Russian aid would be more effective if Abkhazia and South Ossetia weren't cut off from freely trading with the rest of Georgia. This isolation, particularly in the case of South Ossetia, which is connected to the rest of Georgia by 30 roads and hundreds of acres of fields (whereas the Roki Tunnel is the only link to Russia), keeps these breakaway autonomies dependent on Russian assistance.
Valdaiclub.com interview with Samuel Charap, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Dmitry Medvedev, in the August interview to the Georgian TV channel Rustavi said that the decision to recognize the two countries five years ago will not change, while Georgia will never agree with this recognition of their sovereignty. How, then, to reach out the get out of the situation? Is the way out possible at all?
If we start with the fundamental disagreements, particularly those involving status, among parties to a conflict, we will inevitably conclude that progress is impossible and perpetual clashes are inevitable. I would suggest that Russian and Georgian leaders would be better served by focusing on status-neutral common ground in the short-term, and building on that common ground to create more areas of shared interest and agreement in the long term. More specifically, there are a large number of steps that both sides, but particularly Russia, could take that are status-neutral, but would reduce tensions, bring people together across the conflict lines, create trust, build trade links, and normalize contacts among authorities. First and foremost Russia should cease erecting barbed-wire barriers along the conflict lines and commit to the non-use of force against Georgia, following a similar Georgian pledge in 2010. Such steps do not entail any party reconsidering its positions on the issues that divide them. Through such a conflict transformation process, the parties might not only cease to antagonize each other, but also come to a shared understanding of the way forward. Over the course of years or even decades such a process would result in a peaceful and just resolution of the conflicts within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders: The full restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, reconciliation among peoples, constitutional arrangements that guarantee self-government for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Georgia that do not have the government’s consent to be there, and a complete normalization of Russia-Georgia relations.
For Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s restoration Russia sends huge amounts of money. Abkhazia, for example, from 2010 to 2012 has been allocated 10.9 billion rubles, and since 2005 the total amount of aid has already exceeded 16 billion rubles, but the real results yet to be seen. In your opinion, how effective and targeted this financial aid? For how long could Russia afford it?
Technically, Russia could afford this level of aid indefinitely. But the question of political sustainability and the question of effectiveness of the aid are different questions. Frankly, Russian aid would be more effective if Abkhazia and South Ossetia weren't cut off from freely trading with the rest of Georgia. This isolation, particularly in the case of South Ossetia, which is connected to the rest of Georgia by 30 roads and hundreds of acres of fields (whereas the Roki Tunnel is the only link to Russia), keeps these breakaway autonomies dependent on Russian assistance.
Russia is still seen by other global actors as an invader. From your point of view, how has the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as subjects of international law, affected the international image of Russia?
Russia's image has suffered irreparable damage from the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Further, it causes distractions from Russia's agenda at all international forums, where Russian diplomats now are forced to spend time defending their position on this issue instead of addressing other problems. You can argue that Russia had no choice but to respond militarily once the shelling of Tskhinvali began, but it certainly had a choice about recognition - and it made the wrong choice.
At the time, the events of August 2008 had an extremely negative impact on US-Russia relations, driving them to the lowest point in the post-Cold War period. There were some in the Bush Administration who reportedly advocated responding by bombing the Russian army units moving into Georgia. The relationship has recovered from that point, but the Georgia issue remains and will remain a major source of disagreement in US-Russia relations.
What could lead to increase in the number of countries willing to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states?
Nothing. I mentioned the practical obstacles of cutting off South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia. In the case of Abkhazia, there are more internally displaced people (ethnic Georgians, mostly) from Abkhazia living elsewhere in Georgia than there are people living in Abkhazia. No major country will want to endorse the precedent of a "state" founded on the principle of ethnic cleansing.