Saturday, August 20, 2022

On the 30th Anniversary of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

 Is it 30 years already? Perhaps it does not seem as long as that because the conflict is frozen, as though it persists in some eternal realm outside the flow of time. The positions of the two sides remain irreconcilable. The main change followed in the wake of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, when Russia and a handful of its allies – Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Pacific island of Nauru – recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. This change, however, made a diplomatic resolution of the conflict even more distant: now Abkhazia and South Ossetia are even less likely to surrender their statehood, while Tbilisi is as adamant as ever in asserting its territorial integrity within the borders of Soviet Georgia.

Of course, time flows on. There have been many important changes in the world situation in the course of these 30 years – changes that cannot but affect the Caucasus in general and Georgia and Abkhazia in particular. In no sphere is this truer than in that of climate change.

Global warming is very much in evidence both in Georgia and in Abkhazia. A farmer on Shiraki Plain in eastern Georgia (Kakheti) reports a temperature of 18 degrees Centigrade in January 2019 – a time of year when ‘its normally below freezing’ [1]. One result is more crop diseases. Meanwhile, the average year-round temperature in Abkhazia has increased by 1.8 degrees Centigrade in recent years [2].

While both eastern Georgia and Abkhazia are getting warmer, precipitation has changed in opposite directions in the two regions. The farmer on Shiraki Plain notes a sharp decline in rainfall and consequently in the level of groundwater. ‘There was no snow at all this year,’ he reports. Drought, exacerbated by ‘strong dry winds that erode fields and scatter seeds,’ has put paid to the traditionally high soil fertility of the area.

In the Abkhazian capital of Sukhum, by contrast, the amount of rainfall has roughly doubled since the turn of the century, when it was already at a high level – a meter and a half (1,500 millimeters) per year. ‘The water level is rising in rivers, eroding the banks and destroying the surrounding infrastructure… We see that long-term rainfall creates serious problems for agriculture [in Abkhazia].’ Presumably the section of the Black Sea littoral to the south that belongs to western Georgia faces the same problem.

So eastern Georgia endures drought while Abkhazia and western Georgia face flooding -- consistent with the worldwide pattern of increasing spatial concentration of precipitation. Is there some way to channel excess rainfall from west to east, across the rugged terrain in between?

Much worse is certainly to come in the next 30 years. Expanding areas of the earth’s surface will turn into uninhabitable deserts and swampland. Low-lying coastal cities will be inundated. Extreme weather events will become ever more extreme and ever more pervasive.

Given the rising threat of climate chaos, what sense does it make to continue to waste our attention on trivia like ‘territorial integrity’ and the location of state borders? Let’s decide territorial disputes by arbitration – if the sides can agree on an arbiter – or by wrestling matches between champions, or just by tossing a coin. We might even dismantle existing states and set up a world administration. Then we can focus single-mindedly on the real problems facing our species and our planet.   


[1] See the website of the UN Environment Program:

[2] Talk by Roman Dbar, director of the Institute of Ecology of Abkhazia, at the Discussion Club of the World Abaza Congress, February 28, 2020. See:

Stephen Shenfield
Specialist on politics and society in Russia and the post-Soviet region. For several years he produced the Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List. USA.

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