“Russia shouldn’t leave Abkhazia and South Ossetia”

Interview by Maria Sidelnikova. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

US President Barack Obama urged Iran to take serious immediate steps to reach an agreement on its nuclear program. Obama’s statement was made two days ahead of his visit to the Middle East, the BBC reported. Vladimir Yevseyev, the director of the Center for Public Policy Research, told Vestnik Kavkaza about the situation in the Middle East and its influence on the South Caucasus.

-          How can problems in Syria and Iran influence the South Caucasus?

-          I don’t believe that the Syrian conflict destabilizes the situation in the South Caucasus. However, there is a chance of this. In two years, Israel will be protected significantly – it will probably buy F-35 aircraft, improve its regional positions. At least, Hezbollah has serious problems in Lebanon because the forces supported by Qatar are actively fighting against it. In this context Israel might risk to launch a strike on Iran. I think in two years Iran won’t be answer to respond seriously.

Anyway such a strike will lead to possible echo in the South Caucasus. If a conflict between Iran and Israel begins, some forces would like to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. It is the worst consequence for us. The USA may not support Israel. A full-scaled war wouldn’t necessarily begin after the strike. But I’m sure some forces would like to settle the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. An Israeli strike on Iran may cause a series of processes which would significantly worsen security of Russia and all Caucasian states.

-          How can you comment on the prospects for Russian-Georgian relations?

-          We see diarchy in Georgia. Moreover, the pro-Western course which requires joining the EU and NATO disturbs Russia of course. But Moscow can talk to Ivanishvili, which was impossible with Saakashvili.

We should move to a settlement of global problems step by step. First of all, it concerns development of trade. It is not only about wine, drinks, but also vegetables of Georgia. A large Georgian Diaspora lives in Russia; they will be interested in development of contacts. Most probably restrictions on travelling and sending mail will be canceled. Georgia agreed to participate in the Olympics; it won’t prevent it and destabilize the situation. It is a positive context.

We should change relations somehow. It is sad that Abkhazia is controlled badly by Russia. Russia cannot make Abkhazia and South Ossetia to enter Georgia again. Russia cannot reject their independence. And it creates a so-called clench. It is impossible to make Russia withdraw troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I believe that Georgia’s future is dim because nobody can say that “a new Saakashvili” wouldn’t become President in Georgia. If such a politician comes in power in Georgia and the war for Nagorno-Karabakh begins, wouldn’t a desire to return the lost territories of Georgia appear? That is why Russia shouldn’t leave Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has to be prepared for any variant of developments. Russia must prevent a new attempt to capture Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The USA establish places of influence. There are such places of influence almost for every state. For example, to influence China they have Taiwan. Some people think Georgia is a painful point of Russia. I believe it may not work in this case. I was involved in events of August 2008, and I still have no solid point of view on whether the intrusion was sanctioned or not. Ahead of the operation the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia. Some think she gave the sanction. On the other hand, probably she did not, but she was understood as if she gave the go-head. The situation can repeat in the future when Georgia formally is not allowed anything, but they would interpret any statement in the way they would like.

-          What has changed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the past five years?

-          Abkhazia established an independent state, and now it doesn’t depend on Russia like it used to depend. Considering the fact that Turkish capital is very active, its independence will extend. But Abkhazia understands that there may be an attempt of returning it to Georgia by force. From this point of view Russia can influence Abkhazia.

-          Won’t Turkey help in this case?

-          After the collapse of the Soviet Union Georgia had six attempts to settle the problem of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Turkey has never taken part in it. That is why I don’t think Turkey will do it this time.

-          Won’t it recognize Abkhazian independence?

-          Turkey has Northern Cyprus, an analogue of Karabakh. But Turkey is a member of NATO, and the situation is much more complicated. The situation in Turkey is changing, both internal political and foreign political; but I don’t think Turkey will support Abkhazia militarily.

South Ossetia didn’t become independent. And the problem of its future is acute. Russia is guilty in it partially, as the level of corruption is high due to huge sums of money allocated to South Ossetia. Even though some people believe that South Ossetia has established everything it needs, I think it is not a completely independent state. Its future is ambiguous, unlike Abkhazia’s.

Russia should learn a lesson of this that its imperfect policy in the North Caucasus reflects in the South Caucasus. If Russia cannot put an order in the North Caucasus and achieve stabilization of the situation, how can it act in the South Caucasus? Russia has to draw a lesson.