Abkhazia’s Divisions with Moscow

bagapsh051809.jpgIt would be a mistake to always assume that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are both identical Russian surrogate territories.  South Ossetia, as described by some, is ruled by a group of bandits living off smuggling rents from the Roki tunnel, and presided by an FSB-paid former Olympic wrestler.  There are of course more generous characterizations as well.  Abkhazia is quite a bit different and quite a bit larger, and its leaders are beginning to signal that Russia shouldn’t expect outright annexation, political or physical.  With renewed negotiations between Russia and Georgia underway, there are signs that Moscow’s attempts to exert influence in Abkhazia run a high risk of backfiring. From The New York Times:

And though Mr. Bagapsh has been adamant about maintaining a “multivector” foreign policy, ties to the West are fraying badly over the policy of nonrecognition and could decline further this summer, when the United Nations mission there could be forced to close. Domestic critics like Inal Khashig, an opposition journalist, worry that if the law regulating real estate sales is changed to allow foreign ownership, “within a week, all of Abkhazia will be sold,” and they despair of the region’s dependence on Russian money.

“Even if the authorities had a plan,they would hardly cut off the branch that they are so comfortablysitting on,” Mr. Khashig wrote in his newspaper, Chegemskaya Pravda, inDecember. “Nothing is worse than uncertainty for them — even a goldencage.”

Much will depend on Mr. Bagapsh himself, who is expectedto run for re-election in December. He was coy about his plans in aninterview, saying only that he will not run as a candidate of UnitedAbkhazia, which has partnered with Mr. Putin’s United Russia, butinstead collect signatures and appear on the ballot as an independentcandidate.

He said he had no interest in endorsements from Russian celebrities.

“Thereisn’t a person who has experienced greater pressure than me,” he said.”This is why I am categorically against this. I am offered assistanceif I run from United Abkhazia. No assistance, thank you. When somebodycomes and starts campaigning for one candidate, the result is a protestvote.”