SPIEGEL ONLINE: How is Abkhazia reacting to the events in South Ossetia?
Shamba: We have a deal with South Ossetia on how we will deal with crisis situations. And we are now planning on implementing it. Our security council met all night and ordered our army to deploy this morning to the Georgian border.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will a second front now be opened in Abkhazia?
Shamba: That depends on how the situation in South Ossetia develops. We understand very well that we Abkhazians are next in line after South Ossetia. If the situation doesn't stabilize again, then we will have to open a second front.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did the situation suddenly escalate now to the degree it has?
Shamba: After the recognition of Kosovo, the situation intensified and Georgia understands that it is losing South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Further talks will only serve to distance the two republics even further from Georgia. That's why the Georgians themselves have started to aggravate the situation, violating previous agreements and applying constant pressure. That has led to a counter response and the situation has gotten out of control. We actually expected this in Abkhazia, but now it is happening in South Ossetia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Given the situation, what kind of response are you expecting in Russia?
Shamba: We expect Russia and all members of the UN Security Council to take tough action. We expect they see the situation for what it is. Up until now, there have only been abstract statements in which Georgia has never been concretely blamed. This has created a situation where Georgia has acted accordingly and now isn't respecting anyone. But we have little hope for a fair verdict. Because we think that Georgia was given carte blanche by its partners for this offensive. Otherwise Georgia wouldn't have acted this way. Especially not on the day on which the Olympic Games are opening.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think Russia will provide the response you are demanding?
Shamba: There have already been many statements on the Russian side that they will not permit Georgian aggression. But we have always relied on our own forces.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are volunteers already starting to arrive in Abkhazia from the North Caucuses?
Shamba: We are observing the situation at the moment. If combat operations should widen and the second front be opened, then we will contact them. They are all willing to help us in the same way that volunteers are now on their way to South Ossetia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think Abkhazia should even be independent?
Shamba: First and foremost, it is the will of our people, who have fought throughout history for their independence and identity -- mostly in battles against major powers like Byzantium, Persia, Iran and the Ottoman and Russian empires. This battle still continues today.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Aren't you concerned that Russia's influence over Abkhazia could become too great?
Shamba: It is difficult for us, but the European states don't provide us with any alternative. They have closed all the doors to us. What should we do? Our ties with Russia solve practically all of our problems. For small Abkhazia, the large Russian market, Russian tourists or the security guarantee is enough. We have the right to dual citizenship. In order to travel to different countries outside of Russia, our citizens also have Russian passports.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're not concerned that Russia is just using Abkhazia as an instrument for its own geopolitical interests?
Shamba: Everyone exploits somebody. Is Georgia not used by the USA? The true battle is between the large international powers. On the one hand, Abkhazia and Georgia are levers in this fight, and on the other, Abkhazia and Georgia also use these powers for their own gain. The exploitation is mutual.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did Abkhazia reject German Foreign Minister Frank-Walther Steinmeier's plan?
Shamba: According to this plan, the question of our political status would first be decided in the last phase. And we wouldn't arrive at this final step for at least 10 years. That, of course, is the best situation for Germany. It wouldn't cause any headaches and there wouldn't be any confrontation. Everyone would be happy, except for us. We will not discuss the question of our status with anyone.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will need to happen to push the resolution of this conflict forward?
Shamba: The European states and the USA have tremendous influence over Georgia. But you must also understand that the reality here is like Kosovo. People need to make a decision and act as they did in Kosovo. In the UN Security Council, Russia opposed independence. In our case, only Georgia is against us -- and it's not even a member of the Security Council. The European Union and, especially, the European Parliament have denounced the Communist past and its legacy. But they want to preserve the Georgian Soviet Republic created under Stalin -- into which Abkhazia was also integrated -- with all their strength. That just underscores how subjective European policies really are. If they were ready to risk a conflict with Russia for Kosovo, then they could also exert influence over Georgia to recognize this reality. That would be a just decision.
Interview conducted by Carmen Eller
Interview translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey.