Abkhazia has banned the activities of a joint EU–UN project aimed at fostering dialogue between Abkhazians and Georgians, accusing it of promoting the goals of the Georgian Government.
According to the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba took aim at the Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism (COBERM) in a meeting with the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Abkhazia on Wednesday.
COBERM is a multimillion-dollar programme that has been active since 2010; it is funded by the EU and implemented by the UNDP.
‘The implementation of this project is unacceptable on the territory of Abkhazia. Write it down for yourself and don’t implement projects like this again. We forbid you to do this’, Ardzinba is reported to have said.
A spokesperson for the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry confirmed to OC Media that they had banned COBERM.
COBERM did not respond to requests for comment, however, in their statement, the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry said that the UNDP had agreed to ‘prevent further implementation of such projects’.
Among the activities COBERM supports, the programme funds gatherings between Georgians and Abkhazians, typically held outside of the region. It’s stated goal is to support ‘initiatives which seek to have an impact on confidence building within and across conflict divided communities.’
According to Wednesday’s statement, Ardzinba said that by ‘establishing direct dialogue between Abkhazians and Georgians at the level of experts and youth’, the programme’s real goal was to ‘mislead citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia’.
Ardzinba is also reported to have criticised the UNDP for a recent sociological survey in Abkhazia ‘which raised issues of a domestic political nature and also studied the possibility of establishing relations with Georgia’. He said that only the authorities were legally permitted to conduct sociological surveys.
Ardzinba reportedly praised other projects by international organisations aimed at economic development and providing humanitarian support, and a spokesperson for the ministry insisted the ban would not apply to all UNDP activities.
‘An obsessive request from Moscow’
While the news of the ban has been largely praised on social media in Abkhazia, for some, it risks further isolating Abkhazia from the world.
Inal Khashig, a journalist and political observer from Abkhazia who has participated in informal dialogue projects, said that the decision would come ‘at the expense of young people’, and would restrict non-governmental organisations in Abkhazia.
Khashig told OC Media that the move was to be expected given the pressure from Moscow.
‘For several years now there has been an obsessive request from Moscow to restrict the activities of international non-governmental organisations in Abkhazia according to the Russian model’, Khashig said.
He cited Russia’s ‘foreign agents’ law, which has severely restricted civil society groups in Russia, saying that ‘everything is moving in this direction’.
‘I think that in the end, this law will be adopted [in Abkhazia], but it will not be as tough as in Russia. This is such an action that would show that we are meeting our ally halfway.’
He also spoke of Abkhazia’s ‘law on counteracting international isolation’, which is currently being heard in parliament.
‘Despite such a name, it restricts the activities of international organisations in Abkhazia. Due to the existing sanctions against Abkhazia by the international community, which exist at the suggestion of Georgia, this law will further drive Abkhazia into isolation', Khashig said.
Disclaimer: In 2021, OC Media received funding from COBERM to carry out training for aspiring journalists throughout the South Caucasus, including from Abkhazia.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.