A contested election has pushed Georgia's break-away region of Abkhazia to the brink of violence. The regional legislature has been "paralyzed" and local television has been taken off the air, indicating that the political environment has become dangerously polarized following an Abkhaz court ruling mandating a fresh election.
The Abkhazia election controversy is shaping up as a potential policy disaster for Russia. The Kremlin's bungled attempt to manipulate the political succession process in breakaway region could end up depriving Moscow of a potential "trump card" in its often-contentious dealings with Georgia.
Georgia's National Security Council is considering a new peace plan for the separatist region of Abkhazia. The plan envisions the creation of a Georgian federation, in which Abkhazia would retain broad autonomy. It also seeks to encourage the repatriation of an estimated 260,000 individuals displaced by fighting over a decade ago.
The hotel is now home to roughly 800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia and the earlier conflict in South Ossetia. The IDPs were initially to be merely temporary occupants of the Iveria. Their stay, however, is now destined to stretch beyond 10 years.
Just over a decade ago, the Iveria Hotel, which towers over Tbilisi's city center, offered some of the best accommodations in Georgia available to tourists. Today, the 15-storey hotel serves as a monument to the government's inability to address Georgia's myriad social and economic problems.
Seeking to give his supporters a political boost in Georgia's upcoming parliamentary election, President Eduard Shevardnadze is promoting the notion of "internationalizing" the peacekeeping force in Abkhazia -- a move designed to reduce Russia's influence in the separatist region. The president's efforts, however, have yielded few results.
Recent protests over the autumn parliamentary elections, as well as the June 5 kidnappings in the Kodori Gorge, may poison Georgia's efforts to lure foreign help in negotiating the Abkhaz conflict. On numerous past occasions, diplomatic snarls with Russia and the Abkhazians have halted the peace process. This time, major political instability within Georgia may emerge as the weak reed.
Talks between Georgia and Russia on a joint policy toward Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia have produced limited progress toward consensus. Critically, Abkhaz representatives did not attend the talks. On June 19, Abkhaz spokespeople denied progress with Georgia on other issues, and Moscow remained officially silent on the discussions.
Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze opened two days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 6 at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Discussions aim to ease bilateral tension on a variety of issues, with the Georgian leader focusing much of his attention on the Abkhazia issue.
Russia's preferential treatment of the separatist-minded Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is stoking renewed tension between Moscow and Tbilisi. This latest round of the long-running bilateral row has caused further erosion to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's domestic image at a time when the country is preparing for pivotal elections in late 2003.