Fast and Loose with Independence


Izida Chania, Express Chronicle, Sukhum

June 6, 1997


It seems that the Russian media has recently declared a media war against Abkhazia. A Moscow colleague of mine, stopping in Sukhum for a day, was outraged: "My editor wants to know, when the war will begin, and there is nothing going on!" Georgian media gleefully upheld Russian media's initiative, giving variety to the planned war. They are reported to be blowing up imaginary munitions dumps, they make phantom appearances on the field of battle, retired ministers organize batallions - all on paper. Imaginations are inflamed. Abkhazia cannot adequately disprove these rumors because of the lack of phone service. But that is unimportant. If journalists expect a war, there must be something behind that. So let us put questions of conscience and professional ethics aside: why are they doing this?


"It's the start of the holiday season," says a cynic, offering media competition as an explanation. This explanation may be sufficient. But there are analysts who think that the renewed interest in Abkhazia is the work of Georgian and Russian politicians, who are laying the ground-work for the next CIS summit, where the mandate of the peace-keeping forces will again be up for discussion. Georgia and Russia want to widen this mandate, while Abkhazia does not. There is only one way to solve this problem: by creating the perception amongst the CIS populace that the conflict in Abkhazia is flaring up and requires Russian intervention. Whether it is called "widening the mandate" or "occupation," the essence is the same.


Why does Russia need this? Russia has just signed a peace treaty with Chechnya, in effect, setting it free. What does it want in Abkhazia? And why is it that, as a mediator in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Russia can only conceive of Abkhazia as part of Georgia?

Some Abkhaz analysts think that it must be critically important for Russian politicians to coerce at least one "separatist" back into their "native" empire, so that there are no more precedents. An additional goal is to tie Georgia to Russia by making Russia the guarantor of Georgian-Abkhaz agreements. Under such conditions, it is critically important for Abkhazia not to allow the peace-keepers' zone of control to widen. And that is precisely what this small country is doing.


It seems that Abkhazia's position with regard to the peace-keepers' mandate has caught the eye of the foreign diplomats, who come to the Republic for official meetings. They seem unusually mellow in their tone, and they apparently want to find out for themselves whether the Abkhaz are really ready to dismiss their mediators (i.e., the Russians). And they also struggling to make a prediction as to what will happen if and when the peace-keepers pull out. It would seem that Russia has something to think about as well.