The public council of the Abkhaz foreign affairs establishment met to discuss regional security matters. The meeting was chaired by Inal Ardzinba, the occupied province’s top diplomat. Potential scenarios for the transformation of relationships with Tbilisi, as well as with Russia in the changing international context were discussed, according to the local Apsnypress agency.
On Regional Security and Georgia
Temur Nadaraia, former head of Gali administration apparently claimed that if Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration was in power, the war would already be raging in Abkhazia, but said Tbilisi’s current leadership was “smarter and more cunning”. He warned colleagues not to be deceived by Tbilisi’s peaceful rhetoric, saying the Georgian government’s caution towards Moscow had more to do with Georgia’s own concerns.
To illustrate the point of Abkhazia’s vulnerability, he referred to the statements of Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi mayor, that Europe is asking Georgia to impose sanctions against Moscow or open up a “second front” against Russia. He also said the situation might become unfavorable to Abkhazia “in case of unsuccessful developments for Russia in Ukraine”.
Ruslan Khashig, director of Abaza-TV and long-time journalist, voiced undertones of anxiety linked to Russia’s current international posture. While emphasizing that Russia is not in confrontation with all countries, pointing to President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Tehran to meet with Turkish and Iranian leaders, he noted that, given the rapidly changing circumstances, it is necessary for Abkhazia to have different foreign policy options depending on how Russia-Georgia relations develop. He urged Ardzinba to hold consultations with the Russian Foreign Ministry to be informed of Russia’s long-term vision in the Caucasus.
“Everything will depend on our readiness for different options,” he emphasized and noted, “the sooner the [exact] policy of Russia and Georgia towards each other is deciphered, the better we will understand where we are going.” “We need to formulate our interests and present them to our partner [Russia]. To do this it is necessary to conduct active dialogue within the country to develop an optimal concept of relations with Georgia,” Khashig added.
Temur Gulia, head of a public organization of veterans “Aruaa” known for its hardline stance, stated that negotiations with Georgia can only begin “after it recognizes the independence of Abkhazia. At the moment there are no such steps on the part of Tbilisi in this direction, so there should be no talk of any negotiations.” Gulia noted that they must “prepare for the worst” and fortify the territory in case the situation with Georgia escalates and that it would be unwise to “count only on military support from Russia”.
Sokrat Jinjolia, former aide to the late Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh, noted that Russia will stop “showering Abkhazia with gold” one day, saying “we must gradually learn to live at our own expense.” “I am sure that in 10-15 years, we will be told [by Russia]: ‘Enough is enough,'” he said.
Natela Akaba, a public figure and civil society activist, currently also the head of the strategic research center established by the “presidency”, emphasized that “active propaganda is being carried out in Georgia, and many people there, especially young people do not know that there was a war between Georgia and Abkhazia. There it is presented as a war with Russia.” She proposed that they compile their own version of the 1992-1993 Abkhazia War to send to Georgia. “They drew their own picture of those events and we must destroy it,” she said. Akaba also spoke in support of strengthening the defense capabilities.
Inal Ardzinba’s points
During the discussion, Ardzinba raised the issue that some Abkhaz are negotiating with Georgia in Turkey to develop socio-economic relations which he says it tantamount to helping Georgia and the EU in implementing the “‘engagement without recognition‘ program.” He warned against such activities as damaging.
Ardzinba also raised the point that “there are people who carelessly speak out in our country and try to spoil the background of the Abkhaz-Russian relations. This, in my opinion, is also wrong, because Russia is our strategic ally, it supports us.”
He also touched on the Geneva International Discussions (GID), reiterating that Abkhazia “proposed to move the place of negotiations from Geneva to another more neutral city, for example, to Minsk,” although other options like Istanbul were also offered.
Concerning the issue of simplifying dual citizenship with Russia, he stated that President Vladimir Putin will issue a decree to settle the issue “in the near future.” “At every stage, I will keep you informed about the progress of the negotiations,” he said. The matter has long been a sticking point in Abkhazia. While many locals hold Russian passports handed out en masse by Moscow to secure control over the occupied territory, a significant portion of the population and leadership look with suspicion to granting Abkhaz “citizenship” to Russians, fearing takeover of land and other assets.
Bichvinta Resort Case
The meeting also discussed the matter of Russia taking ownership of the Soviet-era resort town of Bichvinta – approximately 186 hectares of land. It was decided in 1995 to give Bichvinta to Russia through long-term lease, but so far no practical steps have been taken. Recently, Russia stepped up efforts to finalize the deal, a new text of the agreement foreseeing ownership by Russia, appeared on 19 January 2022, triggering controversy. The issue has been a hot topic of discussion in Abkhazia for months with both the public and officials divided on the matter.
Nadaraia stated the main source of the controversy is that the “authorities do not discuss such sensitive issues with the public in advance. The wide outcry is caused precisely by this and not by anti-Russian sentiments.”
Khashig claimed that “no one is against the transfer of the resort to Russia but it is necessary to make a legal examination of this document.”
Ardzinba agreed to hold a meeting with the “Russian ambassador to Abkhazia” Mikhail Shurgalin to discuss the matter further.