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Aslan Bzhania on Russian Interests in Caucasus and Relations with Tbilisi

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Abkhaz opposition “MP” Aslan Bzhania, who is undergoing rehabilitation in Sochi after suffering from poisoning with heavy metals in April 2019, stated that Russian interests should be taken into consideration while conducting “hypothetic negotiations” with the Georgian side, because “Russia has maintained its interests in the Caucasus for several centuries.”

Bzhania made these remarks in the interview with Abkhaz TV program Tete-A-Tete on January 27, answering a question about possible relations between Tbilisi and Sokhumi in case of his election in the March 22 repeat “presidential elections.”

Three candidates will run for “presidency” of occupied Abkhazia on March 22, among them Aslan Bzhania, 56, opposition MP and head of Apra foundation, who served as head of the Abkhaz “security service” from 2010 to 2014.

“What I will say now mainly concerns Georgian viewers, who will watch this interview… Russia has its own interests in the Caucasus for already several centuries. For a given period, the territory of Caucasus and [the South Caucasus] used be part of the Russian Empire. Certainty, there are a number of negotiations in which Russia should also take part; this factor should definitely be taken into consideration,” he said, adding that “Europeans and especially Americans are more remote [from here] than Russians.”

Bzhania also noted that there are certain issues, which should be resolved immediately with the Georgian side. Among others, he pointed out the problem of combating crime and humanitarian issues, such as providing medical aid to those in need but who cannot receive it in the occupied region; economic relations, which are presently illegal and inflict damage to Sokhumi’s budget.

“How do you think these issues should be resolved? Should they be discussed in Geneva or simply on the border, with the people who are involved in this process? Is it bad if law enforcers cooperate in terms of combating crime? Should it be done? I think that it is essential,” Bzhania said.

Speaking about the existing economic contacts, Bzhania mentioned the issue of Enguri HPP exploitation. He then stated that “according to the data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and State Customs Committee, we produce about 10,000 tons of nuts annually. According to the same data, about 1,000 tons are exported to Russia and 9,000 tons are sent to Georgia and benefit only several officials. So, we need to settle this issue. Maybe, our nut is flying to the open space? Does the state receive income from it? Should the state control these issues? How should we do it without talking to the other side?”

Speaking of the contacts, he also noted: “Some Georgian leaders claim that they are assisting us, providing medical aid to our citizens and it is good. I do not condemn those who are leaving [Abkhazia] for medical treatment. We cannot create such conditions and that is why they are leaving. However, the Georgian side binds providing medical aid with accepting Georgian citizenship that does not strengthen confidence building measures,” Bzhania noted.

“Presidential” ambitions and priorities

In the interview, Bzhania unveiled a plan to run for “presidency” and unite the opposition around his electoral program on March 22.

He also noted that “there is a deep crisis” in occupied Abkhazia, citing weakness of “the government” agencies as the reason. “People do not know how to govern, they do not know or do not want to know because it is profitable for them to stay in the situation, where they will be able to steal and further build their wealth. Our state is on the verge of collapse… many of our officials do not know what the state is, they do not know what the law is,” Bzhania said.

He singled out theft and corruption as the key problems in the occupied region. “People who know how to solve the problem will unite in my team,” Bzhania added.

Raul Khajimba, Moscow-backed Abkhazia’s leader resigned the post of the “president” on January 12, amid protest demanding his resignation. Noteworthy, that Khajimba’s resignation announcement came only after the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s then aide Vladislav Surkov in Sokhumi earlier that day.

Earlier that day, Abkhazia’s “election administration” announced repeat presidential polls to take place on March 22. The announcement came two days after “the appeals chamber” of the “supreme court” ruled that the results of September 8 “presidential runoff” were invalid. The decision of the “court” came a day after the mob stormed Khajimba’s office.

Khajimba won in the second round by garnering 47.38% of votes, while opposition’s Alkhas Kvitsinia, leader of “Amtsakhara” party received 46.19%. The latter filed the lawsuit at the “supreme court” of the occupied region, demanding annulment of the results of the September 8 “runoff polls.” Kvitsinia claimed that Khajimba had failed to garner over 50% of the votes as demanded by the procedures, however, he lost an appeal in late September, and later filed the lawsuit with same demand at “the board of cassation” of the “supreme court”.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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