan region's independence would set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

Political analysts fear that the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and its subsequent recognition by Western powers, will open up a Pandora's Box of separatist issues in Europe and beyond.