Over the last five years, Abkhazia has received more international attention than ever before in its over two decades of de facto statehood. In 2009 the West launched an engagement strategy paralleling Georgia’s own initiatives for dealing with Abkhazia. According to this strategy, Abkhazia was given the opportunity to engage with the West on a number of political, economic, social, and cultural issues, while leaving recognition as an independent state off the table. The overall aim was to maintain trust between the West and the local population, open a new international path that avoided leaving all Abkhazian eggs in the Russian basket, and support the idea of Georgia as a “role model” that would become a political-economic magnet for residents of Abkhazia.
Contrary to expectations, however, the implementation of this engagement strategy alienated Abkhazians. By contrast, Russian-Abkhazian relations reached a new level in November 2014, when the two parties signed a Treaty of Alliance and Strategic Partnership. This move was interpreted, in light of the Crimean annexation, as an attempt by Russia to annex Abkhazia and dismember Georgia.
In the end, the West’s ability to engage with Abkhazia had serious limitations that would be very difficult to overcome. Although Abkhazians do not have any illusions of doing better under Russia, Western engagement remains an even worse option. And even if the United States and European Union were to improve upon their strategy in a way that better accommodated Abkhazia’s concerns, engagement would still be unlikely to succeed, given Russian dominance in all possible spheres.