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Abkhazia’s foreign minister warns of growing Georgian–Russian ties

15 September 2023
Abkhazian Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba in Sukhumi (Sukhum). Image via Apsua TV.

Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba has warned citizens that improving Georgian–Russian relations could threaten Abkhazia, while also suggesting that Georgia was prepared to attack the region given the opportunity. 

Just under two weeks after Ardzinba was rumoured to have resigned from his position, the foreign minister has begun a series of meetings with local residents in Abkhazia’s towns and cities. 

The stated subject of the meetings, which began on 18 August, is Abkhaz–Russian relations in light of the 15th anniversary of the recognition of Abkhazia’s independence by Russia. However, observers have noted that much of Ardzinba’s focus has been on a bill allowing the sale of real estate to foreign citizens, in light of the perceived threat that closer Georgian–Russian relations pose to the region. 

The ‘law on apartments’ has been the subject of heated debate since it was first proposed at the end of 2022. Activists and opposition politicians state that the bill aims to make it possible for non-Abkhazians to buy property, and so gain residence.

Russian officials have over the years pushed for Abkhazia to allow Russian citizens to move to and buy property in Abkhazia, a move the authorities and civil society there have resisted, with many suggesting that such a possibility would threaten Abkhazia’s sovereignty.

However, government officials, including Ardzinba, have voiced strong support for the legislation, claiming that building and selling apartments could be a significant source of income for Abkhazia. 

Their rhetoric has also increasingly shifted focus to the supposed dangers that threaten Abkhazia’s residents if the law is not adopted. 


Russian–Georgian relations and the threat of war

While meeting local representatives, Ardzinba has warned that relations between Russia and Georgia are growing closer, and that Russia has significant interest in Georgia, in particular as a transit country. Ardzinba has suggested that Abkhazia must ensure it remains an attractive prospect to Russia, otherwise it will risk falling by the waysides of diplomatic processes. 

‘Today, [Georgia’s] air traffic with the Russian Federation has been restored, today the visa-free regime between Georgia and Russia has been resumed’, noted Ardzinba at a meeting in Sukhumi (Sukhum) on 13 September. 

[Read more: Russia lifts travel restrictions for Georgians]

He added that over 500,000 cargo vehicles entered Georgia from Armenia and Turkey and travelled towards Russia in 2022, and stated that Russian–Georgian trade turnover amounted to $2.5 billion, compared to $3.5 million for Russian–Abkhazian trade. 

‘Russia has become Georgia’s number one trading partner’, said Ardzinba. ‘What kind of trade turnover will there be between Russia and Georgia tomorrow?’

Ardzinba explicitly tied developments to the EU, UN, and OSCE-led Geneva International Discussions, which have brought together representatives of Georgia, Russia, the US, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia at quarterly meetings since the August 2008 War. 

‘You can imagine the importance of the position of the Russian Federation on this platform. Everything there depends to a large extent on Russia. And if God forbid, the balance of our relations with the Russians changes, then it will be tough for us,’ says Inal Ardzinba.

Ardzinba also suggested that Georgia had two potential approaches to Abkhazia, the first of which was involvement without recognition, the second, military conflict. 

‘The Georgians, with the support of the Americans, through free healthcare, through the work of non-governmental international organisations, will be able to attract our people, involve our people, and thus, as they say, solve the problem of Abkhazia. This is a soft scenario, this is what we saw in many post-Soviet countries, what happened, unfortunately’, said Ardzinba. ​ 

Since Ardzinba has taken office, he has been hostile towards international organisations working in Abkhazia and cooperation with external partners, leading to the closure of a number of civil society organisations and projects. 

Regarding an armed conflict, Ardzinba stated that Georgia was preparing for military intervention and had attack drones ready for use. 

‘When there was an attempt at a military rebellion in Russia, we received information that as soon as the situation in Russia changed, the Georgians were ready to carry out an offensive operation against our country. A plan for this operation using those very attacking drones has already been prepared’, Ardzinba asserted. 

Expressing ‘thanks to Russia’

Ardzinba also focused both on the potential recognition of Abkhazia by Belarus, and the alleged debt of gratitude that Abkhazia owed to Russia. 

‘If we are expanding our international ​contacts, it is thanks to Russia, if we have partners on whom we can rely, this is to a large extent, in the overwhelming majority of cases, thanks to Russia’, said Ardzinba. ‘It is difficult to imagine the Nicaraguans or Venezuelans who are on the other end of the world wondering whether they should recognise Abkhazia.’

Ardzinba also praised an agreement on dual citizenship signed between the Abkhazian and Russian governments, which has yet to be signed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He went on to criticise protests against the transfer of the Pitsunda state dacha to Russia’s Federal Security Service, claiming that the issue had complicated Abkhaz–Russian relations. 

Speaking on 14 September, Ardzinba said that Belarus had ‘de facto economically recognised’ Abkhazia, and the Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had promised duty-free trade between Belarus and Abkhazia. 

The foreign minister has in recent weeks been at the centre of two scandals. Regarding allegations that Inal Ardzinba provided a former employee of Abkhazia’s Presidential Administration with fake documents relating to opposition leader Adgur Ardzinba, the foreign minister refused to comment. 

However, he stated that rumours regarding his resignation last week had been prompted by a discussion with colleagues as to whether he would be of greater benefit in Sukhumi or Moscow, which, according to Ardzinba, his colleagues took as meaning that he was saying goodbye and leaving Abkhazia. 

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

Read in Georgian on On.ge.
Read in Armenian on CivilNet.
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