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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia Less Separatist Than Already Separated

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While traveling around Abkhazia by bicycle in recent weeks, visiting most of its cities and peddling through much of its countryside, I became extremely skeptical about Georgia's efforts to reassert itself in the region. I spoke with many Abkhaz and Armenians, who are the dominant ethnic communities in Abkhazia, and they expressed a unanimous sentiment that any future Georgian presence would be absolutely undesirable. After an ugly war and unlikely victory against Georgia in 1993, the Abkhaz feel that it is their right to choose their own destiny. It is a point against which it is difficult to argue. Whatever Georgia's historical claims, and whatever legal arguments might be posed in the debate, an attempt on Georgia's part to reintegrate Abkhazia into its political sphere would be considered by the Abkhaz to be an invasion.

While the United States and European Union continue to support Georgia's position for certain strategically opaque reasons, the reality is that Abkhazia is already a separate political entity and not a separatist movement. Attempting to reverse that status would undoubtedly cause a long drawn out military conflict that could not be won in any permanent sense. While there are many wrongs to be recognized and righted on both sides, embroiling the region in another war would be the worst way to achieve this. The world doesn't need another hot spot, especially one as attractive and conducive to bicycle riding as Abkhazia.

From a traveler's perspective, Abkhazia has the look and feel of an independent country; the Abkhaz flag flies ubiquitously, while a range of government institutions provides public services. Chronic underdevelopment, however is evident. I got a surreal sensation as I walked along stretches of pristine beaches and peddled past large tracts of land that anywhere else would be considered prime real estate. Charming in its own way, the quiet Abkhaz coast has the feel of an artificial phenomenon. In Sochi, just a few kilometers down the coast, the density of sunbathers on the beaches jumps by a factor of 20. With the exception of a few adventurous tourists and entrepreneurs, the incredible potential for tourism in Abkhazia remains locked in an imposed limbo.

A considered examination makes it clear that the Abkhaz have carved out a de facto independence that they will never rescind voluntarily. Moreover, no pretender to Abkhazia could subdue this independent spirit with any lasting success, so the sooner the facts, and Abkhazia, are recognized, the sooner a more peaceful, prosperous era in the region will begin.

Jeffrey Sweetbaum is an American entrepreneur who has lived in Moscow since 1990. He spent three weeks in July cycling through Abkhazia.