Russian Foreign Ministry accuses Tbilisi of fuelling Georgia-Abkhazia conflict

Georgia will not be able to regain the breakaway republic of Abkhazia through confrontation, argues Vasily Kolotusha, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special envoy for Georgian-Abkhaz settlement.

There are several factors to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Kolotusha said in an interview with the RIA news agency. "The Abkhaz issue is an element of our interstate relations with Georgia; it has to do with the preservation of the territorial integrity of countries within the Former Soviet Union, including Russia," he said. "The Abkhaz issue also has a humanitarian aspect to it, with the fates of the ethnic Russian residents at stake," he added. As for Georgia, it seems to care about just one aspect-its own sovereignty and territorial integrity, that is.

Kolotusha recalled the January 1996 decision made by the CIS countries not to operate any trade, financial, transport, or other programs with Abkhazia without the Georgian government's consent. But Georgia gives a broader interpretation to this decision, extending it to all forms of contacts with Abkhazia. "We believe this applies to interagency relations between the states, but is not applicable to contacts between individuals, industrial and commercial entities of the CIS with partners in Abkhazia," he pointed out.

The Russian diplomat said the same was true of the visa requirements for Abkhazia's residents. According to Kolotusha, the introduction of the visa regime in the Abkhaz section of the Russo-Georgian border creates insurmountable difficulties for many local households, who earn themselves a living by selling fruit, vegetables and flowers in Russia.

Speaking of Georgian-Abkhaz settlement in general terms, our interviewee recalled the statement on confident-building measures that Georgia and Abkhazia had adopted in Yalta last March. And on April 7, militant groups from Georgia launched a series of terrorist and subversive acts, which crowned with a raid by Chechen rebels from the Gelayev-led gang. "This not just undermined all the positive results of the Yalta talks, but also caused an acute crisis of credibility in the relations between the sides, which remains unresolved to this day," he said.

Kolotusha accused the Georgian side of violating the 1994 cease-fire agreements in the Kodori Gorge, while the United Nations and Russia are trying to persuade Abkhazia to adopt a power-sharing agreement as a foundation for negotiations.

As our interviewee sees it, the conflict is possible to settle through "long-term efforts, which should focus on measures aimed at the restoration of confidence and at political rapprochement, including through the implementation of economic projects of benefit to both sides." "Obviously, Georgia wants to narrow Russia's role in the Georgian-Abkhaz settlement, and is searching for an alternative to the Russian peacekeepers either in the CIS or in international organizations. But its efforts have so far been futile, as there aren't many volunteers for the job, if any," Kolotusha said in conclusion.

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