Putin’s Visit to the Occupied Abkhazia: Was our Reaction Actually Adequate?
Author: Amb. Valeri Chechelashvili, the Senior-Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation
Vladimir Putin visited the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, which is a Georgian territory occupied by Russia. The principle of choosing the date and place is entirely understandable. The content of the message directed to the Government of Georgia is also quite clear: Russia does not at all appreciate the new type of foreign policy conducted by Georgia towards Russia since 2012 and it has not motivated Moscow to review its policies towards the occupied Georgian regions. The so-called new reality, seen by Russia through the warped looking glass, has strongly influenced the thinking and consciousness of Putin himself, as well as the entire Russian political elite and a large part of the opposition forces too.
Russophiles in Georgia are wrong to think that by refusing our aspirations to NATO or acceding to the Eurasian Economic Union we shall manage to change the Putin Administration’s attitude towards the occupied regions of Georgia. President Putin would not willingly return Abkhazia to Georgia, even if Georgia were to become a part of the Russian Federation.
Of course, the response reaction to this visit from Georgia should have followed swiftly. What could the Georgian government have done? We could not, of course, close the airspace for Putin’s plane or stop him and his companions at the border. We could not have sent our President to one of the Russian autonomous republics occupied by Georgia with a working visit either, since there is no such an autonomous republic.
We could have made a statement – and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia did just that, communicating a precise, clear and short statement – one of who knows how many statements! Could we have done more? Below we shall present several opinions about this:
In general, the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia must be based upon facts, relying on the entirety of the recognized norms and principles of the international law, also containing a conclusion, demand and an address to the international community, coupled with a response measure or at least its framework. All of these components were neatly presented in the 8 August 2017 statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, except for the response measures, that is. This is despite the fact that Putin’s visit is precisely the type of event, which provides a perfect opportunity for such actions.
Before moving to a specific proposal, we shall present several general opinions:
Any statement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia must be designed for three target groups:
- The opposing side
- The allies
- The domestic public
Which messages should it contain?
- A message for the opposing side – that we shall not leave their illegal actions unanswered;
- A message for the allies – that we are in a constant search for response measures and do not plan to get used to the situation;
- A message for the citizens – that the state will not tolerate the violation of their rights.
What could have strengthened the 8 August statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
A bolder indication to the new US sanctions against Russia. Bolder because we can consider the indication to the 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement already present in the statement to be such an indication.
It is entirely understandable that connecting the text of the statement more clearly to the aforementioned sanctions is beyond the authority of the authors of the text (to whom I would like to reaffirm my respect) and requires a political decision.
Among other things, underscoring the importance of a coherent implementation of the newly imposed sanctions by the USA against the Russian Federation would make our position strongly compatible with the attitudes of our strategic ally – the United States of America. In addition, it would have enabled us to observe what kinds of response measures Russia is ready to employ. It should be pointed out that in the given situation, additional complications would not be beneficial for Russia, since it is already forced to fight on many sides and waste its limited resources.
Taking all of these conditions into account, we can imagine an alternative version of the 8 August 2017 statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia:
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes the new sanctions imposed by the United States against Russia, including for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and would like to underline the importance of consolidated, principled and coherent enforcement of such sanctions by the international community.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to address the international community to give an adequate assessment to the aggressive steps taken by Moscow and employ further decisive action, in order for the Russian Federation to fulfill its international obligations, including the 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement.”
And finally about the promised action: Putin’s visit has created an ideal precondition for instituting a synchronized visa regime for the holders of the Russian diplomatic and working passports. The time for taking this action is exactly right and it has not expired yet.
Putin’s visit was also a good reason for banning the Russian officials from entering the Georgian territories controlled by us without an express permission from Georgia – to also create additional legal problems for entering the Georgian territories not currently controlled by the central government.
This is a timely, adequate, proportional and measured response, which is entirely compatible with the established international practices. What could the Russian Federation oppose to this? Institute a visa regime for Georgian passport holders? Demand that Georgia require visas from the holders of any type of Russian passports? Ban its citizens from entering Georgia?
Such an action would have had another positive outcome – we could avoid unexpected and scandalous visits to Georgia, such as the recent visit of one of the leaders of Putin’s party and the MP of the Russian Duma, Artem Kavinov.
This action contains one more important message. Our doors are open for Russian tourists. They can visit Georgia and compare the existing reality with the ideological narratives of the Russian news sources. And since we expect no positive actions from the Russian politicians, we are instituting control on their crossing of the Georgian state borders.
It would definitely be interesting to see the reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, if Georgia were to impose a visa regime for the holders of Russian diplomatic and working passports. What could have been, for example, the commentary of the chewing-gum-loving Maria Zakharova, made at the behest of Sergey Lavrov? It would probably have been something like this: „Нет предела самомнению грузинского Мининдел. Решив все проблемы Грузии и охмелев от безвизовой подачки Брюсселя, в Тбилиси решили, что теперь за грузинскими визами выстроится длинная очередь из российских депутатов, политиков и дипломатов. Может, какой – нибудь дипломат Гиви захочет ввести визы и для российских туристов, тем самым лишив собственную страну единственного надежного источника доходов в валюте? Заодно этот Гиви пусть постарается и все грузинское вино выпить, которое на экспорт в Россию идет? Американцы и европейцы ведь грузинского вина почему – то не пьют…“
However, what Ms. Zakharova says will not be very important to us – we need to take care of our own problems.
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