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On 28 October 2014, the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili, stated that there is nothing new in the Treaty on Alliance and Integration proposed by Russia to Occupied Abkhazia.[1]

This Treaty does not initiate the annexation of Abkhazia. As many as 80 treaties have been signed between Abkhazia and Russia with annexation having started in 2008. The Treaty, however, is one important step towards annexation although it is substantially similar to previously signed treaties and does not legalise annexation.

FactCheck

took interest in Mr Zakareishvili’s statement and verified its accuracy.

On 26 August 2008, Russia recognised the independence of the two separatist Georgian regions, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region, which it both occupied and annexed in the same year. On 17 September 2008, Abkhazia and Russia signed the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Aid which came into force on 23 December 2008. As many as 80 governmental and interagency treaties have been signed between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation but only 39 of them are listed on the website

of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Of note is that the treaties which have been signed to present day concern the protection of the borders and the sovereignty of Abkhazia as well as the regulation of trade relations between Abkhazia and Russia and cooperation in the field of education.

The signatories of the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Aid of 17 September 2008 respect the territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders reciprocally and agree to cooperate in the sphere of foreign policy. Moreover, they express readiness to protect the sovereignty of the signatories in the case of a respective threat. According to this Treaty, Russia received the right to place a respective military infrastructure and military bases on the territory of Abkhazia with the aim of protecting peace and stability in the South Caucasus region. Apart from this, the signatories consider it necessary to establish a joint control of the state border of Abkhazia to provide personal security together with peace and stability in the South Caucasus and, further, they agree to sign a new treaty on this matter. The document also refers to the deepening of economic relations between Abkhazia and Russia and Russia’s commitment of financial aid to Abkhazia.

On 30 April 2009, Russia and Abkhazia signed a Treaty on Joint Protection of the State Border of Abkhazia

which came into force on 21 June 2010. According to the Treaty’s Chapter 3, the Russian Armed Forces were tasked with protecting the border of the occupied territory before the formation of Abkhazian border protection bodies. The Treaty on Joint Protection of the State Border of Abkhazia points out that the delegation of powers to Russia is temporary.

On 16 October 2010, another interesting treaty was signed between the Russian Federation and Abkhazia; specifically, the Treaty on Cooperation and Mutual Aid in the Sphere of Customs

came into force on 13 November 2013. This Treaty implied a facilitation of the trade and customs service between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation. The Treaty’s Chapter 5 deals with the creation of a specialised customs office which would not only control incoming shipments and transport means on the territory of Abkhazia and Russia but would also be in charge of taking respective actions in the case of any legal violations.

On 13 October 2014, the text of the Treaty on Alliance and Integration, proposed by Russia to Abkhazia, was published. Signing the document is foreseen before the end of this year. The proxy regime was given a two-week period to review the text of the Treaty and present notes. The Treaty’s content caused a stir both in Abkhazian society and the governmental bodies of the occupied region. On 30 October 2014, the de facto Parliament of Abkhazia published the Draft Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership.

The Treaty on Alliance and Integration points out the thematic spheres that should be integrated with the Russian Federation by respective legal amendments and actions. More precisely, these include foreign policy, defence, security, public order and the rule of law. The document also concerns the creation of a common economic and customs area. The document initiated by Russia points out a detailed plan for harmonising the healthcare and education spheres with Russian legislation. Unlike the Treaty signed in 2008, the Treaty on Alliance and Integration significantly limits Abkhazia’s sovereignty in various spheres by harmonising Abkhazian legislation with that of the Russian Federation.

The Treaty on Alliance and Integration’s Chapter 2 is devoted entirely to defence and security. Unlike any of the treaties previously signed, this new Russian-initiated Treaty aims at the creation of a Russo-Abkhazian Armed Forces which will be under joint command in peacetime but commanded by a person appointed by the respective office of Russia in the case of imminent military aggression. In the case of the agreement entering into force in this particular form, Abkhazia and Russia will have to create a document about the formation and functioning of their United Armed Forces within a period of three months. Moreover, Chapter 2’s Article 8 deals with the harmonisation of the standards and legal acts of the Abkhazian Armed Forces with the system of the Russian Armed Forces. Another novelty of the document is the protection of the Abkhazia-Georgia border. According to the Russian-initiated text, the Treaty envisages the placement of the United Armed Forces on the Abkhazia-Georgia border within two years from its entry into force and providing free movement through the Russia-Abkhazia border at the same time.

Chapter 2’s Article 10 deals with the creation of the Common Coordination Centre for Internal Affairs on the territory of Abkhazia to fight against organised or any other type of serious crime and prevent the spread of extremism. Within three months from the Treaty’s entering into force, the signatories will have to create a document describing the location of the Centre, the rules for its formation and the areas of its activity. One year after the signing of the document, Abkhazia, with the support of Russian experts, will work out respective normative acts to efficiently exercise the powers of the Common Coordination Centre for Internal Affairs. None of the previous agreements deals with the creation of the Common Coordination Centre for Internal Affairs which means that Russia is trying to supersede the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia on a legal level. Interestingly enough, the Abkhazian version of the document only mentions the creation of an Informative-Coordinative Centre which will support, but not supersede, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia to enhance its efficiency.

Chapter 4’s Article 14 of the Russian version of the Treaty’s document deals with another novelty. More precisely, it implies facilitating the rules for granting citizenship by proposed legal amendments on the territories of both signatories. The Abkhazian version of the document only mentions the facilitation of the rules for granting Russian citizenship to Abkhazians. The document also deals with the rules for the conscription of citizens of Abkhazia. More precisely, according to the Russian version, citizens of Abkhazia who also hold Russian citizenship are allowed to undergo military service in the Russian divisions located on the territory of Abkhazia or the United Armed Forces. There has been no formulation of this type in the agreements which have been previously signed.

Russia’s dominant role in the customs sphere is made very clear in the Russian version of the Treaty’s document. More precisely, Article 13 deals with a special customs office of the Russian Federation which is under the governance of the respective office of the Executive Government of Russia and creates customs control checkpoints on the territory of Abkhazia.

Of further interest are important novelties in the sphere of education policy. According to the Russian version of the Treaty, the Abkhazian side only works on the main development directions and standards in the sphere of education. As for educational and teacher qualification enhancement programmes, however, both signatories will work in tandem on their elaboration. Interestingly, the Abkhazian version of the Treaty’s document indicates that the Abkhazian side will implement the aforementioned programmes independently although also in cooperation with Russia.

On 31 October 2014, the Office of the National Security Council of Georgia prepared an analytical document showing the differences between the Russian and Abkhazian versions of the Treaty on Alliance and Integration. According to the document, the two versions point out the different aspirations of the two sides:  Russia aims to incorporate Abkhazia based upon an “alliance” (the word “integration” is the keynote of the Russian version of the treaty) whilst the Abkhazian side seeks to maintain/reinforce even the symbolic results of the fact of Russia recognising it as an independent state (by establishing the term “strategic partnership” instead of “integration”).

There is a significant difference between the chapters of the two documents as well. The Abkhazian version states that the command of the United Armed Forces in peacetime should be implemented based upon the rotation principle whilst Russia appoints the head of the military unit and Abkhazia appoints the deputy in the case of imminent military aggression. Paragraph 4 of Article 7 of the Abkhazian draft document also adds that the Presidents of Abkhazia and Russia make the decision on the training and operation of the United Armed Forces. Moreover, Paragraph 4 of Article 7 also deals with defining the threat of an imminent military aggression as based upon joint consultations of both sides which may be called following the request of either of the signatories. The Abkhazian version of the document regulates the rule of conscription in a different manner as well and states that only citizens of Abkhazia can undergo military service in the Armed Forces but says nothing about Russian citizens.

The Abkhazian version does not mention the creation of customs checkpoints by Russia on the territory of Abkhazia and only deals with the harmonisation of customs legislation with the Eurasian Union.

As a general assessment of the document, it can be said that the draft treaty prepared by the “governmental bodies” of Abkhazia significantly differs from the draft treaty prepared by the Government of the Russian Federation. As the de facto head of the Parliament of Abkhazia, Valeri Bganba, said (he also added that the majority of the Parliament shares his opinion), the document presented by Russia contains serious threats to Abkhazian sovereignty. FactCheck

believes that the Treaty on Alliance and Integration proposed by Russia to Abkhazia should be uniquely and unequivocally assessed as a step made by the Russian Federation in the direction of the full annexation of occupied Abkhazia.

Unlike the treaties which have been signed since 2008, even the previously guaranteed formal sovereignty in the spheres of foreign policy, security and defence is now being limited by the new Treaty on Alliance and Integration which transfers the policy of annexing Abkhazia to the legal level as opposed to the previous treaties.

Naturally, the Treaty’s document has no legal value for Georgia although it makes the Government of Georgia face serious new challenges. The illegal recognition of the two occupied regions as independent states by Russia in 2008 was followed by the respective legal and diplomatic reaction of Georgia. Therefore, the threat of the occupied regions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region being annexed (not to mention a real annexation) requires new steps and the respective reaction from the Government of Georgia. Of particular note is that Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS)

made a proposal to the Government of Georgia to begin working on forming an anti-annexation strategy immediately.

Conclusion

Paata Zakareishvili is correct when he says that this document is yet another attempt to annex Abkhazia but he is wrong when he identifies the content of the document with those treaties which were signed before. We believe that the statement of the State Minister is controversial as he underestimates the magnitude and possible threats stemming from the document. The type and content of the Treaty on Alliance and Integration is new. None of the treaties signed before concerned the integration of the defence, security, customs and social spheres of Abkhazia into the legal system of Russia. For this reason, the document should be assessed as a substantially new stage of annexing Abkhazia by Russia by legal means.

FactCheck

refrains from giving a verdict at this time and continues to work on this issue.


[1] In the document, Abkhazia implies the Abkhazia region

as occupied by Russia.


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