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Watchdog Urges Government to Address Bichvinta Transfer to Russia

In response to growing concern about the transfer of 186 hectares of land in the Soviet-era resort town of Bichvinta, occupied Abkhazia, to Russia, the Social Justice Center (SJC), a local watchdog, urged the Georgian government to take “timely steps to curb Russia’s annexation policy in Abkhazia and strengthen efforts in the direction of peace policy.”

The SJC also called on authorities to publish a report on their activities against Russia’s annexation policy and to put greater effort into the peace-building process.

It was first decided in 1995 that Bichvinta would be transferred to Russia through a long-term lease though no practical steps have been taken since. Russia stepped up efforts to finalize the deal recently with the text of a new agreement that seeks to transfer the land for 49 years emerging on January 19, 2022. The issue has been a hot topic of discussion in Abkhazia since, with both the public and officials divided on the matter.

The subject was one of the topics of discussion in a recent meeting of the public council of the Abkhazian foreign affairs establishment. Temur Nadaraia, former head of Gali administration, stated at the meeting that 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.” Ruslan Khashig, director of Abaza-TV and long-time journalist, 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.” Inal Ardzinba, the foreign minister, promised to hold a meeting with the “Russian ambassador to Abkhazia” Mikhail Shurgalin to discuss the matter further.

The SJC emphasized on July 25 that the Georgian government has failed to make an official statement on the issue which would have been “a manifestation of actively raising this issue before the international community and organizations, showing a diplomatic signal of dissatisfaction with Russia, while at the same time demonstrating support for Abkhazian society.”

“This kind of rhetoric has been a daily part of Georgian diplomatic language and practice for years, and it is unclear what became the reason for its reversal,” they added.

The SJC underscored that at a time when dissatisfaction with Russia is growing in Abkhazia and the former seems intent on reducing the financing of the occupied territory, the Georgian authorities should be working towards building relations and offering social and economic alternatives to both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

“Unfortunately, [the government] seems passive and inactive in this direction,” the watchdog stated.

Opposition Addresses Ministry of Foreign Affairs

A group of opposition MPs also addressed Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili in an open letter that emphasized “We consider unacceptable the silence and inaction coming from your Ministry regarding the practical annexation of Bichvinta and the surrounding agreement.”

Per the MPs, it falls on the Foreign Affairs Ministry to make a comment on the issue which will “assess the so-called agreement to be an annexation.”

“Making a statement on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is directly related to the declared national interest of de-occupation of the state and the Parliamentary resolution, as well as the call and work with Western partner countries,” they said.

The letter was signed by Citizens MPs Levan Ioseliani and Aleko Elisashvili, Strategy Aghmashenebeli MP Teona Akubardia, For Georgia MP Ana Buchukuri, Republicans MP Khatuna Samnidze, Girchi MP Vakhtang Megrelishvili, and the independent MP, Tamar Kordzaia.

Note: The article was updated on July 26 at 11:40 to reflect the letter addressed to the MFA.

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


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