Marina Elbakidze
Project Coordinator at the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development and coordinator of the ‘Memory Project’ in Tbilisi. She is a lecturer in psychology at the Department of Organisational Psychology, Tbilisi State University. Since 1997 she has participated in a range of peacebuilding activities and has played a key role in Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue processes. Georgia.

30 years have passed since the start of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict (1992-93) and, regardless of the efforts of the subjects to the conflict (official Tbilisi and Sokhumi) to realise their political positions, neither side has fully achieved its desired results, and relations between them have not been substantially resolved. To date, the parties have not been ready to cross the so-called red lines they have established and take essential compromise steps to regulate the relationship.

Fundamental positional differences

Basically the following political issues are defined by the so-called red lines that are insurmountable by official Tbilisi and Sokhumi: the status of Abkhazia; the issue of occupation and relevant legislation; the return of displaced persons; the recognition of Abkhazia as a party to the conflict; and a peace-treaty. Arising from the noted issues, there are also other problems which are equally important, but also equally difficult on which to reach agreement. More than once political leaders have made public declarations concerning the red lines significant for the sides, and the mutually exclusive positions have similarly been analysed by experts[1].

The status of Abkhazia represents the essential issue with regard to which the parties hold mutually exclusive positions: official Tbilisi considers the territory of Abkhazia to be an integral part of the Georgian state, whilst official Sokhumi states that Abkhazia is an independent state. But it is important to assess how far the parties have each achieved the result of their firmly stated position after 30 years. It should be noted that the Georgia’s government defends its sovereignty on all international platforms and the territorial integrity of Georgia is recognised by international law. This in itself is an important political result for the country, but Georgia cannot actually exercise control over its territories of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia. In 2008, Abkhazia received recognition of independence by Russia and several other countries[2]; But this is not real independence – the recognition of several countries cannot make it a subject of international law and a part of the international community. Accordingly, it can be said that the positional declaration of both subjects about status has been only partially put into effect.

It should also be noted that despite the incompatible positional views on status, at different periods the parties have not rejected certain types of cooperation or support in relation to individual issues; for example, the joint-management of the Engur HPP, or acceptance of Georgian health-services by the population of Abkhazia. These positive examples give hope that even in the conditions of an unresolved conflict, the parties can take agreed decisions to solve other problems as well, and as a result to improve the living standards of a population harmed by the conflict.

Russian occupation is similarly an issue on which the views of the parties are mutually exclusive: according to the official position of Tbilisi, Russia has occupied 20% of the territory of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region), while official Sokhumi and Tskhinvali consider Russia not as an occupier, but as the guarantor of security (although it is possible for us to assume that in both Abkhazian and Ossetian societies there is a part that perceives Russia as an occupier or a threat to their sovereignty. It is also possible that there is a small part in Georgian society that does not consider Russia an occupier or an essential threat). Departing from positions on this issue, along with other barriers, creates additional difficulties as regards the implementation of the announced strategy for the de-occupation of Georgia. It is difficult for one to work for the liberation of a society that does not consider itself occupied. The probability of lessening this difficulty depends significantly on the attitudes in Abkhazian society, and for changing their attitudes, it is important to have active direct communication with the Abkhazian society and political leaders, and to offer them real support in solving current problems, which have become especially acute against the background of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The peace-treaty is another cause of tension between the visions of official Tbilisi and Sokhumi. According to the official position of Georgia, mainly after the war of August 2008, the conflicts of Georgia are mainly discussed in terms of the Russo-Georgian conflict, and Georgia and Russia are deemed to be the main parties to the conflict; accordingly, if one is talking about concluding an agreement, according to official Tbilisi, it is logical that it should be concluded between Russia and Georgia. However, in reality, all parties are aware that there equally also exists a conflict between Tbilisi and Sokhumi, as well as between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali. In addition, the political leaders of Georgia have repeatedly stated publicly that they recognise only a peaceful way of settling conflicts; this position was repeatedly voiced also after the start of the Ukrainian-Russian war. In the vision of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Madam Thea Akhvlediani, the peace-policy of Georgia is clearly established, and it includes 8 tasks. The first task involves precisely the protection and guaranteeing of peace[3].

We have to suppose that the representatives of the Abkhazian society positively evaluate this position, although, as it seems, merely a declaration from the Georgian side is not enough for them. Over the years, official Sokhumi has been openly declaring that it is important for it to conclude a definite peace-agreement with Tbilisi in order to obtain a guarantee of security. Georgia's position on this issue is well-known – it has a conflict with Russia, therefore the peace-treaty too should be concluded with Russia. In addition, according to official Tbilisi, concluding such an agreement with Abkhazia represents for it a kind of danger, because it can strengthen the legitimacy of Abkhazia's independence and also undermine the international recognition of Russia's occupation of Georgian territories. The question arises: if the conclusion of this agreement is very important for the Abkhazians and its conclusion will contribute to the restoration of trust between Abkhazian and Georgian societies, is it possible to formulate this document in such a way that the red lines important for Georgia are not violated, its interests are not harmed, the status of Russia as a party to the conflict is not lost, and at the same time the fears of Sokhumi are answered? To obtain an answer to this question it is important that the text of this possible agreement be discussed within the format of a direct dialogue between the representatives of Tbilisi and Sokhumi. However, in order to overcome the fears of both parties, it can be said as an offer that the different vision of the subjects regarding the status of Abkhazia, as well as the legal situation of the status of Abkhazia, should be clearly recorded in such an agreement, and it should be stated that this document does not imply any change of the existing status in favour of any of the parties. In addition, in order to preserve the status of Russia as a party to the conflict, it should be noted in the text that the agreement will come into force only after the withdrawal of Russian military forces from the territory of Abkhazia. By itself, the conclusion of a similar agreement between Tbilisi and Sokhumi does not completely exclude the need for a peace-agreement between Georgia and Russia, and it may even strengthen the importance of signing an agreement with Russia for Tbilisi and Sokhumi due to the clause of the "Tbilisi-Sokhumi Agreement" that mentions the withdrawal of Russian troops. At the same time, the parties should accept the fact that Georgia's conflicts are multi-level, and if Abkhazia is the subject of the conflict for Georgia on one level, Russia is on the other level.

Regardless of different political positions on certain issues, the main thing is that both sides have a common interest – peace and security; this is precisely why they should find a form of agreement which will be the guarantee of ensuring their shared interest.

The return of IDPs is another issue on which the subjects of the conflict have different views and evaluations. Every year, the UN resolution steadily affirms the right of the IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region to return safely and with dignity, and this should be considered unequivocally as a political achievement of Georgia in this field. However, it should be noted that the resolution only recognises the right of IDPs, it but does not in reality increase the chances of their return over the years. For its part, Sokhumi expresses dissatisfaction with the fact that ethnic Georgians living in the Gali Region (Abkhazia) are not recognised by the Georgian side as returnees, and they still officially keep the status of an IDP (and also Georgian citizenship). It is clear to everyone that, even if the parties agreed on the return, the mass-return of the IDPs is a very difficult political and psycho-social process, the implementation of which is not realistic today, because neither party is ready for it. Furthermore, Sokhumi sees the danger of demographic imbalance in the return of ethnic Georgians, which, from Sukhumi's point of view, may pose a political threat to independence. But it is also well-known that in the struggle between the parties' positions and political interests, it is precisely the interests of the population of Gali that suffer the most.

It would be more beneficial for the parties if the issue of the Georgian population of Gali becomes an object of cooperation rather than a cause of confrontation. At this stage, a conversation might start on safeguarding the rights of the population of Abkhazia as a whole and equally of Gali in various spheres (freedom of movement, education, economic relations, etc.), based on certain compromises. For example, in case of recognition by the Georgian side of the population of Gali as returnees, Sokhumi might in response recognise them as its fully-fledged citizens and at the same time officially allow those who wish to retain Georgian citizenship, especially against the background where Abkhazia allows dual citizenship – of Abkhazia and Russia[4]. In response, Georgia should promote the free movement of the population of Abkhazia to other countries, the obtaining of education for young people abroad, their participation in various international sports and cultural events, etc. Obviously, it would be better if the official Tbilisi and Sokhumi took care over the protection of the rights of Abkhazia’s population without preconditions, but to begin with, protecting human rights based on a rational deal/agreement would also be advantageous for people affected by the unresolved conflict.

Space for compromise and cooperation

It is difficult to give an unequivocal answer to the question – is the need for compromises and cooperation on the part of both entities recognised together with the willingness to take appropriate steps? It can be said that the need real does exist, but as to the extent to which the parties are ready – the answer is not unequivalent, to judge by their declarations and activity.

Again if we rely on the vision of Madam Thea Akhvlediani, Minister of State for Reconciliation and Civil Equality, Tbilisi is ready to take certain steps in this direction[5]. This is evidenced also by the initiative "Step towards a better future" developed within the framework of the Policy of Reconciliation and Engagement, which involves cooperation with the subjects of the conflict in certain areas to improve the living standards of precisely the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region[6]. As is well known, a small part of the population of Abkhazia took advantage of the offerings announced within the framework of this initiative, but their number is smaller than would be desirable. It is clear that the adoption of opportunities created within the framework of such initiatives will not be massive in the short time, but at the same time we must analyse the reasons that prevent individuals from accepting similar offers. One imagines this is the fear that in this form Georgia is trying to return Abkhazia to within the composition of Georgia or that they will be condemned, considered traitors by their fellow citizens or the government. It is precisely to overcome similar fears among ordinary citizens that coordination is essential with relevant official bodies of the second side.

A readiness for direct dialogue with the Georgian authorities in different formats has more than once also been publicly voiced by Abkhazian leaders at different times. This has been announced by Mr. Aslan Bzhania, Sergej Shamba, and Alexander Ankvab[7]. In December 2020, Abkhazia's leader Aslan Bzhania approved a "Concept of Abkhazia’s Foreign Policy", the second chapter of which deals with the regulations of Georgian-Abkhazian relations; Obviously, both in Georgian documents and likewise in this Abkhazian document the red lines are respected and Abkhazia is considered a sovereign state, although in the second chapter there was a statement about readiness for dialogue with Georgia in different format[8]; But a few months later, in May 2021, thanks to pressure from Abkhazia's opposition, which virtually considered this step to be a betrayal on Bzhania’s part, this clause was removed from the Concept[9]. It should be noted that the aforementioned point met with a critical evaluation not only from the Abkhazian opposition but also from part of the Georgian political élite and society, even though this step was fundamentally ignored by the Abkhazian side. If the Abkhazian opposition considered the aforementioned point as a step by a pro-Georgian Bzhania, on the Georgian side some politicians and experts considered it a pro-Abkhazian plan, an attempt by the Abkhazian side to become an equal party to the conflict in the negotiations, instead of Russia, which would have strengthened its legitimacy. A number of coarse and critical statements against Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue and cooperation were made by Inal Ardzinba following his appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia (November 2021). However, some of the representatives of Abkhazia's civil society, as well as some officials, believe that dialogue with Georgia is essential[10].

It can be said that in relation to direct dialogue and cooperation both the Georgian side and likewise the Abkhazian side have ambivalent attitudes. On the other hand, the parties do not trust each other, accusing each other of dishonourable, hidden motives (of a desire to cross the red lines), whilst, on the other hand, they consider direct dialogue to be necessary in order to achieve their goals. Such an ambivalent attitude is created by the parties' attempts to protect their political positions. But the starting point for direct dialogue should not be for the subjects of the conflict the proving of their personal "political trut” and playing a mutual blame-game but rather the desire to solve or mitigate the unresolved problems of ordinary people caused by the conflict. In addition, should there be the desire, in the format of a direct dialogue issues which are politically significant for them (personal doubts and fears) can likewise be examined.

The described ambivalent political picture, in the conditions of unresolved conflict, can be considered as one of the main reasons that societies divided by a line of conflict have problems in several areas. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse these problems and such find ways to solve them which will be mutually beneficial for both subjects, or even for one party, which implies indirect benefits at least, in terms of restoring trust. And this is possible only in the form of direct dialogue, the resources for which the parties really do have, despite certain difficulties.

Based on the results of various expert analyses and studies and likewise on the experience of Georgian-Abkhazian civil dialogue[11], it can be said that it is necessary and possible to cooperate via the path of compromises in almost all areas; but against the background of the ongoing war in the Ukraine, joint-work on the following issues can be considered particularly relevant:

Freedom of movement / Travel-document

Transport- (transit-)communications: land, railway, sea, air

Safeguarding banking/financial operations

Alternative communication networks

Economy/ Legalisation of trade



Obviously, this list is not a complete list of needs that are important to one or the other party. Nor does their relevance mean that they are more easily solved. On the contrary, work on such issues will be more of an object of criticism, arising out of the external and internal political situation. But

It is necessary to start working on these issues so that, in case of creating a favourable environment, there should already exist a concrete plan for solving them.

Why direct dialogue?

It is logical to ask the question, what is needed to create a new dialogue-format to solve the above-mentioned issues, when several are already operating: the Geneva International Negotiations (GID)[12], the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM)[13] and the so-called "Karasin-Abashidze" format. Moreover, there is a fear and critical view of face-to-face dialogue on both sides:

  • The fear on the part of the Abkhazians: consent to a direct dialogue will be understood as capitulation, moving towards integration in Georgia, recognition of the desperate situation.
  • The fear on the part of the Georgian side: consent to a direct dialogue will be understood by the Abkhazian side as the legitimisation of their independence, etc.

In response to this it should first of all be noted that the already existing formats have their own specific mandate and cannot cover all the issues mentioned in the article. This apart, GID is the format of Georgian-Russian negotiations, just as it is for the "Karasin-Abashidze" process, whilst IPRM has been temporarily suspended since June 2018 with respect to Abkhazia.

In addition to the above, the following arguments can likewise be stated in support of a Georgian-Abkhazian direct dialogue:

  • As already mentioned, both sides have at different times expressed their readiness for direct dialogue in a certain form. Ÿ In addition, as already mentioned, the Georgian side has recognised the format of direct dialogue as an important mechanism within the framework of a peace-policy[14].
  • Albeit in order to achieve their own political goals (in the case of Georgia – the reintegration of Abkhazia, and in the case of Abkhazia – recognition of independence), the parties need direct communication; it is not enough just to invest hope in foreign, powerful partner. In particular, if Georgia desires to regain the goodwill of the Abkhazian people, it should talk face to face with the representatives of this community; and the same applies to Abkhazia.
  • Both subjects likewise look for a guarantee of security and peace among powerful allies, but without mutual trust and direct dialogue, and agreement the two communities will be unable to live in peace.
  • Both societies need to reach agreement through direct dialogue with regard to confronting common threats.

In order to eradicate the specific problems caused by the unresolved conflict and improve the living standards of the people on both sides of the dividing line, direct communication is needed not only at the level of political leaders, but also at the level of specific agencies.

In conclusion it can be said that the current geo-political situation is quite difficult for making decisions about the above-mentioned issues, and, at the same time, the taking of these steps does not depend only on official Tbilisi and Sokhumi. But, at the same time, it is precisely the urgency of these difficulties and issues that creates space for compromise-steps, which can only be achieved through direct dialogue between the parties. For a start, the parties should agree that there are issues on which they will not be able to reach agreement in the near future – for example, the status of Abkhazia. But at the same time, they should agree that, despite the existing red lines, there is a space within which it is possible to solve a range of issues that will be beneficial for both or directly at least one or other of the parties. Even in such a case, both parties will win, because satisfying the interest of one or other of the parties will facilitate the strengthening of trust, and thus it will be indirectly beneficial for both. The parties should begin today to develop a plan to resolve the issues so that they are ready to start acting when the time is propitious.

It should be noted right here that for the implementation of issues agreed upon in the process of direct dialogue it is important to make use of the support and expertise of authoritative international organisations acceptable to both sides, to receive guarantees from their side, as well as likewise to involve Russia at a certain stage and receive certain guarantees from its side too.


[1] Ivlian Khaindrave “On the ‘Red Lines’ and Not Only”. 2020.

[2] Abkhazia is recognised by 5 UN member-states: the Russian Federation (26 August 2008), Nicaragua (5 September 2008), Venezuela (10 September 2008), Nauru (15 December 2008), and Syria (29 May 2018), as well as by other equally partly recognised or unrecognised countries.





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[8] “The Republic of Abkhazia admits the possibility of creating conditions for the formation of an additional format of multi-level negotiations between Georgia and the Republic of Abkhazia, within which the opportunity to discuss with the Georgian side issues of mutual interest, a decision on which is not possible within the framework of the International Geneva Discussions” (In Russian).


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