Oct 06, 2009

Abkhazia: Lukashenko Hints on Recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia

Active ImageThe President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has made several overtures that he is considering recognising the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.



Below is an article published by The Georgian Times :



In Minsk the autumn session of the Belarusian National Assembly, the third to be held in 2009, convened at the House of Government on Minsk’s Independence Square. For the most part the opening was uneventful: the House of Representatives, the lower of the two chambers in Belarus’ legislative body, prepared to consider 30 items on its agenda – 7 new bills and 13 bills carried over from the last session for second reading, along with 7 international agreements and 3 temporary Presidential decrees. Up to 12 issues are floating in the minds of Belarusian legislators, including the desirability of imposing additional conditions for investment activity, nuclear energy use, banking and transport.

But the issue that caught the eye of international observers on Friday [2 October] was the sudden resurrection in the state-run media of interest in Belarus’ future relations with Georgian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The national news agency BelTA, the media outlet for the Government of President Alexander Lukashenko, published several articles highlighting the President’s interest in the separatist regions. “We have wonderful relations with these republics, especially Abkhazia,” said President Lukashenko. “I have said it many times. We had had a few contacts with South Ossetia, but when the conflict broke out I sent a group of people with humanitarian aid. Belarusian Deputies also went there. When I had to decide whether to recognise their independence or not, I wanted to study the situation there – to study what had really happened in these countries.”

President Lukashenko told reporters at a recent meeting in Lithuania, the first following the lifting of the travel ban on the President by the European Union, that Belarus should have recognised the two regions as independent countries long ago, “thus showing support for our ally.” The reason it did not, according to the President, rests with the leadership of the Russian Federation. Citing a “witch-hunt against Belarus” over a dispute involving the failure of Russia to settle a loan to Belarus of 500 million US dollars late last year, Lukashenko suggested that “some in Russia wanted to bend us over, or did not want us to recognise these republics at all.” Nonetheless, Lukashenko predicted that the issue will be resolved.

Meanwhile, following the lead of the EU Commission led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, Chairman of the Belarusian House of Representatives Vladimir Andreichenko announced his intention to “carry out an objective assessment” of the situation in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Georgia. He also announced during the opening of the autumn session that he will have Deputies “study public opinion on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” As opposition leader Sergey Maskevich noted on Radio Europe earlier last week, the issue has not been put on the Parliament’s agenda, but the agenda can be updated at any time during the session.

“The opinion of Belarusian society is very important for developing well-balanced approaches to such complicated issues as the death penalty moratorium and the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Andreichenko told BelTA. “When considering this recognition we should take into consideration two factors: the opinion of the Belarusian people and an objective evaluation of the situation in these republics. The Parliaments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia submitted their appeal to the Belarusian Parliament last year. The Belarusian Members of Parliament have thoroughly studied the issue.”

Nonetheless, these studies will continue. Noting Tagliavini’s report as well as the decision of the Council of Europe not to penalise Russia for failing to act on its recommendations, the Chairman suggested that Belarus needs to reassess the situation on the ground in the breakaway republics and in Tbilisi, and meet with Deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Only after that, Andreichenko suggested to BelTA, would he consider placing recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the agenda of the House of Representatives.

The Georgian Times reported following the meeting between Presidents Lukashenko and Medvedev in Sochi on Aug. 27 that the two would probably meet again for follow-up talks during the West-2009 military exercises, which took place over much of last week. The two Presidents did meet on Wednesday to discuss a variety of issues, including apparently Belarus’ accession to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force, a move earlier resisted strongly by President Lukashenko.

At the time of the Sochi talks in August, the Russian media speculated that this first conference, promoted as a chance for Russia and Belarus to sort out issues that had hindered bilateral ties, may have touched on Russia’s desire for Belarus to recognise the [...] regions as independent states. Such speculation was never confirmed by either President. However two follow-up meetings were scheduled: a separate Russian-Belarusian conference to be held during the Nov. 27 Eurasian Economic Community Interstate Council summit in Minsk, and the scheduled December meeting of the Supreme Council of the Russian-Belarusian Union. 

By law, the National Assembly of Belarus cannot stay in session for longer than 80 days unless convened in extraordinary session by the President. The session therefore normally ends before the New Year holiday. Lukashenko, if he as President of Belarus decides to follow Russia’s President Medvedev in recognising the two separatist regions, will be only the third national leader outside of Moscow to do so, after Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.