Preface Conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia go back to theyears 80’s and 90’s of XX century being a result of the dissolution of USSR.They are a direct outcome of a long lasting ethnical tensions, national stigmasand independency movements awakened by Perestroika.
Until today, after almost three decades, the region isfar from peaceful. The latest conflict in 2008 has actually never been resolved.The both sides of the conflict, being Georgia on one side and allied forces ofRussia, Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other side are still kept on tenterhooks. The goal of this paper is to analyse the events andcircumstances leading to war started in 2008, trace its course and eventuallyexplain the aftermath expressed in the relations between the countries that hadtaken part in the conflict. The research is based on articles, online sources,official documents and scholarly literature. Historicalbackground: Abkhazia In order to understand the processes that took placein the South Caucasus, we must go back in history, back to the times of USSRexistence. In the years 1931-1991 Abkhazia was formally an Autonomous SSRincorporated into Georgian SSR.
Such way of things was a direct outcome ofStalin’s administrative directives, although the indigenous Abkhazians neverconsidered themselves a part of Georgia’s demography, culture nor heritage ingeneral. The idea was to create a more centralised administrative area of USSR,comprised of Georgian SR and Abkhazian SR.1Abkhaz belong to Abkhaz-Adyghe ethnical group and are closely related toCircassians (an English counterpart of Adyghe). The predominant religion isOrthodoxy, however the Abkhaz relatives living in the northern parts of theregion are followers of Sunni Islam.
They speak their own language, although avast majority of Abkhazians are proficient Russian speakers.On the contrary majority of Georgians are Christians speaking their ownlanguage: Georgian. Following the colonization of Abkhaz territories, Georgianshave become the biggest ethnical group in the region (around 45%)2On February 21st, 1992 a Georgian Parliament approved arollback to a Georgian constitution from the year 1921. According to thatconstitution Abkhazia was not recognized as an autonomous region. For Abkhazia,such claims, followed by the liquidation of internal borders between Georgiaand Abkhazia, resulted in a deterioration of their official status. Theproclamation of Abkhazia’s independency became imminent. On the 23rdof July 1992, Abkhaz parliament voted for the reintroduction of their ownofficial constitution, established in 1925, which allowed Abkhazia to nullifyall the political relations with Georgia.
It was and indirect declaration ofindependency. Georgia stood against such resolution, claiming this constitutionto be void. Few weeks later a conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia, won byAbkhazian forces backed by Russians, shifted demographic, forcing an estimated150,000 Georgians3later to abandon their homes and flee to the closest Georgian zone ofinfluence. In May, 1994 a ceasefire is signed between Georgian government andAbkhaz separatists. At this very point Abkhazia becomes and independent entity,however, it is not recognized by the UN and international community, as thoserecognize Abkhazia as part of Georgian territory and respect Georgianterritorial integrity. It is also crucial to mention that Georgia became alegitimate member of UN in July 1992, few days before the conflict emerged.
Hencethe international community do not recognize Abkhazia as a sovereign state,because back in 1992 it was still officially an autonomous region of Georgia. Theaftermath of the first conflict crippled Georgia, as it technically had lostAbkhazia. At this very point it is worth to stress again, that despite UnitedNations Security Council’s de iure recognition of Abkhazia as a part of Georgian territory, de factoAbkhazia was and independent state denying Georgian authority over the region. Quote:”The principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity was constantly reaffirmed inUNSC resolutions, as well as the need to define “The political status ofAbkhazia, respecting fully the sovereignty and territorial integrity of theRepublic of Georgia”4 – end of the quote. Georgiacontinuously claims itself to be a rightful governor of Abkhazia. Historical background: South Ossetia One of the most substantial differences between history of Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia is a fact, that South Ossetia had been promised by USSR to becomethe SSR same way as Abkhazia was, but it never happened.
Instead, South Ossetiawas straight away incorporated to Georgian SR in 1922. The incorporation itselfwas not really a decisive factor leading to outbursts in that region. Whatreally had made South Ossetia rebel against Georgia, was Georgian attitudetowards Ossetia. The harsh, sudden and robust process of “Georgianisation” wasthe key to the animosities between Georgians and indigenous people of Ossetia. Hereis a fragment of interview with Znaur Gassiyev, one of the leaders of SouthOssetian independence movement5: Question – Why not?return back to the former status of South Ossetia – ed. note Answer – First ofall, we simply will not be able to be second-class people, as we are consideredat Georgia’s Government House.
Second, too much blood has been shed. And forwhat? To return to the past? Most importantly, we don’t believe that theleaders of the present opposition and Tengiz Sigua himself former primeminister of Georgia – ed. note, are truly democratic.
Question – But asfar as I know, Russia is in no hurry to take South Ossetia into its embraces.Moreover, you will agree there are quite a few constitutional and legal snagshere. Answer – I agree.But the USSR has collapsed; it no longer exists. So why should its laws andConstitution be in effect? As we can see Ossetians held an immense grudge towards their Georgianauthorities. The grudge evoked mainly by the poor treatment of indigenouspeople of Ossetia by Georgians.
Moreover, Ossetia has always wanted to beeither an independent state, or wanted to be incorporated to the RussianFederation and by that unified with its neighbour – North Ossetia. However, the ethnical conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia was notfuelled solely by the mutual disregard. South Ossetia’s geography, consistingmainly of mountains and hills without an access to any sea, was and still is agiant obstacle for the Ossetian economy to strive and flourish. War in 2008 In 2004, following the events of Rose Revolution in Georgia, MikheilSaakashvili came to power. That event became a prelude for the conflict in2008, as the policies of Saakashivili were aimed for the absolute integrationof Georgia and its territories, paved with efforts to minimise Russia’sinfluence in that post soviet region – a true recipe for dynamite. The next turning point that took place is Kosovo Assembly, a region ofabout 2 million people, and its declaration of independence, recognised andembraced by the majority of European Union member countries and United States.According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the acceptance of suchprecedence “could lead to an undermining of established rules and ethics forinteraction between states”6.
The dubious andcontroversial Kosovo’s proclamation of independence on February 17thimmediately attracted a deep scrutiny regarding the recognition of Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia. A chain of debates has risen again.Not only Abkhazia and South Ossetia sought an opportunity in the eventsfrom February, Russian Federation, having invested huge amounts of money in theAbkhazia, also tried to undermine the Georgian authority over the regions.The fear of the Kosovo’s casus repetition pushed Russia to secure itsinfluence in the post soviet region, believed to be the Russia’s natural zoneof influence.
The first step undertaken by Russia was lifting sanctions ofAbkhazia on 6th of March, 2008, allowing both sides to officiallyestablish political and economic relations. Furthermore, on March 21stState Duma called the Russian officials to reassure the security of Russiancitizens living in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, referring to theevents of February 17th7. Another key eventleading to war was the NATO summit held in Bucharest from the 2nd to4th of April. The acceptance of Georgia into the NATO would reinforceand reassure their reign over two insurgent regions. Russia warned NATO, thatsuch step would result in Georgia losing the two rebelled regions, and shallundertake every necessary step in order to prevent Georgia from obtaining NATOmembership.
USA, Canada, central and eastern European states voted for theincorporation of Georgia, however France and Germany remained hesitant, fearinga backlash from Russian side. Ultimately no serious claims regarding Georgiawere established – such reluctance and ambiguousness of NATO states showedRussia how vulnerable Alliance is, and encouraged it to strengthen is stance onthe Georgia case. Two days later, president Putin recommended Russiangovernment to establish official relations with so called authorities ofAbkhazia and South Ossetia and institutionalise the economic, social andpolitical cooperation. Following such recommendation, both regions- formerlyinsurgents- has now became, in the eyes of Russia, official partners with anaim to integrate them with Russian Federation.
Georgia had no choice but tointervene.8 Russia was gradually reinforcing its presence on the Abkhaz territory.The pinnacle of its actions was on the 30th of July- a completion ofa railroad connecting Sukhumi and Ochamchire, later used for a swift transportationof Russian soldiers to the warzone, the placement of military and heavy warfareon the Abkhaz-Georgian border and the military maneuvers in Caucasus.
The first skirmishes between Georgians and insurgents took place between2nd and 7th of August. Those were just mere fireexchanges, claimed by both sides to be just an answer to other side’s hostility.The real war started at night between 7th and 8thof August when the Georgian military opened fire at Russian forces stationingTskhinvali, triggering an intervention of Russian 58th Army.On the 9th of August a martial law was introduced all overGeorgia. Fearing the feasible bombardment of Tbilisi, all of the Georgianofficials were evacuated from the capital. Seeing how vulnerable Georgian sidewas, Abkhazia openly joined the conflict, repelling all the Georgian forcesfrom the region. On the 10th and 11th of August, a seriesof ferocious bombardments and air strikes done by Russians disabled Georgiankey strategic points (i.
e. Kodori Gorge; military base in Tbilisi and Kodori)and captured a Poti harbour, leaving Georgia hindered. 1 Zbigniew Lewicki, Konfliktgruzi?sko-abchaski w ?wietle dzia?a? pokojowych ONZ (1992-2009), s. 18.2 Georgia: The AbkhazianConflict, UN, DI (EUR)POL1, WH160, 1995, s. 12.
3 Celine Francis, ConflictResolution and Status; The Case of Georgia and Abkhazia (1989- 2008)4 Celine Francis, ConflictResolution and Status; The Case of Georgia and Abkhazia (1989- 2008), quotep. 90; reference no 156, p. 110.
5 Fragment quoted from Georgy Ovcharenko’s article found inbook Countdown to war in Georgia,East View Press, p. 33-346 Countdown to war in Georgia,East View Press, p. 3217 Robert Potocki, Marcin Domaga?a, Przemys?aw Sieradzan,Konflikt kaukaski w 2008 roku,Europejskie Centrum Analiz Geopolitycznych8 Robert Potocki, Marcin Domaga?a, Przemys?aw Sieradzan,Konflikt kaukaski w 2008 roku,Europejskie Centrum Analiz Geopolitycznych, p. 118.