Apsny Press: Interview with Viacheslav Chirikba
Viacheslav Chirikba "Achieving international recognition is one of the main foreign policy objectives of the Republic of Abkhazia and, consequently, the Foreign Ministry of Abkhazia"
Interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia Viacheslav Chirikba for the news agency ApsnyPress
ApsnyPress: Viacheslav Andreevich, in recognition of the fifth anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia, how would you describe the work of the MFA to achieve international recognition of our state?
V. Chirikba: Achieving international recognition is one of the main foreign policy objectives of the Republic of Abkhazia and, accordingly, the Foreign Ministry of Abkhazia. The ultimate goal of this process should be full-fledged membership for Abkhazia as it is for the United Nations, along with strong allied relations with the Russian Federation, and also the presence of a combat-ready army and a strong economy, all of which is designed to make the independence we have attained irreversible.
Why is recognition at a standstill? The main point to note here is the incredible pressure exerted by the U.S. and the European Union on the leadership of any country displaying sympathy for the idea of the independence of Abkhazia. Blackmail and threats of an economic or political character at the highest level are a matter of course in this regard.
This is done, by the way, not out of any special love for Georgia; the main motivation is to be found in the still alive instincts of the Cold War. Russia, with its huge nuclear arsenal is still perceived in the West, especially among conservative circles in the U.S., as a threat to its world-hegemony. The Abkhazians, from this perspective, have also chosen the wrong side of the fence and are themselves to blame for the West’s diplomatic boycott. Although everyone in the West has realised that Abkhazia will never return to Georgia, they do not want, despite Russia, to recognise it and are preventing others from doing so.
So, as a punishment for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the EU froze financial assistance to the tune of 2,000,000 euros to one of the smaller countries that has recognised us, which was for this country a painful blow. The leadership is, however, not withdrawing recognition out of a sense of solidarity with us. They still remember the yoke of colonialism and find in our situation an analogy with their own history.
However, you will agree, the risks for those states recognising us are very real. That is why the process of recognition of our country is not as fast as we all would like. The point here is not in the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of our ministry, as some critics say. This process is dependent on categories of a different order which we are not in a position to control. And to gloat about this, charging us with unfounded accusations of incompetence, is, to be honest, without value. Sooner or later Abkhazia will achieve its main foreign policy objectives, and of this I have no doubts.
Today we are working on virtually all continents. Foreign Ministry officials have regular meetings and consultations on the subject of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the leadership of a number of countries. In our work we focus on the main countries which sympathise with us and furthermore have no fear of U.S. and European sanctions. In addition to the embassies in Russia, Venezuela and South Ossetia, Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry representatives are present on a permanent basis in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Greece, Germany, Italy, San Marino, France, Great Britain, the Baltic States, the Balkans, in several Latin American countries, in China, in the Asia-Pacific region.
It should also be emphasised that the work of the Foreign Ministry is only partially in the public arena; the greater part of it is hidden from general view. To paraphrase a famous saying, we can say that diplomacy loves peace. Among our immediate plans are further trips to the countries where we expect to be successful.
ApsnyPress: What kind of relationship do we have with the West? Is it worth investing in work there, or is this work doomed to certain failure?
V. Chirikba: It is precisely because the United States and Western Europe are playing such a negative role with regard to the process of our recognition that I consider it necessary to continue consultations and regular meetings with the leaders of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in parallel to the strengthening of diplomatic activity in the direction of Europe. Our regular trips to Western Europe, particularly to Italy, have given us a clear understanding of the fact that the European Union, consisting of 28 countries, is not a monolith and that one can and should work there. I must say that both the public and a number of European politicians are not against independence for Abkhazia. About this, for example, I spoke within the walls of the Italian Senate with Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations’ Committee, former Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Lamberto Dini. He is convinced that Abkhazia has every basis to be an independent state. This was also said by other Italian politicians and public figures.
Resulting from our visits, materials about Abkhazia (mostly provided by us) exhibiting sympathy for our country have appeared in the Italian press, including in influential journals, and on national television. Soon it is expected that there will be a signing of agreements on cooperation between Abkhazia and a range of towns in Italy.
No less interesting are the results of our work in San Marino. Although this is a very small European country, the value of it for us is that it is not part of the European Union and can make independent foreign-policy decisions differently from countries in shackles to the iron discipline of the EU. A number of members of parliament, heads of a number of parties are coming out in favour of the recognition of our country.
By the way, parallel activity in the same direction is underway in Turkey. There was recently signed an agreement on twinning between the cities of Sukhum and Side, between Sukhum and the largest district of Istanbul Kartal; the signing of an agreement with two more cities in Turkey is in preparation.
Are not these events of a breakthrough character? After all, there has simply been nothing like them in the post-war period. And all this is the result of a properly organised and systematic informational and diplomatic activity on the part of both the Foreign Ministry of Abkhazia and our true friends and representatives abroad.
ApsnyPress: What is being done in the informational field?
V. Chirikba: A huge benefit accrues from the opening of foreign-language versions of the website of the MFA; it functions, in addition to Abkhaz and Russian, in English, Turkish, Italian, German, and an Arabic version is almost ready; French, Spanish and Polish versions are also in preparation. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opened multilingual pages on Facebook and Twitter; the MFA also has an account with video-materials on YouTube. Ready to run is an Arabic-language news-website "Marhaba Abkhazia", with which our new young employee, immigrant from Syria, Milad Gogua is engaged. For the first time on the Arabic-language internet will be made available a lot of positive information about Abkhazia. The same goes for the planned Spanish, and Francophone and Polish sites. None of this, of course, existed previously. But in the age of information-technology, properly filed information represents half the battle for success. This month, Foreign Ministry is launching a very ambitious project "Abkhazian Wikipedia". Wikipedia is a powerful multi-language international information-resource, and we must put it at the service of Abkhazia. Hitherto, only our enemies have felt comfortable there, spreading unhindered outright lies and disinformation about our country and nation. This situation needs to change in our favour, and we shall soon be setting about this.
Apsnypress: The participation of Abkhazia in the Geneva discussions is beset with a good deal of controversy.
V. Chirikba: Our participation in the Geneva discussions is indeed considered by many to be ineffective. However, assessment of the usefulness of this process depends on what is expected from the talks.. It is naïve to expect that Georgia will recognise Abkhazia in Geneva. But if one understands that by our active participation we are defining for the Geneva process our own agenda, and if we present our information from the viewpoint essential for us to high-level representatives of the UN, OSCE, EU and the USA, then its usefulness is beyond doubt. Our ultimate priority is to break down the adamantine rejection of any idea of an independent Abkhazia of the part of the USA and the EU, and Geneva is ideally suited for this purpose. As we do not have Embassies in Western countries, we are making the most of the opportunities that Geneva affords us for actively influencing from an informational perspective the representatives of Western governments and the major international organisations participating in the Geneva process.
As for specifics of the usefulness of Geneva, I will give two examples. As you know, over recent years, Georgia has seized several vessels (mostly Turkish) trading with Abkhazia. Perusing reports of the US State Department on WikiLeaks, one sees that the head of the American delegation to Geneva while in Tbilisi took Saakashvili to task over the capture of merchant-vessels after our detailed report in Geneva about such seizures in neutral zones of the Black Sea (including demonstration of coordinates of the Georgian acts of piracy). The head underlined that this was in violation of international law and that the USA could not support it. Secondly, after our report in Geneva about the problems experienced by Abkhazian citizens gaining visas from Western embassies thanks to prompting by Georgia, the same American representative persuaded Saakashvili not to hinder the acquisition of visas by Abkhazian citizens travelling on Russian passports for Western countries. A major contribution to the debunking of Georgian propaganda about the alleged occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was a solid report presented by the Abkhazian delegation in Geneva, which was based on convincing international legal arguments to which no objection could be made by either Georgian negotiators or their Western allies. These examples demonstrate the reality of the impact on our negotiating partners and that positive results can ensue.
Apsnypress: The MFA has recently come under frequent attack from the political opposition. What can you say to your critics?
V. Chirikba: Indeed, by all appearances, a number of opposition figures have decided to "hit at" the Foreign Ministry of the country, deeming it for some reason to be the most vulnerable link in the number of government-offices. No other office has been attacked in the way that we have, particularly, God forbid, the law-enforcement agencies, for they may hit back! It is easier to deal with the MFA representatives, as they are intelligent and diplomatic people. However, to reckon on our "vulnerability" and lack of teeth is the result of a miscalculation. The MFA of Abkhazia, on the contrary, is one of the strongest offices of the country from a professional point of view. Young, highly educated, highly professional and highly motivated people work in the MFA. Any, even the most prosperous state, would be take pride in such a work-force. Our staff know three, four and even five foreign languages. The MFA has never been so strong in terms of its personnel. Its employees could work in the embassies in any country and carry on negotiations at any level. I would like to emphasise their purposefulness to achieve progress and the best results, and all this despite modest salaries. The constant attacks on the MFA are wholly symptomatic. As they say, whose interests are being served? Who could be interested in undermining the dynamic and aggressive foreign policy of Abkhazia?
Apsnypress: What about sharp recent criticism of the MFA emanating from the deputy chairman of the former governmental party but now opposition-party “United Abkhazia”?
V. Chirikba: What can be said in response to the unfounded, unsubstantiated and totally unfair accusations against the MFA? To tell the truth, I am growing tired of reading and hearing these stereotyped and incompetent accusations from people who have not only done nothing significant for our society but have actually turned to undermining it. Attacks on the MFA and accusations of «failure» in our foreign policy can cause nothing but bewilderment. Our Russian and Western colleagues, on the contrary, remark on the raised level of the MFA’s work in all respects. As for the criticism from this particular young man, I would like to advise him not to begin his political career by throwing mud at his former friends and colleagues. Our uncompromising accuser has already had great opportunity to show himself in action – I have in mind the time when he was head of the information-group supported by a solid budget, but nothing is known about the results of this group’s efforts. As the saying goes, so who is the one to judge?
This interview was published by ApsnyPress and is translated from Russian.