Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Georgia: Another Top Doplomat Leaves Saakashvili Team

A wind of revolt is blowing among Georgian diplomats. Two months after the defection of Irakli Alasania, Tbilisi's envoy to the United Nations, it's now the turn of Viktor Dolidze, the Georgian ambassador to Austria and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
On February 4, the 35-year-old diplomat revealed that he was resigning. In an interview he gave EurasiaNet before returning to Tbilisi, Dolidze said that he is no longer in tune with the Saakashvili administration and that he is considering defecting to the opposition. "I cannot go against my principles; I cannot continue working under the leadership of a president and a government I do not believe in," he said.

He added that he will "most likely" join the team of his "childhood friend" Alasania, whom many in Georgia see as a potential candidate in the country's next presidential election.
Alasania resigned in early December, blaming the Georgian government for letting itself "get dragged" into the August war with Russia. He has called for early presidential elections and announced plans to form his own "political team" and cooperate with Saakashvili's main opponents. Yet, he has not said whether he would himself run for president in an early election.
Dolidze says he favors both early presidential and legislative polls. "Presidential elections should take place before parliament is renewed because with the current administration there would be no guarantee with regard to the transparency of a parliamentary ballot," he told EurasiaNet.
Dolidze first came to question the government's actions in November 2007, when police forces violently cracked down on opposition-led street protests and Saakashvili decreed a state of emergency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But unlike Levan Mikeladze -- Georgia's envoy to Geneva, who resigned as a mark of protest -- Dolidze suppressed his feelings and continued to fulfill his diplomatic duties. "The situation in South Ossetia convinced me I had to remain at my post," he says.

Dolidze became further disillusioned with Saakashvili after the January 2008 presidential election, which he says brought no democratic changes.

The real turning point, however, came with the August war. "Although I have no doubt that Russia was the aggressor, I am pretty sure our government could have avoided these developments," Dolidze says. In his view, the biggest mistake the Saakashvili administration made was to refuse dialogue with the separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia while making a pretense of openness, he said.

In May 2008, Saakashvili mandated Alasania to hold talks with the Abkhaz separatist leadership in Sukhumi. The secretive consultations reportedly ended up with the two sides tentatively agreeing on a plan under which the separatist administration would have helped more ethnic Georgians displaced by the 1992-1993 war resettle to the Gali district, in return for the withdrawal of Georgian police forces from the Upper Kodori Gorge and Tbilisi's written pledge to not use force against Abkhazia. However, Dolidze contends that Saakashvili rejected the plan.
Further talks took place in Sweden in June 2008, but ended inconclusively. "Signing [Alasania's] plan would have spared Georgia many of the setbacks it endured in August," Abkhazia's Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba commented recently.

In parallel, Tbilisi continued to press for changes in the South Ossetian peace negotiation format. It threatened to withdraw from the OSCE-sponsored Joint Control Commission (JCC) -- the quadrilateral body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the 1992 Georgian-South Ossetian ceasefire agreement and building confidence measures in the conflict zone -- unless the European Union and the pro-Georgian Provisional Administration of South Ossetia became involved in the settlement process. Georgia's demands officially aimed at countering the overwhelming influence it said Russia had on the JCC. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Although Tbilisi withdrew from all OSCE-sponsored conflict settlement mechanisms only after the August war, the JCC remained paralyzed for many months prior to the conflict. "The JCC was the only existing platform for dialogue and we should have used it," Dolidze argues.
The Georgian diplomat is equally critical of the attitude of his government during and after the conflict. "I don't see any desire on their part to really take care of those 120,000 additional IDPs the war has created," he says. Nor does he see any willingness to resume dialogue with the separatists, or modernize Georgia's institutions in line with recommendations issued by the OSCE, the EU, and NATO.

"We mustn't give up; we must continue to develop our country in line with democratic values. Then, things will become easier in other fields," Dolidze says.

In comments reminiscent of Alasania's, he says Georgia's conflict-resolution policy should rest on the following few principles. Firstly, international recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should not go beyond that of Russia and Nicaragua. Second, Tbilisi should pursue a "less aggressive," "result-oriented policy" based on direct talks with the separatists. Third, it should press for further internationalization of the conflict settlement processes and resume dialogue with Moscow. Finally, international monitors should be allowed into Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- something Russia opposes.

On other issues, however, Dolidze is less inclined to compromise. In particular, he believes Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives should not be admitted as fully-fledged parties to the Geneva talks on Georgia, saying the existing format -- under which separatist envoys are confined to working groups without official recognition -- is "very good."

Dolidze further argues that he sees no need for Georgia to seal non-aggression pacts with its separatist republics. "We've signed so many such documents in the past with Abkhazia that a new one is not necessary. Besides, the Sarkozy-Medvedev plan already includes a provision on the non-use of force," he says in reference to the August 12 ceasefire agreement brokered by the French and Russian presidents.

Shamba recently described Alasania as someone with whom the Abkhaz government could have "a constructive dialogue." However, he said that after the August war Georgia must forget about establishing confederative relations with Abkhazia and that all it could hope for is a normalization of ties with an "independent" neighbor.

Editor's Note: Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in developments related to the Caucasus and Central Asia.

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