|Raul Khajimba (left) and Vladimir Putin.
Photo: Russian President’s Press Office
A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of the unrecognized Abkhaz Republic Raul Khajimba, who will run for President of the breakaway republic during the October 3 elections, made it clear to Tbilisi that Khajimba is the most likely candidate to replace the current leader of the separatist region Vladislav Ardzinba.
The meeting took place on August 29 in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, near Abkhazia. The Russian President’s press office reported that “social allowances for the [II World] War veterans [living in Abkhazia] and cooperation between the veteran organizations” were discussed during the talks in Sochi.
The Sochi talks were perceived by Tbilisi as a clear message of Moscow’s support to Raul Khajimba in the upcoming presidential elections, just one month before the vote.
Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze condemned the meeting between the Russian President and the de facto Abkhaz Prime Minister. She described the Russian leader’s decision to meet with the Abkhaz presidential candidate as a hint that Moscow endorses the elections in Abkhazia which, according to Burjanadze, “are denounced by the rest of the civilized world as illegitimate.”
“This is a very important signal, when the Russian President meets with the favorite presidential candidate of the unrecognized republic. Now we have to wait for an official statement by Moscow whether Russia recognizes the upcoming presidential elections in Abkhazia as legitimated,” Nino Burjanadze told reporters on August 30.
Vladislav Ardzinba, who has been leading breakaway Abkhazia since it de facto seceded from Georgia after a 1992-93 armed conflict, named Khajimba as his favorite candidate in August.
“For the past few years I have been preparing a person who will be able to revive Abkhazia. Raul Khajimba is the right person. I will support his candidacy,” Vladislav Ardzinba said in an interview with the local newspaper Abkhazian Republic in mid-August.
The 46-year-old Raul Khajimba had been head of the breakaway Abkhaz State Security Service and the Defense Minister before being promoted to Prime Minister of the Republic last May.
There are a total of eight candidates running for the October 3 elections: de facto Prime Minister Raul Khajimba; chief of the Abkhaz power company ChernoMorEnergo Sergei Bagapsh, whose candidacy is supported by the leading opposition movements Amtsakhara and United Abkhazia; leader of another opposition movement Aitaira and former de facto Interior Minister Aleksander Ankvabi; de facto Vice-President Valeri Arshba; former Foreign Minister of the breakaway region Sergei Shamba; ex-Prime Minister Anri Jergenia; leader of the Abkhazian Peoples’ Party Iakuba Lakoba and local businessman Anatoli Otirba.
Georgian authorities hope that a change of regimes both in Tbilisi (last November) and in Sukhumi (after the new president is elected) will foster the peace process after a decade of stagnation. In an interview with Civil Georgia State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava says Tbilisi can activate its efforts towards Abkhazia only after the Presidential elections are held there there.
“The epoch of [current de facto President of Abkhazia Vladislav] Ardzinba comes to an end. Though we denounce the Abkhazian elections as illegitimate these elections are rather important for us since these elections will define those persons with whom we will have to deal in future conflict resolution process,” Khaindrava said.
However, he added that “we should have no illusions regarding the upcoming elections in Abkhazia since there are no pro-Georgian politicians there.”
Paata Davitaia, who is a former Justice Minister in the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, says that, along with Khajimba, former Foreign Minister of Abkhazia Sergei Shamba “also has a chance to succeed, but Khajimba will most likely become the de facto President.”
“Khajimba actively participated in the 1992-93 armed conflict in Abkhazia and fought against the Georgian troops,” Davitaia told Civil Georgia.
When President Saakashvili called on the leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to launch talks over a peaceful settlement to the conflicts and discussion of these regions’ status in May, Raul Khajimba responded by saying that “independent Abkhazia’s status is final and cannot be the subject of discussion.”
“The statements by Abkhaz presidential candidates and politicians will become more and more radical as elections loom,” Kote Kublashvili, a legal expert who is a co-author of the Abkhazia peace plan, developed by a group of the Georgian independent experts, told Civil Georgia.
Shifts in Georgia’s policy towards its breakaway region have become clear after the new authorities took over power after last November’s “Rose Revolution.”
Hard-liner Tamaz Nadareishvili, who led the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, which is composed of Georgian members of the government that fled Abkhazia in 1993, was forced to resign in January. He favored a forceful resolution of the Abkhazian conflict. Nadareishvili, who suffered a fatal hearth attack on August 30, was replaced by moderate Temur Mzhavia.
At the same time, the Georgian Parliament refuses to confirm credentials of those 12 MPs who have been representing the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz authorities in the Georgian Parliament for the past 12 years.
Georgian authorities also disbanded those Georgian paramilitary and guerrilla groups which were operating in breakaway Abkhazia and its neighboring Georgian region of Samegrelo early in 2004.
Political analysts say that these moves by Georgia’s new authorities aim towards demonstrating Tbilisi’s readiness to eliminate those problems which were perceived by the Abkhazian side as an obstacle for holding peace talks.