How Russia set course for annexing Abkhazia

Wednesday, 27 March 2024

Russia is definitively focusing on annexing Abkhazia.

The Abkhaz authorities, perhaps feeling threatened, have begun proposing integration with Russia and Belarus as a Union State. As a compromise, a light format of association with Russia.

Russia has its own plans for Abkhazia though, so nobody is going to pay attention to what the local population, wants, as claimed by Natalia Ishchenko, Balkan Observer's editor, in her article – Course for annexation: how Russia changes its strategy regarding Georgia's occupied territories.

Some supporters of the current Georgian government sometimes say that Russia "might return Abkhazia to Georgia" if Tbilisi pursues a clearly pro-Russian policy, abandons European, and most importantly, Euro-Atlantic integration.


In reality, Russia currently does want to "reconsider" its decision to recognise the independence of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia). But it is not going to return the territories to Georgia. It plans to annex them.

They are trying, however, to do this gradually, avoiding loud statements so as not to scare Tbilisi in advance. Instead, they are bringing the occupied regions of Georgia as close as possible to Russian realities.

South Ossetia, which is much more de facto integrated into Russia than Abkhazia, has been persistently advised by the Kremlin not to bring up the immediate accession to Russia.

At the same time, Moscow is intensifying the process of rapprochement in spheres where there have been many manifestations of "Abkhaz sovereignty" until recently.

An expected step in the integration of Abkhazia with Russia in the military sphere is the construction of a Russian fleet base in the Black Sea city of Ochamchira.

Another field where everything is moving towards full integration is socio-economic.

The only currency in Abkhazia is the Russian ruble.

In late 2021, a well-known Kremlin figure, Inal Ardzinba (in charge of organising the separatist entity Bessarabia in Odesa Oblast in 2015), was appointed head of the local "foreign ministry."

Since 2022, Ardzinba has been actively working in Abkhazia, trying to eliminate any sprouts of activity independent from Russia.

Russia's goal is becoming increasingly open opposition to Abkhazia's real independence, particularly through aggressively involving the "republic" in the Russian legal field.

At the same time, Abkhazians, although partially, still maintain faith in its possibile independence.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz civil society has seen a symbol of Russia's real intentions.

This symbol was the so-called Pitsunda sanatorium – an object from Soviet times where the USSR leaders spent free time.

The transfer of this object to Russia was one of Moscow's key demands, which Abkhazia resisted for 12 years.

However, this resistance was broken in late 2023, and after a night session of the Abkhaz "parliament," this object was transferred to Russia's ownership free of charge, with a land plot of over 180 hectares and a water area leased for 49 years with a payment of 1 Russian ruble per year for each plot.

Pressure on the Abkhaz "authorities" to allow foreigners to buy real estate is also gradually increasing. Only the bearer of an Abkhaz passport can buy an apartment, house, or land there. And this prohibition, fundamentally important for the local population, does not satisfy Russians.

Everything is heading towards Abkhazia, which for 32 years convinced itself that Russia was the guarantor of the existence of the "republic," almost being forced to admit that the "guarantor" is the main destroyer of the idea of Abkhaz sovereignty.

Will Tbilisi be able to take advantage of the situation to establish a dialogue with Sukhumi?

From the standpoint of Georgia's national interests, it should have already done so. But considering Moscow's loyalty and the indecisiveness of the current Georgian government, there is little belief in any bold steps by official Tbilisi.

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