Franco-German Joint Statement Calls Georgia ‘Close Partner,’ Denounces Russia-Abkhazia Integration Talks
On December 12, France and Germany issued a joint statement calling Georgia a “close partner,” emphasizing how Georgia has strengthened its ties with NATO and the European Union (EU) through its “exemplary role” in the Eastern Partnership. The statement also commended Georgia’s commitment to building a democracy and noted the changes in the past two decades. France and Germany welcomed the changes in the electoral system decided upon by all Georgian political parties earlier this year and called the strong voter turnout in the first round of elections “remarkable” considering the circumstances of the pandemic.
Germany and France reiterated their support for continued electoral and judicial reforms as international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE-ODIHR) and domestic civil society noticed shortcoming in the electoral process. The countries also underscored their support for aid to all political parties to strengthen Georgian democratic institutions as well as international mediation from the EU and United States. France and Germany also reiterated their support for Georgian territorial integrity following the recent Russian-Abkhazian economic integration talks. The statement closed by calling for all parties involved to fully implement the EU-mediated August 12, 2008, ceasefire agreement and reach results in the Geneva International Discussions.
The Russian-Abkhazian economic integration talks took place on November 12, 2020, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and de-facto Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania. The approval of the program to deepen economic systems between Russia and Abkhazia (which uses the Russian ruble) would further ensnare an Abkhazia that is already deeply dependent on Russia. Up to one third of Abkhazia’s GDP relies on (mostly) Russian tourism; and in the meeting with Bzhania, Putin noted that more than 70 percent of Abkhazian economic turnover is from Russia. After the adoption of a plan to create a common socio-economic space, Bzhania said that strengthening the defense and security relationship with Russia was a “primary goal.” Beyond the concern of Russia further separating Abkhazia from Georgia, there is anxiety over rumors of Russian annexation of the village of Aibga, the internationally recognized northwesternmost point of sovereign Georgia. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the recent approval of the program, calling on Russia to fulfil its obligations under the EU-mediated August 12, 2008, ceasefire agreement and declaring the Treaty and Alliance on Strategic Partnership between Russia and Abkhazia in 2014 and all subsequent agreements as illegal.
Abkhazia remains steadfastly opposed to joining the Russian Federation, even while undertaking initiatives that are integrating the statelet into Russian economic, political, and security systems. Abkhazia’s desire for more economic and security integration with Russia are in response to the successful Georgian diplomatic campaign that has internationally isolated the territory since the end of the war in Abkhazia in 1993 which resulted in the territory’s self-declared independence. While some dialogue has continued under the Geneva International Discussions, the region has relied heavily on Russia to support its economy and security.
Bzhania cited the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that military security was a top priority for Abkhazia, since the region has not yet reached a peaceful agreement with Georgia. The pandemic also increased Abkhazia’s reliance on Russia as the territory closed its borders to all foreigners except Russians at the end of February 2020 and received aid and medics from the Russian Defense Ministry. With isolation from regional markets and recent violent conflicts in the South Caucasus, Abkhazia’s economic and security dependence on Russia continues to deepen, making it more difficult for Georgia to peacefully reclaim sovereignty over its occupied territory.