f_0020459_17221 - Alexander Cooley is associate professor...

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© 2010 World Policy Institute 73 SUKHUMI—The land between Georgia and this breakaway region represents a tense coda to a short war and a tenuous peace, a tribute to the fragile nature of such territo- ries. Here, the frontier post is considered an international border by the Abkhaz and is patrolled by Abkhaz troops. Russian forces are camped nearby. After Russia and Geor- gia’s brief war in 2008, Moscow recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s declarations of independence. Since then, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have, with the Kremlin’s sup- port, lobbied for others’ recognition but have, for the most part, failed. The territo- ries are internationally isolated and increas- ingly dependent on Russia for security, hence the Russian troops. A steady stream of tired residents from Gali, an ethnic re- gion on the Abkhaz side of the checkpoint, cross this frontier with shopping bags filled with goods for trade. By an unfortunate confluence of geography and politics, they are caught in between. This new, postwar reality has been par- ticularly damaging to Georgia. For years it claimed it was on the brink of solving inter- nal conflicts that have fragmented its terri- tories since the early 1990s, when South Os- setia and Abkhazia were first brought under Georgian leadership. In the years before the August 2008 war, the Georgian government offered Abkhazia “limitless autonomy” within the framework of a national federa- tion, but Abkhaz leaders refused to accept control from politicians in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Abkhazia and South Ossetia had been part of Georgia for most of the Soviet era, and many Georgians consider both ter- ritories their own. Still, Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought for their independence in the early 1990s, and again in August 2008. Since then, leadership in Sukhumi— Abk- hazia’s capital—find any arrangement that might cede sovereignty to Georgia unac- ceptable. Few governments acknowledge that the war has changed the political reali- ties in Abkhazia and Georgia. The United States and Europe continue to support Geor- gia’s territorial integrity, but after spending time in Abkhazia it is clear that this ap- proach is a non-starter. By continuing to isolate Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia and the rest of the world is implicitly allow- ing Russia to get away with a de facto an- nexation of these territories, all but guaran- teeing ongoing tension and potential mili- tary conflict along these political fault lines. While Georgia and Abkhazia both cling to a vision of classical sovereignty and state- hood, each lacks an essential element of the necessary combination of de facto control and de jure international recognition. For Geor- Alexander Cooley is associate professor of political science at Barnard College and Columbia University’s Harriman Insti- tute. Lincoln Mitchell is an associate at the Harriman Institute and the author of Uncertain Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Georgia’s Rose Revolution
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f_0020459_17221 - Alexander Cooley is associate professor...

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