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Dangerous confrontation in Abkhazia: view from Tbilisi

Photo: kavpolit.com

Domestic situation in Abkhazia has been unusually tense within the last month of 2016. The opposition demanded resignation of President Raul Khajimba who, in turn, refused to leave and called his rivals to make political and constitutional steps not to endanger the Abkhazian statehood.

Georgia does not recognize Abkhazia as an independent state and considers it occupied by Russia. Fight for territorial integrity of the country is a priority for every new government of Georgia. It is evident that discrepancies between the opposition and the government, split in the society not just hinder further development of the country, but threatens its existence.

Seemingly, the government and opposition have arrived at a certain consensus and signed an agreement that enables Khajimba to retain his post and gives the opposition a definite number of high government positions. This should have put an end to tensions and the opposition should have refused from the idea of people’s gathering. However, the Abkhazian oppositionists organized people’s gathering immediately after signing the document, though it appeared to be a not-large rally rather than people’s gathering. Marxist literature would describe the current situation in the following way: one of the conflicting sides is no longer able to coup with the rival, while the other is not yet able to do it.

Naturally, these events could not pass unnoticed for Georgia that is extremely indignant at Russia’s growing military presence in Abkhazia. It is evident that establishment of United Group of Troops of the two countries dooms to failure any attempt of Georgia to settle the territorial dispute by force amid diplomatic stalemate. Leader of Abkhazia’s Amtsakhara opposition party Aslan Bzhania is protesting against establishment of the Kremlin-approved United Group of Troops. He believes that the Russian Federation has swallowed Abkhazia’s armed forces. On this issue, he has a common stance with the Georgian authorities.

“Generally, Russia’s attempt of military or any other integration with Abkhazia or Tskhinvali region (South Ossetia – EADaily) is another violation of their international commitments and we, indeed, oppose it and will be opposing it with the help of our international partners,” says Minister of Education and Science of Georgia Aleksandre Jejelava. This is how the minister commented the initiative of the Ukrainian delegation to the UN Security Council concerning the establishment of the United Group of Troops between Russia and Abkhazia. It would be more logical if the defense or foreign minister of Georgia made such a statement. Anyway, it was Georgia’s official response.

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Mamuka Areshidze, a Georgian expert, head of the Caucasian Center of Strategic Research, says Aslan Bzhania is a supporter of the ex-president Aleksandr Ankvab and the political fight in Abkhazia is turning into a “clan rivalry.”

Young states in Africa that got rid of the colonial dependence yet in 60s of the last century, had experienced problems of tribalism for long decades. Some aspects of political confrontation in Abkhazia resembles those times.

To recall, Aslan Bzhania was detained on Psou River while trying to cross the Russian-Abkhazia border. Afterwards he was delivered to Sochi Police, set free after a while, and even allowed to return to Sukhum. Representatives of the Abkhazian State Security Committee made public phone calls of the Amtsakhara opposition party representatives who were making direct threats to President Khajimba and plotting a seize of power. Mamuka Areshidze compares that situation with the events of 2011 in Tskhinval when oppositionist Jambul Tedeev was detained.

“I remember how the famous Ossetian sportsman, wrestler Jambul Tedeev was detained despite his popularity and influence for opposing the Kremlin. They even made his plane land to detain him,” Areshidze recalls. The Georgian expert believes that when detained, Bzhania was subjected to certain brainwashing to make him change his political stance. Yet, the expert thinks Aslan Bzhania is a not a leading figure in the opposition party, since Amtsakhara has other leaders too. Areshidze thinks the standoff may continue in December in Sukhum.

Present-day Abkhazia suffers deficit of confidence in its political elite. Restoration of the public confidence is an important task for every Abkhazian politician. Let’s hope that common sense and self-preservation instinct will triumph and the pan-national interests will prevail over clannish ones. A normal, mutually advantageous dialogue with Georgia may be resumed only when there is political stability in Abkhazia. Both the people and the entire region need this.

Irakli Chkheidze (Tbilisi, Georgia) for EADaily

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