Four days in Georgia gave ample opportunity to look into the frozen and forgotten conflicts of this region.
In Abkhazia we had the possibility of conducting extensive talks with the leadership of this break-away part of Georgia that operates under the semi-protection of Russia and with a UN observer mission present.
But we were not welcome in the other break-away area of South Ossetia. No particular reason was given, but there is no doubt that tensions have been increasing lately. There are fears that there will be a repeat of the outbreak of some fighting that occured last summer.
For a Georgia firm on the course towards political and economic reforms these conflicts are of course a major political burden. Tbilisi does not control not insignificant parts of the recognized territory of its country.
While Russia in principle supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, there is no doubt that active support is given to both the break-away regions. Not all of this is necessarily with the sanction of official bodies in Moscow. The element of smuggling and freelancing of different sort is obvious.
Although Russia has a key to the resolution of the conflicts, Georgia must also play its part, and I was impressed by the moderate and constructive approach taken by those dealing with these issues in Tbilisi.
That’s a change from the past. There is no doubt that nationalist forces and ferment in Georgia in the early 1990′s was a key factor that ignited the acute face of both these conflicts. Now, the mistakes are generally recognized, although suspicions against Tblisi are still running high in Abkhazia and Ossetia.
Europe must certainly involve itself more in the search for a resolution to these conflicts.
Northern Caucasus looks more fragile by the day. Only Putin can believe that the Chechen issue is off the radar screen, and near-by Dagestan with its ethnic mix and strong Islamic beliefs might well be the next big issue.
Not the least in view of this, it is critical that the stability of Southern Caucasus is preserved and strengthened.