Friday, 11 April 2008

"Kosovo... will speed up the recognition of our independence"- Sergei Shamba

10/04/2008 Moscow News, №14 2008

During last few years the permanent status of Kosovo has been one of the main problems in global affairs. After February 17, when Kosovo declared its independence and was recognized by some nations, the world divided into two opposing camps. Some believe that the division of Serbia means the final end of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Others anticipate and worry that the recognition of Kosovo opens a Pandora's box that will lead to a chain reaction all over the world, spreading chaos, violence, and instability.

Undoubtedly, many are keeping a close eye on the Kosovo developments, including many in the former Soviet Union. There are four self-proclaimed, unrecognized and de facto independent states that have appeared in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse: Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which are both legally regions of Georgia), Transdnistria (legally a part of Moldavia), and Nagorno-Karabakh (legally a part of Azerbaijan). Fighting has claimed the lives of thousands in each of these stalemated conflicts. But undoubtedly, Kosovo's precedent raises the spectre of thawing the ice on these frozen conflicts.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, Sergei Shamba, gave an exclusive interview to The Moscow News on the evolving situation.

MN: Mister Minister, could you tell us what kind of changes happened in Abkhazian foreign policy after February 17 this year?

Shamba: I can say there have been some serious changes in our relations with Russia, even though there have been no changes in our foreign policy. Step by step we are working toward international recognition, and we are continuing this policy at the present time. Our goal is the creation of an independent, democratic, and legal state, corresponding to all international standards, which will be recognized by the world community. We are sure that such a policy will help us reach our goal sooner or later.

The problem of Kosovo has become the center of attention for the world community in regards to the settlement of such conflicts. Until February 17, there was the first wave of recognition of the independence of former republics of the USSR and Yugoslavia. After February 17, after Kosovo's recognition, the second wave of recognition of the former Soviet and Yugoslavian autonomous states begins.

Certainly, we hope to be in this second wave. We can now discern a direct analogy between Kosovo and Abkhazia, even though Abkhazia has much greater legal, historical, and moral reasons for having its independence recognized than Kosovo does.

When Georgia abandoned the USSR, Abkhazia remained in the USSR. The Abkhazians didn't participate in the Georgian referendum, but they participated in the referendum to preserve the USSR. Thus, Abkhazia remained in the USSR until its collapse. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union did Abkhazia became a separate entity, beyond both the USSR and Georgia. That is, the Abkhazians are not separatists. Georgians are the separatists. Another important point of view is that Abkhazia is absent in the Constitution of Georgia completely.
We live on our native land. We ourselves obtained our independence without any foreign military aid, in contrast to Kosovo. The Abkhazians ourselves drove out the Georgian aggressors from our territory.

In contrast to Kosovo we have developed all structures of state and government authority, developed civil society, a multiparty political system, an independent mass media, and non-governmental funds and organizations. During the last twenty years we have had presidential and parliamentary elections.

But Kosovo's precedent gives us hope that the process of recognition can develop more quickly. In global affairs things develop unexpectedly and quickly. Almost anything can happen as a result of present events.

Our point of view is that the world community has to recognize Abkhazia after Kosovo. But there are some political circumstances which may influence this situation. Obtaining recognition is a process, and we are making our final push.

MN: Did you feel changes from Moscow regarding to Abkhazia after February 17?

Shamba: You know that the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian parliament - Ed.) adopted a statement in March this year, which is a very important step for us on the road to recognition. In this statement the Russian deputies declared that Abkhazia, Transdnistria, and South Ossetia have more legal, historical, and moral reasons for recognition than Kosovo.

I had a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Lavrov. We discussed the questions of the Russian-Abkhazian relations.

It is obvious to me that Russia is going to have official relations with Abkhazia. It is an important result for us of February 17. We are waiting and we have such assurances that Russia will act openly and officially with us. You may make such conclusions after Russia cancelled sanctions against Abkhazia.

MN: President Putin declared in a news conference in the Kremlin that if Western states recognize Kosovo, Russia will not act as a monkey and repeat it in the similar case in its attitude towards Abkhazia, Transdnistria, and South Ossetia. How do you estimate these words?

Shamba: There were many other statements earlier, that Russia will act sufficiently in the similar case. We and all other people have such expectations. Gradually Russia is recovering its power in global affairs. Frankly speaking, we wish Russia good luck in returning to the influence it lost in the 1990s.

MN: What states are ready today to recognize the Abkhazian independence?

Shamba: Somebody has to make the first step. We think that if Russia is able to recognize us, other states may then choose to follow suit. It is very important for us to obtain recognition from such a great state as Russia. It may decide many of our problems.
First and foremost, it opens big opportunities for economic cooperation. Second, such recognition provides the guarantee of our security. We would give Russia an opportunity to realize their national interests on our territory. For us the recognition by Moscow means the recognition of the whole world.

There is a struggle for influence between Russia and the United States in the Caucasus. The U.S. supports Georgia, but Abkhazia is on Moscow's side.

At present, the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict is in a frozen condition. There has been no progress in our negotiations. And stability is also absent. Georgia tried to gain revenge in 1998-2001. More than 100 peacekeepers were killed. Our recognition by Russia is a way to peace and stability in the region. We are ready to sign with Moscow an agreement for allowing the Russian armed forces on our territory, and the creation of a buffer zone on our borders on Inguri River.

MN: Is there any possibility for Sukhumi that Abkhazia will join Russia in the future?

Shamba: We don't state the question in such a way. First and foremost, it is contrary to the Russian and Abkhazian Constitutions. Abkhazia has a big interest in joining to the United State of Russia and Belarus. After all, we were for the Soviet Union.

MN: Is there any threat of a Georgian invasion to Abkhazia in the present time?

Shamba: Georgia has not enough resources for that. Even a state with a powerful military and economic potential couldn't decide these conflicts. All attempts by Georgia to conquer Abkhazia by force have been met with failure. I don't have any doubts that the result would be the same if hot heads in Tbilisi take the risk of another crazy attempt. Georgia is increasing its military budget permanently. However, we also are strengthening our military forces.

MN: How will the leadership of Abkhazia act if Georgia becomes a member of NATO?

Shamba: We can see in the statement of the State Duma that if Georgia joins NATO, the question appears concerning the territories where local inhabitants don't want membership in the Alliance. In any case the chances of our recognition will increase. We have to obtain the recognition of the Abkhazian independence earlier, before Georgia joins NATO.

MN: How do you estimate the Russian support for Abkhazia today?

Shamba: We have close friendly relations. These relations are developing successfully. Our trade turnover is increasing. We are ready to develop with Russia military cooperation for the purpose of guaranteeing our security. We are ready to give our territory for the deployment of Russian military forces.

MN: Does Abkhazia participate in preparing of Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014?

Shamba: We discussed seriously this question with the Russian leadership. The abolition of sanctions opens big opportunities for such cooperation.

MN: Do you have a dream?

Shamba: I have been fighting for the independence of Abkhazia for many years. My dream is liberty and the independence of my Motherland!

Fact box:

Sergei Shamba was born on March 15, 1951 in Gudauta. He was first appointed as a government minister in May 1997. In 1998 at the Yerevan Institute of Archeology, Shamba defended his doctoral thesis, entitled "The political, social, economic and cultural environment of ancient and medieval Abkhazia, based on archeology and numismatology." During the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993, he held a position of the First Vice Defense Minister. He now holds the rank of Colonel. He is the author of various scientific publications, and is married, with a son and daughter.

By Yuri Plutenko

No comments:

Post a Comment