GEORGIA HAS drawn up a plan to strengthen economic and social links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in the hope of eventually regaining control of two rebel regions that Russia has recognised as independent states.
The Georgian government said it “rejects the pursuit of a military solution” in seeking to “achieve the full de-occupation . . . and reverse the process of annexation of these territories by the Russian Federation”, following a five-day war between Moscow’s and Tbilisi’s forces in August 2008.
Tbilisi’s new strategy is intended to restore grassroots co-operation between Georgians, Abkhaz and South Ossetians, by restoring trade links, developing social and cultural projects and improving access to healthcare and education for people in the two disputed territories.
Russia’s military crushed a Georgian bid to retake control of South Ossetia in 2008 and swiftly poured troops into that region and Abkhazia and recognised them as independent states.
Only Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru have followed Moscow’s lead in acknowledging the sovereignty of the provinces, which first broke away from Tbilisi’s rule in short but vicious wars following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Before the 2008 war, Russia gave passports to many residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and now effectively controls two grindingly poor regions that have been subject to international isolation for almost two decades.
“The key element of the document is that we say no to any type of isolation of these regions,” said Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia’s minister for reintegration.
“We cannot let the situation wherein the fate of residents of these regions will depend solely on the occupying power, so we plan to take active steps to provide the local population with an opportunity to have normal education, healthcare, to engage in economic projects.”
Nadir Bitiev, an adviser to Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, said Tbilisi’s plan was “directed at other international structures they have to report to, to look good”.
“We saw their idea of reintegration in August 2008,” he added.
Local separatist leaders have, with Moscow’s support, prevented Georgian officials and international monitors gaining access to the regions, which are now guarded by thousands of Russian troops.
The conflict undermined western faith in Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, the main US and EU ally in the strategic Caucasus region.
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