Political Ping-Pong, Four Players at the Table

The political ping-pong continues in occupied Abkhazia. This time, instead of Georgia, Russia and Turkey have exchanged the shots. At the beginning of September, a Turkish delegation arrived in Sokhumi and from Sokhumi a delegation of Russia’s so-called embassy went to Turkey. The goals of both delegations were winning the hearts of the Abkhazians. It seems that the road towards the hearts of Abkhazians averts Tbilisi and there is no place for the latter in this political love story.

Official Tbilisi responded to the ceremonious reception of Turkish officials in Sokhumi with a note of protest to which Official Ankara had to give diplomatic apologies for the political blunder which it explained as being part of the pre-election process in Turkey. For elections scheduled in October, President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party truly needs the votes of the Abkhazians and Adigenians but if we look through the Turkish-Abkhazian odyssey, we will see that this political process goes beyond the Abkhazian borders and takes on a larger regional scale. Turkey has for a long time openly stated that it wants to establish itself as a leader in the region. Such was demonstrated during the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 when Turkey came up with the initiative to create a platform of stability and partnership of the Caucasus. The main goal of the platform was establishing a new bloc of security in the Caucasus, in which Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and Turkey would unite. This initiative served not only the peacekeeping mission but also the strengthening of Turkey’s role in the Caucasus. Turkey showed itself as a strong regional player once again.

Russia, which is the main player in Abkhazia, of course does not welcome the emergence of a competitor. It is noteworthy that Russia is trying to oppress Turkey’s economic activity in Abkhazia. A good example of that is their “ousting” of a Turkish company from the Tkvarcheli coalmine. In addition to that, Russia is trying to weaken Turkey’s religious and educational activities in Abkhazia. Watching this process, we recall a political analysis by the former MP of the Russian Duma, Konstantin Zatulin, in which he publicly said, at the Duma: “Let Georgians not be offended. In 1993, during the war we took away Abkhazia not so much from Georgians, but from Turkey.”

Directly or indirectly, today it is clear what Turkey’s political goals in Abkhazia and in the region are. According to the de-facto statistics department of Abkhazia, in 2013-2014, Turkey was Abkhazia’s number two economic partner after Russia. Currently, 26 % of trade-economic turnout of occupied Abkhazia falls on Turkey, 60% on Russia and the remaining 14% is unclear. It is quite possible that this share falls on Georgia. As for export, Turkey as the number two largest partner occupies 28% of the entire market while the import indicator is 12%.

The visits of Turkey’s diplomats to Abkhazia have become more frequent since 2009 when Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Anal Sevikozy, visited Sokhumi. At meetings held with Abkhazian officials during the visit, a potential economic partnership between Turkey and Abkhazia was discussed. Unlike the current (Georgian Dream) government, the then-government used other more effective means parallel to diplomatic belletristic against the disobedient Turks- by detaining the Turkish ship “Backet”. The Georgian court sentenced the captain of the ship to 25 years imprisonment. The captain was released only following a request from the then-Foreign Minister and now Prime Minister, Ahmed Davitoglu. After the “Backet” incident, in 2010, Turkish-Georgian negotiations on sea movement took place in Batumi. The main goal of these negotiations was creating a legislative framework under which Turkey would be able to move legally, in agreement with Georgia, and would continue economic relations with Abkhazia. It should have taken place within international legal frames and norms. However, despite the motivation of the sides, the diplomatic negotiations still failed to lead to a successful agreement. The issue of illegal sailing still remains problematic, which enables Official Ankara to constantly use its ‘invisible hand’ in Abkhazia.

This political incident shows once again the difficulty of the political situation in which Official Tbilisi finds itself nowadays. As they say, no one leaves a sacred place unattended. This is why the Georgian Dream government will have to find ways that will not damage the interests of its number one trading partner Turkey and will leave Official Tbilisi in the game.

Zaza Jgharkava

10 September 2015 21:11