Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba met separately on July 29 in Sukhumi with the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, Ambassador Peter Semneby
, and with Johan Verbeke
, who headed the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), the mandate of which expired earlier this month.
Semneby was quoted as recalling that one year ago, the EU planned to appoint a representative to liaise with the Abkhaz authorities, but that "for understandable reasons," meaning the August war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia, those plans were not implemented.
Semneby said the withdrawal of the UN from Abkhazia creates a further obstacle to EU cooperation with Abkhazia, but that the EU nonetheless still seeks ways to implement various programs and projects in Abkhazia. He stressed that although the EU will not abandon its commitment not to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state, it does not regard Abkhazia as "either a blank spot or a black hole."
Shamba for his part argued that the EU should revise its "irrational" approach to Abkhazia, in particular its refusal to consider establishing diplomatic relations, and should abandon the perception of Abkhazia as "an axis of evil" that poses a threat to Europe. "Do you really believe that it is possible to resurrect the Georgian SSR?" he asked rhetorically. He said any cooperation between the EU and Abkhazia should be direct, and not coordinated with the central Georgian government.
Shamba's talks with Verbeke focused on whether it is possible to find a way to maintain a UN presence in Abkhazia in a format that would not require a mandate from the UN Security Council. Shamba had discussed
that possibility last month with Verbeke's deputy, Joseph Stefanidis.
Russia vetoed extending UNOMIG's mandate because it contained a specific reference to Georgia's territorial integrity. Having recognized Abkhazia as an independent state, Moscow argues that the old designation is erroneous and inappropriate.
Shamba referred specifically to the importance of the recently launched talks on security issues along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, in which the UN is one of the five participants (along with the EU, Russia, Georgia, and Abkhazia). Those fortnightly talks take place at the UN Human Rights Office in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, the population of which is predominantly Georgian. Verbeke noted that the Abkhaz side "got off to not a bad start" in those talks, the second round
of which took place on July 28.