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16 May, 2008 17:55

Georgia still sabre-rattling over breakaway region

A Georgian minister has said his country does not rule out a military confrontation with Russia. Temur Yakubashvili, Minister for Reintegration, is in Moscow for talks over Russia's role in the peace process between Georgia and its breakaway republic of A

Russia accuses Georgia of stirring up tension in the region. Moscow insists the peacekeeping mission is keeping the fragile peace intact and that it's working within limits agreed with Tbilisi.

Nominally a part of Georgia, Abkhazia has existed as an unrecognised state within a state since a civil war in the early 90s, and has resisted all attempts to bring it back under Georgia’s control.
With relations between Tbilisi and Sukhumi at a low ebb, the Georgian minister's visit is intended to spark a new round of talks. Temur Yakubashvili said it was a step towards “developing understanding”.
“Also, we don't want to throw Russia out of the negotiations, and replace it with Europeans. We just don't believe that Russia has the exclusive right to be the mediator on the issue,” Yakubashvili said.
The simmering tension between Georgia and Abkhazia has recently threatened to spill over into violence. Extra Georgian troops have been moved to the Abkhazian border.
Abkhazia has paraded the remains of several Georgian spy planes it says it has shot down since April. Tbilisi denies that any of its planes were destroyed, but not that they flew over Abkhazia.
Russia has been drawn into the dispute. It enjoys close ties with Abkhazia. The republic uses the rouble as its currency and most of its citizens hold Russian passports.

Since the end of the civil war, Russian peacekeepers have been stationed here and Moscow has just increased their number.

Georgia wants them out, claiming that they are not impartial.

Russia is not prepared to give in to Georgian demands, since the troops have a mandate dating back to the original Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.
Moscow has also rebuffed Tbilisi’s suggestion of bringing new parties to the negotiating table. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the existing framework is sufficient.

“There are attempts to make the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia an international matter, instead of working within the already developed schemes that are based on mutual agreements and instead of following on the responsibilities undertaken during the negotiations,” Lavrov said. 

“Tbilisi is not interested in the real solution to the situation, which should be based on the balance of interests and respect of  small nations,” he added.
With the two sides so far apart, political analysts such as Aleksandr Karavaev from Moscow State University are pessimistic about the chances of compromise in the near future.

“Moscow will not go along with Tbilisi's scenario for Abkhazia. It has nothing to gain from this. Firstly, any changes may destabilise the region. Secondly, Moscow has close ties with the breakaway republics. Thirdly, Russia's and Georgia's foreign policies are opposed to each other. Georgia's plans for conflict resolution are also not always well thought-out,” Karavaev said.

It is not yet clear what progress, if any, has been made during Yakubashvili's visit.