BACKGROUND: With the collapse of the Soviet Union and as a result of national disintegration, several conflict zones were formed. Most of them were created by the Kremlin and supported by the Communist elite as well as by ultra-nationalist leaders among ethnic minorities. As a result, several long-lasting conflicts were initiated in the Caucasus including the Georgian-Abkhaz, Georgian-Ossetian, and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts characterized by chaos, clan-relationships and power-vacuums could last for another hundred years should the international community neglect them. Under the present circumstances, the elites of the self-proclaimed mini-republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are trying to become incorporated within the Russian Federation politically and economically. As they are very culturally Russified, the secessionist authorities have formed close attachments with their neighboring regions in Russia such as Krasnodarski Kray for Abkhazia and North Ossetia for South Ossetia, and by maintaining a close relationship with these regions they subvert the legitimate authority of relevant countries.
The Georgian government is trying to gain control over the separatist regions through active involvement with international organizations such as the United Nations and OSCE. The group of countries called the "Friends of Georgia" made up of France, Germany, USA, Russia and the United Kingdom are doing their best to facilitate the negotiation process in order to maintain stability in this most unstable region of world. President Shevardnadze has stated that international organizations are too disconnected from initiatives to resolve the real conflict. Russia who is supposed to be one of the major mediators in the conflicts officially accepts the territorial integrity of Georgia. At the same time Russia undermines the Georgian governments positions by promoting constant visits by Russian parliamentarians to this region who back Abkhazian and South Ossetian interests in Moscow. Russian troops who are involved in these regions, more in border guard duties then in peacekeeping, refuse to leave.
To press the Georgian government, Moscow is introducing a visa regime between Russia and Georgia that contradicts the Bishkek Agreement of the CIS countries. The Russian Federation has officially declared its intention to break this agreement. Russians favorable to this visa regime say that hundreds of thousands of Georgians working in Russia will flock home. It is no surprise that the pro-Russian, neo-communist forces of Georgia tout this theory very strongly. Abkhazia and South Ossetia do not approve the introduction of visa regime between Russian Federation and Georgia even though the Russian government is initiating it.
IMPLICATIONS: Should Russia automatically grant citizenship to former Soviet citizens, most of the residents in conflict zones are likely to obtain Russian citizenship. This is particularly true of Abkhazia and South Ossetia whose entire populations could adopt Russian citizenship. This would create great instability since the Georgian public will consider it a naked seizure of national territory by their giant neighbor. This would certainly impact Nagorno-Karabach whose citizens automatically will gain Russian or Armenian citizenship. It should be expected that Azerbaijan would not tolerate such a move for it will create tremendous distrust in the region.
If Moscow neglects the territorial integrity of Georgia and will not introduce the same visa regime with Abkhazia and South Osethia as it does with Georgia, it could endanger Georgias political situation. Over 300,000 internally displaced persons impatiently wait for repatriation to their permanent residence in Abkhazia. Their reaction could lead to the activation of a partisan movement that will undermine the Georgian-Abkhaz peace settlement process and may destabilize the political situation in the country. If Georgians are led to recognize the powerlessness of their government in the face of pressure from Moscow and the illusory character of the Abkhazia peace process regarding Abkhazia, radical movements could lead to a dramatic shift in power. Russia could use such a moment to intervene into the internal affairs of Georgia to defend the interests of newly minted Russian citizens.
Having a traditional influence in the region, Russias intent to keep the Transcaucasia under her rule is troublesome. Georgia is likely to lose face with the international community. Moreover, all ongoing projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Traseca, and the "New Great Silk Road" will be abolished. The implementation of all oil and gas pipeline projects that would benefit Transcaucasian stability and economical security are at stake. The Georgian public is not likely to forgive the Georgian government for its anti-Russian policy that brought on the visa regime in the first place. This implies that power could shift in Georgia to officials who will shun a Western orientation considering it fatal to the country. Such officials would likely follow the Belarus lead in chumming up to Moscow.
CONCLUSIONS: The Transcaucasian countries especially Azerbaijan and Georgia are willing to resist Russian pressure but they are finding that resistance is growing ever more difficult. In order to get a balance of power in the region, they have established a geopolitical "triangle" consisting of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and potentially Turkey. But in response, Russia has created another triangle including Russia, Iran and Armenia. Russia and Armenia are trying to gain territorial profit by promoting secessionist movements in the region. To grant citizenship to the population of another sovereign state for political reasons will surely be viewed as a direct interference in the internal affairs of the other country.
Should this citizenship policy be applied by Moscow, a new reality in international politics could occur where one country de jure possesses a region but the region de facto belongs to another state since the population actually belongs to another country. If this new line of Russian policy is implemented it will violate basic principles of international law and could have unpredicted implications. Should the international community neglect this matter, the process could lead to chaos and unravel the contemporary international system of law and diplomacy.
AUTHOR BIO: Kornely Kakachia is President of the Association of Young Georgian Political Scientists. He is currently a Fellow in the IREX Contemporary Issues Program and a Visiting Scholar at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. Research for this article was supported in part by a grant from the Contemporary Issues Program with funds provided by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State under the Freedom Support Act and administered by the International Research and Exchange Board. These organizations are not responsible for the views expressed.
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