TBILISI: Bagapsh: International Recognition Of Abkhazia Sure To Foll

By Nino Mumladze

The Messenger, Georgia
Aug 1 2007

The frequently referenced "uniqueness" of the Kosovo case is "unsound,"
but an impending recognition of Kosovo independence will accelerate the
same process for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, claims Sergey Bagapsh,
secessionist leader of Abkhazia, in a July 31 interview with the
Russian daily Kommersant.

"The fate of Kosovo has been ordained, thus our fate will also be
determined in the nearest future…And if such a decision [recognition]
is taken towards the end of the year, it will untie the hands of other
countries for recognizing Abkhazia, Transdniester, Nagorno Karabakh,
and South Ossetia," said Bagapsh, adding that his region has "even
more historical and legal grounds for independence than Kosovo."

Presuming recognition of an independent Kosovo just around the corner,
the de facto president of breakaway Abkhazia spelled out what he
imagines to be Russia’s game plan for supporting Abkhaz independence.

"Of course the double standards in big politics influence our case as
well, but Russia’s position was constructive from the very beginning,"
Bagapsh said.

He added that while many in Abkhazia were upset that Russia
favored Serbia’s territorial integrity and opposed recognition of
an independent Kosovo, this position of a "great country" towards a
geo-strategic partner, Serbia, "is understandable."

And now, Bagapsh said, if the international community flies past
Russia’s objections, Moscow will say, "we didn’t want this precedent,
but now having your decision on Kosovo recognition in violation of
all international norms-what hinders us in recognizing Abkhazia?"

The interviewing Kommersant journalist then posited a hypothetical
for Bagapsh: what if Tbilisi tried to use a repeat of its ‘South
Ossetia project’ in the Abkhazia conflict?

That is, if Tbilisi countered the upcoming de facto elections in
Abkhazia, two years ahead, with alternative elections among IDPs
from Abkhazia. The international community could then talk with
that elected government-in-exile, the journalist suggests, entirely
sidelining Bagapsh’s administration.

"Let [Europe] talk with them. I’ve already warned those mediators
[the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General]: we do respect you,
but the sides in the negotiation process are Georgia and Abkhazia and
if you violate these agreements, we won’t end up with a dialogue,"
Bagapsh said to Kommersant.

Commenting on international insistence on renewing dialogue, Bagapsh
reiterated his preconditions for resuming talks with Tbilisi. His
government would only negotiate with Tbilisi after they pull out
their forces from upper Kodori Gorge, the only Georgian-controlled
territory in Abkhazia.

"They fail to understand that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not just
little boys in shorts, but full-fledged partners in negotiations,"
Bagapsh declared, reproaching President Mikheil Saakashvili for
sending Georgian forces to upper Kodori, which served to break off
talks with secessionist Sokhumi. He also expressed doubts about
Georgia’s sincerity in proposing high-level dialogue.

"I know why [Tbilisi] needs face-to-face talks between the presidents
[meaning Saakashvili and Bagapsh]; it’s so that they’ll be able to
say that Bagapsh and Saakashvili are meeting for talks and they would
have had normal relations if not for Russia’s interference. We won’t
give them the opportunity," he said.

Bagapsh predicted that the ‘South Ossetia project,’ with Tbilisi-backed
Dmitry Sanakoyev establishing a government kilometers away from
secessionist Tskhinvali, will only lead to war in the region. And it
couldn’t happen in Abkhazia, Bagapsh said.

"We have by definition a different situation than that of South
Ossetia. It’s impossible to find another Sanakoyev in Abkhazia,"
Bagapsh stated, going on to label Sanakoyev a "traitor."

And why has a "traitor" been invited to speak in front of European
parliament members, while the de facto leaders of Abkhazia and
South Ossetia are shunted aside? It reflects poorly on the West,
says Bagapsh.

"Neither Kokoity, nor I, nor our foreign minister have ever appeared
in the European parliament…And here everything is so simple:
Georgia requested and Sanakoyev was offered a tribune [to speak
to]. And after that, how should we treat Europe and the US, if they
are always listening to only one side of the conflict?" he asked.