Content

Protracted Conflicts in Georgia in:

Anna Steiner

Enhanced Relations - Protracted Conflict(s)?, page 22 - 35

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, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828872363-22

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

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
22 Protracted Conflicts in Georgia Georgia became independent from Moscow on 9 April 1991 within the borders of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia that comprised of Georgia with its capital Tbilisi, the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia. Georgia is comprised of five “compactly settled minorities” (Cornell 2002: 19), namely the Ajars, South Ossetians and Abkhazians, who have held autonomous territories since the 1920s, and Armenians and Azeris, who have never had any autonomy (cf. ibidem). When the upcoming dissolution of the Soviet Union became noticeable in 1987, ethnic tensions evolved. The nationalist politics of Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1990-1992) contributed to the heated-up atmosphere within Georgia. The non-autonomous minorities reacted differently. The Armenian minority in Javakheti expressed their dissatisfaction, but, despite tensions, the Armenians did not establish a separatist movement (cf. ibidem). At the same time, the Azeri minority remained silent. In the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, these tensions led to armed conflict (cf. ibidem: 19-20). Until today, Ajaria represents the only autonomous region in the South Caucasus that did not have a violent conflict with its ‘mother state’ (cf. ibidem)11. South Ossetia – Roots of the Conflict Ossetians are of Iranian origin and arrived in Georgia during the 13th century, where they settled in today’s regions of South Ossetia as well as in North Ossetia- Alania in Russia (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 53). South Ossetia was incorporated as Oblast into the SSR Georgia in 1922, while North Ossetia was an autonomous republic (ASSR) within the Russian SSR (cf. ibidem). Jones (cf. 2014) notes that before 1989, when the first clashes between the groups occurred, South Ossetians and Georgians had been living together peacefully for 68 years. More South Ossetians lived outside South Ossetia in Georgian provinces than in South Ossetia itself (99,000 out of 164,000), which shows the high degree of mobility and integration into Georgian society (cf. ibidem). While relations were peaceful, German and Bloch (cf. 2006: 53) add that there has been a traditional suspicion among South Ossetians of the Georgian state, which they feared might threaten their ethnic identity (cf. ibidem). During the Perestroika, national revivals and inter-ethnic tensions increased in the Soviet Union. Among South Ossetians, the idea of unification with North Ossetia emerged in the late 1980s (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 53). 11 A detailed overview about the ethnic and religious implications of the conflicts in Georgia can be found in Gegeshidze (2006). 23 In September 1990, the formation of the South Ossetian Democratic Republic within the USSR and the secession of this entity from Georgia were declared (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 54). Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the leader of the Georgian Supreme Soviet and counteracted the anti-Georgian policies, as perceived by Georgians living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia who fiercely supported him (cf. ibidem). When nationalist tendencies rose among Georgians, incited by the populist rhetoric of newly elected president Gamsakhurdia, the first bloody conflict started (cf. ibidem; cf. Vogl 2010: 59-60). Gamsakhurdia violently ended South Ossetian autonomy, which even more fuelled their claims for unification with North Ossetia (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 54). Georgian-Ossetian War A full-scale, armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia arose in spring 1991 that lasted until 1992 (cf. ibidem). The war produced 1,000 victims, 100 missing people, the extensive devastation of homes and infrastructure and around 300,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) (cf. Gegeshidze 2006: 63). On 24 June 1992, Boris Yeltsin (Russian president) and Eduard Shevardnadze (Georgian president) signed an armistice on the Settlement of the Georgian- Ossetian Conflict in Sochi. In the ceasefire agreement, the conflict is labelled as “Georgian-Ossetian” without differentiation between or reference to North or South Ossetia. This means that neither North Ossetia (being part of the Russian Federation) nor South Ossetia (being part of Georgia) was treated as conflict parties, but Russia and Georgia as overarching states12. The election of Eduard Shevardnadze in March 1992 had created a more conciliatory atmosphere between the parties (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 54). In the peace agreement the parties committed themselves to keep the conflict “frozen” by adhering to established dialogue mechanisms, including the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC)13, initiated in 1994, and the Georgian-Ossetian treaty on the non-use of force signed in 1996 (cf. Gegeshidze 2006: 61). Under the JCC’s mandate, a trilateral Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF) with a maximum of 12 Other than with regard to the 1994 ceasefire agreement between Abkhazia and Georgia, that had been signed by these two parties. 13 The quadrilateral JCC included Georgian, North and South Ossetian, Russian and CSCE – later OSCE – representatives (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 54; cf. Gegeshidze 2006: 61; International Crisis Group 2004: 4). The JCC’s work concentrated on three main issues: military and security matters, economic rehabilitation of the conflict zone and establishing conditions for the return of refugees and IDPs (cf. International Crisis Group 2004: 4). The European Commission was present in the working group on economic issues, the UNHCR in the working group on refugees and IDPs (cf. ibidem: footnote 32). 24 500 soldiers from Georgia, North and South Ossetia14 and Russia was deployed in the conflict zone (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 54; cf. Gegeshidze 2006: 60-61; cf. International Crisis Group 2004: 4). Whilst the conflict seemed “frozen” right after the ceasefire agreement, a political settlement could not be reached. The separatist authorities remained in control of most of the region’s territories (German/Bloch 2006: 54-55). Living in a non-recognised de facto independent state, the inhabitants became more and more reliant upon criminal sources of income (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 55). At the same time, the Georgian diplomat Archil Gegeshidze (cf. 2006: 61) argues, the flourishing “grey economy” activities formed additional communication channels between Ossetians, Georgians and Russians and even contributed to a “general climate of mutual trust” (ibidem: 62) under Shevardnadze’s rule. When Mikheil Saakashvili entered the stage as Georgian President in January 2004, he strived to “tackle the problems that went unresolved during the Shevardnadze era” (German/Bloch 2006: 55), which was perceived as a more confrontational strategy against both South Ossetia and Moscow. Gegeshidze (cf. 2006: 63) even goes as far as labelling Saakashvili’s first attempts towards Tskhinvali “misguided” (ibidem), since they did not follow a comprehensive approach to conflict resolution. Instead, Saakashvili hastened his reforms before trust-building measures had taken effect15 (cf. ibidem: 64) and without involving the South Ossetian leadership16. Aiming to shut down the black market and unofficial economic exchange between the parties, the set-up of police checkpoints at the Administrative Border Line (ABL) endangered South Ossetia’s main source of income (cf. ibidem). The shutdown of the black market – Harzl (cf. 2016: 143-144) describes the commercial city Ergneti as a “microcosm of inter-ethnic coexistence and cooperation” (ibidem: 143) – destroyed what could have been used as a basis for rapprochement between Ossetians and Georgians (cf. ibidem). Instead, after the shutdown Ossetian traders started to orient themselves towards Russia (cf. ibidem). 14 The Ossetian unit was staffed mainly by South Ossetian soldiers under the command of a North Ossetian officer (cf. International Crisis Group 2004: 4, footnote 33). 15 However – but probably too late – Saakashvili publicly announced in May 2004 he would intend to restore control by peaceful means only, proposed the reinstalment of a rail link between Tskhinvali and Georgia and announced a free ambulance service and the payment of pensions for South Ossetians from the state budget and (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 56). 16 The Georgian leadership had failed to establish a dialogue with South Ossetia’s de facto president Eduard Kokoity, whose legitimacy and popularity among South Ossetians was mistakenly considered low (cf. International Crisis Group 2004: i; cf. Vogl 2010: 69, footnote 6). According to South Ossetia’s leadership, Saakashvili had not even consulted them when preparing the three-stage peace plan he presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2004 (cf. Vogl 2010: 66). 25 The checkpoints also displeased Russia because Georgia had not sought the permission of the JCC before establishing them, as laid down in the 1992 peace accords (cf. ibidem). The consequence of this deadlock was a “war of words” (German/Bloch 2006: 56) between Moscow and Tbilisi that soon was about to heat up. After hostilities in August 2004 and a new ceasefire agreement, the International Crisis Group warned, in its November report, about the “precarious peace [...] [that] nearly became a hot war again” (cf. International Crisis Group 2004: i). German and Bloch (cf. 2006: 59) argue that the non-involvement of Tskhinvali in direct dialogues on conflict resolution was “[a]nother stumbling block to a peaceful resolution” (ibidem), also with regards to a new peak of the crisis in 2006. Georgian officials estimated such a dialogue would be futile since key posts in Tskhinvali were appointed by Russia and occupied by Russian officials (cf. ibidem). Russia took over the role of maintaining the conflict and moderating tensions at the same time (cf. German/Bloch 2006: 60). Abkhazia – Roots of the Conflict When the Soviets invaded the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) in 1921, the young country that had formed after the Russian revolution and had violently occupied Abkhazia since 1918, collapsed (cf. Harzl 2016: 43-44). The DRG was integrated into the Soviet Union, and both Abkhazia and Georgia were established as Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR), coexisting next to each other on equal terms (cf. Harzl 2016: 46). However, Abkhazia’s status was degraded in 1931, when Abkhazia as ASSR (Abkhaz Soviet Socialist Republic) was incorporated into the SSR Georgia (cf. ibidem: 48). Sabine Fischer (cf. 2010a: 39) identifies the roots of the conflict in the Soviet policy of “territorialisation of ethnicity and institutionalisation of injustice” (ibidem). While the different status of the SFSR, that was sovereign and had the right to secession, and the ASFR, that lacked those rights, did not have practical implications in the Soviet system, “they acquired high symbolic value in the difficult relationship between Georgians and Abkhazians” (ibidem; cf. also Coppieters 2004: 193). However, Georgia itself was subordinated to the Soviet political structures where Russians held a predominant position (cf. Coppieters 2004: 194). This complex system of subordination was perceived as discrimination on both (Georgian and Abkhaz) sides (cf. ibidem). The second half of the 19th century saw makhadzirstvo a period of mass emigration of Abkhazians caused by wars and political discrimination accompanied by the Tsarist promotion of settlement of Armenians, Baltics, Greeks and Russians had made Abkhazians a minority inside Abkhazia (cf. Fischer 2010a: 42). Following the incorporation into the SSR Georgia, resettlement measures were taken again under Soviet rule. In particular between 1939 and 1959, Georgian, Russian 26 and Armenian workers migrated to Abkhazia (cf. ibidem). Harzl (cf. 2016: 48-49) underlines that there even was a public campaign and financial support to ethnic Georgians who settled in Abkhazia (cf. ibidem: 48-49). By 1989, the Abkhaz formed a minority in their own land. Only 17% of the ASSR population were ethnic Abkhaz, while 45% Georgians, 14% Armenians and 12% Russians resided there (cf. Cornell 2002: 263; cf. Fischer 2010a: 4217). Ethno-chauvinistic measures such as the renaming of places added to the picture of a “Georgification” feared by the Abkhaz (cf. ibidem: 49). Besides renaming the capital Sukhum Sukhumi by adding the Georgian ending -i, 147 other localities’ names were changed (cf. Harzl 2016: 49-50). Georgians, however, feared marginalisation at the very same time (cf. Fischer 2010a: 40; cf. Coppieters 2004: 195). The close ties between Abkhazia and Russia, enhanced by the predominance of the Russian language within the ASSR that also attracted a large number of Russian tourists, caused concerns among Georgians that perceived the dominance of a Russian or Russified elite at Union level as discriminating (cf. ibidem: 40-41). Russian being the lingua franca in which Georgians and Abkhazians communicated, since they did not speak the language of the other community, certainly contributed to this perception (cf. ibidem). Therefore, many Georgians viewed the Abkhaz as “a pawn in the hands of Moscow authorities, whose primary interest lay in the political domination and cultural russification of the Georgian nation” (Coppieters 2004: 195). Georgia feared Abkhazia would attempt to “Russify” Georgia when pledging for more cultural rights (cf. Fischer 2010a: 41). Indeed, the political landscape in Abkhazia was in favour of its titular nation and did not mirror the actual demographic situation. Abkhaz controlled 43 per cent of parliamentary seats, which enabled them to dominate the parliament by forming coalitions with Russian and Armenian segments (cf. Cornell 2002: 263- 265). These inequalities led to a further split in society, since the ethnic groups created unrelated and biased narratives on being discriminated against by another side: “[...] both sides interpreted their relationship in diametrically opposed ways and ascribed themselves the role of victims – which, in fact, they were. [...] This was the perfect precondition for an efficient divide-and-rule policy, which helped the Soviet Empire to keep different ethnic groups in a precarious balance and preserve its own power” (Fischer 2010a: 41). When the Soviet Empire eventually was about to fall apart, a referendum on a new treaty restructuring the Soviet Union was held in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 17 Fischer (2010: 42) offers slightly different percentages for the demographic composition in 1989: 17% Abkhaz, 46% Georgians, 14% Armenians, 13% Russians and 10% others. 27 1991 (cf. Harzl 2016: 264). The Abkhazians did not have an incentive to dissolve from the Soviet Union. They saw the existing system as a security guarantee and feared a change towards a democratic system would mean the end of ethnic quotas in political life, in other words increasing Georgian power (cf. Fischer 2010a: 43; cf. Coppieters 2004: 196). Abkhaz therefore rather opted for upgrading their status within the Soviet Union to a sovereign SFSR – which from their perspective was the only way to achieve the right to national self-determination (cf. Coppieters 2004: 197) – in confederation with the Georgian SFSR (cf. Fischer 2010a: 43; cf. ibidem). The Georgian population boycotted the vote as they wished to secede (cf. ibidem; cf. Harzl 2016: 264). The dispute between Georgians and Abkhazians over the redistribution of powers aroused nationalist tensions (cf. Fischer 2010a: 44). A peak was reached when in early summer 1992, Abkhazia reinstalled its 1925 constitution that defined Abkhazia as an independent state (cf. Harzl 2016: 264). From the Georgian-Abkhaz War to the Georgian-Russian War In mid-August 1992, Georgian paramilitary groups attacked Abkhazia and occupied Sukhum/i (cf. ibidem: 265). Abkhaz military forces, equipped with heavy armaments and supported by volunteers from Russia, counterattacked in early October and eventually recaptured Sukhum/i in September 1993 (cf. ibidem; cf. Fischer 2010a: 44). Harzl (cf. ibidem: 265-266) identifies Abkhazia’s autonomy and power over the political and administrative structures and institutions of the territory as the main factor for its success to secede from Georgia. In addition, Abkhaz elites had successfully established contacts with former Soviet military forces that supported them (cf. ibidem). The Georgian invasion is hard to legally classify since Georgia at that time did not have a democratically legitimised state leadership (cf. Harzl 2016: 66). Eduard Shevardnadze, who instructed the attack, was only officially given the high command over the armed forces, in November 1992 – three months after the beginning of the attack (cf. Harzl 2016: 66; cf. Zürcher 2005: 97). To consolidate his power, Shevardnadze used paramilitary organisations active in criminal businesses – the National Guard and the mchedrioni – that he pro forma subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior (cf. ibidem; cf. Zürcher 2005: 109). Harzl (ibidem) speaks of “erosion of state sovereignty” in the light of the Abkhaz conflict. The brutal war of 1992/1993 claimed between 10,000-15,000 victims, of which three quarters were civilian, and halted communication channels between Tbilisi and Sukhumi until today (cf. Harzl 2016: 65; cf. Fischer 2010a: 44). Around 250,000 ethnic Georgians that had formed almost the entire Georgian population were forced to flee their homes (cf. ibidem; cf. Fischer 2010a: 44). 28 On 14 May 1994, the “Moscow Agreement on a Ceasefire and the Separation of Forces” ended the hot phase of the conflict (cf. ibidem: 44). Both sides – Georgia and Abkhazia – signed the peace contract and agreed on the establishment of a Security Zone and a Restricted Weapons Zone along the Administrative Border Line (ABL) between Georgia and Abkhazia (cf. ibidem). The deployment of a Commonwealth of Independent States’ Peacekeeping Force (CIFPKF) was also provided for and monitored by the UN Mission to Georgia that had already been established in 1993 (cf. ibidem: 44-45). Before the end of the war, Shevardnadze had already decided Georgia would join the CIS to gain Russian loyalty (cf. ibidem: 46). In 1996, the CIS imposed trade sanctions on Abkhazia that isolated the entity from its surroundings (cf. ibidem). Since a Georgian invasion had started the war on 14 August 1992, the Abkhaz nationalist narrative on a war of liberation has remained (cf. Harzl 2016: 65). The demographic situation is one of the key factors that has been blocking conflict resolution ever since, especially since Sukhum/i has remained hesitant regarding the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) (cf. Fischer 2010a: 41; 43). Abkhazia authorised the population from the Gali region in the South of Abkhazia the right to return home but denies that right to Georgians from other regions (cf. Coppieters 2004: 199). While the Abkhaz elite does not hesitate to explain that the return of Georgians to other regions would disrupt “the balance between the various ethnic communities [...] to the political advantage of the Georgian community”, the majority among the international community condemn the denial to return home as ethnic cleansing (cf. ibidem). Even though a de facto sovereign republic was already formed in 1993, Abkhazia only formally declared its independence in 1999 after a referendum. Caspersen and Stansfield (2011: 4) explained that in Abkhazia’s case, “[t]he absence of a formal declaration of independence can be a strategic attempt to increase room for manoeuvre and the prospects for international support”. Despite officially sticking to the CIS sanctions, economic support from and political influence of Russia gradually increased (cf. Fischer 2010a: 49). The Russian-Abkhaz border was the only (yet illegal) economic zone offering income for ordinary Abkhaz people as well as benefits for the Abkhaz elites (cf. ibidem). At the turn of the millennium, Russia officially lifted travel restrictions and offered Abkhazians Russian citizenship – a measure that simultaneously improved the humanitarian situation but increased the dependence of the isolated population, and was used as a lever on Tbilisi (cf. ibidem: 49-50). The relations between Tbilisi and Moscow eventually deteriorated after the Rose Revolution, when Georgia’s new president Mikheil Saakashvili aimed at closer relations with the West (cf. ibidem: 46-47). Enhanced relations with the EU and the US, but especially Georgia’s rapprochement with NATO, as well as the “very strained personal relationship between Georgian President Saakashvili 29 and [...] Russian President Putin” (Fischer 2010a: 47), contributed to cooling off relations, and in 2006 Russia introduced economic sanctions on Georgia (cf. ibidem). The restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity became the main political priority of the new administration as it was seen as a precondition to pursuing Euro- Atlantic integration (cf. ibidem: 46-47). The policy and rhetoric of Georgia with regards to the conflict had changed, too: Since the Rose Revolution, de facto authorities in Sukhum/i were “ignored or disqualified as a bunch of criminals with whom Tbilisi was not prepared to negotiate” (ibidem: 48). Instead, Russia – and no longer Abkhazia – has been seen as the main conflict partner since then (cf. ibidem). As the CISPKF was staffed by the Russian Army and thus not neutral, and the UN Mission was perceived as inefficient by Georgia, Georgia claimed for a new peacekeeping format involving new actors (cf. ibidem). Negotiations within the Geneva Process did not lead to conflict transformation and were finally put on hold when Georgian troops invaded Kodori, the only region of Abkhazia controlled by Georgia at that time, shortly before the events escalated in August 2008 (cf. ibidem: 56). The August 2008 War Georgia’s new leader Saakashvili has called for greater regional and international involvement and sought to engage both the EU and US (cf. Fischer 2010: 60-61). The rapprochement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has become Saakashvili’s main foreign policy goal. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO members declared their approval of Georgia and Ukraine’s aspirations for membership, stating, “We [the Heads of State and Government of NATO members] agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO” (NATO 2008: 23). As a next step, Membership Action Plans (MAP) were proposed (cf. ibidem). At the same time, violent incidents increased both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (cf. Oproiu 2015: 33), also because of Kosovo’s declaration of independence and its ramifications of recognition has reinforced hopes for their own recognition. In the night of 7 to 8 August, war broke out when Georgia started an artillery and air force attack on South Ossetia (cf. ibidem; cf. Harzl 2016: 145). On 8 August 2008, the then President of the Russian Federation, Dmitrij Medvedev, announced a Russian ‘peace intervention’ – which proved to be high-intensity operations (cf. Allison 2009: 175) – and began massive air and land attacks on Georgian targets, that finally pushed back Georgian troops from South Ossetia on 10 August 200818 (cf. ibidem: 146). 18 Other than perhaps expected by Saakashvili, the U.S. as Georgia’s closest ally did not intervene. 30 Abkhazia’s de facto President Sergej Bagapsh seized the moment and issued an ultimatum for the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Kodori valley – the only Abkhaz region that has been under Georgian control, backed by the advent of 10.000 Russian paratroopers in Abkhazia (cf. ibidem: 147). Up to 2000 Georgians fled from Kodori valley before Abkhaz troops occupied the territory (cf. ibidem). A ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia was signed on 12 August 2008. However, the Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states by the end of August 2008 has made the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement impossible. Russia’s Motives One of the main explanation patterns for Russia’s involvement in the war and the latter recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – besides Russia’s increasing identification with Abkhazia and South Ossetia (cf. Harzl 2016: 141) – was Georgia’s ambition to join NATO. As Kropatcheva (2012: 35) explains, “Russia [by the use of force] solidified the status quo, and this was also a step to prevent further NATO enlargement”. While Russia’s intervention in Georgia and the subsequent recognition of both territories put at risk political as well as economic relations with the West and therefore might be regarded as imprudent, Russian political analysts assessed that the actions “were painful, but necessary” (Kropatcheva 2012: 35). This view can partly be explained by the “precept of a unique `Russian world´” that is grounded in the völkisch concept of Russian ethnicity not related to territorial borders (cf. Hamilton/Meister 2016: 16). Using this rationale, Moscow justified its right to intervene in conflicts in Georgia to support ‘their people’ by attacking Georgia itself (cf. ibidem). However, with regard to the envisaged NATO Eastern enlargement, both the demonstration of power towards the West and destabilisation of Georgia have been shown to be effective. While NATO has confirmed its continued support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders after the 2008 war, no consensus on a Georgian Membership Action Plan could be reached. Keeping this in mind, even though Russia officially called on other states to follow its example19, it is clear that the recognition of Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia/Tskhinvali by Western states would not be in the geostrategic interest of the Russian Federation. With reference to Abkhazia, the Russian-American political scientist Nikolaj Zlobin described how the entities are trapped in this situation: 19 It was a disappointment to Russia when it could not persuade its close ally Belarus to follow its example (cf. de Waal 2017). 31 “The recognition of Abkhazia by, for example, Western countries would simply not be advantageous for Russia because its influence would decline, and other players would emerge on the Abkhaz scene from outside. On the other hand, for Abkhazia, it is vitally important to maintain close strategic and allied relations with Russia but to concurrently search for an exit to the world stage that is not only through Moscow, but without ‘offending’ them by this20” (cf. Zlobin 2008). The recognition, as Mitchell and Cooley (cf. 2010) or de Waal (cf. 2017) put it, has substantially increased Russian influence. This means for both Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region that “[...] perhaps ironically, the territories have gone from enjoying de facto independence as unrecognised states and parties to frozen conflicts, before August 2008, to becoming almost de facto parts of the Russian Federation in their new status as `independent states´” (Cooley/Mitchell 2010: 60). Russia justified the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states with both national security concerns with respect to the stability of its Southern borders, as well as remedial arguments (cf. Coppieters 2018: 1000). This was however an isolated move, as Russia has not changed its position on other sovereignty conflicts in the post-Soviet space (cf. ibidem). Nonetheless, the dual recognition brought about the end of the unanimous support of the continuity position by the international community (cf. ibidem). The August 2008 War under International Law Due to a massive bombardment of civilian targets, Georgia was suspected of war crimes (cf. Human Rights Watch 2009: 12-17). Moreover, 15 Russian peacekeepers were reported dead by 9 August, which was used by Russia as justification for the intervention (cf. Harzl 2016: 144-145). Russia too was found guilty of war crimes, since they attacked the city of Gori, 25 kilometres outside the war zone, using stray bombs and bombing civilian houses, hospitals and schools on Georgian territory (cf. Human Rights Watch 2009: 18-22). Instead of ensuring public order and safety in the areas they controlled effectively, which would have been their duty as an occupying power under international humanitarian law, Russia did nothing to stop South Ossetian forces and militias from engaging in pillage, burning of Georgian homes, as well as murder and rape (cf. ibidem: 6). The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG), set up by the Council of the European Union in December 2008, was tasked with the independent investigation of the Georgia-Russia war and handed a report to the Council in September 2009. The 900 pages have become known as “Tagliavini Report” after the Head of the Mission, Swiss diplomat 20 Self-translated. The same passage is also cited in Khintba 2010: 32, footnote 40. 32 and former Head of the United Nations Observer Mission to Georgia, Heidi Tagliavini (cf. Tagliavini 2009). The IIFFMCG confirmed that Georgia indeed fired the first shot and triggered larger use of weapons. Furthermore, it cleared up the Georgian claim of a Russian invasion prior to its attack, an allegation for which no evidence could be found. However, Russia was only partially acquitted by the Report: while the initial reaction as means to protect its internationally mandated peacekeepers could be justified, the IIFFMCG concluded Russia (alongside Georgia and the secessionist entities Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region) shared a large part of the blame for the escalation. Multiple violations of international law before, during and after the conflict were set out in detail (cf. ibidem). For instance, the massive passportization (giving out Russian passports to residents of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia) in the years prior to the war was classified as contrary to international law. This resulted in the Russian justification for intervening – to protect its citizens – being seen as invalid (cf. ibidem). The Russian military intervention in Georgia violated commitments made by Russia under the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1997 Russia-EU Partnership Agreement, the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and the 2002 NATO Russia Rome Declarations to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states (cf. Hamilton/Meister 2016: 5) In the context of Russian interventions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 (and again more recently in the context of Russian intervention in the Crimea) the question whether the right to self-determination would constitute an exception to the prohibition of the use of force has gained prominence in International Law (cf. Hilpold 2017: 326). Related to this, the question of whether such a potential exception could be used as justification for an “intervention by invitation” (cf. Hilpold 2017: 326) arises. Based on the findings of the IIFFMCG21, the answer is that a right to self-determination “never provides a justification for a military intervention” (ibidem). Hilpold (cf. ibidem) explains that therefore it was neither possible to re-introduce a right to humanitarian intervention, nor was the prohibition of intervention abolished in a secession conflict. Human Rights in the de facto States Since Georgia is member of the Council of Europe, Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region are theoretically covered by the European Convention of 21 „Military force is never admissible as a means to carry out a claim to self-determination, including internal self-determination. There is no support in state practice for their right to use force to attain self-determination outside the context of decolonization or illegal occupation [...] This also means that a secessionist party cannot validly invite a foreign state to use force against the army of the metropolitan state” (Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, quoted after Hilpold 2017: 326, footnote 60). 33 Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. In practice, however, the European legal space does not expand to these territories. The isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region, that has significantly increased since the Russian recognition, has made it impossible for the EU or other parties of the Council of Europe to assess the human rights situation on the ground. All the more remarkable is the publication of the first independent report on the Human Rights situation in Abkhazia in 2017, carried out by Thomas Hammarberg and Magdalena Grono (cf. Hammarberg/Grono 2017; cf. Olof Palme Centre 2017)22. Hammarberg and Grono acted on initiative of the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Ambassador Herbert Salber (cf. Hammarberg/Grono 2017: 2). When handing in their report in January 2017, the EU however decided not to make it public but to use it as internal working paper available to diplomats and interested organisations instead (cf. ibidem: 3). To ensure a wider audience, the authors decided to give permission to the Swedish Olof Palme Center to publish an updated version of the report in July 2017 which is – in English and Russian – freely available and accessible online (cf. Hammarberg/Grono 2017: 2-3; cf. Olof Palme Center 2017). The status-neutral report identified serious concerns about the implementation of human rights legislation, especially in the Gali district where the majority of ethnic Georgians live (cf. Hammarberg/Grono 2017:7; 9-10). When it comes to education, besides lacking financial and personnel resources the language of instruction is highly discussed (cf. ibidem: 8-9; 35-38). In 2015/16, the former Georgian-teaching schools in Gali had to switch to the “Republic Standard Educational Programme” which introduced Russian as the language of instruction (except for 3 hours a week of Georgian language and literature classes), even though the majority of Gali teachers are not fluent in Russian (cf. ibidem: 36). At the same time, Abkhaz language schools have seen progress and Armenian language schools (where children are taught Armenian, Abkhaz and Russian) function well (cf. ibidem: 34-35). The healthcare sector suffers from a lack of finance and human resources and a significant number of interlocutors reported they would seek help outside of Abkhazia in case of serious health problems (cf. ibidem: 43-44). Citizenship issues cause the greatest inequality. The 2013 amendments to the 2005 Law on Citizenship states that, except for ethnic Abkhaz, Abkhaz citizenship is eligible to people who had been living in Abkhazia for “at least 5 years at the moment of the declaration of Abkhaz independence in October 1999” (cit. n. Hammarberg/Grono 2017: 54). Many Georgians displaced in Abkhazia, as well 22 Thomas Hammarberg, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and Magdalena Grono, South-Caucasus expert at the International Crisis Group, have extensively researched the Human Rights situation in Abkhazia by carrying out more than 200 interviews throughout the year 2016. 34 as those who left or fled and came back after the base year, do not fulfil the “5years”-criteria. Additionally, the 2013 amendments introduced a law that sees any other foreign citizenship – except for Russian – regarded as incompatible with Abkhaz citizenship (cf. ibidem). However, many Gali residents hold Georgian passports, which makes them foreigners without political rights in their original home who require residency permits according to the Law on the Status of Foreign Citizens (cf. ibidem: 54-56). Hammarberg and Grono (2017: 61ff.) provide a number of practical examples as to when ethnic Georgians face substantial discrimination in Abkhazia23. Property rights, for instance, are indirectly linked to the citizenship issue since due to the Civil Code, only Abkhaz citizens can acquire property in Abkhazia (cf. ibidem: 41; 63). While the media is generally independent, it is political and polarised (cf. ibidem: 28). Local TV channels and newspapers struggle to compete with the dominant position of the well-funded Russian media that airs in Russian and prints newspapers in Russian and Abkhaz (cf. ibidem: 28-29). NGOs have an active role in Abkhazia, but besides the need to register, are not restricted in a comparable manner as in Russia (cf. ibidem: 30-32). However, since 2008 funding has become scarce, which limits their operational space and scope (cf. ibidem: 31-32). When it comes to the human rights situation in South Ossetia, credible information is hard to acquire since the territory is even much more isolated. As in Abkhazia, the EU’s Monitoring Mission – despite its mandate to cover the whole territory of Georgia – is not allowed to enter the territory. In February/March 2018, a tragic incident in the breakaway territory of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali caused indignation in Georgia and abroad and directed the spotlight on human rights violations in South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region. The Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili was arrested on 22 February in Akhalgori (a town in Tskhinvali region that is mainly populated by ethnic Georgians) and died in unclear circumstances the next day (cf. agenda.ge, 21.03.2018). The international community requested Russia and the de facto authorities to hand over the body to his family (cf. e. g. EEAS 2018b). The body of the 35-yearold was transferred only a month later, but without internal organs, making it more difficult to determine the exact cause of his death (cf. civil.ge, 22.08.2018). 23 One example is that ethnic Georgians living in Gali who do not hold an Abkhaz passport cannot register births or marriages in Abkhazia (cf. ibidem: 61). This forces them to register their children in Zugdidi or Tbilisi to get a Georgian birth certificate. In Gali, this birth certificate can be translated and notarised – yet the status of the child in Abkhazia remains unclear. There are even cases reported when Gali mothers gave birth in Georgia to ease the issuance of a birth certificate for their child, but where not allowed to reenter Abkhazia as the birth certificates were not seen as proper documentation (cf. ibidem). 35 The Georgian side found the body severely tortured, leading the Georgian Justice Ministry as well as the Empathy Center, a Tbilisi-based wathdog, to lodge lawsuits against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights (cf. ibidem). Authorities claim that pressure, attacks and killings in and around the “occupied territories” would amount to administrative practice, and held Russia, being the power exercising “effective control”, responsible (cf. ibidem).

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Abstract

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.