08TBILISI590, GEORGIAN CONCERN OVER RUSSIA’S “CREEPING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI590 2008-04-10 14:31 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8847
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0590/01 1011431
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101431Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9246
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4631

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000590 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT. FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/11/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIAN CONCERN OVER RUSSIA'S "CREEPING 
ANNEXATION" OF ABKHAZIA 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 536 
     B. TBILISI 388 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  In a series of recent meetings with the 
Group of Friends of the Secretary General, Georgian 
government officials have expressed their strong concern that 
Russia continues to take steps to increase ties with the 
breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  In an 
April 8 meeting with the western Friends, First Deputy 
Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said recent Russian actions, 
including Russian withdrawal from CIS sanctions against 
Abkhazia (ref B), a Russian request to conduct extradition 
negotiations with the Abkhaz for Russian citizens being held 
in Abkhazia and a letter from Russian President Putin to 
de-facto presidents Bagapsh and Kokoiti are further evidence 
that Russia is pursuing its strategy of "creeping 
annexation".  Vashadze called on the Friends to protest these 
Russian actions.  In a separate meeting with the Group of 
Friends, including Russia, State Minister for Reintegration 
Temur Yakobashvili warned that an "iron curtain" blocking 
people-to-people contacts has descended on Georgia's borders 
with the separatist regions and Russia and key Abkhaz were 
doing all they could to keep it in place.  Yakobashvili laid 
out Georgia's "three principles" for dealing with the 
conflicts:  no war, no to negotiating formats that do not 
yield results, and direct people-to-people confidence 
building measures.  Both Vashadze and Yakobashvili repeatedly 
emphasized Georgia's desire for a peaceful solution to the 
conflicts, stressing that Georgia would "be responsible" in 
the face of Russian provocations.  End summary. 
 
Russia's "creeping annexation" of Abkhazia 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2.  (C)  In an April 8 meeting with the western Friends, 
First Deputy Foreign Minister Vashadze told the group that 
Georgia was thankful for Bucharest and "thrilled" with the 
NATO communiqu on future Georgian membership, but was 
concerned that Georgia not receiving a Membership Action Plan 
(MAP) would be viewed as an opportunity by Russia to further 
increase tension in the conflict zones.  He said that Moscow 
has decided on a strategy designed to test Georgia's patience 
and will do everything short of formal recognition to improve 
Russia's ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  He noted in 
particular a letter from Russian President Putin to Abkhaz 
de-facto president Bagapsh and South Ossetian de-facto 
president Kokoiti, which was also published on the Russian 
MFA website.  According to the Georgians, this was the first 
time Putin had ever directly corresponded with the separatist 
leaders, and Vashadze took it as yet another sign that Russia 
was "testing the waters" on how far they could go short of 
formal recognition.  He also claimed that Georgia had 
evidence that Russia was moving light armaments into Abkhazia 
and cautioning its citizens to "remain vigilant."  Vashadze 
also distributed a non-paper (faxed to EUR/CARC) calling on 
the governments of the Friends to protest these Russian 
actions at the United Nations.  He asked the Friends to 
convey their "unequivocal alarm" over the situation in 
Abkhazia and to tell Russia directly that the international 
community will not allow Russia to cross the red lines which 
define Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. 
Vashadze said Russia was getting perilously close to crossing 
Georgia's red lines. 
 
Vashadze: Georgia will "behave responsibly" 
------------------------------------------ 
 
3.  (C)  During his meeting with the Friends, Vashadze 
repeatedly emphasized that Georgia will "be responsible" in 
response to Russian provocations in the conflict zones.  He 
stressed that the Georgian government wanted a peaceful 
solution to the conflicts and wants to "do the right thing." 
Georgia will do everything in its power to prevent being 
provoked, he said, and the Georgians have told the Russians 
that they want to work with them on solving the conflicts 
peacefully.  Separately, on April 8, Foreign Minister 
Bakradze issued a statement thanking the governments of 
Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan for supporting Georgia's 
sovereignty and territorial integrity by not lifting 
sanctions against Abkhazia.  Bakradze said he expected 
several other CIS countries to issue similar statements of 
support in the near future. 
 
Yakobashvili outlines Abkhaz peace initiative 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
4.  (C)  At an April 8 dinner with the Group of Friends, 
 
TBILISI 00000590  002 OF 002 
 
 
including Russia, Minister for Reintegration Yakobashvili 
expounded on President Saakashvili's Abkhaz peace initiative 
unveiled on March 28 (Ref A).  Yakobashvili made clear that 
he and his staff had been working on the plan for a month and 
a half and it was not unveiled to boost Georgia's chances of 
receiving a MAP at Bucharest.  He said the plan consisted of 
three blocks: creation of a vice-president post for the 

Abkhaz, a right to veto government decisions affecting Abkhaz 
constitutional status, and the creation of a free economic 
zone in Ochamchire and Gali.  Yakobashvili emphasized that 
the three blocks were not a package and could be worked on 
individually, adding that he would propose creating two 
working groups, one Georgian and one international, to help 
the Georgians work with the Abkhaz in trying to implement 
these proposals.  Special Representative of the Secretary 
General (SRSG) Jean Arnault said he welcomed the proposals 
and thought it important to find ways to reassure the Abkhaz 
and bring them to the table.  (Note:  Speaking at a 
conference April 7, Yakobashvili said the Georgians had 
received some indications the Abkhaz leadership was 
interested in the free economic zone.  While the Abkhaz had 
publicly rejected Saakashvili's initiative, Yakobashvili said 
it was significant they had said nothing about this economic 
component.  End note). 
 
5.  (C)  Yakobashvili said that unfortunately there was a 
small group of people in Abkhazia who believe that working 
with the Georgians constitutes treason and hamper Georgian 
efforts to engage in confidence building measures.  He 
expressed his concern that an "iron curtain" had descended 
across Abkhazia and Russia was doing everything in its power 
to keep it in place and prevent meaningful people-to-people 
contacts. Yakobashvili stressed that Georgia had only 
peaceful intentions, repeating that Georgia has three 
principles for resolving the conflict:  no war, rejecting 
negotiating mechanisms that do not yield results, and a 
"human-centric" approach based on direct people-to-people 
contact and proposals to meet the needs of the populations of 
the territories. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
6.  (C)  The Georgian government is deeply worried about the 
Russians "testing the waters" to see how much increased 
contact and support for the separatist regions they can get 
away with politically.  Russia's decision in early March to 
unilaterally pull out of CIS economic and military sanctions 
on Abkhazia was the most prominent recent example, but other 
apparently symbolic steps like the Putin letters and Duma 
discussions of recognition and diplomatic missions, which 
reportedly are to turn into recommendations to the Russian 
government, also push the limits.  As a result, the Georgians 
sometimes overreact to less serious or unconfirmed Russian 
actions.  The Russian Ministry of Justice letter appears to 
be such a case:  it asks the Georgians to agree to the 
movement of Russian prisoners from Abkhazia to Russia, in 
collaboration with Abkhaz "authorities."  It does not 
threaten (at least explicitly) to do so without Georgia's 
approval and unless that happens it is unclear how the 
western Friends could help by objections to the letter in 
international fora.  Indeed, it is quite possible that 
keeping the Georgians off-balance and prone to a 
mis-calculation is one of the goals of recent Russian 
actions.  The Georgians are aware of this risk, as 
Yakobashvili and Vashadze indicated with their repeated 
comments about being careful not to be provoked.  We will 
continue to reinforce this point. Still, there are some 
serious actions being undertaken or considered which do have 
the warlike impact of undermining Georgia's territorial 
integrity.  We hope we can work with the western Friends to 
discourage future such steps by Russia, which has many times 
affirmed its commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity. 
TEFFT

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