chapter  9
7 Pages

Security guarantees as “peacekeeping”: Russia in Abkhazia

We have seen that, generally speaking, rebel-biased mediators, rather than unbiased mediators, are associated with the creation of security institutions in terms of third-party security guarantees. This section will look at the role played by Russia in the Georgian conflict of 1991-1994. As a third party, it both supported the Abkhazian separatists and mediated a 1994 agreement between the belligerents in Georgia that saw the agreement of a request for international peacekeeping. This case has been selected because it can help to clarify the causal links between the intervention of rebel-biased mediators (Russia) and the peace institution of third-party security guarantees (i.e., the acceptance of a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force). The agreement of 1994 is particularly interesting because it helps us to isolate the thirdparty security guarantee as distinct from other peace institutions that usually follow from it. Hence, there is, in this instance, no agreement on the regulation of territory (King 2004). This is particular noteworthy given that participants in civil wars are notoriously reluctant to take measures that limit their military maneuver. Walter (1997) noted that parties in civil wars can, in general, reach agreements on the issues at stake fairly easily. However, agreements on arrangements for overcoming security fears are usually the last and most difficult points of contention. Yet, in the Abkhazian conflict, the biased mediator was able to convince the parties to accept the establishment of foreign troops to protect the peace. How did the Russians go about bringing the parties to agree to such an arrangement? Can the partiality of the Russian peacemakers help to explain why the parties reached an agreement on one type of peace institution – third-party security guarantees? This case is also interesting because the role of the Russian peace guarantees is by no means uncontroversial. Thus, it can serve to nuance the argument about the role of biased mediation and also deepen our understanding of the limitations of biased mediation in intrastate armed conflicts. The violent phase of the Abkhazian conflict erupted in the dynamic of the end of the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union, and the state-formation process of the Georgian state. Abkhazia was, from 1931, an autonomous republic within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in the USSR. In the early 1990s, when Georgia and other Soviet republics seceded from the USSR, tensions erupted between Abkhazian and Georgian nation-building projects, escalating into

violence. The violent phase of the conflict occurred between August 1992 and October 1993, and flared again in early 1994. It was one of the most brutal and bloody of the separatist conflicts in the former Soviet Union, with ethnic cleansing, refugee flows, and a breakdown of cross-ethnic relationships (Clogg 2008). The political conflict is still largely unresolved. One formative event in the dynamic of the conflict was the decision of the parties to accept the stationing of Russian-led CIS forces in Georgia. The effects of this have been mixed. On the one hand, the presence of third-party security guarantees has helped to avoid further escalation. Yet, on the other, it has created a situation of frozen conflict, where no negotiated settlement seems to be within reach. The presence of foreign forces decreases the sense of urgency to deal with other conflict issues. This relatively stable equilibrium has sufficiently benefited the elites to the point that they now have strong incentives to cement the situation of neither peace nor war (King 2001). On the face of it, it may strike the observer as a quite puzzling case, in light of the partiality displayed by Russia. Despite the significant resistance from Georgia, the parties acquiesced to give Russia the primary role as the guarantor of the peace between the Abkhazian non-state entity and the Georgian state. Why did Georgia agree to Russian troops on its soil? The Russian military presence served as a security guarantee and was complemented with a beefed-up UN military observation unit, UNOMIG (UN Observation Mission in Georgia). The Moscow agreement of May 14, 1994 “confirmed the establishment of a peacekeeping operation” (Danilov 1999: 44). Third-party security guarantees have been defined conceptually above as a commitment “to enforce or verify the terms of demobilization stated in the agreement” (Walter 2002: 67). This is exactly what the CIS was mandated to do. In the May 14, 1994 agreement “both parties to the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, agreed that a peacekeeping force of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) would be deployed to monitor compliance with the Agreement” (S/1994/725, June 16, 1994). The agreements explicitly mandated the CIS to “maintain the ceasefire and to see that it is scrupulously observed”; and to “supervise the implementation of the Agreement and the Protocol thereto with regard to the security zone and the restricted-weapons zone” [§4, Agreement May 14, 1994]. At the same time, the parties reached an agreement to “appeal to the United Nations Security Council to expand the mandate of the United Nations military observers in order to provide for their participation in the operations indicated above” [§6. Agreement May 14, 1994]. In the mandate of this observer mission, the UN Security Council (Resolution 937 July 21, 1994) stated that the UN monitors should “observe the operation of the CIS peacekeeping forces” (§b); “verify, through observation and patrolling, that troops of the parties do not remain in or re-enter the security zone” (§c); “monitor the storage areas for heavy military equipment” (§d); “monitor the withdrawal of troops of the Republic of Georgia” (§e); and investigate “reported or alleged violations of the Agreement” (§g). Hence, the security guarantee mechanism in Abkhazia was two-edged. One side saw the CIS providing the main body of troops who, in

time and effect, became a Russian-only force (Cornell 2001). The other side saw assistance by UN monitors, who not only observed and verified the demilitarization process, but also monitored the Russian-led CIS peacekeeping force. Although guaranteeing the peace was the explicit mandate for the Russian involvement, there were interests beyond the protection of the parties’ security concerns that help to explain why Russia supplied troops on the ground. Put differently, guaranteeing peace was not necessarily Russia’s sole interest and may have been secondary to other, less benevolent interests. Abkhazia was, and remains, strategically and economically important for Russia. In particular, the Russian military presence in the Black Sea depended on access to the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus (Allison 2008: 1162). In a wider sense, the role of guarantor gave Russia the opportunity to incorporate Georgia into its orbit through institutional ties in the form of membership of the CIS. Thus, the fact that Russia could provide guarantees was a useful strategic device. Baev suggests that the “role of ‘security guarantor’ involved manipulating various conflicts, including secessionist, to keep the neighbors dependent on Russia’s military presence” (Baev 1999: 84). In what sense was Russia biased toward the Abkhazian rebels? The Russian support of the separatists seems to be taken for granted (Khutsishvili 2006). Basically, the Abkhazians lacked the resources to take on the Georgians without Russian support (Toft 2004: 89). In contrast to the US support for the government of Israel (Chapter 7), Russian support was covert and openly denied. Russia has displayed a double standard: “officially declaring neutrality [. . .] and actually siding with a secessionist party” (Khutsishvili 2006: 298). On the one hand, President Yeltsin “tried to act impartially” (Baev 1997: 45) and thus it is not surprising that the “official reactions from the Kremlin [. . .] were not anti-Georgian but conveyed rather benevolent neutrality” (Gordadze 2009: 33). Hence, the Russian approach to Abkhazia was “highly ambivalent” (Baev 1997: 45). This can partly be traced back to the fact that Russia, especially during the early phases of the conflict, was not an unified actor: there were several different centers of power competing for control (Hopf 2005). There was no consensus in Russia on how to treat the Abkhazia conflict, yet the “the Kremlin allowed itself to be dragged into a policy of active support for the Abkhaz secessionists” (Gordadze 2009: 33) and thus “the military policy remained clearly anti-Georgian” (Baev 1997: 45). Similarly, Toft notes that “Russian claims to neutrality just did not square with what was happening on the ground” (Toft 2004: 89). Support for the separatists might have been carried out by some elements of the Russian military and administration, although no one was ever punished for this within Russia. This is a clear indication that the Russian support had official backing, or at least tacit acceptance. Seen from the perspective of the Georgian government, there was little doubt about Russian involvement. As a matter of fact, the Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, “had to recognize that in Abkhazia Georgia was in fact facing Russia” (Gordadze 2009: 33). The Russians supported the separatists, but did not (at that time) recognize their aspirations of independence. The Abkhaz were quite aware of this. “The Abkhaz have few illusions about Russia, whose strategic

interests in the region militate against recognizing Abkhaz independence” (Kvarchelia 1999: 28). The mediation efforts were anchored in the UN, but were clearly Russian-led. The “Kremlin has insisted on leading all the peace negotiations” (Khutsishvili 2006: 285) and the UN was not willing to challenge the interests of Russia (MacFarlane 1999). The fact that Russia acted as an intermediary, committing to a solution that would also respect the territorial integrity of the Georgian state, gave Shevardnadze reason for accepting Russian guarantees, despite its role in harboring support for the Abkhazian separatists. Georgia was reluctant to accept Russian mediation and Russian peacekeeping, yet, eventually agreed to both. The basic explanation for this can be found in its primary interests of maintaining sovereignty while denying the separatism that could tear the whole country apart. “Georgia clearly hoped to reach a deal whereby it accepted Russia’s military strategic domination, the long-term maintenance of its military bases in Georgia and its role as prime mediator in return for help in regaining Abkhazia” (Nodia 1999:23). The Georgian side was also hoping that the presence of the peacekeepers would ensure the return of the approximately 200,000 Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, as was stipulated in the CIS peacekeeping force’s mandate (Lynch 1999; Cornell 2001). Abkhazia, on the other hand, had a strong interest in securing Russian peacemaking involvement. The fact that it had previously supported the Abkhazian separatists, and was therefore biased by source, provided a strong incentive to back the role of Russia as the security guarantor. Two important explanations for this can be discerned. First, the peacekeeping forces would enable a favorable status quo to be maintained. Thus, “the Abkhaz [. . .] expected that [a Russian peacekeeping] operation would ‘freeze’ the situation and effectively secure their ‘independence’ ” (Baev 1997: 45). The guarantee was clearly to the benefit of the Abkhazian side. “Russian-led peacekeeping operations have de facto guarded the borders of the secessionists entities, helping to maintain a status quo that was favorable to the secessionist sides” (Popescu 2006: 2). In a similar vein, Lynch suggests that the “Abkhaz perceive the operation as a way of freezing the conflict in circumstances propitious for the preservation of Abkhaz independence” (Lynch 1999: 131). Second, the guarantees, if made by Russia, were considered more credible in the eyes of the Abkhazians. Analyzing the Abkhazian positions, International Crisis Group asserted that, “Sukhumi wants Russia to remain the key facilitator, since it does not believe that anyone else would offer it the necessary security guarantees” (International Crisis Group 2007: 6).