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11 Mar, 2008 14:45

Tbilisi wants Moscow to pay for 'Georgian Kosovo'

Georgia is reportedly demanding $US 20 billion in compensation from Russia for what it calls the “economic annexation” of its breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

Last week Russia lifted the ban on trade, economic and financial relations with Abkhazia that was introduced in 1996 by the CIS countries.

The decision has caused anger in Tbilisi’s corridor of power. On Tuesday, the Georgian parliament was to discuss the formal response. However, MPs voted to postpone this until Friday when Russia’s State Duma will discuss an appeal by Abkhazia to formally recognise its independence.

“We have already prepared a text of the formal response from the Georgian parliament. But as the Russian State Duma is going o discuss the Abkhazian issue on February 13, we will return to the subject. We’ll adopt the final version of the document after that discussion,” Nino Burjanadze, the speaker of the parliament said.

Abkhazia broke away from Georgia following a conflict in the early 1990s. The war saw thousands of ethnic Georgians expelled from the region. Even though some have returned, most still live in severe poverty.

Russian peacekeepers have patrolled the ceasefire line since 1994. Though hostility have ceased, sporadic violence’s continued.

Now that Russia has pulled out of the sanctions agreement, many believe that Georgia will believe that the peacekeepers are withdrawn from the territory.   

Russia’s decision has also caused concern in Europe. In light of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, top EU officials fear that Russia may be considering its stance on Georgia’s breakaway region.

“There’s a growing preoccupation and anxiety that Russia may be paving the way for recognition of Abkhazia. Georgia’s territorial integrity has always been clearly supported by the EU,” Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations stated.  
However, Russia insists that the decision to life the sanctions is about helping Russian citizens who live in Abkhazia.

“Russia’s not going to take any dramatic steps. In regards of lifting the sanctions, it is perfectly logical and the Duma supports this act. It is a shame that for almost 12 years Russia has been indirectly acting against its own citizens. Most people who live in Abkhazia are Russian citizens,” Aleksey Ostrovsky from the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee said.

Georgian officials have already called the decision “economic annexation”.

Parliament won't deliver its response to Russia until Friday, but officials and ordinary Georgians alike are deeply anxious that, following the lifting of the sanctions, formal recognition of Abkhazia is only one step away and they are determined to stop that from happening.

No violations of international law: expert

Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, from the Russian Diplomatic Academy says lifting the ban on trade relations with Abkhazia has nothing to do with recognising its independence.

“Primarily Russia is exercising its right in accordance with the Security Council resolution which calls upon member-states of the UN to alleviate economic hardships of that breakaway part of Georgia,” he said.   

The expert suggests it that by lifting those sanctions Russia would promote creation of a viable entity within Georgian state.

“But, of course, it’s not an immediate recognition,” he added.  

Russia was not breaking any international law when it imposed sanctions against Abkhazia back in 1996, so it’s not breaking any laws now, Tuzmukhamedov noted.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia obstacle Georgia’s NATO membership

Russia's Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin says Georgia won’t be able to enter the organisation, while also keeping the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia within its borders.

“If Georgia joins NATO, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not follow Tbilisi and take Kosovo's example. Abkhazia will keep striving for independence from Georgia and South Ossetia is intending to join Russia,” he said.

Rogozin noted that Georgia joining NATO with its current borders is impossible: “As soon as Georgia starts the process of entering NATO, it will lose half of its territory.”

The reason for that, he says, is the position of Georgian authorities since residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia didn't take part in a referendum on joining NATO.