In an interview with Rossiya Segodnya Friday, the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Abkhazia, Oleg Damenia, discussed the proposed agreement on an alliance with Russia, and the mutual interests of the two countries.
A broad public discussion has been taking place in Abkhazia on the proposed treaty to establish an alliance and increased cooperation with Russia. Diametrically opposing opinions on the matter exist. How do you see the proposal?
Oleg Damenia: My position reflects the public’s interest: the interests of Abkhazia and of Russia. In this sense, I do not have any comments –I do not find any grounds for an emotional evaluation or an emotional approach. This is a serious document, and we must approach it from the standpoint of our mutual interests, and here our interests are the same.
First and foremost is the problem of security. Given today’s geopolitical situation, with all its attendant tragic consequences, not taking questions of security into account would be simply inexcusable. It would be political myopia, and is very, very dangerous.
[Wider geopolitical threats] now endanger us all –for us this is a question of to be or not to be...In these circumstances, the task of Abkhazia will be to determine what we want for ourselves, but also what we can guarantee our strategic partner. We are well-aware of the fact that Abkhazia does not have a capable, modernized military. We do not talk about this, but understand it well. And today, to decide anything by spirit alone is impossible. Therefore the first thing we must do is to undertake effective measures in the area of security. This is very important.
Will the new agreement change current socio-economic realities –for Abkhazia and in terms of the Russian-Abkhaz partnership?
Oleg Damenia: It is not possible to build Abkhazia’s economy on Russian financial support alone. We must ourselves try to take responsibility for part of our budget. Russia has been providing us with very meaningful assistance in the social sphere, and we must take advantage of these opportunities to use our own funds for other needs –to create our own revenue base. Russia cannot act as a guarantor which can determine the course of all world history –no power can. Therefore, our society should strive to establish self-sufficiency, and not to live on the grants of another government.
The document provides for the formation of a common economic and customs space between Russia and Abkhazia, which will require from the Abkhaz side legal reforms that would prompt it to adopt the standards of the Eurasian Economic Union. Is Abkhazia prepared for this?
Oleg Damenia: The harmonization of legislation should not worry anyone; it is common international practice. Armenia has recently joined the EEU and also assumed the obligation to harmonize its legislation. The important thing is that all of this is done in accordance with the constitution, and does not contradict it.
Experts consider the provisions to be sufficiently well-thought out. But there are particulars which are subject to discussion by the experts. There are no unsolvable problems here, and here too we will find a common language.
Alongside widespread support for the idea of strengthening the strategic partnership between Russia and Abkhazia there have also been some sharply negative reactions. What explains the divergence of opinion?
Oleg Damenia: Abkhazians, like any other people, experience some collective fears. But there are also people who play on these fears. People today are very much involved in their own personal interests, their own positions. I personally have a very critical attitude toward such positions. To my great regret, Abkhazia’s intellectual potential today is weaker now than ever before; it has suffered greatly when compared to the prewar period. Therefore people appear on the scene who make capricious reinterpretations of the document and its meaning. We are trying to carry this document into the sphere of reason, within the scope of pragmatism and rational comprehension. We need to build a legal and political relationship with Russia that is based not on emotion, but on a rigorous assessment of the present realities in the former Soviet Union and in the world.
Russia has offered us its vision of a new agreement; it does not demand our unconditional acceptance. We must develop our own position, based on how we ourselves see our relations with Russia. In this project some things can be changed, since there are certain inaccuracies, but these are questions for experts. There is nothing wrong with this; it is quite a normal process.
Do you have any fears that Russia is trying to turn Abkhazia into a subject of the Russian Federation?
Oleg Damenia: There are enough sensible people in Abkhazia, and they understand that Russia regards Abkhazia as an international entity with equal rights. Technically, from the legal point of view, we are equal. But in reality, of course we cannot be equal in every sphere. Russia is a great, huge country; Abkhazia is small. And this asymmetry presents itself not only in terms of territory and population, but also at the level of our mentality. Issues of this kind must be taken into consideration. Russia has not given us any reason not to trust it. My colleagues and I are convinced that Russia has no interest in seeing Abkhazia as a subject of its federation. It is disadvantageous in consideration of the international situation as well. For Russia, it is advantageous to see an independent, dynamically developing Abkhazia. Of course, we are presently lagging seriously behind the Russian rate of development. I see this document from the position that it will strengthen the independence of Abkhazia, the development of Abkhazian state and Abkhaz society. For these reasons, we must agree to accept it.