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Entries in South Ossetia (8)

Friday
Sep232011

Tuvalu Recognizes Abkhazia

Today, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Abkhazia, Maxim Gvinjia, announced that the Pacific nation of Tuvalu recognized the Republic of Abkhazia.  This is the 6th nation to announce diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia and the second from the Pacific region this year.  The agreement was signed in Sukhum between Tuvalu's Prime Minister Vili Telavi and the Prime Minister of Abkhazia, Sergey Shamba, on September 18.  Tuvalu also recognized South Ossetia this week. 

Congratulations to Abkhazia!  

Monday
Sep052011

Reply to Bruce George's Article in The Commentator on Abkhazia Elections

 

Mr. George has written an article for the Commentator full of misinformation and falsehoods about Abkhazia.  I don't know if he has ever been to Abkhazia, but I have.  I am an American businessman and have been spending time there for the last 5 years.  

Mr. George would have a reader believe that Abkhazia is occupied by Russia.  An occupational power should have troops patrolling the cities and its officials running the organs of government. However, in 5 years, I have seen Russian soldiers less than 5 times and I can not recall ever seeing them in Abkhazia's beautiful capital, Sukhum. I have been to Abkhaz government offices many times and not once have I seen a Russian official. Never.  The Abkhaz make their own policy.  

Russia is not occupying Abkhazia.

That Abkhazia is occupied is a myth fostered by Georgian President Saakashvili and those who fail to hold his feet to the fire for his own failings on human rights issues.  The Russian Army does have a presence in Abkhazia for defensive purposes and to protect the border.  That is it.  If Russia is occupying Abkhazia, then the American government is occupying South Korea.  

Unfortunately, Mr. George has allied himself with the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, on the issue of Georgia's borders.  In 1931, Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, dissolved Abkhazia's separate status within the Soviet Union and incorporated it into the Georgian S.S.R.  If that had not been done, Abkhazia likely would have been internationally recognized, along with the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union when it collapsed, in 1991.

In addition to the myth of occupation, Mr. George repeats other falsehoods about Abkhazia.

Falsehood:  Mr. George says that Abkhazia was ethnically cleansed in a "coordinated campaign by Moscow."  

Russia did not "ethnically cleanse" Abkhazia.  There is zero evidence this happened.  The Russian Government was not a party to the conflict.  Many Georgian soldiers fled across the border to Russia when the Abkhaz gained control.  The Russian government actually supported Georgia's position on Abkhazia for many years, enforcing a blockade against Abkhazia that was not lifted until 1999.  Why then? Georgia's constant bellicosity, threats and attacks.

Falsehood:  The homes of Georgians who left in the conflict have been turned over to thousands of Russians moving into the country.

Wrong.  Estimates put the Russian population at a lower level than in the prewar era.  Mr. George talks about the number of Georgians who lived in Abkhazia prior to the events of the 1990's, but he fails to mention that the majority of Georgians were moved into Abkhazia in the 1930's on the orders of Josef Stalin.  This was done to ethnically dilute Abkhazia.   Later, Georgian officials tried to suppress the Abkhaz language and Abkhaz culture. Most of the homes that were abandoned at the end of the war remain empty.

I deplore the loss of any life or home in conflict.  Georgia started the war when the autonomy that Abkhazia sought was rejected.  The Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, then ordered troops to attack (now Shevardnadze says this was a mistake and advocates Georgia's recognition of Abkhazia's sovereignty)..  During the conflict, Georgians committed atrocities against the Abkhaz and many Abkhaz, Russians and Armenians sought refuge in Russia.  A Georgian general threatened the Abkhaz with genocide (video can be seen on youtube). The Georgian military also burnt the Abkhaz National Library and Archives.  I know this first hand, having seen it many times.

Falsehood:  Mr. George says that few nations have recognized Russia's annexation of Abkhazia. 

Nonsensical.   If Russia had annexed it , the Russian  government would hardly be encouraging other nations to recognize Abkhazia's sovereignty. Russia has not annexed Abkhazia.  There is a border with border agents and customs agents on both sides.  Abkhazia has its own government.

Falsehood:  Mr. George states that Georgians are prohibited from voting in the election.  

Another fabrication.  Georgians may vote and do.  They must get Abkhaz citizenship, which thousands have done. In fact, deceased President Bagapsh's wife is an ethnic Georgian.  But if they seek Abkhaz citizenship, Georgians are denounced as traitors by the Georgian government.

Falsehood:  The Russians have responsibility for the elections.  

Wrong again.  The Abkhaz conduct their elections.  I was there on August 26 for the Presidential election. There were no officials from Russia at any of the polling stations I visited or that any that election observers from 28 nations (including Mr. George's, the United Kingdom) went to.  In fact, I was told by observers and observed myself that the process was free and fair and democratic. One Italian observer told me that Abkhazia has more democratic elections than many of the nations that refuse to recognize it.  Abkhazia has again had a peaceful transfer of power, something Georgia has never done. 

Falsehood: Russia is causing poverty in Abkhazia.

Actually, Russia has a program of rebuilding Abkhaz infrastructure.  Many Russian tourists visit Abkhazia, and Russia buys the majority of Abkhazia's exports.  The reason for poverty in Abkhazia, which, I am told, is similar to that in provincial Georgia (I cannot go to find out.  I have been threatened with imprisonment and death), is that Georgia is using its allies to enforce an economic blockade on Abkhazia.

What is the result of Georgia's economic blockade?  Abkhaz products can be sold in very few places and they can not buy products directly from most nations. Their passports are not recognized, making travel more difficult. There are no bank card machines or movie theaters in Abkhazia because of the pressure on the clearing and licensing firms by Georgia.

So Mr. George decries poverty in Abkhazia and then supports the policies that cause it.

Abkhazia will never revert to Georgian control.  If Russia were to leave its base in Abkhazia,  the Georgian government would likely attack, as they have done in the past.   So Russia is not an occupier, but the guarantor of peace.  Why?  They have seen a Georgian Government, armed by American money, attack small, and nearly defenseless, South Ossetia without provocation in 2008 . If any doubt the point, look at the EU Commission report on the genesis of the war.

The title of Mr. George's article states that "Sham elections in Abkhazia should not distract us from finding peace in the Caucasus".  The election was not a sham and true peace can not be achieved by "us", but only by Georgia giving up its aggressive intent and territorial claims against Abkhazia and South Ossetia- two nations that want no part of living under its control. Remember every conflict in the Caucasus involving the Republic of Georgia, has been started by the Republic of Georgia.  I hope that the U.S. and the E.U. and their allies will not continue to support Georgia's claims and to arm it.  It is destabilizing and dangerous.

 

Tuesday
Aug302011

Alahadze, Abkhazia


This morning, I returned to Sochi from Abkhazia.  I spent Sunday night and Monday in Alahadze, which is about a 10 minute drive south of Gagra.  Alahadze has a number of inexpensive, rustic guesthouses that cater to Russian tourists.  The beach is beautiful and uncrowded and the sea was cool and refreshing.  I walked to the beach past a cemetery and cows grazing under the trees.  But with the Caucasus Mountains as a backdrop, the setting was spectacular.  It seems to me the perfect location to develop quality hotels and restaurants supported by redeveloped infrastructure.  I thought how opportunity is being denied to Abkhazia's people and property owners because of the absence of affordable capital caused by the lack of recognition and the economic blockade. This is the fundamental problem facing Abkhazia's new President and the one that President Bagapsh worked diligently on until his death.  In fact, he had just returned from a trip to Turkey and was scheduled to speak in the United Kingdom on this issue when he died.  The policy is unfair and will not last forever because Abkhazia has too much to offer in the way of opportunity.  International election observers that I spoke to told me the same thing.  

Sitting in Sukhum with a group of from Italy on Sunday, I mentioned that it was not hard to imagine the city as a Caucasus version of La Jolla or Santa Barbara- if only the U.S. had a better policy.  One said "Yes, America has a bad policy in Abkhazia.  It does not reflect reality".

George Hewitt, scholar on the Caucasus and Abkhazia, makes an excellent point when he states that Georgia, the aggressor in both 1992 in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia in 2008, has received tremendous inflows of western capital, but that Abkhazia has not been offered this or paid reparations by Georgia.  I hope that soon the United States will begin to take a serious and objective look at what its policy is achieving in the Caucasus.  It does not promote peace, development or prosperity by supporting Georgia's claim against Abkhazia's territory.



 

Thursday
Jul142011

U.S. Meddling 

There have been reports in recent months of several nations considering recognizing Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia.  This is interesting and not an entirely unexpected development considering that Abkhazia meets the objective and self-imposed standards that many nations have set.  

I have been following the news reports and reading other sources of information.   What is disturbing about this and about Vanuatu's recent recognition (and numerous changes of heart) of Abkhazia is the degree of arm-twisting and medding that American diplomats have apparently resorted to in an effort to prevent this from happening.  All nations should be free to conduct their own foreign policy and the US is certainly free to express its opinion. However, the degree of pressure and manipulation that is being reported in foreign capitals around the world dismays me as an American citizen.   Read Wayne Madsen's excellent article about Washington, Canberra and Auckland spying and manipulating in Vanuatu and the South Pacific.  (Vanuatu even caught an Australian spy copying documents!)  It has been an unseemly and disgusting display. Especially when one hears reports of American diplomats acting extremely undiplomiatically. 

Also, this raises the question in my mind of why the U.S. is willing to go to such extreme lengths to oppose statehood for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  I am well aware that the U.S. regards Georgia as an ally, but the degree of effort and pressure being expended to prevent recognition does not seem commensurate with the situation in the Caucasus or the relationship with Georgia.   It is unseemly for the leadership of one nation, Georgia, to constantly use the diplomats of another, the U.S., for its own ends.  And embarassing for both parties.

As an American, I believe in fair play.  Where is the American sense of fair play here?  It seems that even if the U.S. disagrees with independence, fair play dictates that every nation makes its own decisions.   Lobbying For the American position may be appropriate, but even that activity must have limits.  The strength of the U.S. opposition to recognition seems only one step removed from the diplomatic opposition if another nation was on the verge of acquring nuclear weapons. The U.S. actions suggest that the State Department can not imagine another side to Georgia's argument (it is hard to believe they are not at least aware of the historical and cultural reasons for Abkhazia's independence).

 

 

Tuesday
Apr192011

Meeting With Congressman Rohrabacher

Thursday, April 1, 2011, I met Congressman Rohrabacher in his office in Washington D.C.  Two days earlier the Congressman gave a speech at the World Russia Forum.  In constrast to Richard Perle's speech earlier in the day, the Congressman's speech was not an attack on Russia, but an accurate assessment of Russia's role in the conflict in 2008 and the nation's interest in the Caucasus region and in combatting terrorism.

Congressman Rohrabacher said that Russia did not start the conflict in South Ossetia, but that Georgia had clearly done so.  This was not the first time he has publicly stated this.  In 2008, after the conflict, Mr. Rohrabacher forcefully said in Congress that "the fighting was started by Georgia.  The Georgians broke the truce." and not the Russians.  In the Congressman's speech at the Forum, he also said that Russia clearly has interests in the Caucasus region, just as the U.S. does in Central America. Further, he believes in the right of self-determination for the Abkhaz people.  Finally, his position, like mine, is that NATO should not be confronting Russia as if it represents the threat of the Soviet Union.  Rather, NATO should work together with Russia to meet the common threat of terrorism.

I was delighted to hear the speech and after I approached the Congressman and told him of my business in south Russia and Abkhazia.  Graciously, he and his staff arranged a meeting on short notice before I left town at the end of the week.

When we met in his office, the Congressman had a number of questions about my experiences in Russia and Abkhazia.  We spoke for a full hour and he was interested to learn more about Abkhazia and its history, culture and people.  I was pleased to have the chance to describe the reasons that I support Abkhazia and its independence.  I also told him that Abkhazia is blessed with natural resources, a spectacular coastline and mountains and that it is primed for development due to its location next to Sochi and the Russian market.  I also told the Congressman that I believed that the U.S. had a chance to help develop Abkhazia, thereby not only cementing relations with both Russia and Abkhazia, but also promoting American values of entrepreneurship, business ethics and democracy.  I believe he shares my views on these issues.  

Personally, I found Mr. Rohrabacher to be very bright, informed and a pleasure to speak to.  I told him that I hoped to see him in Russia and would gladly act as his guide.  I was happy to have an audience with the Congressman and I left buoyed by his interest and support.