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International Geneva delegation banned from entering Abkhazia

1 February 2023
An Abkhazian delegation at a March 2021 session of the GID. Photo: Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Abkhazia’s foreign minister has announced that a delegation of the co-chairs of the EU, UN, and OSCE-led Geneva International Discussions have been forbidden entry into Abkhazia.

The quarterly discussions have brought together representatives of Georgia, Russia, the US, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia since the August 2008 War. 

Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister, Inal Ardzinba, said the measure in response to the ‘unilateral’ decision by the co-chairing organisations to cancel the negotiations scheduled for 21–22 February. Ardzinba said that in 2022 only one of the four scheduled meetings took place. 

‘This is not the first case when the co-chairs make unilateral decisions to cancel or postpone a round [of discussions] without any objective reasons and without agreement with the participants in the negotiation process’, said Ardzinba. 

‘We maintain that such actions by the co-chairs are biased in nature and impede the work of this important international format of negotiations, creating additional threats to stability and security in our region,’ he added. 

A delegation of EU, UN, and OSCE representatives had been scheduled to visit Abkhazia and meet with local officials on 8–9 February.

‘Competing to harm Abkhazia’

Many public figures, activists, and citizens expressed disappointment with Ardzinba’s decision, warning that Abkhazia was increasingly isolated. 

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‘We are building a state, seeking international recognition, talking about the need to de-isolate Abkhazia’, public activist Levan Lagvilava told OC Media. ‘And at the same time we are not letting the delegation of the co-chairs of the international Geneva discussions into the country, essentially declaring them persona non grata’.

‘I don’t understand,’ Lagvilava added, ‘was an unspoken competition announced in the government of Abkhazia as to “who will harm the country most”?’

Diana Kerselyan, a lawyer at the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes, an Abkhazian NGO, was equally unambiguous in her criticism, describing the decision as ‘a big mistake’. 

‘It could destroy the only existing format [of negotiations]. It is clear that it has become inefficient lately, but perhaps it would be more correct to discuss changing the format’, Kerselyan told OC Media. ‘But if the co-chairs are banned from entering, then with whom and where should these changes be discussed? It would be good to clarify who cancelled this round [of discussions] and why.’

Some Abkhazians took a lighter-hearted approach to the announcement, publishing memes mocking both the ban of Geneva Discussions co-chairs and Abkhazia’s ‘diplomatic uniform’. 

In November 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was introducing a uniform for senior diplomats, to launch in May 2023 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the foundation of Abkhazia’s Foreign Ministry. 

One meme suggested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was doing its best to reach its KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for ‘idiotic decisions’, while another described the internal monologue of a ‘minister-fashion designer’ querying whether Abkhazia needed ‘the outside world’ at all. 

A meme poking fun at Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry. The caption on the right reads 'Foreign Ministry of Abkhazia', the caption on the left, 'Reaching KPIs for idiotic decisions'.
The meme's caption reads:
minister-fashion designer and his team
well, why do we need the outside world? why do we need international recognition? we'll get upset and forbid all foreigners entry into Abkhazia and will calmly spend months drawing sketches of uniforms, so that we can go to work and do what? well, turns out there's nothing for us to do. it seems it's time to self-destruct. although it would be nice to just resign and go on leave. forever.

Speaking to OC Media, activist Alexandra Bargandzhia, a member of the Hara H-Pitsunda movement, took a similar tone.

‘Yes, let's stop all contact with the outside world, except for those countries that have recognised us’, she said sarcastically. ‘Why would we want to achieve international recognition? We’re fine as we are, aren’t we? Let's abolish the Foreign Ministry too. Why do we need a foreign affairs body? We can't do business with foreigners, with these spies and foreign agents!’ 

She summarised the direction in which she saw the Foreign Ministry’s decisions taking Abkhazia: ‘Let there be an organ of cooperation with Russia. And that's all.’

 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.