Most Abkhaz parliamentarians subsequently expressed support for those proposals, entitled "The Key To The Future," which envisage the coexistence of Georgia and Abkhazia as two independent states and broad cooperation between them.
But Bagapsh's insistence that Abkhazia has a right to recognition as an independent sovereign state led to a sharp exchange between him and visiting members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on May 6.
'Key to the Future'
According to regnum.ru on May 6, Bagapsh's peace initiative envisages:
- An official Georgian apology to Abkhazia for its "state policy of assimilation, war, and isolation";
- An end to Georgian political and economic pressure on Abkhazia, and to the blockade imposed by the CIS in 1996;
- The signing of a peace treaty guaranteeing security in the air, on the ground, and on the Black Sea;
- Guarantees by the international community and the UN Security Council to preclude the resumption of hostilities between Georgia and Abkhazia;
- Consultations between Bagapsh and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on peaceful coexistence;
- Cooperation in the fight against organized crime;
- Broad regional cooperation, including Abkhaz participation in multilateral cooperation within the parameters of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and the European Union's New Neighborhood Program.
Those steps are similar to measures for resolving the conflict that Bagapsh proposed in a January 20 letter to the UN Security Council in January.
On that occasion, Bagapsh advocated signing a formal document abjuring the use of force and militant rhetoric; ending the international blockade of Abkhazia; implementing the confidence-building measures agreed upon during talks in Sochi three years ago, including the resumption of rail traffic via Abkhazia, the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons, and renovating the Inguri hydroelectric power station; and beginning "civilized negotiations" on all issues relevant to the conflict, with the exception of Abkhazia's status.
Similarly, in a March interview with Danish public radio, Bagapsh defined the first step toward resolving the conflict as signing a document on the nonresumption of hostilities -- of which Russia, the United States, and the UN would serve as guarantors, according to the independent Abkhaz "Nuzhnaya gazeta," as cited by apsny.ru.
Comments by Abkhaz legislators on Bagapsh's most recent peace proposals were mostly positive. Some lawmakers, however, suggested that some points -- including that on the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons -- are not sufficiently specific or could create loopholes that Georgia might seek to exploit.
Question Of Timing
Why Bagapsh chose to unveil his "Key To The Future" at this juncture is unclear. Was it intended as a belated response to the most recent version of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's draft plan for resolving the conflicts with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
The draft drew a swift response from Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, who put forward a counterproposal that according to Georgian officials largely coincides with Saakashvili's plan.
Kokoity subsequently visited Sukhum (Sukhumi) on April 28 for the formal exchange of instruments of ratification of a bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation he and Bagapsh signed last September under which each republic pledges to provide military assistance to the other in the event of attack. While reports didn't specifically say that Bagapsh and Kokoity compared notes on their respective approaches to talks with Georgia, it's reasonable to conclude that they did so.
Or, was "Key To The Future" inspired by the invitation extended to both Georgia and Abkhazia during talks in Geneva in February mediated by the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group of countries to put forward "additional ideas" for resolving the conflict?
Any such "additional ideas" could help to resolve the impasse created by Abkhazia's consistent rejection of theUN-drafted "Basic Principles For The Distribution Of Competencies Between Tbilisi And Sukhumi."
Alternatively, the Abkhaz leadership may have been biding its time and closely following the progress made in the international talks that got under way in Vienna last month on Kosova, and that are widely expected to culminate in that polity's formal recognition.
In late January, Russian President Vladimir Putin caused a furor by suggesting that the outcome of the Kosova talks could and should serve as a model for resolving ethno-territorial conflicts within the CIS, including those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgian politicians were swift to reject that line of reasoning. Abkhaz leaders, for their part, did not rush to endorse it. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba merely argued that Abkhazia's claims to independence are more convincing than Kosova's.
In an interview with the newspaper "Novaya politika" reposted on the website apsny.ru on May 6, Bagapsh highlighted what he considers the most crucial difference between the Kosova and Abkhaz conflicts, namely the number of displaced persons.
He said out that only 8,000 Serb displaced persons have returned to Kosova, where even the presence of NATO peacekeepers cannot protect them (Kosova's population is 90 percent Albanian). The demographic situation is Abkhazia is very different: prior to the war, the Abkhaz constituted a minority, while the Georgian population was, according to Bagapsh, 240,000, of whom some 55,000 have already returned to the southernmost Gali Raion and a further 10,000-15,000 to other districts.
President Sergei Bagapsh (epa file photo)
To date, neither Georgian officials nor international diplomats have responded to Bagapsh's initiative, but when they do, the response will almost certainly be negative, given that the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and NATO all unequivocally advocate a solution to the conflict that preserves Georgia's territorial integrity.
The most recent representative of the international community to reiterate that line was NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Pierre Lellouche, who visited South Ossetia on May 5 and Abkhazia the following day.
Meeting in Sukhum with Bagapsh, Shamba, and other top leaders, Lellouche cited Canada and Spain as examples of countries in which two different ethnic groups peacefully coexist, apsny.ru reported.
But Bagapsh categorically rejected Lellouche's arguments in favor of a federation or confederation with Georgia, affirming that Abkhazia remains committed to building an "independent democratic state."