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Sanctions Regime Breeds Smuggling Through Caucasus Conflict Zones

(Washington, DC--December 31, 2004) The results of a recent study of crime in Georgia show that sanctions have had "only negative consequences," which include an across-the-board increase in all forms of criminality. Alexandre Kukhianidze, Senior Research Fellow with the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington that a political resolution of the "frozen" conflicts in Georgia is possible, if its government adopts an "Europeanization" strategy rather than pursue an immediate re-integration of secessionist regions.

The smuggling networks that have grown up to evade the sanctions regime against the breakaway region of Abkhazia, Kukhianidze said, have led to increases in crime, a rise in poverty, created corrupt economic interests within powerful political groups, and hindered the economic development of Georgia and the entire South Caucasus region. Kukhianidze with his researchers found that a wide spectrum of actors violate the sanctions regime -- beginning with the Russian government and Russian private companies, Turkish and other foreign private companies, refugees and other socially displaced residents of the Caucasus, Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region, as well as local guerrillas and Georgian border guards.

Kukhianidze believes that sanctions do not work and serve to obstruct a resolution of the conflict in Georgia. He noted that one result of the smuggling in Abkhazia has been the gradual transformation of the cease-fire line into a criminal zone, which ensures that the border with Georgia remains porous for smuggling. Kukhianidze found that smuggled materials include weapons, drugs, people trafficking, car trafficking, consumer goods and radioactive materials.

Although most effects of smuggling are negative, Kukhianidze said that smuggling has created hundreds of new jobs and has given survival opportunities to a portion of the local population. Ironically, smuggling has increased economic cooperation between Ossetians and Georgians, whose political conflict creates the conditions for smuggling in South Ossetia.

Kukhianidze said that solving the smuggling problem should include the legalization of contraband markets and trade through economic incentives and negotiations with the secessionist governments. He suggested that law enforcement might improve, because new Georgian border guards have been hired to replace nearly 15,000 who were dismissed by the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Additionally, Kukhianidze said there must be a liberalization of the tax code and rationalization of government salaries, while the government continues to improve anti-corruption efforts.

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