Vienna, February 26 – Last summer, a Moscow news weekly is reporting, Moscow officials discussed creating an “Abkhaz-South Ossetian Federation,” a move that Russian officials believed would allow them the ability to more effectively control Tbilisi and to hold “the territory of Georgia ‘between two fires.’”
But Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh was totally opposed, noting that the Abkhaz and the Ossetins are two completely different peoples speaking different languages, practicing different religions and perhaps most importantly lacking a common border, “Argumenty nedeli” reports, and as a result, the Moscow plan was shelved (www.argumenti.ru/publications/9049).
Nonetheless, this report which at present cannot be independently confirmed deserves broader attention for three important reasons. First, it shows the utter cynicism and dishonesty of Russian claims that they were acting in support of the “legitimate national interests” of the Abkhazians and Ossetins.
Second, it suggests that Moscow has long viewed a federal approach to Georgia as the best way first of weakening and then ultimately of dismembering that South Caucasus country, an approach that various writers near the Kremlin like Eurasianist leader Aleksandr Dugin have long been pushing.
And third, and perhaps most important at the present time, it calls attention to Moscow’s ongoing efforts to exacerbate tensions in the Armenian-populated portion of southern Georgia, Samtskhe-Javakhetia, and put that region in play against Tbilisi in much the same way it sought to exploit Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
While some have blamed Yerevan for stirring this, official Tbilisi has no doubt that Moscow is behind it. The recent spate of articles in the Armenian , Van Bayburt, who advises the Georgian president on ethnic issues, said this week, is “a link in one chain of the information war unleashed by Russia against Georgia” (www.zerkalo.az/rubric.php?id=40035).
On the one, Georgian officials point out, the situation in Samtskhe-Javekhetia is relatively calm, the result they suggest of the arrest of two extremists that has sparked so much controversy and of Tbilisi’s support for new roads and Armenian-language schools there. Indeed, the “language” problem in that region is for ethnic Georgians there who have only one school.
And on the other, they point to the fact that it has been the ethnic Armenian Javakhetian diaspora in Moscow that has taken the lead in trying to attract attention to that region’s “aspirations.” Last week, for example, this diaspora released an open letter calling on Armenia, Russia, and Georgians (as opposed to the Georgian government) to help them.
And following a scenario that was used in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the diaspora noted that it had sent “several complaints” to Thomas Hammerberg, the human rights commissar of the Council of Europe, and to Amnesty International but that they had not responded, thus providing the justification for action by Moscow – or at a minimum the threat of such action.
Such a possibility was even more directly hinted at by the appeal which called on the Georgian authorities to “develop and put in place various measures for the improvement of the legal, economic, ethnic and social status of every resident of the region,” the kind of direct challenge to Tbilisi that the Russian government appears likely to support.
But even though both the ombudsman for the Georgian government and human rights activists who have visited Samtskhe-Javakhetia in recent weeks say that the situation there is normal and calm, more stories to the contrary are likely to appear not only in Armenia where attention to this area might seem entirely natural but also in Moscow where it clearly is not.
And such articles, appeals, and demonstrations outside of Samtskhe-Javakhetia on behalf of that region are, according to Tbilisi’s Bayburt, clear evidence that “Russia is doing everything it can to provoke the rise of separatism in Georgia and in particular in [that] region where Armenians live in a compact group.”