Reaction to a new UN Security Council resolution on achieving a political settlement of the Abkhazia question in Georgia has ranged from indifferent to scornful. Few expect it to achieve its stated aim of invigorating a political settlement. Some observers say that the inability to achieve a breakthrough on Abkhazia, combined with Georgia's domestic political disarray, is strengthening a destabilizing trend in the country.
The Security Council adopted its latest resolution on Abkhazia on January 31. It reportedly calls on Georgian and Abkhaz leaders to intensify efforts at a negotiated settlement to the 1992 civil war, in which Abkhazia gained de facto independence. The resolution says that resolution of the conflict will require "concessions by both sides." The Security Council also extended the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) until July 31.
Georgian officials greeted the resolution with caution. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze said Georgia tends not to regard UN resolutions "as a magic wand that can settle the existing conflict overnight," the Interfax news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Astamur Tania, an aide to Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, said the Security Council's appeal would have no impact on Sukhumi's negotiating strategy. "We will not consider this document," Tania told Georgian television. On February 5, Abkhaz officials rejected outright guidelines prepared by UN special representative Dieter Boden on a political distribution of power between Georgia and the separatist-minded region.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze struck a more optimistic note in his weekly radio interview February 4. "I understand perfectly well the skepticism of those people who say that although the UN has adopted a number of resolutions on the Abkhaz issue before, there is no tangible result. However, this latest document includes a large number qualitatively new conceptions."
Shevardnadze pointed out that, unlike previous UN resolutions, this one had the full support of Russia, a key player in the Caucasus. Indeed, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko stressed that the January 31 resolution was concluded "in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and close interaction between members of the UN Security Council."
At the same time, Shevardnadze's administration has not addressed two long-standing problems: corruption and chronic economic stagnation. In addition, the government continues to struggle to accommodate the approximately 250,000 Georgians displaced by the Abkhaz conflict.
There are signs that the patience of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is reaching the breaking point, and that they, along with their political representatives, are willing to engage in increasingly radical tactics to seek redress of their complaints.
Since January 19, about 1,000 IDPs have conducted a protest at the Inguri River, which forms the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The protesters are demanding that Russian peacekeeping forces operating under the UN mandate either be withdrawn from the region, or redeployed to areas deeper within Abkhazia.
Local analysts express concern that the Georgian government is becoming dependent on the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile for political support. Many government-in-exile members served in the Soviet era legislature of the then autonomous republic of Abkhazia.
The mandates of the government-in-exile expired long ago, and many displaced persons grew increasingly critical of the personal privileges its representatives enjoy in Tbilisi. However, successful business investment and high-profile connections have helped the government-in-exile, headed by Tamaz Nadareishvili, to emerge as a powerful interest group, able to mobilize a significant portion of the IDP community.
There is no direct proof to confirm that the protest action at the Inguri River is being coordinated by the government-in-exile. However, Nadareishvili has been quick to lend support to the protest movement. According to some Georgian media reports, the government-in-exile also exerts influence over vigilante and partisan groups operating in Abkhazia.
Observers say that while the IDP protest along the Inguri River is a natural result of their frustration over the lack of progress on a political settlement, their demands are unrealistic.
Shevardnadze said January 28 that it is "too early" to discuss full withdrawal of the peacekeepers. But the Georgian president hinted that he might seek a redeployment of the CIS peacekeeping force during the next CIS summit scheduled to be held in March. Local experts give a redeployment little chance of becoming a reality. Such a move, they explain, would leave Abkhaz officials with little choice other than to renew hostilities as it would deprive them control over an area of key economic and strategic significance.
Moving the peacekeeper checkpoints would leave the Gali district of Abkhazia, the region's main agricultural zone, under the control of Georgian forces. In addition the Inguri hydropower station would also come under Georgian jurisdiction. Currently, the station serves as Abkhazia's chief source of electricity.
The international community, including the UN and Russia, appears to favor retention of the fragile status quo in Abkhazia. But recent developments show that advocates of a resumption of the Abkhaz conflict are gaining strength. At the same time, the Georgian government's ability to resist pressure for a resort to force is diminishing.
To appease IDPs and other hardliners, the Georgian government is likely to advance a harder line in its international negotiations. However no clear policy vision on a specific course of action seems to currently exist. Without a clear strategy, observers say, the danger is growing that the Abkhazia question could combine with other domestic factors to produce a total breakdown of order in Georgia.
Jaba Devdariani is a Founding Director of the UN Association of Georgia (www.una.org.ge) and editor of Civil Georgia (www.civil.ge) - Internet magazine offering civil view on life in Georgia.