The Independent last week reported on Russia’s efforts to buy international recognition for the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Rightly, the article pointed out that the campaign has been a miserable failure. The reason why only four other countries – Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Tuvalu – succumbed to Moscow’s subterfuge is that the vast majority of international opinion is aware that Russia is simply trying to legitimize its military occupation of the two Georgian provinces.
In the war of 2008, Russia tightened their grip on both regions with a pre-planned and premeditated invasion, which led to a further ethnic cleansing of the majority of the two regions’ population. Homes were burned down, communities torn apart, lives and livelihoods were ruined.
Today South Ossetia has been reduced to a Russian military base in the heart of Georgia, and Abkhazia is in a pitiful state. Its economy is in decay, its environment is being pillaged (not least to supply building materials for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics) and criminality is rife. Suffrage is far from universal but is instead based on ethnicity, and even then the results of elections are subject to Russia’s approval (which Russia did not give recently in South Ossetia and previously in Abkhazia). Instead of independence, both Georgian regions have effectively been incorporated into the Northern Caucasus, the most deprived part of Russia where unemployment and corruption are rampant even by Russian standards, to say nothing about the total absence of basic human rights.
Compare this to the situation in Georgia in recent years, particularly Adjara, Georgia’s autonomous region. The economy is growing (at a rate of almost 7% last year), new hotels are being built along the Black Sea coast, and citizens are able to enjoy effective public services in health and education. Add to this the recent report by the World Bank which praised Georgia’s anti-corruption reforms, calling them unprecedented and suggested they could be a model for other countries. Adjara, enjoying autonomy within the Georgian state, is blossoming under an arrangement that could be equally beneficial for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
But first we must once and for all stop Russians from “citing” the “will” of the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who “chose independence” from Georgia: most of the population of both regions have been forcibly removed from their homes with the help of the Russian military, and it is the Russian troops that make sure they cannot return. What about their will?
As for the population who remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including those who supported separatism, my Government is implementing a strategy designed to win over their hearts and minds. The plan involves providing access to essential public services such as healthcare and educational as a first step to improving economic links. Most importantly, Georgia offers these two regions true, not imaginary autonomy within a Georgian nation that is in the process of building a modern European democracy.
The Independent’s article this week suggested that the decisive factor in determining how countries define their position on Georgia’s occupied territories is money. The reality is that the international community has made its decision on the basis of international law and an abhorrence of ethnic cleansing. Putin’s government can do their worst in trying to buy support for their moribund policies – but their approach is doomed to fail and they would be better spending their Roubles elsewhere. They should understand that the Cold War is over.
Giorgi Badridze, The Independent