Thematic Order in:

Anna Steiner

Enhanced Relations - Protracted Conflict(s)?, page 87 - 104

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
87 The analysis will not include the steps “Conceptualisation” and “Theoretical Generalisation” as proposed by Meuser/Nagel (1991). Since the Experts’ contributions represent different groups and opinions, they cannot be conceptualised or generalised. The insights gained through the Expert interviews contribute to a better understanding of the multilayered conflict and thus to the Recommendations formulated. Paraphrasing In a first step, the content of each interview is summarised. The paraphrases reflect what the experts said in the chronology of the actual course of conversation. The summaries of the interviews can be found in the Annex. Thematic Order Thematic ordering means filtering out relevant statements of the individual interviews based on selected subject areas. The subject areas are “Main Challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia”, “NREP and Georgian Policies”, “Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA”, “Russia’s Role and Influence”, “EU Engagement in Abkhazia”, “EU and Conflict Transformation” and “Assessing the NREP and Recommendations”. Expert A Expert A is an Abkhaz Civil Society Activist who works for an NGO in Sukhum/i. She wrote several articles on the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and on EU engagement in Abkhazia and has carried out EU-funded projects in Abkhazia. Main challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia Expert A identifies the limited right to free movement as the main challenge for Abkhazians. In this respect, she criticises the EU for following Georgia’s example of not recognising the travel document that was easiest accessible and therefore most common among the Abkhaz population: Russian passports issued by the Russian Embassy in Abkhazia. She finds the non-recognition of these passports as a Human Rights violation since it was “targeted towards the whole population in Abkhazia”. She explained that the problem in this form was unique in Abkhazia. Unlike for South Ossetians, who easily got their Russian passports in North Ossetia, getting registered in Russia to request a Russian passport was difficult for Abkhazians. Furthermore, she criticises that Georgian policies and legislation – the Law on Occupied Territories and the Strategy on Occupied Territories – would create obstacles for Abkhazia, finally contributing to another challenge: “the more Georgia closes up Abkhazia from the international community, the more it opens to Russia”. 88 NREP and Georgian Policies Expert A thinks the NREP had been an attractive approach but is convinced it had never been implemented. In her view, the NREP had been discredited by Georgia, which immediately took over the engagement policy, to prevent creeping recognition. Therefore, Georgia drafted its own engagement policy, in which they misused engagement as “means to reintegration”, she explains. Expert A repeatedly emphasised that Abkhazians were certain that the ultimate aim of reintegration was standing behind each (Georgian or Georgian-approved external) engagement in Abkhazia. Because of the link between engagement and reintegration, Abkhazians were afraid of any measures that promoted connections and cooperation between Abkhazia and Georgia. Abkhaz opponents of EU engagement in Abkhazia would use this rationale and claim that the “hidden agenda behind EU engagement” was the reintegration of Abkhazia within Georgia. She advises the EU not to be guided by the Law on Occupied Territories on Georgian demands, as the Georgian approach was problematic for Abkhazians. Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA She explains Abkhazians were not willing to accept Georgian jurisdiction in order to receive the benefits of the EU-Georgia enhanced relations. With regard to visa liberalisation, she comments: “Abkhazia has survived many years of sanctions and they are not willing to use visa liberalisation or trade benefits with the EU to sacrifice in return what they have fought for in a very, very bloody war”. Abkhazians would not cross the “red line” of being presented as part of Georgia. This was the difference to Transnistria, she adds. Transnistrians were willing to register their companies in Moldova to benefit from DCFTA. Such an approach would however not be acceptable for Abkhazians, she argues. Russia’s Role and Influence Expert A thinks the EU should better have involved Russia in preparing the Association Agreement and DCFTA with Georgia and thinks that in general “there has to be more awareness of the Russian interest” among the EU when enhancing relations with the common neighbourhood. Expert A sees the relations between Abkhazia and Russia as ambiguous. While it was clear that Russia as an ally and facilitator “expects loyalty”, some demands were not acceptable to them. In such cases, discussions – with varying degrees of success for Abkhazia – took place between them. Abkhazians considered Russia their guarantor of security and “really appreciate what Russians did to defend Abkhazia in 2008”. While for an isolated country the increasing dependence on Russia was natural, she reiterates that it was clear that Abkhazia wanted to be independent – which was not that clear in South Ossetia’s case. 89 EU Engagement in Abkhazia To begin with, Expert A thinks that any substantial engagement with Abkhazia or in the region should also involve Russia. She appreciates the presence of international organizations in Abkhazia, and especially their support in the field of civil society. In her view, however, the EU should go beyond that and also work with officials, since the protection of human rights could only be safeguarded in cooperation with law enforcement and the judicial system as well as by reforming the police sector. The human rights situation could not be changed by NGOs alone, but would need the involvement of the Abkhaz Government, she argues. Talking about human rights, she implies criticism of the EU’s emphasis on the rights of ethnic Georgians, since Abkhazians would face similar or even the same problems – yet, of course, the focus should be on the most vulnerable, she concludes. Her key criticism is the linkage between EU engagement and the idea of Abkhazia or South Ossetia turning to Georgia. Instead, EU engagement should be motivated by the conviction that tackling the real needs of Abkhazians and South Ossetians is important per se. Especially the EU’s initial focus on confidence building was seen with great scepticism in Abkhazia – and she thinks it was of little value. She says that thanks to proposals by Abkhazian NGO’s the focus had shifted away from confidence building between Georgians and Abkhazians across borders to confidence building between ethnic Georgians and Abkhazians within Abkhazia. Above all, she criticises the approach that confidence building between Abkhazians and Georgians was a precondition for EU investment since that was a huge help for Georgia. Having been directly affected by the war, the post-war sanction period and the years of non-recognition, she argues it was unfair that the needs of Abkhazians, that “have a value of their own”, were always weighted against the level of confidence built with Georgians. By doing so, the EU would cause distress among the Abkhaz society. EU and Conflict Transformation She criticises that the EU proceeded from the position that Abkhazians had to prepare the ground for conflict resolution and that the EU meant reintegration by conflict transformation. In South Ossetia, this approach was met with even greater rejection. The breakaway regions would, of course, be in favour of the EU using a status-neutral approach in conflict management. In terms of the past, she speaks that the real cause of the war and conflict, which lay in what happened in 1992/93, should be addressed. If this is not done, Georgia would further attempt to rewrite history and delete the pre-2008 period. In this context, she tells that she was very emotional because Georgia had de- 90 manded Sukhum/i’s twin town Kilmarnock (Scotland) change a monument dedicated to “all those who died during the war in Sukhum” in late 2017. Also with regard to the 2008 conflict, Georgia would mostly portray the events as Russian aggression against Georgia and adds that she finds distorting history was not helpful for the relations. Expert A appreciates the GID. While she points out they were based on the 2008 situation, she says she understood that it was not easy to invent changes to the format. Therefore, she would suggest creating other frameworks with UN and EU involvement or at least side events around Geneva where Abkhazian and South Ossetian politicians could talk to their counterparts. She also proposes the EU should invest more in regional dialogue platforms that should not only involve the three South Caucasus states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) but also include Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Even if engagement on an official level were not possible, the involvement of the entities on a civil society level, expert level or the level of common issues would contribute positively to conflict transformation. Assessing the NREP and Recommendations Expert A is convinced the steps taken so far by the EU were too small to win over Abkhazians to the idea of engagement with the EU. Moreover, the EU engagement would need to be more visible. She argues that the EU has to deal with the de facto authorities to trigger real change. The sole concentration on working with NGOs has furthermore contributed to marginalising NGOs: those working with the EU were viewed as collaborators of an EU that was supporting Georgia and did not want to work with Abkhaz authorities, so they have had to deal with suspicion and “even social media shitstorms”. She recommends that the EU should act in a more flexible manner, but at the same time should be more consistent and firm with Georgia. This would include persuading Georgia to abandon the LoOT – and would, as she underlines, “not automatically mean that Europe is recognising Abkhazia”. Expert B Expert B is a Georgian citizen who works at an international NGO. Until two years ago, she had been working with Abkhazians and South Ossetians on various occasions. She has visited South Ossetia numerous times. Main challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia Expert B names isolation as the biggest problem in Abkhazia. Abkhazians had told her that EU countries banned them from obtaining visas and that Georgia blocked their efforts to go outside Abkhazia. She explains that of course people living in Abkhazia would perceive the situation differently: While in general people living 91 in towns were more aware of what was going on around them, people in rural areas were more preoccupied with daily issues and challenges. The isolation in South Ossetia is much bigger, while little information about what was going on there was accessible. Expert B believes the focus of attention of most international organisations – not only the EU – was directed on the situation and human right’s status of Georgians within Abkhazia. Abkhazians would feel left out, since these organisations seemed to be only concerned with the economic, political and social rights of ethnic Georgians, but would take little notice about people living in other parts of Abkhazia who might experience the same problems. NREP and Georgian Policies According to Expert B, Abkhazians found engagement without recognition upsetting and especially civil society representatives would doubt it could work. She explains that they were not fond of the idea because they believed the EU was representing Georgia’s interest rather than those of Abkhazians. Both the Georgian Strategy on Occupied Territories as well as the LoOT were very much disliked and despised by the respective entities and by civil society, she reports. The fact that Georgian authorities did not recognise products produced in Abkhazia and South Ossetia “forces the people living there to smuggling”, she says. Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA When talking about the implications of Georgia’s enhanced relations with the EU for the breakaway territories, Expert B explains that Abkhazians and South Ossetians perceive themselves as very traditional communities. Therefore she thinks that the promotion of human freedoms and human liberties, that is part of the EU agenda and Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, could, in fact, contribute to separating the communities instead of bringing them together. She believes that while the possibilities the EU offers for Georgia, such as the visa liberalisation, would be interesting for Abkhazians, but they would fear intimidation from authorities and community members if they obtained a Georgian passport to travel abroad. Outcomes in this respect could only be achieved “if Abkhaz and Russian authorities would turn a blind eye to their citizens”. Expert B does not find the non-implementation of DCFTA in Abkhazia and South Ossetia reasonable. However, she inserts, it was also not fully implemented in Georgia because a lot of people – especially those living in rural communities – did not know what it was about. 92 Russia’s Role and Influence She explains that, especially in Abkhazia, people would find themselves being caught between Russia and Georgia. Overwhelming Russian presence – and the threat of Georgia they still perceive – did not give them much choice. The great military presence and political influence would make “Abkhazia a captive of its own alliance”. Even if they wanted to enhance relations with the EU, the powerful Russian presence would make it impossible. A turn towards the EU by Abkhazia could only be achieved in case that Russia would step back for some reason, which Expert B does not think was realistic in the near future. In South Ossetia, the independence discourse was not prominent, except for some activists. The majority of South Ossetians and certainly the politics were moving towards more unification with Russia with the ultimate aim of joining North Ossetia/Russia. Therefore, similar EU engagement in South Ossetia is not imaginable for her. EU Engagement in Abkhazia When it comes to the EU engagement in the breakaway territories, Expert B underlines the powerful role of the EUSR who is granted access and can engage on a higher political level. In terms of international and EU engagement, she identifies two main drawbacks of current approaches: firstly, Abkhazians would often feel left out since international actors – among them the EU – focussed on the situation and human rights’ status of ethnic Georgians within Abkhazia, but took little notice that people living in other parts of Abkhazia might face the same problems. Secondly, she explains that Abkhazians hated confidence-building mechanisms, “even the sound of it”, as they would think confidence was completely lost between the two people. In terms of benefits, she believes NGOs were, in fact, benefitting most from EU programs as the staff could travel and have meetings abroad. She, however, doubts that there was any benefit to the local population. Expert B assesses the EU visibility in Abkhazia as low, partly because local authorities were not willing to promote the EU as the benefactor, but instead took credit for themselves. Furthermore, the EU does not fund infrastructure projects that could contribute to more literal visibility. The lack of visibility is why Expert B thinks the EU did not benefit from its engagement, except for having limited access to Abkhazia and being able to put faces to the names of Abkhaz and Russian authorities and officials. EU and Conflict Transformation Expert B is certain that the EU’s leverage in terms of conflict transformation was basically limited to exerting pressure on Georgia, where she saw potential to be more active for the EU. She calls on the EU to convince Georgia to recognise 93 Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parties of the conflict – not independent countries – as demanded by Georgian civil society organisations. She supports the idea that this might be a “game changer”. Expert B very much appreciates the EUMM’s IPRMs, which she however thinks are their only leverage. Through the hotline that operates on both sides of the ABL, the IPRMs would contribute to stabilisation, which makes them have a share in conflict transformation or at least in preventing new hostilities on a local level. She also mentions the monthly IPRM meetings attended by Georgian, Russian and Abkhazian/South Ossetian representatives that are facilitated by the EUMM. Expert B believes especially the informal conversation between the parties – for example at dinner – were crucial and not less important than the official interactions. Her single point of criticism with regards to these meetings is that civil society was not represented there. However, she has seen positive trends towards the involvement of civil society within the last year. After having been completely closed for CSOs in the beginning, she mentions that when (the current EUSR) Toivo Klaar was appointed Head of EUMM in 2013, he was the first to convene an EUMM-Civil Society meeting. She explains that success depended a lot on personalities: Klaar’s predecessor, whom she describes as a “Russian-educated military guy who did not care about sensitivity” had totally lost Abkhazian trust which had even resulted in the suspension of IPRMs in Abkhazia for a period of two years. Klaar had been proven to be a great leader and managed to restore the IPRM meetings. Since 2013, cooperation between the EUMM and CSOs had increased and she appreciates been given the opportunity to interact with civil society actors and EUMM members unofficially. She recounts that based on information of the EUMM’s humanitarian team – the “November Team” – a couple of serious issues could be addressed by CSOs, as “these guys [the November Team] know how to channel information to the right people”. According to her, Georgia would welcome the idea of additional political dialogue, but there has been little declared interest (probably due to their limited freedom of choice to push forward what they actually wanted) by South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Assessing the NREP and Recommendations The only positive development or breakthrough of the NREP that comes to Expert B’s mind was the exchange of prisoners between the parties. While Abkhaz patients treated at Georgian hospitals were often mentioned by the Georgian side, she argues this was still not a real breakthrough since Abkhaz and South Ossetian citizens feared stigmatisation and did not talk openly about Georgian concessions 94 in a positive manner to fellow citizens. She thinks that on a personal level, a lot of people had changed their views towards Georgia, but this was not promoted on a public level. As regards the future development of EU policies, Expert B is not sure, as, on the one hand, she thinks direct contacts with the de facto authorities would be more effective, but on the other hand, doubts the likeliness since it might be interpreted as contradicting the adherence to Georgia’s territorial integrity. Above all, according to her, it was Georgia’s unclear policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia that hinders the NREP. Talking to officials from various Georgian ministries, she found that there was no unified vision (not even within one and the same agency) on how Georgia should proceed in its relation towards the breakaway territories. She concludes that as long as Georgia lacked a holistic approach, it was extremely difficult for the EU as a major partner to define a clear and coherent strategy. Expert C Expert C is an independent expert on conflict management issues. He is a Georgian citizen who formerly worked as a government official at Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Main challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia Expert C says the main challenge for Abkhazians was that travelling abroad or receiving benefits from European nations was impossible due to the fact that they had Russian instead of Georgian or status-neutral passports. With regard to South Ossetia, he explains that it was much more closed and had significantly less population. Most people, as he explicates, had been living in South Ossetia for a long time, except for the – mostly ethnic Georgian – residents of the Akhalgori district who came under South Ossetia’s de facto authority only after 2008. Those residents mostly held Georgian passports but faced significant difficulties when trying to access social services and benefits in Georgian proper – also because crossing the boundary line had become much more difficult. Expert C explains that the area of human rights was the most dramatic clash of realities. Being regarded as integral parts of Georgia by European states, they are theoretically covered by the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. However, these conventions cannot effectively be guaranteed to them since the European legal space does not spread on Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Neither the EU nor other parties of the Council of Europe can assess the local human rights situation, which Expert C thinks was the greatest concern. 95 NREP and Georgian Policies Expert C explains that Georgia had intended to have a coordinated policy approach with the European Union when adjusting its own policies – the Strategy on Occupied Territories and the LoOT. However, this had not happened, as the EU “did not fully recognise Georgia’s thesis about the occupation of the territories by the Russian Federation”. By not taking up that view, the EU’s NREP would – between the lines, as he says – treat at least Abkhazia as a state-like entity with the certain legitimacy of the locally-elected governmental body. The difference between the policies means that while Georgia held the Russian Federation as an occupying power directly accountable for the legal situation within both territories, the European Union defined the authorities in Sukhum/i and Tskhinval/i as being under control, which made them – to a limited extent – counterparts of its non-recognition framework. Given the differences, Expert C explains that there was nonetheless a huge potential area in which the policies would not contradict each other. In his view, Georgian initiatives could work complementary if the engagement performance of the EU programmes would function better. Currently, however, in a situation where the EU did not have effective access to the territories, discussions mainly focus on political issues where “the EU and Georgia are not exactly on the same page”. Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA Whether or not the EU’s enhanced relations could have potential to separate the entities even more “is not the first concern for any party”, he thinks. The Georgian Government would, of course, hope the Association Agreement and Visa Liberalisation could be a “pull-factor”. The measures were promoted as bringing the sides closer together by providing opportunities that were accessible through Georgia. This has however not materialised yet and he personally was sceptical about a possible success. Expert C in this respect mentions the package of proposals by the Georgian Government that would allow Abkhazians and South Ossetians to benefit from the EU Association framework – yet the vast majority of residents of the breakaway territories would see these measures promoted by Georgian officials negatively, as they perceived them as steps towards reunification. Expert C recalls that in the process of negotiations on the DCFTA between the EU and Georgia, Georgia had initially wanted to expand the DCFTA to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including a provision that certain technical criteria would have to be met before it came into force. The EU, however, had insisted on the territorial clause since Georgia did not have legal control over the breakaway territories. 96 He explains that because Abkhazia and South Ossetia primarily produced agricultural, perishable goods, exports were also naturally limited to Russia and their neighbourhood. Even if Abkhazia and South Ossetia had the possibility to trade with Europe, the limited production capacity would limit trade – as it does in Georgia. He adds that neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia could be compared to Transnistria (which has made agreements with Moldova to benefit from DCFTA) since Transnistria had heavy industry and was interested in export. Russia’s Role and Influence Expert C explains that Abkhazia was more part of Russia than part of Georgia, especially after 2008, when Abkhazia’s legal space, as well as everyday issues such as pensions, has been dominated by Russia. Russia does have even more presence in South Ossetia, especially in proportion to the population. Most South Ossetians were employed in the Russian military base or local administration. According to him, both entities appreciated that Russia’s recognition had provided them with significant military capabilities, “which means they cannot be concerned about any Georgian military or security encouragement”. In Abkhazia, the increased Russian prevalence was perceived as a serious downside as well, especially when it comes to Russian interference in the political world. This was not the case in South Ossetia as they had been used to the Russian prevalence since Russian officials had been appointed officials in Tskhinval/i before 2008. Since more than 85 per cent of Abkhazia’s and between 92-95 per cent of South Ossetia’s budget was financed by Russia, support of international organisations would not make a real difference, he thinks. He adds however that Abkhazia had an interest in having at least some international presence – while South Ossetia for symbolic reasons did not have an international presence, except for Russia. EU Engagement in Abkhazia Due to the fact that the EU’s engagement was very limited so that he “does not even know what to talk about in terms of engagement”, Expert C does not see interconnections between the EU’s enhanced relations with Georgia and the engagement with the non-recognised entities. What comes to his mind in terms of engagement is firstly the EU’s role within the GID and secondly the funding of projects. With regards to projects, he says Abkhaz’s scepticism against international assistance had increased under Russian control – and he assumes Abkhaz were also not allowed to take up such projects. The EU sub-grants NGOs and UNDP that would have a more neutral presence on the ground. There were some track-one and track-two initiatives, but this was very limited. The practical programmes tried to meet emergency needs. Their focus had moved from housing to agriculture. However, it was not possible to tackle 97 structural needs like the educational system or the healthcare system, as these issues could only be addressed together with authorities. What he criticises is above all the EU’s coordination, as he observes EU officials dealing with Georgia were located in Brussels and addressed Georgia and its different people, which would lead to the fact that its engagement policy fell “into departmental silos”. Coordination happened on the ground, mostly through the EU Delegation’s office in Tbilisi, which had limited presence to support the mediation team. He sees “the inability of the EU to coordinate itself when in the field” as a key weakness. Expert C addresses the low visibility of EU engagement. He says that the EU Information Office in Sukhumi was planned specifically under the NREP, but could never be realised. He believes that the reason was firstly pressure from Sukhum/i authorities, who were afraid of Russia’s reaction, and secondly opposition from Georgian authorities, who were afraid the EU Information Office could be presented by Sukhum/i authorities as the opening of an EU Embassy in Sukhum/i. He adds that it seems as if the EU would make sure it was not visible, and thinks that they either did not really try, or the lack of personal resources made further efforts impossible. EU and Conflict Transformation Expert C doubts there was a space for the EU to address Sukhum/i and Tskhinval/i as parties to the pre-existing conflicts. He argues that, as the EU had not been present in conflict mediation before 2008 (unlike the UN and OSCE), EU engagement in the previous conflicts would not be welcomed by Georgia. From the Georgian perspective, it was “logical” to tell the EU to first deal with the conflict they started with and only then talk about the possibility of engaging in the two others. Expert C underlines the important role of Nikolas Sarkozy in 2008 and he “would doubt very much that anyone else than France and Sarkozy at that point as EU Presidency would have engaged at all”. With regard to conflict transformation, he thinks the EU could make a significant difference if it had clearer policies. He believes that the EU did not unequivocally consider Georgia and whatever happened in Abkhazia and South Ossetia a European problem and was in general not clear about to what degree it wanted to be engaged in the Eastern Neighbourhood or how it wanted to deal with Russia. Instead of pursuing the current focus on secondary issues within the GID that ensured continuation of the talks rather than moving forward, he suggests the EU should follow a more practical policy, which would mean engage more actively and articulate their expectations towards Georgia, Russia and the breakaway re- 98 gions more clearly. As an example, he mentions that the EU could develop a strategy together with Georgia that would set criteria under which it would engage with Sukhum/i authorities – for example making suffrage for ethnic Georgians in local elections a precondition. While he thinks that the EUMM did not have a lot of leverage as it does not have access to the other side of the ABL, in case of a Russian attack “they would at least have to cross people with the EU flag on the Georgian side”. Nonetheless, Expert C considers important that EUMM was keeping the boundary line and helped facilitate contacts between the two sides in crisis situations. Assessing the NREP and Recommendations According to him, the NREP was “just a policy that is currently in place since nobody has a better idea”. Even at its launch, the NREP had rather described the realities on the ground than tried to change them, as he thinks. In the meanwhile, these realities had moved even further away from the NREP due to the increasing integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia within Russian structures. With regards to the engagement, he finds it “not very clear what the EU actually wants to achieve in Abkhazia”. Abkhazia was neither critically, nor practically important, and it was clear that the EU would care more about Georgia than about Abkhazia – in fact it would care about Abkhazia only to the extent that the EU had an interest in Georgia remaining stable and to the extent that a success in conflict resolution would be a success for the EU. According to Expert C, the question should not be how a future policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia should look like, but how the EU’s relations with Georgia and Russia should look like. It was the key weakness of the NREP to have “a narrow policy on conflict without keeping the strategic qualifications in mind”. By that, he means that the EU first needed to know what it wanted to do about Georgia in the medium and long-term perspective, as only then approaches towards the conflicts would become clearer. The EU also needed to decide whether they were planning to challenge Russian expansion in the neighbourhood, whether they were going to tolerate it or whether they would react with concern, but without action. A clearer Eastern Neighbourhood Policy would contribute to formulating a policy towards conflict that should also include Nagorno Karabakh and the conflicts in Ukraine. Since the objectives of the NREP were not clear, Expert C thinks it was hard to measure its previous success. In case the EU wanted the absence of war, they had met their objective. However, if they wanted positive peace, that implies that people living in those areas do have access to the rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights and can benefit from the Association 99 Agreement and DCFTA, he suggests that a more proactive policy in mediation and a more proactive approach in diplomacy would be needed. Expert D Expert D is a long-term observer of the conflicts in Georgia. Main challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia Expert D emphasises how important it was to separate the conflicts, as the situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia differed greatly in terms of their historical context and in terms of their current situation. Visits to Abkhazia were in principle – when approved by the Georgian Ministry for Reconciliation – possible, whereas South Ossetia’s de facto authorities kept borders closed, except for the GID Co- Chairs who visited South Ossetia four times a year and, under certain circumstances, the Red Cross. In Abkhazia, there was more – yet very limited – international presence (EU and UN representatives), which makes a difference with regard to information access. There were common challenges as well, as both entities share their status as partially recognised and non-recognised states, which “is actively promoted by Georgia”, as he adds. Russian passports were used by inhabitants of both entities as travel documents. He says that especially Abkhazians always pointed to the fact that their possibilities to travel abroad were restricted. However, they themselves would then use that as a “cheap counterargument” to justify why they in return restricted the mobility of ethnic Georgians who resided in Abkhazia. Ethnic Georgians suffered especially in both territories, as they were caught between two stools. He mentions education and healthcare as further problematic fields connected to mobility, as well as the fear of stigmatisation by fellow community members when travelling to Georgia to benefit from their healthcare system. Abkhazia and South Ossetia also had in common that there were no direct foreign investments, thus no jobs being created. Therefore, both communities were very dependent on Russian money, that – he knows that especially from South Ossetia – would often seep away instead of being used for the realisation of planned infrastructure projects. He believes that while the current situation did not have any advantage for Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s population, it might be pleasant for those in power who could, on the one hand, use the situation as an excuse to the residents and on the other hand profit from a market that was not free. Intentionally provocative, Expert D describes that according to the current Georgian narrative; Abkhazians and South Ossetians were Russian puppets that would love the Georgians if only they knew how good Georgians were. He thinks that while both territories were far away from being free states and have even moved farther away from that in recent years, not everything that happened in 100 Sukhum/i or Tskhinval/i was controlled by Russia. In Abkhazia, an independent opinion and discussion on local issues independent from Russia definitely existed. Abkhazians also managed to keep some space in their contracts with Russia. He, however, makes clear that he was certain self-governance could not function in either of the entities as there was too little democratic development and too little external observation. According to Expert D, Georgia dominated the situation towards the rest of the world. Whereas the Georgian narrative was not fully accepted, it did profit therefrom. NREP and Georgian Policies Expert D finds it interesting that in discussions about the NREP and Georgia’s policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia was emphasizing non-recognition, while the EU was emphasizing engagement. He thinks the situation for the EU in Georgia was peculiar and certainly not easy. On the one hand, there was the pronounced engagement with Abkhazia that at large would function quite well and was useful for the EU’s mediation efforts. On the other hand, the EU also played an important role in developing Georgia and making it more democratic, also with regards to minority rights. He thinks that as long as there were no fair minority policies in Georgia, where many questions in relations to Azerbaijani, Ossetian and Abkhazian minorities were still open, Georgia could not simply claim to Abkhazians and South Ossetians that everything was fine. This is where Expert D sees the interconnectedness between the NREP and the EU’s enhanced relations with Georgia. At the same time, it was clear that the EU had to reiterate its support for Georgian territorial integrity and sovereignty, he adds. Expert D mentions that in the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs there were “many hardliners who still act as they used to under Saakashvili”, whereby he means they would see Russia as their counterpart and refuse to listen to other opinions. Civil society, however, acknowledged the need to establish contacts and engage with Abkhazians. The Law on Occupied Territories would hinder the EU to support projects in the field of trade facilitation on a track-one-and-a-half level, as, for example, the British NGO International Alert carried out. Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA Expert D assumes that the Visa Liberalisation could not yet deliver results with regards to increasing the attractiveness of Georgian passports among Abkhazians and South Ossetians. Nonetheless, he thinks it was important to promote the idea, “yet without making a nationalistic fuss about it”. When people were informed 101 about the possible freedoms without patronising, this could play a positive role, even if these freedoms were not used immediately, he thinks. An expansion of the DCFTA to Abkhazia and South Ossetia does currently not seem realistic to Expert D. Other things would have to be tackled first, as there were, for instance, no functioning chambers of commerce in the entities. Furthermore, he does not see any added value for Abkhazians and South Ossetians. As their agricultural sector was in bad condition – even more so because of the pest problems – he could not think about anything they would have to offer. He emphasises that Transnistria was often mentioned in that context, but should in fact not be compared – the implementation of DCFTA was beneficial to them since they did have some industry sectors and the EU was their largest trading partner. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were however not attractive trading partners for the EU. In any case, DCFTA would mean Abkhazia and South Ossetia would have to subordinate to Georgian legislation. Russia’s Role and Influence Expert D speaks of a huge and increasing dependence on Russia in both territories but contradicts the Georgian narrative that described both entities as Russian puppets. He says it had not been clear how Moscow would react to the enhanced EU- Georgia relations. When Georgia and the EU finally signed the Association Agreement, it did not result in problems with Moscow. This shows, as he explains, that NATO was a much more emotional element for Russia than the EU. The deterioration of relations between Russia and the West, following the annexation of the Crimea, had negative effects on the situation for Abkhazians and South Ossetians, he remarks. Politicians and researchers, especially from the European North, would often equate Ukraine with Georgia, which he criticises as the contexts were totally different. However, he adds that many Abkhazians and South Ossetians officially welcomed the annexation of the Crimea, which had contributed to the equation. He is certain those people would in the meantime regret their statements, as it had become harder for Abkhazians to get visas to the Schengen area with Russian passports. He assumes that the annexation of the Crimea might also have led to more scepticism among Abkhazians regarding their own relations with Russia. EU Engagement in Abkhazia Expert D explains that the EU did not support any infrastructure projects, but focussed on human development. Russia however invested in infrastructure such as road construction, thus the financial amounts were nowhere near comparable. Except among NGOs that managed EU funds, he doubts there was a lot of awareness in Abkhazia about the EU’s financial engagement. 102 However, according to Expert D, the EU was already working on a better promotion of what it stood for. The EU was facing a lot of counterpropaganda in the breakaway territories. He mentions that, for example, its activities were often reduced to “promoting homosexuality”. Counteracting disinformation was easier in Abkhazia, where the EU was present and where people did have some insights into the West. Expert D thinks that the benefits of engagement in Abkhazia for the EU lay in the maintenance of contacts. He believes that some people within the EU might have begun to see it in a more ideological way – as a counterbalance against Russia. When asked about his opinion whether a similar engagement might be possible in future in South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region, he says he could not imagine that since borderisation was much stronger there. While the OSCE had carried out EU funded infrastructure projects in the past, such as the restoration of the Zonkari Dam in 2011/12, he says that since 2013 such projects had become unthinkable due to South Ossetian opposition. In the current situation, they would if at all only take EU money if they could use it without restrictions, he adds. EU and Conflict Transformation He states that the fact that the EUMM could not fulfil its mandate on both sides of the ABL limited the mediation and engagement elements with Abkhazia. He emphasises that engagement would always depend on personalities. According to him, it had functioned well under EUSR Herbert Salber and he thinks would continue like that under Toivo Klaar. He mentions the former Polish EUMM Head Andrzej Tyszkewicz as a negative example in this context, whom Abkhazians did not recognise as interlocutor because of his very direct pro-Georgian statements – leading to a 2-year suspension of IPRMs in Abkhazia. Expert D is certain in the current situation, the motto concerning platforms should be “the more, the better”. While on a civil society level track-one-and-ahalf projects between Abkhazia and Georgia were facilitated by the Georgian Ministry for Reconciliation, there were still few contacts between ordinary people. With regards to political dialogue, he explains that there were tendencies towards creating alternative channels or being more creative in the Geneva framework, but this was against Russia’s will. While Russia constantly demanded from the other participants to talk to Abkhazians and South Ossetians, they would only tolerate talks on an official and formal level, but disapprove of any other form of contact, even of talks on an official but informal level, as they tried to prevent a process of reconciliation. Assessing the NREP and Recommendations Expert D summarises that the EU did have leverage on Georgia, which already had been used in terms of proposing certain actions or demanding pragmatism. 103 During the last year, the EU had, on the one hand, praised Georgia’s efforts, and on the other hand, remarked they wanted to do more. He considers positive that currently, Georgia was politically stable and the former radical opposition had become much more pragmatic. In general, Georgians at present wanted to engage more actively and wanted to offer opportunities to Abkhazians and South Ossetians. At the same time, the de facto entities were sealing themselves off even more. Russia for its part supported Abkhazia and South Ossetia comprehensively, which prevented a possible reconciliation. Given the situation, Expert D remarks that Georgia had been very flexible. Expert D argues that of course not every step that the officials in Georgia took with regards to Abkhazians and South Ossetians had been to their benefit. Here he thinks a new approach was needed, which was also something international actors constantly highlighted: Instead of focussing on symbolic actions and promotional events, Georgia should better concentrate on the real needs of the societies living in the breakaway territories. Expert E Expert E is Member of the Georgian Parliament within the election block “Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia”. She chairs the Parliament’s Committee for Human Rights and Civil Society Integration. Main challenges in Abkhazia and South Ossetia Expert E describes the current human rights situations in Abkhazia as severe. She specifies that firstly there was no access from the Georgian side and secondly ethnic Georgians were suppressed by the de facto state. They did not – or only limited – have access to native language education and faced torture and assault. NREP and Georgian Policies In the interview, Expert E focuses on Georgian policies and says the creation of free medical services for Abkhazians and South Ossetians – they could benefit from medical services under the same conditions as Georgians – were a major step in human rights, where the scope for action, in general, was limited for the Georgian State. Expert E explicates that the constitutional reform that comes into force after the 2018 presidential elections would show Georgia’s political will to improve the human rights situation in Georgia significantly. However, even though in Georgia’s view it spread to the occupied territories, it is unclear whether the improvements could have any impact there since Georgia was not allowed to exercise effective jurisdiction in the – as she calls them – “occupied” territories. Expert E talks about the package of proposals that aimed at opening the benefits of DCFTA for those living on the occupied territories. She describes how Georgian policymakers were trying hard to offer people living in the occupied 104 territories the possibility to found undertakings and export their products without duties as well as giving them access to educational facilities. After the occupying regime had refused to hand over the body of the Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili, who had died in Akhalgori in February 2018, to his family, the legislative process had been delayed. It had been revived after the transferral of the body. When asked whether there would be a theoretical possibility to delay the process with only one entity in case of an incident but continue with the other65, she explains that it did not matter whether a certain incident happened in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia, since the occupation regime was the same in each case: Russia. Unofficial talks with the EU about amendments to the territorial clause of the DCFTA (which would mean expanding the DCFTA to Abkhazia and South Ossetia) had already taken place and she is certain the EU would support Georgia in its plans. While the package of proposals included changes with regards to the social and economic benefits from the DCFTA for the occupied territories, she explains that there was no discussion on the state level about changing the Strategy on Occupied Territories or the Law on Occupied Territories as such. This means international actors would also in future need to ask Georgian authorities for permission to establish contacts with the territories or realise projects there. Expert E does not name the NREP specifically, but she underlines how important it was that EU officials did not enter official relations with the de facto authorities. What the Georgian Government would welcome were actions taken by the EU and other international actors to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. She is certain the EU supported Georgia in its intention to reintegrate Abkhazians and South Ossetians into Georgian society, and supported Georgia against the occupation regime. She thinks that financial assistance, as well as technical and expert support, were important, besides the crucial support on a political and international level that would ensure that Georgia did not disappear from the international agenda. Enhanced Relations: Visa Liberalisation and DCFTA Expert E interprets the enhanced relations with the EU as one of the most important features of Georgia’s policy of reunification since Georgia was carrying 65 Expert E confirmed the continuation of the legislative process on 15 May 2018 via e-mail. The first interview with Expert E took place on 16 March 2018 when the process was delayed, so the exact question was whether the process could not be continued with Abkhazia only, as the incident had taken place in Tskhinvali region.

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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.