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.
A hostage crisis in Georgia ended March 20 with the release of four CIS peacekeeping troops by Georgian guerrillas operating in the separatist region of Abkhazia. The incident is helping to refocus international attention on the issue of separatism in Georgia.
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.
In a report to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the downing of a UN helicopter in Abkhazia as "an outrage." He went on to question the feasibility of achieving a political solution to the Abkhazia question. But Annan's report, coming more than three weeks after the helicopter assault, could well be lost in the swirl of internal chaos in Georgia.
The fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks is spreading to the Caucasus. After years of uneasy peace, Georgia and Abkhazian separatists are mobilizing to resume their bitter conflict. Georgian officials are accusing Russia of fomenting unrest, and President Eduard Shevardnadze is considering pulling Georgia out of the Commonwealth of Independent States.