Progress on Kodori Agreement Generates Little Optimism

Major Problems of Abkhazia Remain Untouched

After three months of negotiations, the Georgian and Abkhazian sides reached agreement on troubled Kodori gorge.

On April 2, in Tbilisi the sides signed a protocol, according to which the Defense Ministry of Georgia has to pull out troops from upper Kodori for April 10.

The Abkhazian side is obliged to withdraw heavy armaments from lower Kodori, as well as from Tkvarcheli district of breakaway region.

The sides declare that the protocol will further facilitate to the success of the peace process.

“Signing the protocol is yet another demonstration of the good will of the Georgian side to continue the peace process,” said Malkhaz Kakabadze, the Special Affairs Minister of Georgia after the signing ceremony.

This strategic gorge is an only territory of the breakaway province of Abkhazia, that remains under control of the official Tbilisi.

The Georgian Defense Ministry deployed additional 350 troops to the gorge last October, amidst the clashes between joint Georgian-Chechen guerrilla groups and the Abkhazian fighters.

In the same period the some unidentified aircraft (presumably Russian) flew sorties over the Kodori gorge villages and, occasionally opened fire. According to the official version the forces of the Georgian Ministry of Defense were deployed to protect the Georgian population.

However, the Abkhaz de facto government claimed that the official Tbilisi was masterminding assault and would use the troops in Kodori gorge in a military offensive against Abkhazia.

The parties reached an agreement on Kodori as early as on January 17. That time the Georgian side agreed to pull out its troops. However, the withdrawal process was thwarted as official Tbilisi considered that there were insufficient guarantees of security to the local Georgian population in Kodori.

As the Special Affairs Minister states, these guarantees are now secured. According to the protocol of April 2 units of the regular army will leave Kodori, which means that only the units belonging to the Defense Ministry will be pulled out from the gorge.

The official Tbilisi says that the gorge can be protected with Internal Troops or the forces of the State Border Defense Department as well. These units are not subordinated to the Defense Ministry. It is most likely that the regular army troops in Kodori will be replaced with units of the State Border Defense Department. 

This circumstance may renew the tensions between Tbilisi and Sukhumi concerning Kodori. Abkhaz presidential aide Astamur Tania already expressed his concerns regarding the possibility of such replacement of the troops, after signing the protocol on April 2.

“Sukhumi is concerned with intention of the Georgian side to replace Defense Ministry’s units with the Border Guards. Abkhazia will be against it,” he said.

Despite the problem, the Georgian side, as well as the UN special envoy to Georgia Dieter Boden, expressed their satisfaction with signing of the protocol.

“From now on there will be a basis for both sides to solve remaining problems as well,” said Dieter Boden.

As he says, among such problems are the issues of return of the displaced Georgian population to Gali district of Abkhazia and discussions on the UN Security Council resolution regarding distribution of authorities between Tbilisi and Sukhumi.

The Georgian side pays particular attention to the latter. Details of the document regarding distribution of the constitutional rights between Tbilisi and Sukhumi still remain confidential. But the official Tbilisi hails the provision of the document, which affirms the territorial integrity of the country. These provisions, however, have triggered a refusal to enter the negotiations from the Abkhaz side.

Agreement on Kodori has at best solved only a minor problem in complicated relationships of Georgia and its breakaway province. Despite the optimism of the international observers, most controversial issues remain unsolved or, indeed, have not been touched upon yet.

By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia