Raul Khajimba, the de facto president of Georgia’s breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, made several further appointments last week to a new cabinet headed by Beslan Bartsits. But in a repeat violation of his campaign pledge of two years ago, he did not include a single opposition representative, despite growing demands from across the opposition spectrum for a coalition government of national unity.
Bartsits, 38, who was appointed premier in early August following the resignation of Artur Mikvabia, is a longtime Khajimba associate. In 2007-09, when Khajimba was vice president, Bartsits served as one of his aides. He was elected a parliament deputy in 2012 on the ticket of Khajimba’s Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia and named to head the Gagra municipal district two years later. His most recent position, as of May, was as presidential administration head.
Announcing Bartsits’s appointment, Khajimba warned that he would not hesitate to replace him as prime minister if he fails to bring about the required changes. (The rationale cited by the Bloc of Opposition Forces earlier this year for seeking a referendum on whether to hold an early presidential election was that Khajimba had failed either to implement promised structural reforms or to revive the stagnating economy.) Khajimba himself admitted last week, in an article pegged to the eighth anniversary of Russia’s recognition of the breakaway region as an independent sovereign state, that unspecified problems still remain to be solved.
The qualifications are debatable of Bartsits, a trained lawyer, to bring about the badly needed economic revival. Possibly to compensate for his lack of economic experience, Khajimba reappointed Dmitry Serikov, a Moscow-born Russian who has served since June 2015 as deputy prime minister, to combine those duties with the post of finance minister. Analysts anticipate that Serikov will be required to monitor closely the spending of colossal financial subsidies Abkhazia stands to receive this year from Russia, given that future funding may be contingent on the effective use of those funds.
Defense Minister Mirab Kiashmaria, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba, and several others retained their portfolios in the new cabinet.
As noted above, none of the new ministers represents the radical opposition -- indeed, the opposition party Amtsakhara (Keep the Home Fires Burning), one of several groupings of veterans of the 1992-93 war that ended with Abkhazia’s de facto independence from Georgia, made clear that it would refuse any offer of a cabinet post.
Two key figures in the new cabinet have, however, maintained their distance from Khajimba since his election in August 2014 to succeed Aleksandr Ankvab.
The first is Deputy Prime Minister Beslan Eshba, one of three rival candidates whom Khajimba defeated in that ballot. Eshba, 59, was first named deputy premier under Ankvab in April 2013 but resigned following Ankvab’s premature ouster by the Coordinating Council of opposition forces spearheaded by Khajimba, and subsequently publicly advocated a redivision of powers between the president and the parliament to strengthen the latter. In August 2015, he founded the public organization Apsadgyyl, which has called for dialogue between the authorities and the radical opposition.
The second is the appointment of former Major General Aslan Kobakhia, a living legend by virtue of his role as a military commander during the 1992-93 war, as deputy premier and interior minister. He has not held a government post since 2002. As interior minister, Kobakhia succeeds Leonid Dzapshba, whose resignation the opposition had systematically lobbied for even before he publicly threatened to fire any ministry personnel who cast ballots in the July referendum on an early presidential ballot.
Although Khajimba refused to cede to that opposition demand, he made clear in June his dissatisfaction with the Interior Ministry’s failures to curtail gangsterism and drug-dealing or to enforce traffic regulations. He has nonetheless named Dzapshba his special adviser for “coordination” with the law-enforcement agencies.
Kobakhia for his part has already carried out sweeping personnel changes within the Interior Ministry and identified as priorities a “merciless” crackdown on drug dealing and raising the professionalism of the traffic police.
The opposition will doubtless be monitoring his performance, and that of the cabinet as a whole, in the run-up to the popular assembly it plans to convene this fall to renew its campaign for Khajimba’s resignation.