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Saakashvili, foreign governments, react to Russian decision on Abkhazia

By Ana Datiashvili
Monday, March 10
Foreign governments expressed concern at Russia’s decision to lift sanctions on the breakaway region of Abkhazia over the weekend, as President Mikheil Saakashvili called for national unity in the face of a “provocative, dangerous act.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on March 6 announcing that it has officially pulled out of a 1996 Commonwealth of Independent States treaty that bans establishing “political, economic and other links,” with Abkhaz separatist authorities.

Daniel Fried, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said on March 8 that the US regrets Russia’s decision.

“We don’t see how it contributes to a resolution of the Abkhazian conflict or to better Georgian-Russian relations,” the US diplomat said, adding that Washington does not expect Russia to “do something extreme” like recognize the breakaway region.

The same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing “serious concern” at the Russian decision, adding that it would not help settle the conflict in Abkhazia.

Meanwhile in Tbilisi government officials strongly denied Russian newspaper reports that Saakashvili had been informed of the decision when he met President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 21.

“Putin said nothing concerning that issue [of lifting sanctions]. There was [only a] warning that Russia would take certain steps in response to the West’s recognition of Kosovo,” State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze said on March 8. Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili toed a similar line, remarking, “it is impossible that Georgia would consent to it.”

The opposition, however, mocked Saakashvili’s call for cooperation against a common threat and accused the government of an “empty brag” for describing Saakashvili’s talks with Putin as a breakthrough in bilateral relations.

“This is a moment when all other matters should be put aside,” Saakashvili said on March 8, “I want to tell the opposition—we can dispute over many issues…but there are issues on which it is impossible not to agree.”

At a National Security Council session the previous day the president declared a “policy of zero tolerance towards militarization of Abkhazia.”

The government also submitted a note of protest to Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who responded by calling on Tbilisi to follow Moscow’s lead.

“I think that if the Georgian side did the same as the Russians, it would be a strong and positive signal for launching positive dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides,” he said.