ABKHAZIA DEMARCHES AGAINST EU MISSION
The de facto Abkhaz government has demanded that the head of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) Andrzej Tyszkiewicz be substituted as a sine qua non condition to participate in the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings, Apsnipress reported on May 3. Moscow backed Sukhumi’s move, suggesting that the EU seek “a compromise solution” directly with the Abkhaz side. In response, the EU has expressed its “full confidence” in the mission’s present leadership. Meanwhile, Tbilisi considers Sukhumi’s demands to be an attempt by the Kremlin to undermine the EUMM’s institutional capacity on the territory of Georgia.
Abkhazia declared Tyszkiewicz as “an undesirable person on the territory of Abkhazia” due to his “disrespect” and “confrontational position” toward Sokhumi’s demands, the region’s foreign ministry reported on April 25. “By his actions, and more often by inaction, Mr. Tyszkiewicz is actually undermining the effectiveness … as well as … the constructive spirit of the negotiating process,” the statement said.
The Abkhaz Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba claimed that the EUMM has ignored murder cases in the Gali district in Abkhazia in recent months. When he asked Tyszkiewicz about the reason for this negligence on the sidelines of the recent Geneva talks, the latter responded that the mission would inspect the cases of Abkhaz “corpses” after Sokhumi lets its observers inside the breakaway region, RFE/RL’s Ekho Kavkaza, reported on 25 April. In an interview, Chirikba insisted that Tyszkiewicz’s use of the word “corpses” was assessed by the de facto government as “very disrespectful and cynical” and resulted in the cancellation of the IPRM’s 36th meeting scheduled for April 24.
Operating within the Geneva International Discussions framework, the IPRM aims to build stability across the conflict zone, serving as a hotline to facilitate prompt exchange of information through monthly meetings between Georgian and Abkhaz officials as well as representatives of Russian military staff deployed in the breakaway region. To ensure international oversight, the IPRM meetings have been chaired by a UN representative and attended by the head of the EUMM. However, opposing Tyszkiewicz’s attendance, the Abkhaz side rejected the recent IPRM meeting and pledged to renew its participation on the condition that he is replaced by another representative. This means that if previously Sokhumi disavowed EUMM’s access to the conflict zone, regardless of the fact that the EUMM is mandated to monitor the whole territory of Georgia including the breakaway regions, it now also objects to the presence of the mission’s head at IPRM meetings.
Nevertheless, Sokhumi eschews direct attacks on the EUMM itself, continuously emphasizing Tyszkiewicz’s incapacity. Another accusation made by the de facto government refers to Tyszkiewicz’s lack of attention to allegations against the Georgian government made by Irakli Alasania, leader of the opposition Our Georgia-Free Democrats party and a strong ally of opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili. In March, Alasania claimed that the Georgian authorities were forming paramilitary groups for internal political purposes in the Samegrelo region, situated in the vicinity of the Abkhazian administrative border. Though Georgia’s National Security Council rejected the information and labeled it groundless, the Abkhaz government linked the allegations to Tyszkiewicz’s misconduct, deriving one more reason to demand his replacement.
Tbilisi has termed the Abkhaz posture as a “demarche against the EUMM,” arguing that the Kremlin is stepping up its “attacks” against the mission with the purpose to weaken the neutral and impartial international presence on Georgian territory.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reported on April 27 that “the Abkhaz position has its logic,” given Tyszkiewicz’s refusal to make a note on incidents occurring in the border zone. Buttressing the Abkhaz conditions, the Kremlin advised the EU “to discuss this issue, first and foremost, with Sukhumi,” to strike “a compromise solution.”
In response, the EU declared that the “determination of the composition of the EU delegation at the IPRM meeting by another participant is unacceptable” and expressed “full confidence” in the present EUMM leadership.
The EUMM is mandated to monitor the overall security situation on the territory of Georgia and detect any incident that may cause instability on the ground. In turn, the Geneva process along with its IPRM format serves as a venue for regular meetings among stakeholders engaged in the negotiation process. The combination of these mechanisms plays a vital role in achieving some degree of normalization and stabilization of the situation in the conflict zones.
Sukhumi’s categorical stance weakens the functionality of these mechanisms by challenging both the agreed principles for the participants of the Geneva International Discussions to name their own representatives and the IPRM format – a valuable tool for dealing with pressing security issues. Sukhumi’s move thus indirectly serves to weaken the EUMM’s institutional clout and the process of internationalizing the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts. Whereas Sukhumi’s decision bears clear traces of Kremlin advice, the move risks endangering the already fragile security situation in the region.