I’ve written a few articles now both here at SOFREP and at Foreign Intrigue on what I identified last year as fracture points. Loosely defined, fracture points represent geographical areas and regions occupying space along important lines of demarcation between the two belligerents and represent geostrategically important terrain straddling the two competing sides of the conflict between Russia and the West. These areas are fissures between the two sides, representing contested strategically valuable terrain in the ongoing conflict. You can find my articles on Abkhazia both here at SOFREP and at Foreign Intrigue:
- Presidential Election in Abkhazia and the Marginalization of Ethnic Minorities
- Fracture Points (Eastern Europe)
- Fracture Points (Eastern Europe) Part Two
- Russia and the West: Fracture Points (Abkhazia)
In one of several articles on the issue of Russian exploitation of instability in fracture points lining the area of Eastern Europe through the South Caucasus, I have noted that instability in places such as Crimea, Transnistria (Moldova), Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia serves the interests of a Russian foreign policy strategy that has been resurgent in the past 24 months. An increase in defense spending, a dedicated strategy to “professionalize” the Russian military, and an outward-looking Kremlin bent on imperialist policy with regard to its near abroad in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia has renewed fears in some quarters of a Russian strategy of fomenting conflict. This conflict, analysts say, serves the interests of the Russian government as it seeks to dislodge regimes that have been heretofore less-than-open to Kremlin pressure to support Russian interests and have made themselves targets for Russian aggressive policy.
One of the more intriguing points of pressure continues to be the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia. Following the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Russian policy makers and strategists continued to support the separatist factions in both Abkhazia and in fellow breakaway region South Ossetia to the east. In August, the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia held a presidential election. In the lead-up to the election on August 30th, analysts and observers began noting the importance of Abkhazia to Russian foreign policy strategists. Raul Khajimba, twice defeated previously in his candidacies for the office of President of Abkhazia was declared the winner in the 2014 election. You can find my article on the election here: Presidential Election in Abkhazia and the Marginalization of Ethnic Minorities.
Russian military might and diplomatic coercion has exacerbated the fissure that exists between the government of Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi and the Georgian government of President Giorgi Margvelshvili in Tbilisi. Georgian political rhetoric has escalated in recent weeks as talk of Russian annexation of Abkhazia has intensified:
Georgia is concerned over a draft alliance treaty between Russia and the separatist Abkhazia, Georgian Foreign Minister’s Senior Deputy Davit Zalkaliani reiterated during a meeting with the OSCE’s Special Representative and Co-Chair of the Geneva talks, Angelo Gnaedinger.
“Russia’s such actions will be regarded as the next step to annex Georgia’s territory,” Zalkaliani noted…
The meeting attendees noted that the results of the Russia-Abkhazia draft agreement will hamper progress on specific issues envisaged in the Geneva talks. They also stressed the possible threats to the security of Georgia and the whole region after the signing of agreement. (Azernews, October 24)
More disturbing is the apparent purpose of the talks between Russian and Abkhazian officials October 8. Among the terms, conditions, and purposes of the treaty would be ostensible integration of foreign policies:
The parties talked about the importance of continuing a constructive dialogue on the agenda issues and outcomes of the Geneva talks’ last round, which took place on October 8.
The issues on the agenda were mainly related to the non-use of force, establishment of international security arrangements in the occupied districts, as well as the return of refugees to their homes.
The draft of “Treaty between the Russian Federation and Abkhazia on the alliance and integration” was prepared and sent to the so-called parliament of Abkhazia by Russia on October 13.
The draft says the “introduction of a coordinated foreign policy, formation of a common space of security and defense, creation of a united social and economic space, preservation of the common cultural and humanitarian space are the main areas of cooperation, integration and partnership.” (Azernews, October 24)
Proponents of the nascent alliance between the governments in Abkhazia and Russia assert that the treaty binding the interests of the two countries would strengthen Abkhazia’s independence. In an interview granted to Rossiya Segodnya the Director for the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Abkhazia Oleg Damenia claimed:
There are enough sensible people in Abkhazia, and they understand that Russia regards Abkhazia as an international entity with equal rights. Technically, from the legal point of view, we are equal. But in reality, of course we cannot be equal in every sphere. Russia is a great, huge country; Abkhazia is small. And this asymmetry presents itself not only in terms of territory and population, but also at the level of our mentality. Issues of this kind must be taken into consideration. Russia has not given us any reason not to trust it. My colleagues and I are convinced that Russia has no interest in seeing Abkhazia as a subject of its federation. It is disadvantageous in consideration of the international situation as well. For Russia, it is advantageous to see an independent, dynamically developing Abkhazia. Of course, we are presently lagging seriously behind the Russian rate of development. I see this document from the position that it will strengthen the independence of Abkhazia, the development of Abkhazian state and Abkhaz society. For these reasons, we must agree to accept it. (Ukraine Collapse, October 20)
While Abkhazia’s geopolitical value to the Kremlin does not nearly compare or rival the ports of annexed Crimea, analysts have noted the news of recent joint military agreements between Abkhazia and Russia as demonstrative of a deepening relationship and a growing interdependence between the governments in Sukhumi and Moscow. There are important questions to be asked as Russia’s policy of projecting its power outward at the former Soviet republics has gone on unabated in the wake of the world’s condemnation of its annexation of Crimea. Whether those questions will be asked, whether officials in the Kremlin will be pressured to answer them, and whether Abkhazia’s absorption into the Russian sphere of influence is codified via pseudo-state status for the Georgian breakaway region are issues that do not appear to be disappearing any time soon.