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Abkhaz Leadership, Opposition Exchange Accusations

Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh (right) meets with Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov in Sukhumi on May 18.
Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh (right) meets with Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov in Sukhumi on May 18.
Over the past week, opposition parties and leaders in Abkhazia have issued a series of individual or joint statements criticizing recent moves by President Sergei Bagapsh that, they claim, constitute unwarranted concessions to Russia likely to inflame anti-Russian sentiment within Abkhazia.

On May 21, the United Abkhazia party that supports Bagapsh, and the political movements Amtsakhara and Nartaa aligned with it, convened a press conference in Sukhumi to respond to those charges. In a statement released the same day, the three organizations condemned the opposition's "efforts to fuel tensions" and the "falsified and gross" charges directed against Bagapsh personally as a "threat to national security."

The ongoing standoff could provide Moscow with a pretext for pressuring Bagapsh to step down and installing in his place a politician amenable to signing an agreement with Russia analogous to the Russia-Belarus Union.

The first coordinated criticism of Bagapsh took the form of a joint statement, made public on May 18, by the opposition Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia (FNEA) and the war veterans' union Aruaa. That statement argued that Bagapsh's multivectoral foreign policy, which entails economic concessions to Moscow to compensate for his efforts to garner support from the West, "poses a real threat to the [continued] existence of our people and independent state."

They specifically criticized Bagapsh's plans to cede to Russian companies for a period of 10 years the right to manage the republic's railways and airport, and his call for legalizing the sale of real estate to persons who are not Abkhaz citizens. They called instead for mutually beneficial cooperation and a "partnership of equals" with Russia to avert the danger that Abkhazia will become "a quasi-state formation devoid of economic levers."

On May 20, six political parties and movements -- the FNEA, the People's Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Economic Development Party of Abkhazia (PERA), Aruaa, and a second war veterans' organization, Akhyatsa -- held a press conference in Sukhumi to express their concern at Bagapsh's imputed plans to "hand over chunks of Abkhazia's national heritage [dostoyanie] to foreign commercial structures for a long time period."

The leaders of those six organizations subsequently addressed an open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They affirmed that the people of Abkhazia "opted long ago for strategic partnership with Russia," and they expressed concern that Bagapsh's plans risk undermining relations between Russia and Abkhazia, which they describe as "based on trust and the mutual respect of interests."

Specifically, they said the Abkhaz leadership's "hasty and thoughtless decisions" risk fuelling anti-Russian sentiment and domestic political tensions in the run-up to the presidential ballot. And they stressed that while Abkhazia cannot develop economically without Russian assistance, and while they do not want their republic to be an economic burden on Russia, which already contributes to its security, "our state must retain control over our strategic infrastructure."

In a separate interview with the Russian news agency Regnum, PERA Chairman Beslan Butba, who announced earlier this month that he will probably run against Bagapsh in the presidential ballot due on December 12, argued that allowing non-Abkhaz citizens to purchase property in Abkhazia will effectively deprive the Abkhaz themselves of the chance to do so, given that most Abkhaz simply cannot afford to buy property. (The average monthly salary in Abkhazia is 2,700 rubles [$86]). Butba said the opposition has drafted alternative proposals that have been submitted to the republic's parliament, the Public Chamber, and the media.

Asked whether the alignment of the various opposition groups is connected with the upcoming presidential ballot, Butba said how the alignment is perceived is immaterial. "Our common goal is a prosperous, flourishing, independent Abkhazia, living and developing in a close union with fraternal Russia. We have no other goals...we are ready to accept any organizations as members of our coalition, regardless of their political orientation. When the fate of Abkhazia is at stake, any political disagreements are of secondary significance," Butba said.

The May 21 statement by the three pro-Bagapsh political groups stresses his contribution over the past five years to preserving domestic political stability, developing the republic's legislative base and democratic institutions, and presiding over its recognition by Russia as an independent state in the wake of the August 2008 war with Georgia. At the same time, they acknowledge that the republic still faces serious social and economic problems, but argue that those problems are essentially the consequence of the republic's protracted isolation in a state between war and peace.

The statement goes on to deplore what it terms a bid by the six opposition bodies to "play the anti-Russian card," and asks rhetorically whether they are fully conscious of the risks inherent in doing so. Branding what they term the use of "dubious PR-techniques" as a "threat to national security, the three pro-Bagapsh groups appeal to the opposition to take a more responsible attitude to issues that are directly linked to the survival of Abkhazia as a state.

The only other political party to rally behind Bagapsh to date are the Communists, who issued a statement (carried by on May 23) rejecting as "tendentious" the criticisms of the six opposition groups and affirming that "the agreements with Russia to be signed by the Abkhaz leadership...reflect the interests of the people of the republic."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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