Security and stability in the South Caucasus after the August War: a new strategy for engagement with Georgia?

9 June 2010

Alexander Cooley, Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, said the “key” to stabilise the South Caucasus is for the international community to boost its engagement with Georgia, but without recognising its right to Abkhazia.

The political climate in Abkhazia has changed since 2008, with more emphasis on state building than on relations with Georgia. This is partly as Russia has recognised Abkhazia, but it now looks as if it might “absorb” the country. To avoid this the international community needs to increase its engagement in Abkhazia, building economic links and introducing confidence-building measures.

Lincoln Mitchell, Associate Professor at Columbia University's Harriman Institute agreed that the international community needs to “stay engaged” to help Georgia become a true democracy, which is “the key to Georgia’s stability”. Georgia received approximately billions of dollars of loans and grants to keep the state solvent after the war, but will continue to face a difficult financial situation.

He said that while in its current position ”Georgia is not of strategic importance,” to the US, if it becomes a ”success story”, its strategic value for the US will increase.

Peter Semneby, EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus, agreed that it is crucial to remain engaged in Georgia, the South Caucasus and the Eastern neighborhood ”in a way that is visible and as effective as possible”. The EU launched the Eastern partnership, and also adopted a policy of engagement with countries in the region, but specifically avoids taking a position on the status of Abhazia, focusing on strengthening contacts with the population and on confidence building projects.

He explained that we must “change the paradigms” and actively pursue a strategy of engagement as ”frozen does not mean safe”.

H E Grigol Mgaloblishvili, Head of the Mission of Georgia to NATO, said speeding up Georgia's NATO membership ”is key”, and that engagement with Abkhazia, but without recognition, is essential. Georgia's approach is “dual-track, holistic and human-centered”, and increases the “welfare of those on the other side of the line”.

This approach should be coordinated through joint action between Georgia, the US, and the EU: ”Let's do it together and let's not create alternative ways from the outside”, he said, as any other approach would undermine creating links between the people.

Bruno Coppetiers, Professor of Political Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel said none of the parties involved appeared to have a clear strategy about how to act. Engagement with Abkhazia, based on human needs is not enough, as it is also essential to engage with authorities, which should done through a status-neutral liaison office.

It is not necessary for all links between Abkhazia and South Ossetia to go through Georgia, instead Tbilisi should give Abkhazia limited international space and allow it to have non-political relations with the outside world, to prevent it becoming isolated.