RFE/RL: The latest peace proposal for Abkhazia put forward by the Georgian government includes the provision that the current peacekeeping format will be replaced with an international police force. What more can you tell us about the plan?
Alexandre Lomaia: This plan is designed to finally solve the conflict in Abkhazia, and it contains a component on changing the peacekeeping format. It has been in the works for some five or six weeks and will be introduced to all the concerned sides very soon. The main aspects have already been introduced to a number of international organizations -- and have obtained their approval. The European Council was one of the last bodies to have approved the plan's main aspects. A more detailed version -- with a timeline -- is currently in the works.
RFE/RL: What do the proposed peacekeeping changes entail? Temur Iakobashvili, the reintegration minister, has said it will be a civic police force comprising local Georgian and Abkhaz residents, and supervised by either the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or the European Union. Is this the model being considered?
Lomaia: Yes, it's precisely that model. Our argument is that the situation in the region has changed because of Russia's unilateral actions, actions which were legal and military in character. By this, we mean [then-Russian President Vladimir] Putin's decisions on April 16 [to strengthen legal and trade ties with Abkhazia], with which he practically equated Moscow's relations with Abkhazia to those with one of its own regions. We also have in mind the militarization of the region, which resulted from the unilateral and illegal deployment of additional weaponry and armed forces by Russia. These two facts completely altered the reality.
Russia no longer represents a mediator in this conflict -- rather, it's become one of the sides. Our plan is tailored to suit precisely this new reality. One element of the peace process will be that local residents will carry out the functions of civil police in the Ochamchire and Gali districts. They will receive appropriate training from European specialists -- this could be a very small police unit from Europe, and their main function will be to train local police servants, in order to maintain civic peace in the region.
RFE/RL: Georgia has the right to unilaterally demand the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping forces. The question of replacing those forces requires consent from the Abkhaz side. Is it possible that they will support this proposal?
Lomaia: It's true, the forces will be automatically pulled out at Georgia's demand. But when it comes to their replacement, this will indeed entail consultations. Of course the separatists will be one of the sides to be consulted with. As to how to persuade them -- we believe that all resources of European diplomacy should be employed. Next week [EU foreign-policy chief Javier] Solana is coming [to Georgia]. After Tbilisi, he will visit the region [of Abkhazia]; he'll meet with representatives of the separatist regime, and he'll try to persuade them to agree. We're well aware that the separatist leadership doesn't act independently, and European diplomats will need to persuade Moscow as well.
A certain amount of "shuttle diplomacy" will be needed here between Moscow and Tbilisi. We see this as a serious challenge, but an achievable one, as long as there is a shared belief that we find ourselves in a crisis, that existing formats have proved to be futile, and that there is a new reality, which requires new approaches. I believe we have all of these components -- we have an awareness of the crisis, and also have a very clear plan how to overcome this crisis, and what the final resolution of the conflict should be.
RFE/RL: Is there a chance that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's meeting on June 6 with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev could move the process forward?
Lomaia: The decisions made on April 16 have to be reconsidered. They either have to be canceled -- and this is what we're demanding -- or it would also be acceptable if a public announcement is made that this decision has been made, but will no longer go into effect. Secondly, the illegally deployed armed forces and heavy weaponry should immediately be pulled out from the territory of Abkhazia, which is a region of Georgia. The deployment directly contradicts all existing agreements. We believe that with these two acts, the new president of Russia will open the way for the peace process. We also have clear ideas about the possible role that Russia can play. Given Russia's willingness and interest, it can play a very dignified role in the final resolution of the conflict.
RFE/RL: Would you please elaborate on this last point a bit more? Let's assume Medvedev accepts Georgia's conditions. In this case, will Russian peacekeepers be allowed to stay? And if so, are there any guarantees that the stagnation we've seen in recent years on an Abkhazia resolution will not continue?
Lomaia: We believe these two decisions are crucial in order for us to begin negotiations. Georgia can't start any talks while a part of its territory is practically under occupation by the illegally deployed armed forces of a neighboring country. As I said, our plan ascribes an important role to Russia, as one of the concerned sides. We're basing our plan on an assumption that Russia has an interest in a peaceful and universal resolution of this conflict, and every step that is to follow can be discussed within the framework of this plan.
This is not a unilateral plan by Georgia; this plan has already obtained the backing of the entire European Union, the UN, and individual powerful countries. The international community has already said that this plan might indeed become a base for a wide scale resolution [of the conflict]. This is our main argument. [This is being done] in order to first overcome the crisis -- and for this, the two actions outlined above are essential -- and then to move toward [overall] normalization, which we can clearly envisage.
RFE/RL: If Russia agrees to undertake these steps, and wants to play a positive role in the long-term resolution of this conflict, will it be given a chance to continue its peacekeeping mission in the region?
Lomaia: In any case, it will surely have an opportunity to save face. We understand that this is important for any state -- particularly one as big as Russia. In the long term, in terms of an overall settlement of this conflict, we really see Russia's role as extremely important.
translated by Salome Asatiani of RFE/RL's Georgian Service