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  Elections in Abkhazia – the auction for loyalty to Russia

Èeslovas Iðkauskas, political analyst
2011 09 19

The results of elections held on 26 August in Abkhazia didn‘t surprise. They showed that Alexander Ankvab who has been acting vice president of the republic for only three months (after the former leader of Abkhazia Sergey Bagapsh died after the lung operation in Moscow) was elected with nearly 55% of the vote. He was competing with Prime Minister Sergey Shamba and the leader of opposition Raul Khajimba. The three war veterans practically didn‘t differ in their political positions. According to The New York Times, „whoever wins the elections will have to balance the needs of Moscow“.

Georgia rejected legitimacy of the elections saying they were held by violating its sovereignty and under the conditions of occupation. Moreover, the majority of Abkhaz citizens couldn’t vote since they’ve been expelled from their homes.

The third president of Abkhazia is a lawyer supporting close relations with Russia, fighting against corruption. He is also famous for his austerity and reluctance to communicate with media. In 1992–1993 he served as Abkhazia’s minister of interior and was made a police colonel. Later he moved to the opposition, settled in Moscow and became an active supporter (as a business representative) of the Abkhaz art. Upon return to Sukhumi, Ankvab led the opposition movement „Aitara“ (Revival), agreed to join Sergey Bagapsh government and served as prime minister of the country since 2005 (vice president in 2009). Ankvab has been the target of five attempts on his life, was injured twice, but none of the above attacks have been revealed.

Aleksandr Zolotinskovich Ankvab inherited a strange father‘s name from the Russian engineer Zolotinski who at the beginning of 20th century supervised the construction of the first railway in the region.  No wonder that during the election campaign he said that „Russia was and will remain strategic partner of Abkhazia in all spheres“.

Several days after elections only one leader – the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev - congratulated the winner. Although Shamba received more support from Moscow (maybe due to a rigid and unpredictable temper Ankvab), there was no major difference between the competitors.

Abkhazia announced its independence from Georgia in 1990, but it was made public only on 23 June 1992.  This region was part of Georgia since the 11th century. After the collapse of the Kingdom of Georgia, the Duchy of Abkhazia was established, and in 1810 joined Russia together with the Kingdom of Imeretia. V.Lenin‘s October revolution increased the dependence of Georgia and Abkhazia on USSR.

Today the territory with a population of quarter of a million people covering about 8600 sq.kilometers is recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, small Nauru Island and the Palestinian movement „Hamas“. But this doesn‘t change the situation: Abkhazia remains in the absolute zone of Russia‘s interests and is isolated from the world.

It would be wrong to say that all Abkhaz citizens, even the ones having Russian citizenship, voted for Moscow‘s front men. According to The New York Times, the choice of the Abkhaz nation is quite problematic: they know that it is necessary to retain good relations with Russia, but they want to escape from annexation. This situation reminds the soviet „patronage“ system: after 2008 Russia, having filled in all possible transport arteries of Abkhazia, has been supervising all roads toward the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Moreover, the Russians purchase the Abkhaz real estate and seek to expropriate the soviet villas.

Sukhumi doesn‘t want to the change the law according to which foreigners, including the Russians, have no right to privatize former government villas of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev. But Moscow requires explanations on where the sum of 362 million USD allocated for the improvement of Abkhazia’s infrastructure was used.

During the period of three years Russia has increased its military forces in Abkhazia. At the beginning of August Dmitry Medvedev submitted to State Duma for ratification the agreement with Abkhazia on integrated Russian military base in the territory of Abkhazia. On 17 February 2010 this agreement was signed by Dmitry Medvedev and S.Bagapash. Upon the establishment of the military base Russian troops will use and modernize Russian military objects existing in the territory of Abkhazia. Now the headquarters of the Russian military base is located in Gudauta, including  1700 Russian troops.

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