Lincoln Mitchel analytics on Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia
What about Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Since the war in 2008, there have been few major flareups between Russia and Georgia, but numerous minor and medium sized clashes between the two countries. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been at the center, both symbolically and actually, of many of these. It is possible to see these conflicts as having been frozen since the war, but that is not accurate. While Georgia has succeeded in stymieing Russia’s efforts to win almost any international recognition for their position that these are two independent states, Tbilisi has been unable to stop Russia from tightening its control over these regions or pushing the de facto borders, usually by erecting fences, further into the rest of Georgia.
Despite these issues and the obvious relevance of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to broader Russian efforts to increase their influence in what they call their near abroad, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not exactly front and center issues in Georgian political life. This is in part because the Georgian government lacks a clear policy approach that could solve the problem. Military solutions are not possible. Strategic patience is little more than a euphemism for doing nothing and hoping for the best. Other more innovative approaches, such as engaging in more dialog and the like would cause political problems for the ruling GD. Additionally, because both the GD and the UNM were unable to move Abkhazia and South Ossetia closer to Georgian sovereignty, neither party has much of an incentive to focus a lot of political attention on these questions.
It is, however, significant that the New Years delegation from the US Senate visited the boundary line at Khurvaleti near South Ossetia. This was a reminder, not least to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that despite Donald Trump, some in the US leadership have not forgotten about Russia’s occupation of much of Georgia. Given the increased tension, but also increasingly strange relationship, between Russia and the west, 2017 could see Abkhazia and South Ossetia taking on a political relevance that is much greater than in previous years.
The year ahead will force Georgia to confront a changing world where long held notions, like the stability of American democracy or core concepts underpinning NATO, can no longer be assumed. While Georgia must craft a strategy for a changing Washington, and changing relationships between Washington and Moscow, there are domestic issues, such as the longstanding needs to deepen multi-party democracy and create an economy that benefits ordinary Georgians that will require attention and determine what happens to Georgia this year as well.