REBEL REPUBLICS TAKE TIME AS SAAKASHVILI CALLS "BROTHERS" TO REJOIN GEORGIA

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MOSCOW, May 26 (Arseni Oganesyan, RIA Novosti analyst) - Territorial integrity is one of Georgia's most painful issues and, naturally, among central topics in its leading politicians' public statements.

President Mikhail Saakashvili was no exception in his address to an Independence Day army parade. He called Abkhazia and South Ossetia-two former autonomies and now unrecognised republics-to urgently get to the reuniting negotiation table: "We shall never put up with our territorial integrity violated-never to my dying day and to Georgia's last day. I appeal to by Abkhaz and Osset brothers to urgently start talks and rejoin a united Georgia<...> Georgia, on its part, will always take into due consideration every Osset's and every Akbhaz's interests." A return statement came a few hours later from Raoul Khajimba, Abkhaz Prime Minister. He indignantly turned down the unity call. It was out of the question, he said to a Russian-based news agency. "Abkhazia has finally determined its status, and adopted a constitution-as an independent state should. Its status is not for discussion, and will never be." Many of Georgia's political cream hope their country will regain its entire area of the Soviet years. These hopes revived with Saakashvili coming to the helm, and became stronger with settlement in Adzharia, another recalcitrant republic. As for Saakashvili, a reunited Georgia would not merely make him politically stronger but earn him unfading laurels. Young, brave and dynamic, he is, in fact, the only politician of a new mould throughout the post-Soviet area. The President showed his worth in the Adzhar crisis, so everyone knows now just how resolute he may be.

To settle the Abkhaz issue by force is the last thing Georgia wants, Zurab Zhvania, its Prime Minister, said to a recent news conference. It is too early now, however, for conjectures on what line Tbilisi will choose. Abkhazia, for one, does not believe its reassuring statements. In a recent online opinion probe, 75 per cent of respondents expect violent developments, reports the RBC Daily. As the Abkhaz parliament says in today's public statement, it is apprehensive of military escalation revived to plunge the entire region into another humanitarian disaster, with revenge-seeking aspirations rampant in Georgia.

Judging by the exit from the Adzhar deadlock, and other recent events, Georgia is most likely to turn to stick-and-carrot policies. Progressive trends will probably dominate its conduct toward Abkhazia. As President Saakashvili reassures, his country is willing to grant the republic the most extensive autonomy possible-promises Abkhazia will shrug off. The stick will come in then. That may be a temperamental and smoothly instigated anti-Abkhaz media campaign to re-enact the one against Adzharia, when outlets were making a bugaboo of the recalcitrant republican top. Artillery preparation over, wrathful statements will come from the official top.

There is a greater danger. If Abkhazia loses information war or its leaders fall victim to unsavoury denunciations, it will be really hard put with Georgia getting its chance to appeal to international organisations for intervention. The world sympathy will be with Tbilisi. Once it secures Western support, Georgia will build up pressure on Russia, which has a peacekeeping contingent in Abkhazia. The arrangement of forces will shift again.

The Caucasus is among the most explosive parts of the world. Russia is to promote objective and circumspect coverage of the developments, and do everything else to prevent another military confrontation there. To all appearances, if a confrontation does come up, it will spread to Russia's North Caucasus and make things in Chechnya even worse than they are now. As the latest Moscow statements say, we Russians are equally concerned for people in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and areas content with staying in Georgia. To see bloodshed close to its frontier and shelter harassed fugitives is the last thing Russia needs.

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