Conclusion and Recommendations in:

Anna Steiner

Enhanced Relations - Protracted Conflict(s)?, page 115 - 121

The EU's Non-Recognition and Engagement Policy (NREP) towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia

1. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4304-2, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7236-3,

Series: Wissenschaftliche Beiträge aus dem Tectum Verlag: Politikwissenschaften, vol. 82

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
115 Conclusion and Recommendations Having mediated the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the European Union proved to be effective in bundling its conflict management capabilities. Several factors contributed to the success of France and Sarkozy, who presided over the Council of the EU at this time. Firstly, France alongside Germany had opposed the U.S. move towards NATO membership for Georgia at the NATO summit in Bucharest. This means that while the U.S. was too close to Georgia, France has emerged as an honest peacemaker. Secondly, France, historically part of “the concert of the nations”, was more likely to engage with Russia on vital security matters, than, for example, its predecessor, Slovenia. This was not only “a matter of gravitas” (Expert C), but also of the ability of State bureaucracy to handle such a complex task that involved the French President's Office, the MFA, the Ministry of Defence, Embassies in Moscow and Tbilisi and certainly security services. In the crisis, it was of crucial importance as well that French civil servants from these agencies would have had direct and personal access to counterparts both in Moscow and Washington, D.C. On a personal level, Nicolas Sarkozy could build on the good Franco-Russian relationship already established under his predecessor and his positive personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, which initially allowed him to play the enabling role. Expert C describes Sarkozy as “an effusive leader, intent to make his mark as a tough negotiator, a statesman bringing France (and the EU) to the new level as a foreign policy and security actor”. Nonetheless, the immediate success was set back by Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their diverging interpretation of the ceasefire agreement. Expert C indicates that Putin had “bowled Sarkozy over” (Expert C) with the recognition and intimidated him, which on a political level brought Sarkozy to reduce pressure and continue negotiations with Medvedev instead of Putin. Nevertheless, the EU and France/Sarkozy followed through on another level, as both the EUMM was deployed and a significant aid package was opened to Georgia in the minimum amount of time. Russia has constructed “parallel realities” (Devdariani 2018) in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that are considered illegal by the EU and its Member States. The creation of the NREP aimed at “opening a political and legal space in which the EU can interact with the separatist regions without compromising its adherence to Georgia’s territorial integrity” (Fischer 2010b: 1). Within a decade, the envisaged space has remained limited in practice. Several instruments and actions, however, have been proven to have a high potential. 116 As of now, the EUMM is limited by the fact that it cannot fulfil its mandate on both sides of the ABL. Nonetheless, its IPRMs play a crucial role in stabilising the conflict, for example through a hotline working on both sides of the ABL. Regular IPRM Meetings take place in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. They are the only venue where an international actor (except for Russia, the EUSR and the Red Cross) can access South Ossetia. The IPRM Meetings contribute to the dialogue between the parties, whereby besides the official agenda, they provide participants with the crucial opportunity of informal, unofficial talks. The IPRMs enhanced contacts between the conflicting parties and are valued by Abkhazians and South Ossetians. The EUMM informs EU policy-makers and the GID and has also started to engage with Civil Society. Expert B in this respect underlines that the information gained, especially from the EUMM’s humanitarian team, is crucial for civil society organisations that then work on the needs identified. Since collaboration between CSOs and the EUMM’s humanitarian team proved to be effective, further consideration of involving CSOs in the EUMM’s work and IPRM Meetings should be made. On a formal political level, the Geneva International Discussions have had a mixed record. During 44 rounds of negotiations, no consensus on a non-use of force pledge by Russia has been reached. Georgia sees Russia as its counterpart that occupies both Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region and therefore should be the signatory of a non-use of force agreement. Russia, however, interprets its role as facilitator and calls on Georgia to sign non-use of force treaties directly with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The status question, as well as the question of which conflict(s) is/are being mediated, hampers any breakthrough in the negotiations. As the EU had not been active in conflict resolution mechanisms before 2008, it focuses on the Georgian-Russian war of 2008. Russia and the respective breakaway territories would also like to involve the pre-existing conflicts in the GID format, as they interpret the 2008 war as the peak in the history of conflict between Georgia and the respective partially recognised entity. The EU has not engaged in the pre-existing conflict resolution mechanisms and will continue to support the UN’s and OSCE’s mechanisms in doing so, also in line with its Global Strategy. The EU can use its leverage on Georgia and demand working on the pre-existing conflicts66. It must be regarded as a huge success of the GID that no new hostilities have evolved, which is the result of the talks still going on. To ensure their continuation given all the obstacles, the focus has shifted to smaller, more tangible goals. In this respect, the GID is of huge importance for Abkhazians and South Ossetians as it 66 Individual EU Member States could engage in the pre-existing conflicts on another, for example scientific level, for instance by setting up a joint history commission including EU-based, Moscow-based and Tbilisi-based (and, if possible, Sukhum/i- and/or Tskhinval/i-based) research facilities and universities. 117 represents the only venue where they can voice their needs in front of an international audience that tries to figure out ways to cater for them. The dialogue within GID thus has proved successful with regard to stabilising the conflict. In order to transform it, the EU would, however, need to express its expectations towards Abkhazia, South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region, Georgia and the Russian Federation more clearly. Since the institutional set-up of the GID is hard to change, creating additional dialogue platforms – one of the key discussions currently – has to be further pushed forward. This idea, however, faces Russia’s opposition, as Russia does not have a genuine interest in Abkhazians and South Ossetians to engage in more dialogue that might lead to them turning to Georgia. The EUSR for the South Caucasus and the conflicts in Georgia engages with the main actors in the region on the Union’s behalf, thus contributing to its visibility. The broad regional mandate allows the EUSR and his staff to officially visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia – which means he can play an important role in preparing the ground for further EU engagement. The current EUSR, Toivo Klaar, is promising in this respect as he has already built trust as former Head of EUMM who managed to restore IPRMs in Abkhazia and hosted the first EUMM-Civil Society meeting. While the NREP could not be implemented in South Ossetia, the EU engages in Abkhazia through various programmes. The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, COBERM, ENPARD and the Joint EU-UNDP Civil Society Support Programme cater the conflict-affected populations by providing support in areas such as confidence building and people-to-people contacts, mother tonguebased education, rural development and pest management, skills development and VET and the promotion of civil society. EU engagement is people-centred and the support to Abkhazia is part of the EU’s comprehensive approach. Nonetheless, the EU has a low profile in Abkhazia as these projects are carried out by the UNDP or NGOs. An EU Information Office was planned but has never been implemented. The misinterpretation of the EU’s role and policies leads to mistrust of the EU by the population of the breakaway territories. Thus, EU engagement in its current form is not promoted well enough to have a “constructive impact” (cf. Dietz et al. 2006) on Abkhazia with regards to conflict resolution: Disinformation about the EU is prevalent in both territories – for a large part circulated and concerted by Russia. The EU has already taken rather small steps against Disinformation, but in April 2018, the European Commission proposed measures to tackle online disinformation, and support for an independent network of European fact-checkers, on a larger scale and regularly evaluate further needs. Also offline, local authorities take credits of success stories for themselves instead of promoting the EU as a benefactor. 118 Taking steps against disinformation will become a main task of the EU for the coming years. Besides identifying and fighting (Russian) disinformation campaigns with concrete and targeted measures, the EU will also have to better promote what it stands for. This is an important task within its borders as well, where emerging nationalism undermines the idea of being united in diversity and hinders joint action also on an international stage. Outside its borders, the EU has to communicate its values more clearly in order not to be misrepresented by others. One should also not underestimate that Georgia tends to exaggerate its political influence on the EU agenda and presents the EU as their ally in political matters, where actually they are not exactly on the same page. Georgia is a country closely associated with the EU and frontrunner in many respects and thus could act as role model for other countries that plan to enhance their relations with the EU. While reassuring Georgia that the EU will not recognise the independence of either of the breakaway territories, it could use its leverage on Georgia more effectively and more firmly when it comes to the protracted conflicts. As part of their non-recognition policy and in line with Georgian legislation and policies, the EU in terms of projects does not directly engage with the de facto authorities, which means that structural needs cannot be tackled. However, the EU’s NREP is not congruent with Georgian policies like the Strategy on Occupied Territories, as it uses the term “breakaway territories” instead of “occupied territories”. This is an important difference that also distinguishes the NREP from the renewed U.S. approach. Not considering Abkhazia and South Ossetia fully occupied by Russia, therefore, is a unique feature of EU policies that to a limited extent views Abkhazian and South Ossetian de facto authorities as counterparts of its nonrecognition policy and keeps a potential space for greater engagement. The particularity of the NREP includes the fact that it does not deny Abkhazians and South Ossetians a useful role and envisages greater involvement and engagement. Even though being a white paper allows the NREP great flexibility, its basic idea of the NREP should be better promoted both among Member States and within the region, where the task could be taken over by the EUSR and his staff. Furthermore, the erection of the long-planned EU Information Office in Abkhazia would contribute to better promotion and visibility. Moreover, the EU should demand that Georgia refrain from misrepresenting the NREP to their favour, but acknowledge the EU’s autonomous policy approach in public statements. These measures would increase awareness of and trust in the EU as an engaging actor among residents of the breakaway territories. A differentiated approach towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be advisable also for Georgia. Such an approach (unintentionally) already is in place in terms of both the EU’s and Georgia’s engagement strategies, as they could only be implemented in Abkhazia. Georgia could introduce the “more for more” principle 119 in other areas as well, such as trade facilitation, instead of pursuing a ‘both-ornone’ approach. The EU should encourage Georgia to acknowledge the different realities on the ground, as this might help to push forward engagement in Abkhazia and recognise steps taken by Abkhazia, regardless of Tskhinval/i’s willingness to immediately follow Abkhazia’s example. Even if Georgia continues to regard both territories as occupied by Russia, acknowledging differences would make Georgia’s engagement strategy more complementary with the NREP. The enhanced relations between Georgia and the EU could be a pull factor for the population of the breakaway territories, or in the words of Dietz et al. (cf. 2006) have a “compulsory impact” on Abkhazia and South Ossetia and an “enabling impact” on Georgia. According to Georgia’s narrative, the benefits of its relations with the EU as well as positive developments within Georgia, making it a welfare state, would convince Abkhazians and South Ossetians to reunification with Georgia if they only knew about the possibilities and were not hindered by Russia. The populations of the breakaway territories at this point would add that a great level of distrust and fear of Georgia have prevented them from making use of opportunities across the Administrative Border Lines. Additional to that, Abkhazians and South Ossetians fear stigmatisation from their fellow community members if they accepted Georgian offers. Thus, the possible impact has not proven to be successful in increasing the attractiveness of Georgian passports among Abkhazians and South Ossetians yet. Currently the GoG with its initiative “A Step to A Better Future” reaches out to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. The package of proposals plans to extend DCFTA to the “occupied territories”, as Georgian politics, in general, have shown more will to engage in the breakaway territories recently. Whether the “Transnistrian model” can become successful in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the nearer future is disputed among experts, not only for the abovementioned reasons but also because they think the breakaway territories would not benefit from trade with the EU. Their economies are based on small-scale agriculture that currently, due to pests, faces a huge ecological problem. To facilitate the extension of DCFTA to Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region, establishing certain preconditions would make sense for each party concerned. For example, full-functioning chambers of commerce would need to be set up in advance and the agricultural sector further supported. To facilitate such a development, working with the de facto authorities will be necessary. The same holds true for tackling other structural needs or ensuring enhancement in the human rights situation in both entities. Therefore, the EU jointly with Georgia should develop a strategy in which they agree under which conditions the EU could engage with (at least) Sukhum/i authorities – which would make further amendments to or abolishing the LoOT necessary. A more practical approach in this regard would lend the needed credence to offering residents of the breakaway 120 territories benefits of EU-Georgia enhanced relations, such as DCFTA and Visa Liberalisation. The Human Rights situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region is severe, especially the situation of ethnic Georgians living there. When tackling human rights problems, the EU should concentrate on specific issues and less on ethnicity, as Abkhazians perceived the approach of focussing on ethnic Georgians was degrading their needs. Those who are most vulnerable – certainly ethnic Georgians in many respects – would nonetheless profit most, but the signalling effect would be that the needs of Abkhazians and other groups were acknowledged on equal footing. Commitment to human rights is a central feature of the EU- Georgian Association Agreement and DCFTA. Besides the need to be firmer with Georgia in this area, the EU could mediate arrangements to extend the provisions on human rights to Sukhum/i and Tskhinval/i (cf. Devdariani 2018). The EU’s current focus on common issues instead of confidence building is rather new but has already proven to be better accepted among Abkhazians. Joint actions against the pests have been taken involving Abkhazians and Georgians. With a focus on common issues, these measures might also contribute to confidence building. This shift has potential to contribute to increased confidence on a more subliminal level without discouraging Abkhazians from the outside, as confidence-building measures are very much disliked by the populations of the breakaway territories. The level of distrust towards the State of Georgia is high among Abkhazians and South Ossetians – yet not necessarily on a personal level, especially not towards Georgians who face similar problems. Confidence has to be built on a subliminal level before sole confidence-building measures will be accepted. Confidence building, once successful, would have a “connective impact” (cf. Diez et al. 2006) between the societies of the breakaway territories and the inhabitants of Georgia, which is a precondition for positive and sustainable peace. Furthermore, actions on common issues such as the fight against the marble bug are also in Russia’s interest, as the pest does neither know Administrative Border Lines, nor borders. Due to the still perceived fear of Georgia, Abkhazians and South Ossetians value Russia as a security guarantor and (mostly) accept that Russia expects loyalty. Abkhazians, who – unlike South Ossetians – aim at independence, are at the same time sceptical about the Russian prevalence. Therefore, and as they have at least limited autonomy, they are more open to an international presence than the fully isolated South Ossetia. Russia perceives the common neighbourhood with the EU as its sphere of influence, while the EU through its EaP has established relations with the countries offering benefits Russia cannot offer on a large-scale. However, Russia can target investments and military power to keep “their parts” of the countries under 121 control, as shown in Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region in Georgia. A coherent strategy towards Georgia and the protracted conflicts must, of course, include Russia, which involves the need for a vision on how to embellish EU- Russia relations in future. The NREP is a flexible policy that has not been designed to solve the protracted conflicts in Georgia but to nonetheless engage in the breakaway territories. Even though Russia invests on a much larger scale, the EU has definitely something to offer: In its programmes, the EU focuses on people’s needs and skills, thus contributing to resilience and stabilisation of the conflicts. Enhanced relations with Georgia would have the potential to add a wide range of opportunities for the residents of the breakaway territories to the EU’s engagement portfolio. These additional measures have not gained momentum yet for various reasons, which include above all the territories’ dependence on Russia and Russian passportisation, lack of confidence in Georgia and fear of stigmatisation at home. However, the measures offered as part of and alongside other instruments of the EU’s integrated approach to conflicts, and especially the ongoing dialogue with Georgia, Russia and the breakaway territories, have already contributed to stabilising the conflicts. Once Abkhazians would (be allowed/able to) take full use of the benefits offered, NREP together with enhanced EU-Georgia relations could have the potential to contribute to positive peace, making Abkhazia a role model not only for South Ossetia but also other areas of protracted conflicts within the European Union’s Eastern Neighbourhood.

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Protracted conflicts with and over de facto independent entities such as the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region in Georgia endanger the region’s sustainable and peaceful development. Anna Steiner examines Georgia’s breakaway regions in the context of EU policies – a highly topical, yet unresolved matter.

Relations between Georgia and the EU have significantly deepened within the last ten years (Association Agreement, DCFTA, Visa Liberalisation). The present book closes a scientific gap by reviewing the NREP in the light of these developments. Using a profound literature basis and expert interviews, the authorsheds light on EU-Russian relations, the politico-normative framework of EU-Georgian relations, neighbourhood relations and applicable governance concepts. Realistic proposals for a future EU approach make this book a guideline for diplomatic engage­ment.