By the time sanctions were imposed, Abkhazia had already been actively involved in the negotiation process and several important agreements had been signed both on the principles of dividing competences between Sukhum and Tbilisi, as well as on the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia. Clearly the aim of sanctions was not to bring Abkhazia to the negotiating table, but rather to force it to accept a political resolution on Georgia's terms. As is probably often the case, sanctions did not have a normative focus on reaching peace, unless peace is equated with the resolution of the conflict according to Georgia's territorial claims. Georgia has succeeded in making the contested issue of 'territorial integrity' itself a framework for the internationally facilitated negotiation process. With unconditional international support for Georgia's 'territorial integrity' (to a degree comparable to Western countries' backing of Kosovo's right to self-determination), peace has not been approached from the perspective of a process in which the parties seek mutually acceptable political arrangements. Neither the confederal nor even federal principles for a political resolution that were discussed at Russia's initiative by Abkhazians in the mid- to late-1990s could satisfy Georgia's desire for maximum control over Abkhazia. Although 'the highest possible autonomy' has since been discussed by Georgia, there is still little flesh on the bones of the idea.
Not surprisingly, Abkhazians perceived sanctions as a means to punish them for their stance. Consequently they have added to the mistrust that characterises Georgian-Abkhaz relations, including the mistrust of the majority of the population of Abkhazia towards ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia (who live mainly in the Gal district on the Abkhaz side of the border with Georgia). In recent years the Abkhaz authorities as well as NGOs have made serious efforts to overcome this mutual mistrust and create conditions for the reintegration of Georgian returnees in Abkhaz society, although this is undermined by Georgian disparagement and persecution of returnees who cooperate with Abkhaz authorities. In addition to isolation policy, sources of Abkhaz mistrust include Georgia's threats "to get back lost territories at any cost," its attempts to take control over the Gal region, its disproportionate military budget, and its military campaign in the Kodor Gorge in summer 2006 in violation of prior agreements.
Sanctions and the subsequent perception of Georgia as the main source of Abkhaz troubles have been instrumentalised by opponents of democratic change in internal political debates within Abkhazia. They argued that Abkhazia could not allow any internal division in the face of a common enemy. In reality, there was and is a full Abkhaz consensus on the issue of Abkhazia's independence from Georgia and any divisions concern the democratisation process itself. But the siege mentality that developed as a result of isolation and the neglect of the rights of Abkhaz people by the international community became a convenient instrument for those opposing the development of a democratic, pluralistic society, which was framed as a Western construct.
Fortunately, in recent years Abkhaz society has largely managed to overcome the siege mentality and the fear that democratisation will weaken Abkhazia in the face of the external threat. Yet international resistance to the idea of recognition of Abkhazia, particularly in view of the anticipated recognition of Kosovo, has considerably affected Abkhaz society's trust in the international community. Some groups in Abkhazia identify democratic principles with international Realpolitik and its double standards, rather than as values to underpin their society. They tend to see a hidden agenda even behind the activities of international NGOs, working in Abkhazia, suspecting that international aid is given in the hope that democratisation will make the Abkhaz society and its elite more flexible on the issue of independence.
The international community is careful not to take steps that would be regarded as any form of legitimisation of the Abkhaz state. In line with this policy, not only is peace interpreted as respect for Georgia's 'territorial integrity,' but there are no explicit efforts to create incentives and conditionalities to promote democratisation, human rights, free elections and good governance (as there are in Kosovo). Nevertheless, it is expected implicitly that Abkhazia honours international norms in all these spheres. Although international institutions regularly declare that elections in Abkhazia are not recognised, they nevertheless take note of the progress in the democratisation process. For instance, Security Council resolutions report on the achievements of Abkhaz civil society. Some Western governments support the development of democratic institutions in Abkhazia through international NGOs and the European Commission is currently funding a series of projects in the country aimed at the decentralisation of power.