Gennady Gagulia, prime minister of the Georgian separatist republic of Abkhazia, was killed in a car accident on the evening of September 8.
The 70-year-old politician reportedly died on his way from Sochi in southern Russia to Sukhumi, the capital of the separatist region, which is supported politically and militarily by Russia.
A statement from the republic’s interior minister says Gagulia’s vehicle was involved in a crash with a car driven by a driver who was "in a state of intoxication", and the prime minister died of his injuries. Gagulia’s driver and bodyguard were also injured.
A spokesperson for the unrecognised republic told Russian news service Sputnik that terrorism had been ruled out as a cause of the accident.
Gagulia and other top government officials in the motorcade were on their way back from a controversial visit to Syria, whose government announced in May it would recognise both Abkhazia and another breakaway Georgian republic, South Ossetia, as independent states.
Abkhazia’s President Raul Khajimba was travelling in the same convoy, but was not involved in the accident.
Under international law both republics remain part of Georgia, though they have been de facto independent since the early 1990s, and only Russia and a handful of other states have recognised them as independent.
In a statement, Abkhazia’s foreign ministry expressed its condolences to Gagulia’s family, describing him as an "outstanding son and patriot of his country”.
“The strengthening of Abkhaz statehood, the progressive development of the economy, and the all-round building of ties with foreign partners are inseparably linked with his name,” the statement said.
Gagulia, a former engineer, served three times as prime minister of Abkhazia, holding the position from 1995 to 1997, 2002 to 2013, and finally from April 2018.