Situated in the north-western corner of Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east, Abkhazia has always been an autonomous republic, even under the rule of Josef Stalin in 1921. Its geographical proximity to Georgia meant that it was always always at odds with the Georgian side, compounded their their use of old slavic languages. While the Abkhaz consider their independence to be a result of a war of liberation from Georgia, the Georgians believe that historically Abkhazia has always been part of Georgia.(Georgians form the single largest ethnic group in pre-war Abkhazia, with a 45.7% plurality as of 1989 before the ethnic cleansing in 1994.)
As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate towards the end of the 1980s, ethnic tensions grew between the Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia’s moves towards independence. This led to the 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia that resulted in a Georgian military defeat, de facto independence of Abkhazia and the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population from Abkhazia. In spite of the1994 ceasefire agreement and years of negotiations, the status dispute has not been resolved, and despite the long-term presence of a United Nations monitoring force and a Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping operation, the conflict has flared up on several occasions. The most recent conflict happened in 2008 during the South Ossetia war, which resulted in the annulment of the 1994 ceasefire agreement and removal of UN peacekeeping missions in the region. Moscow since recognised Abkhazia as independent and has permanently stationed thousands of troops at military bases there in a move that Tbilisi describes as an occupation.
Being a presidential republic, Abkhazia has been ruled by 3 presidents. The Third President and former Vice President, Aleksandr Ankvab, resigned on the 1st June 2014 following large scale protests over his economic policies and supposed “autocratic” rule on the people. Most recently, Raoul Khadjimba, 56, the leader of the republic’s main opposition group (and incidently the person hehind the protests), won the election outright in the first round by taking 50.57 percent of the vote, while his main rival, 51-year-old Asslan Bjania, a former head of national security, took 35.91 percent of the vote.
Although Russia has invested a lot of money into both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there are no chances for an economic recovery at this stage. Many people still live in damaged houses and makeshift dwellings, which is generating resentment in the society. The criticism of living standards is just as pronounced as concerns about excessive dependence on Russia. But, according to Mukhanov, whoever wins the election “will have to cooperate with Russia because it is the guarantor of security and the most important financial donor for Abkhazia.”
Russian interests and responsibilities
David Darchiashvili argues that Ossetian and Abkhaz separatism is not the result of a “Russian plot,” but of a “process of ‘awakening’ in these ethnic groups, which was distinct from the Georgian ‘rebirth’.” As explained earlier, with the unraveling of the Soviet Union, several of Georgia’s myriad ethnic groups intensified their calls for self-determination, threatening both the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
As Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain in separatist conflict with Georgia, Moscow holds the key to the resolution of Georgia’s territorial disputes, both in terms of its relationship with the separatists and the mediating role it purports to play.
After 2008, when Russia recognised Abkhazia’s independence, there was reported relief amongst the local populace, and were unconcerned that few other countries followed Moscow’s lead. Yet, the United States and the European Union continue to view Abkhazia as Georgian sovereign territory. Apart from Russia, only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the island nation of Nauru accept Abkhazian independence.
Two years on, Russia has managed to establish its military and business presence in Abkhazia. Thousands of Russian soldiers and Federal Security Bureau officers are moving into freshly painted, three-storey housings in the Gudauta base. Last year, Russia deployed its modern S-300 missile air defence system at its base in the Gali region. While this drew flak from Georgia, there is now indication that Russia has a commitment to take care of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with the Crimean conflict yet another trouble of its own.
Aside: Longevity in Abkhasia
In John Robbin’s new work, entitled: Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, he looks into how the Robbins examines 4 different regions, including Abkhasia in the Caucasus south of Russia, on how the unique lifestyles of these peoples can influence and improve our own. Abkhasia is an area most renowned for its extraordinary number of healthy centenarians (people above the age of 100) A 1970 census had established Abkhasia, then an autonomous region within Soviet Georgia, as the longevity capital of the world.
Useful piece on the situation back in 2006: www.ifri.org/downloads/germananglais.pdf