A recent EU-sponsored paper by professor Bruno Coppieters of the Free University of Brussels highlights other serious flaws in Tbilisi's approach to resolving its conflicts with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Saakashvili's offer of "unlimited autonomy" is a step back from the five-point 2006 proposal, the first point of which affirmed that "the Georgian side is ready to launch consultations to grant Abkhazia broad internal sovereignty based on principles of federalism." Outlining that proposal to the Georgian parliament, Irakli Alasania, at that juncture still Saakashvili's point man for Abkhazia, stressed that the alternative peace proposal unveiled earlier that year by de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, entitled "Key to the Future," was unacceptable to the Georgian side because it was predicated on the principle of recognition of Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state.
But in contrast to the 2006 peace proposal, Saakashvili's latest blueprint also entails the creation of a Georgian-Abkhaz free economic zone in the Gali and Ochamchira raions of Abkhazia. It also envisages amending the Georgian Constitution to create the post of vice president, which would be held by an Abkhaz; a veto by the Abkhaz on decisions by the central authorities that could negatively affect Abkhazia's constitutional status; and unspecified security guarantees. At the same time, Saakashvili called for the Abkhaz police force to be abolished as an independent entity and gradually subsumed into the national police.
Abkhaz leader Bagapsh rejected Saakashvili's March 28 offer the same day as "unacceptable" and as "propaganda" in the run-up to the April 2-4 NATO summit in Budapest, apsny.ru reported. Bagapsh pointed out that Abkhazia had autonomy within Georgia prior to the 1992-93 war, and that when the Abkhaz proposed a federation, Georgia responded by invading Abkhaz territory.
Indeed, the very term "autonomy" is anathema to the leaders of unrecognized republics because under the Soviet territorial-administrative system it was devoid of any substance. (None of the several dozen interviews with Bagapsh this writer has read in recent years clarify whether as a young Komsomol activist in April 1978 he participated in the mass protests at Lykhny to demand that the Soviet leadership redress the Abkhaz grievances' against the Georgian leadership and grant them "real" autonomy within the Georgian SSR.)
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba for his part told kavkaz-uzel.ru on March 29 that Abkhazia has no intention of embarking on any talks with Tbilisi on "political issues," and ruled out talks on other issues "until the last Georgian soldier leaves the territory of the Kodori Gorge." Tbilisi deployed additional forces to Kodori in July 2006 to suppress a threatened insurrection by renegade local Governor Emzar Kvitsiani.
Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze attributed the Abkhaz leadership's rejection of Saakashvili's proposal to pressure exerted by Moscow. But that assumption fails to take into account several fundamental flaws in the overall Georgian approach that Coppieters discusses in detail.
First, Coppieters notes that previous peace proposals failed to address "the need for strong international safeguards against any attempt by the central government to use force against the federated state," even though the EU has stated its willingness in principle to send peacekeepers to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Second, he argues that "impressive economic growth is not the key mechanism for turning a conflict that springs from issues of identity into a cooperative arrangement, particularly when the breakaway entities remain isolated and the Russian economy is part of the competition. The secessionist conflicts in Georgia are first and foremost about grievances, not about greed." Saakashvili's offer of a free economic zone is therefore unlikely on its own to effect a major change in the Abkhaz negotiating position.
Third, Coppieters suggests that any Georgian power-sharing offer is less than convincing given that "the difficulty experienced by Georgian democracy in dividing powers 'horizontally' between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary does not bode well for its ability to divide powers 'vertically' between the federated entities and the federal level."
And fourth, "Georgia's conflict resolution policies make no basic distinction between the specific tasks of conflict prevention, conflict transformation, international conflict management, and conflict settlement. These four tasks within a conflict resolution policy become conflated into a single approach. Georgia considers that all these tasks need to be carried out simultaneously and in very swift order. But crash programs in conflict resolution do not seem to work."
Coppieters did not make the point in that context that repeated pledges by Saakashvili to restore Georgia's territorial integrity before his second presidential term expires are only likely to antagonize the Abkhaz, rather than contribute to the confidence-building process that is an integral component of effective conflict resolution.