Foreign ministry: Visit to Abkhazia was aimed at development of bilateral relations
The recent visit of a Belarusian delegation to Abkhazia was aimed at the development of bilateral relations in the economic, social, humanitarian and cultural spheres, Andrey Papow, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said at a briefing in Minsk on Thursday.
Uladzimir Makey, head of the Presidential Administration, and other Belarusian officials stayed in Sukhumi on May 12 and 13. According to Abkhazian sources, the delegation was received by President Sergei Bagapsh. Belarus’ government news sources did not cover the visit.
"We have a history of relations with the Abkhazian people," Mr. Papow said. "These relations had started to develop long before the known events occurred in the Caucasus in August last year."
The spokesman noted that Belarus and Abkhazia have a number of projects to be carried out in the economic, social, humanitarian and cultural spheres, and that the recent visit to Abkhazia was intended to "give an impetus to the development of these relations."
Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia’s State Duma who visited the Georgian breakaway republic five days later, reproached Belarus with not having recognized the independence of Abkhazia.
It is taking Belarus "too long" to prepare for recognizing Abkhazia as an independent state, he said.
Abkhazia’s legislature has already been granted permanent observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarusian-Russian Union State and has sent a delegation to the Assembly’s recent session, Mr. Gryzlov said.
"The settlement of the matter depends, above all, on the recognition of Abkhazia by the other member country of the Union State, the Republic of Belarus," he said. "I’ve talked with colleagues from the Belarusian parliament. They are ready to consider this issue. And Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that recognition will certainly be in place. But it seems to me that it is taking Belarus too long to prepare for this."
Russia is putting no pressure on Belarus with regard to the issue, Mr. Gryzlov noted. "We are waiting for this step from the Republic of Belarus and what happens next is up to the Republic of Belarus and its citizens," he said. "No one can compel anyone in such situations."
Syarhey Maskevich, chairman of the International Affairs Committee of Belarus’ House of Representatives, told reporters in Minsk on May 20, that there were as yet no plans to place the issue of the recognition of Abkhazia and another Georgian breakaway region, South Ossetia, as independent states on the agenda of the House’s ongoing spring session.
According to Mr. Maskevich, lawmakers have studied all legal peculiarities of the consideration of the issue by Parliament. "This is an issue to be decided at the state level, not by Parliament," he said. "The president has simply asked Parliament to express its opinion on the issue. Parliament cannot make a decision on it and will only express its opinion."
However, Mr. Maskevich stressed that the House of Representatives would consider the issue "sooner of later."
He said that lawmakers have different approaches to the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "But we want the significance of the issue not to be raised to an enormous height," he said.
Mr. Maskevich noted that it might take quite long for Parliament to consider the issue. "This issue concerns giant countries and we don’t want them to present their demands to us regarding the consideration of the issue," he said. "Belarus will decide on it on the basis of its own interests."
The House of Representatives received a recognition appeal from the parliament of South Ossetia on December 1, 2008 and a similar appeal from the legislature of Abkhazia a little earlier.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said on many occasions that he has left this matter to the discretion of the parliament.
The newly elected National Assembly will decide whether or not to follow Russia`s lead and recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in November 2008. "Let the parliamentarians discuss it. I don`t want to do it single-handedly," he noted.
If Belarus is to decide whether to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, this decision will be made independently and not under pressure from Russia, Mr. Lukashenka said in an interview with Agence France-Presse later that month. "We`d like to follow the same path as the Russians," he said. "The president has to sign an edict in the event of recognition. But I`d like this subject to be heard by the public and debated by the new parliament."
Apart Russia, Nicaragua remains the only country to have recognized the independence of the two breakaway republics of Georgia.