Saturday, August 8, 2009

Interview with Temuri Yakobashvili

Today, I had an hour private meeting/interview with Temuri Yakobashvili (თემურ იაკობაშვილი) at the State Chancellery. He currently serves as Georgia’s Minister for Reintegration (for Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and is Vice Prime Minister. He is thus a chief negotiator on the conflicts regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

My main and obvious question to him was how realistic he would consider a resolution of the conflicts any time soon (or at all), given the recognition of these regions as independent by Russia, a continued presence of Russian troops in both regions and a de facto secession of both areas.

His answer was - as expected - thoughtful and cautiously optimistic. He considers the chances of a resolution of the conflicts better than ever before as he thinks that a paradigm shift had occurred. In the eighteen years before the Russian-Georgian war, the conflict around these regions has been an internal conflict, solely an intra-Georgian affair, largely ignored by the international community. With last year’s war, this issue has been elevated to the international stage and hence, in his view, an international conflict resolution perspective has been opened up. Firstly, Yakobashvili explained, no one questions now anymore that Russia is a party to the conflict and its potential resolution. Secondly, through the Geneva peace negotiation process, non-separatist forces within Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be heard as well, forces that have been quietened before. Thirdly, organisations such as the UN and OSCE which are active in Georgia and previously had a purely humanitarian mission, have now been upgraded to hold a political mandate as well. He stressed in particular that the EU monitoring mission has a useful role to play - as an independent arbiter when it comes to Russian allegations - as happened recently - of ostensible Georgian incursions into South Ossetian territory.

On my question on the security situation of the border regions, in particular around the South Ossetian border, he gave the honest answer that he does not think that the areas are safe at the moment. He is too aware of the issue of marauding South Ossetian gangs in these zones. He mentioned that only yesterday five civilians had been kidnapped close to the South Ossetian border (which bolsters the fears of the displaced family that I visited earlier this week, being afraid to go back to their native Mereti village). Yakobashvili promised that they will introduce the concept of secured borders and increased policing missions in these areas.

I found him pretty convincing in his answers and assessment of the situation; and also appreciated the interesting conversation we had besides politics on topics such as art and photography.

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