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It is hard to influence situation in Abkhazia from Moscow – expert

No handlers in Moscow are able to change the specifics of the Abkhazian policy. Mikhail Neyzhmakov, the head of the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, made such statement when commenting to EADaily on the dismissals that occurred at the Russian president’s department for social and economic cooperation with the CIS, Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it is supervised by the president’s aide Vladislav Surkov - two weeks after the referendum for snap presidential election in Abkhazia was recognized “invalid”.

It is very hard to sweep political conflicts under the rug, the expert said. “In many regions of Russia, the discrepancies between political elites may grow into information wars or local protests at a last resort. The opponents of the regional authorities very often avoid provoking really large-scale street protests. In Abkhazia, quite the contrary, such conflicts are very likely to grow into mass protests and even seizure of administrative buildings, like it happened during the political crises in 2004, 2014 and storming of the Interior Ministry office this summer,” Neyzhmakov said.

It is very had to build an “economic” power vertical at least because of the local specifics, he said. “There are no big enterprises the control over which would mean the control over the republic. Let us not forget about the high level of shadow economy that impedes the implementation of this task. At the beginning of 2015, Khatuna Shat-Ipa, the head of the Economy Department of the Presidential Center for Strategic Studies, insisted that the shadow economy accounts for 53% of GDP and is almost equal to the annual budget of the republic,” the expert recalled.

Building a ‘hardline’ power vertical is difficult too, considering the republic’s traditions, Neyzhmakov said. “In the newest history of the republic, there were precedents when the law-enforcers disobeyed the authorities during opposition protests. For instance, in November 2004, when the interior ministry representatives refused to support the policy of the authorities against the supporters of Sergey Bagapsh (at that moment he won the presidential election but had not managed to take the office yet). The political culture of the republic could start changing in case of transformation of the region economy, including implementation of big projects by Russian investors. The largest of those projects is extraction of oil on the continental shelf of Abkhazia. So far, the project is being delayed (Prime Minister of the republic Arthur Mikvabia recalled about it in June 2016). A large-scale implementation of these plans may spark protests connected with possible environmental risks,” the expert said.

Actually, Neyzhmakov said, transformation of Abkhazia’s political system is a risky and costly undertaking. “Such tasks are not set by the employees of the Russian president’s administration. In the present political system of Abkhazia, conflicts inevitably grow into street protests, sometimes quite radical ones. It is very hard to influence the current situation from Moscow. Let us again remember the political crises connected with the presidential election in Abkhazia in 2004. The top leadership of Russia comprehends this. Therefore, the recent staff reshuffles in the profile divisions of the Russia president’s administration were hardly sparked by the conflict in Abkhazia only,” Mikhail Neyzhmakov said for conclusion.

Deputy Head of the President’s Administration Ivan Boltenkov and his colleague in the same department Anton Pustovalov were dismissed, Vedomosti reported citing its sources. Both the dismissed officials were Abkhazia’s curators, according to a source “close to the Russian government.”

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