Russian-Abkhazian alliance treaty provokes outcry

By bne IntelliNews November 25, 2014

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Abkhaz leader Raul Khajimba signed an “alliance and strategic partnership”  during a meeting in Sochi in November 24 that states that the Abkhazian government will align its foreign, defense, economic and social policy with Moscow. In particular, it promotes a military merger, coordination of police, and economic alignment with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) that is due to start operating on January 1.

Russia also pledged to “double” assistance to Abkhazia. In 2015 Russia will disburse RUB5bn ($100mn), mainly to implement the treaty, and over the next three years will allocate a total RUB12bn ($267mn), a sum which is twice the Black Sea region’s 2014 budget.

The agreement, which overrules an older document adopted in 2008, sparked a wave of international condemnation as it is seen as a move from the Kremlin to pocket Abkhazia after the annexation of Crimea earlier this year.

Georgia, like Ukraine, has agreed on closer political and economic ties with the European Union. Georgia’s president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, denounced the move as “a step forward toward annexation” of Georgia’s breakaway region. The EU foreign policy representative, Federica Mogherini, said that the agreement “is detrimental to ongoing efforts to stabilise the security situation in the region” and reaffirmed the EU's position on “Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The US State Department stressed that the US “will not recognise the legitimacy of any so-called treaty between Georgia’s Abkhazia treaty and the Russian Federation".

Grumblings about Moscow’s moves are expressed within Abkhazia as well. On November 24 two demonstrations were held in Abkhazia’s capital Sukhumi, one in support of the treaty, one against it. In early October, during an interview with Ekho Kavkaza, the speaker of Abkhazia's de-facto parliament, Valery Bganba, voiced concerns that the document “in many places” amounts to a “loss of sovereignty". The original document drafted in Moscow was then amended following the Abkhazia’s 35-member strong parliament recommendations.

But Sokhumi-based think-tank, Ainar, criticized the revised draft and called on the authorities to negotiate with Russia a treaty that would “rule out threats for the Abkhaz statehood".

The treaty follows the political upheaval in late May when thousands of protesters stormed the presidential residence and ousted the then-president Alexander Ankvab, in a move regarded as staged by the Kremlin. In the snap presidential ballot in August 27 Raul Khajimba was elected president. It was his third attempt after missing the target in 2004, when he counted on Moscow’s support, and then in 2011, when he didn’t.

Abkhazia fought a 13-month bloody war in 1992 to gain independence from Georgia. The price was an independence recognised by no one. Then in 2008 Russia, and a handful of states including Venezuela, recognized the region as an independent republic following a six-day conflict against Georgia on its other breakaway province, South Ossetia. Tbilisi still considers the two regions as territories “occupied” by Russia.

On the surface, the region could hardly be more tied to Moscow than it already is – and its 240,000 people are not left with many choices. Abkhazia heavily relies politically, economically, and militarily on its neighbour. Russian troops help maintain its de-facto independence and the Russian market provides an economic lifeline. Russia sidelines the Abkhaz language in everyday life, the ruble is the local currency, and 90% of the population hold a Russian passport. Moscow also pays Abkhazian pensions. Every summer hundreds of thousands of sun-hungry Russians flock to Abkhazia’s pebbled beaches, providing much-needed income.

While Sukhumi has been waging its independence, even from Moscow, for years, South Ossetia has been more open to the idea of joining Russia. As Leonid Tbilov, its leader, said on June 2, South Ossetia is already integrating with Russia, in preparation for joining the Russian Federation at the right time.

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