The Georgian government made public
on January 28 its strategy with regard to regaining control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Like successive draft peace proposals that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili presented since his election in 2004, it is phrased in such a way as to impress the international community, rather than to address the existential fears, and win the trust of, the population of the regions in question.
Indeed, the very designation of the two regions as "occupied territories" is likely to trigger anger and resentment insofar as it implicitly denies that the local populations have any say whatsoever over how, and by whom, the regions are administered. For that very reason, the strategy is hardly conducive to promoting "engagement through cooperation" with "populations that have differing perceptions of the conflict" in any sphere of activity, whether economy, health, education, promoting freedom of movement, or "preserving cultural heritage and identity."
The Abkhaz in particular will not welcome the portrayal of the two regions as identical twins, given the very real differences between them in terms of the level of democracy, and the existence (in Abkhazia) or absence (in South Ossetia) of civil society and free media.
The preamble to the strategy affirms that "Georgia is building toward [sic] a future in which all its citizens will enjoy the benefits of democratic governance." That statement is difficult to reconcile with Freedom House's 2009 rating of Georgia as only "partly free," with a hybrid political system in which "a parliament loyal to the president fails to curtail authoritarian tendencies on the part of the executive," and where the fairness of elections is open to question.
The section entitled "Basic Principles" affirms that the strategy is based on the Georgian Constitution. That statement is misleading, and arguably even dishonest, since a new constitution has been drafted in recent months, intended to replace that adopted in 1995 and amended on several subsequent occasions.
The text of the new draft has not been made public, but Avtandil Demetrashvili, chairman of the commission responsible, told kavkaz-uzel.ru
in September that it defines Georgia as a unitary state in which Abkhazia, Ajara, South Ossetia, and Tbilisi would be separate territorial entities.
But, crucially, the level of self-government and autarky enjoyed each would enjoy would be directly proportional to the size of the population, meaning that Tbilisi, with a population of 1.5 million, would enjoy far broader autonomy than "a region with a population of less than 100,000," meaning South Ossetia. Such a territorial-administrative structure is hardly an incentive to the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to abandon their aspirations to international recognition and voluntarily resubmit to Georgian hegemony.
The strategy affirms that Georgia seeks to reintegrate the two breakaway republics "only through peaceful means and diplomatic efforts, reject[ing] the pursuit of a military solution." But that affirmation is less than convincing in light of Georgia's failed offensives against Abkhazia in 1998 and South Ossetia in 2004, and its current intensive efforts to rearm in the wake of the August 2008 conflict.
The omission of any binding pledge on the non-use of force was one of the major flaws of earlier draft peace proposals. The signing of a formal agreement on the non-use of force is one of the demands the Abkhaz and South Ossetian delegations alike intended to raise at the talks on security issues on January 28-29 in Geneva.
Instead, the strategy affirms that "security in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia should be ensured through international security arrangements, including impartial monitoring, police, and/or peacekeeping forces, as well as by engaging local resources."