The aftermath of the October 3 presidential election in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia has finally unmasked Moscow’s policy towards Abkhazia. Ironically, Russia has presented itself as a player — if not instigator — of the current unrest in Abkhazia.
On November 3, the two leading presidential candidates, Raul Khajimba and Sergei Bagapsh, were summoned to Moscow for a good dressing down, sources say. During the two-day visit, they met Dmitry Medvedev, head of President Vladimir Putin’s staff; Igor Ivanov, chairman of the Russian Security Council; and Nikolai Patrushev, FSB director. Moscow must have been disappointed by the outcome of the visit. Bagapsh said that he is not prepared to participate in a rerun of the election, which Moscow advocated. Bagapsh reportedly rejected another offer by Moscow, under which Moscow would acknowledge his victory if he would make the very pro-Russia Nodar Khashba prime minister. Bagapsh said he would not allow any pressure on Abkhazia and its people. “It would only make matters worse,” he added. His answer may be only a show of bravado; if Bagapsh shifted course right after the Moscow visit, it could harm his popularity.
On November 7, the Russian Security Council officially confirmed the negotiations with the Abkhaz separatists and said that the sole reason was to get “first-hand information” about the situation in the region. The Security Council’s formal statement on this issue denies media allegations that Moscow has tried to intimidate Bagapsh with threats to close part of the Russo-Abkhaz border and impose economic sanctions on Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, Bagapsh has already offered Khajimba the post of defense minister in the new government. Khajimba rejected the offer. He, along with the third leading presidential candidate, former foreign minister Sergei Shamba, insists on fulfilling outgoing president Vladislav Ardzinba’s decree to repeat the presidential election. Khajimba’s supporters have effectively shut down parliament since November 1. Meanwhile, armed supporters of Bagapsh have taken control of the Abkhaz state television and radio-company.
Tbilisi evidently expects to reap political advantages from the complicated Abkhaz-Russian situation. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told a briefing on November 5, “A serious dialogue with Abkhazia will start soon . . . An object lesson has been taught to the Abkhazians, and they have seen who is a true friend for them and who is an enemy.” Whether Saakashvili’s call has fallen on fertile soil or deaf ears remains to be seen.
(Resonance, November 2; Apsnypress, November 3; Interfax-AVN military news agency, November 4; RIA-Novosti, November 4-5; Rustavi-2 TV, November 4, 5, 9).