Irakli Khintba: ‘No country can tolerate being treated disparagingly and even at times offensively. We demand respect for Abkhazia.’
Republic of Abkhazia Deputy Foreign Minister I.R. Khintba’s interview to the news agency ApsnyPress.
Apsnypress: Irakli Revazovich, I would like to clarify one more time, what prompted the decision by the Abkhaz side to declare the head of the EU Mission in Georgia, Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, persona non grata on Abkhaz territory?
Irakli Khintba: The Abkhaz side considers it important to continue constructive dialogue in the format of the Geneva Discussions and the Mechanism for Preventing and Reacting to Incidents. We have always been prepared even for the uncompromising character that the Georgian participants have imposed on occasion. When that process is being openly sabotaged, however, an appropriate reaction is necessary. Unfortunately Mr. Tyszkiewicz was clearly not disposed towards constructive engagement with us. He is an experienced army officer, but quite different qualities are needed to conduct dialogue in the Caucasus. No country can tolerate being treated disparagingly and even at times offensively. We demand respect for Abkhazia.
AP: The Georgian authorities are trying to present the Abkhaz statement as directed against the European Union...
Irakli Khintba: I would stress that our statement was directed not against the EU Monitoring Mission as an institution, but against the specific person who heads it. I would advise those people who want very badly to give an incorrect interpretation to the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry statement to read it carefully. You must agree that if Mr. Tyszkiewicz is removed from his present post that does not mean that the EUMM will cease its activities. We remember his predecessor Mr. Haber, who did not share our political position, but all the same was a discerning diplomat who understood perfectly the degree of responsibility for every incautious word or action in the context of an unresolved conflict. For that reason we have nothing against the EUMM continuing its activities on the territories bordering on Abkhazia and South Ossetia as envisaged in the Medvedev-Sarkozy Plan. The main thing is that the the EUMM’s activities should contribute to strengthening security and stability in the region. It is clear that that will not happen if the EUMM leadership serves the interests of the authorities in Tbilisi instead of acting strictly in accordance with the Mission’s mandate.
AP: Does Tyszkiewicz’s non-participation mean it is impossible to continue meetings in the Incident Prevention format?
Irakli Khintba: We most certainly do not want the mechanism to cease to exist because of this If Georgia and the EU insist on principle on the participation of Tyszkiewicz personally, rather than another EUMM representative, we can only throw up our hands. Our position with regard to Tyszkiewicz is definitive and final. I think that personnel changes within the leadership of the EUMM could have a positive effect on resolving the current situation.
AP: In Tbilisi they immediately saw “Moscow’s hand” behind the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry statement. The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a special statement about “Moscow’s responsibility.” How would you comment on that statement?
Irakli Khintba: I would call such interpretations a demonstration of political banality. I think it is time our Georgian colleagues abandoned such outdated and divisive clichés and finally faced up to reality. It was not the Russians who were the first to find out about the impending Abkhaz decision, but the co-chairs of the Geneva talks. As for the Georgian Foreign Ministry statement, there is no point in commenting on it because it is addressed to Russia. I would like to express my sincere amazement at the tenacity with which the Tbilisi authorities keep trying to convince the world, and themselves in the first instance, that Abkhazia is incapable of taking either domestic or foreign policy decisions independently.
I think that if the Georgia side continues to adhere to this line we shall have to act the same way: ignore the Georgian authorities and try to establish contact with Washington directly on issues concerning Georgia. After all, it is perfectly clear that if we are talking about dependence on a foreign country, compared with Abkhazia Georgia is in an unfavorable position.
AP: Georgian Security Council Secretary G. Bokeria distinguished himself by describing the step by the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry as “a blatant, insolent attempt on the part of the Russian Federation and its puppets…”
Irakli Khintba: We have got used to the coarse and clumsy outbursts by Tbiilisi government representative Mr. Bokeria and we pay no attention to them. But since you ask, I will tell you my personal opinion. Mr. Bokeria is a well-known and influential figure in Georgia. I have the impression that in order to preserve the image of his country as half-way intelligent and in the interests of strengthening peace and stability in the region he should not pronounce so often on foreign policy issues. Trying to resolve the complex and nuanced issues of relations with Abkhazia and other neighboring countries by using an axe and a sledge-hammer is not the best approach.
AP: The authorities in Tbilisi have viciously criticized opposition leader Irakli Alasania for stating that informal armed groups have been formed in Zugdidi district, as the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry noted in its statement…
Irakli Khintba: Yes, I have to admit that the Tbilii authorities made use of our statement in order to inflict a further blow on the opposition. The one thing I can say in this connection is that the consolidation of an authoritarian-police regime is not in the interests either of Saakashvili’s Western patrons or the Georgian people, and neither is the policy the Saakashvili government is currently pursuing with regard to Abkhaia and South Ossetia.
AP: Do you plan to continue engagement with Europe?
Irakli Khintba: The relevant position was clearly formulated by Abkhaz President Aleksandr Ankvab. We are disappointed by the absence of visible progress in relations with European structures, but in the event that such engagement can prove useful, we are prepared to continue it but on one important condition: that engagement should be directly with the EU and not channeled via Tbilisi.
AP: Do political reserves exist for developing more productive inter-action with the European Union?
Irakli Khintba: I would point out that we have established positive diplomatic ties with the EU regional office I the South Caucasus and with its head, Mr. lefort. And Abkhazia’s civil society has established contacts with a number of European NGOs. On the whole I consider perfectly balanced the recent statements by the EU High representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Caterine Ashton and by the co-chairs of the Geneva talks.
I am sure that there is a way out of every situation. At the same time, I categorically disagree with certain press headlines, fo example “Abkhazia confronts Europe head-on.” Does Mr. Tyszkiewicz really embody the EU and Europe as a whole? If someone in Georgia is irresponsible enough to try to present our actions as an attack on the European Union, then we place the entire responsibility for any possible reduction in the level of participation of European structures in trying to resolve the conflict squarely on the Georgian authorities.
That, by the way, is completely in line with Georgia’s isolationist policy of paying lip-service to the idea of strengthening the EU position in Abkhazia while in fact doing everything to isolate Abkhazia from the outside world.
It is odd that Georgia’s western partners have not woken up to this yet. I think the EU and the U.S. should give serious thought to the level of competence and the loyalty of their representatives in Georgia who under the influence of the Tbilisi authorities are dispatching to their capitals inaccurate information about what is happening in the region.
This interview was published by ApsnyPress and is translated from Russian.