Belarus is unlikely to recognise Georgia’s Russian-controlled Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions as independent states following the recent visit of the country’s president to Abkhazia, as the move “is not in Russian interests now”, former reconciliation minister Paata Zakareishvili has told Front News.
The former official has disapproved of the current Georgian Dream authorities “unacceptable silence” to Alexander Lukashenko’s trip to the occupied Abkhazia in September, as well as the subsequent visit of Belarus parliamentary delegation and noted that the Georgian government “is aware” Belarus would not recognise the regions as independent states and would say it was “strategic silence”.
Front News: what is the situation like in the occupied regions now?
Paata Zakareishvili: what is happening in Abkhazia and Samachablo (Tskhinvali, South Ossetia), these are planned steps towards annexation, it has little connection with ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. The process of erecting new barriers continues in Samachablo. Wires are placed along the dividing line. As for the information about the opening of a new checkpoint, I do not have such information. The agreement on the opening of the checkpoint should be made at the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meeting in Ergneti. The only time when a checkpoint was opened without any previous agreement during the period of Georgian Dream rule, was Tsnelisi checkpoint in 2019, which may have caused a chain reaction. There should have been an agreement on the opening of this checkpoint at the Ergneti meeting, where these meetings are held under the leadership of the OSCE and there are both Ossetian and Russian sides.
Front News: what would you say about the ongoing processes in occupied Abkhazia?
Paata Zakareishvili: two years ago, on November 12, in Sochi, a document was signed between Vladimir Putin and Aslan Bzhania, the de facto president, about the harmonization of Abkhaz and Russian legislation in two-three years. This document was signed after the end of the hostilities in Karabakh - on November 9, the hostilities ended and this document was signed on the 12th. Then Moscow was really in a hurry, it was afraid that it was losing its influence in the Caucasus region and immediately signed this agreement, because Azerbaijan became stronger under the influence of Turkey and it was afraid that Georgia would take some measures and speed up the process. This document is now being implemented.
Front News: Is it possible for Belarus to open its embassy in Abkhazia?
Paata Zakareishvili: Belarus is unable to open an embassy, if it does not recognize the independence of Abkhazia, it can open a trade representative office instead. Belarus is acting quite brazenly, but it is acting at the behest of Russia. By the end of the month, Abkhazia must discuss the issue of ratification of the transfer of the Bichvinta forest-park to Russia, which creates tension. The transfer of the territory to Russia in this form is unacceptable for the population of Abkhazia and politicians, therefore, with the arrival of Lukashenko in Bichvinta, Moscow is trying to create an illusion that everything will be fine. Lukashenko did not say anything about the recognition, although it was a visual message to the Abkhaz community. Then the delegation of the Parliament of Belarus arrived there. It is unfair how Belarus treats a friendly state. Lukashenko is not acceptable to the world and he cannot go anywhere except CIS countries, Georgia was a rare exception. During Margvelashvili's [the fourth president of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili] presidency, Lukashenko came to Georgia and was received with great honor. One of the main reasons for this was Belarus not to recognise the occupied regions. Lukashenko called Georgia a friendly country and later visited the occupied territory, this is a violation of all diplomatic laws.
Front News: what do you think about the response of the Georgian government to these moves by Belarus?
Paata Zakareishvili: the silence of the Georgian government is no less disturbing. The head of the Georgian Dream ruling party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that Lukashenko visited the eastern Black Sea coast, instead of expressing his concern. As for the arrival of the Belarusian delegation, the Georgian authorities did not react to it at all. They directly question the sovereignty of Georgia.
Front News: Is recognition of Abkhazia expected by Belarus?
Paata Zakareishvili: the point is that Russia does not need this now. If Belarus recognizes Abkhazia, it will have a problem with Georgia, while Tbilisi now fits into Russian politics. It likes the politics of the Georgian Dream. The recognition of Abkhazia may lead to protests in the country and question the current government which is liked by the Kremlin. Therefore, Russia is now more interested in grabbing Bichvinta, rather than the recognition of the region as an independent country.