Civil society calls for resignation of Abkhaz leader as Russian money dries up

By bne IntelliNews April 14, 2016

The leader of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba, is facing public calls for his resignation. According to the Jamestown Foundation, a coalition of civil society organisations led by a group of veterans of the Abkhaz-Georgian war in 1992-1993 has gathered 14,700 signatures in favour of a referendum to call for a snap presidential election. Khajimba's opponents are said to accuse him of failing to implement political reforms and promoting economic growth.

Abkhazia is de facto autonomous and relies heavily on economic and political support from Russia, its largest trade and diplomatic partner, with which it has come into conflict since Khajimba took office. The region is also at odds with Tbilisi, although it is internationally recognised as part of Georgia.

Initially, the Kremlin supported Khajimba, who is an ex-KGB officer and who allowed Russia more control over the region in exchange for higher financial support. However, some of Moscow's plans for Abkhazia have proven unpopular with both ordinary Abkhazians and their government. For instance, in October 2014, one month after Khajimba took office, the Kremlin proposed to eliminate the Abkhaz army and government institutions and to replace them with "joint" institutions that would be dominated by Russia. Khajimba refused to sign the treaty proposing the changes, and asked for it to be rewritten.

Abkhazia and Russia have come into conflict over other issues, including the ability of Russian citizens to purchase real estate in the region - foreign nationals are not allowed to buy land in Abkhazia.

In retaliation, Russia stopped financing Abkhazia since mid-2015, which has been a blow to the region where two thirds of the local government's budget comes from Moscow. Thus, Abkhazia only received a third of the $120mn Russia promised it in 2015. Neither side has acknowledged troubles in bilateral relations, with the Abkhaz government citing international sanctions on Russia as the reason why financial support has been curtailed.  

Without Russian support, Khajimba's support could crumble, the Jamestown Foundation concludes, as would support for any other government in Abkhazia.

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