During a two-week visit to Moscow and Minsk, Abkhazia’s President Aslan Bzhaniya denied rumours that Abkhazia would become a part of Russia’s Union State with Belarus, while signalling closer ties with both countries.
Bzhaniya commenced his tour of Russia and Belarus on 14 February with an official visit to Moscow that had not been publicised prior to his departure. It coincided with a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as well as with Putin’s address to the Russian Parliament.
The visit sparked rumours that Abkhazia was about to join the Union State, a supranational union between Russia and Belarus.
Speculation about Abkhazia joining the union dates back to summer 2022, when Foreign Minister Inal Ardzinba broached the matter. However, Bzhaniya’s office dispelled rumours about Abkhazia joining the Union State on 19 February.
The president’s visit to Minsk proved to be the most contentious part of his tour; many in Abkhazia had hoped that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka would recognise Abkhazia’s independence.
Instead, Lukashenka suggested that Bzhaniya’s visit to Minsk should not ‘aggravate’ Tbilisi.
‘On the contrary, [we] should stick together’, argued the Belarusian president. ‘We need to be closer to each other during this difficult time — Tbilisi, Sukhumi, and Minsk’
In turn, Bzhaniya said that he hoped that Lukashenka’s words would reach Tbilisi.
‘You know, many people will hear you today, including in Georgia, and I think that your wise words will reach the hearts of these people’, he said.
Upon his return to Abkhazia on 2 March, President Bzhaniya held a press conference in which he said that Minsk’s recognition of Abkhazia hinges on Georgia’s own recognition of Sukhum (Sukhumi).
‘It cannot be otherwise, and [Lukashenka] agrees with this. This was not a subject of discussion’, Bzhaniya told journalists.
Bzhaniya also said that Abkhazia had yet to receive an official invitation to join the Russian and Belarusian Union State.
‘Talking about Abkhazia joining the Union State is premature at this historical stage. There were no consultations on this topic’, he said, adding that ‘it would be possible to consider the participation of our state in this union in the future’.
Bzhaniya’s meeting with Lukashenka drew a lot of attention from Abkhazians on social media, not least for Lukashenka mistakenly referring to Aslan Bzhaniya as ‘Khasan’.
Alexey Lomiya, an Abkhazian blogger, argued that the meeting was in breach of diplomatic protocol, as Lukashenka and Bzhaniya were not seated opposite each other.
Bzhaniya addressed some of the remarks, stressing that the importance of the trip.
‘There was a lot of talk around my trip to Minsk, many didn’t like that I didn’t sit opposite the president’, said Bzhaniya. ‘But, in my opinion, it was a very important and useful trip. It contributed to the establishment of closer contacts between Abkhazia and Belarus’.
The Abkhazian president has said that ‘all steps are being taken’ to establish full-fledged ties with Belarus, adding that he hoped to establish cooperation in various fields with Minsk.
He cited Belarusian investments in Abkhazia, such as the Ochamchira (Ochamchire) resort, which is slated to create job opportunities for around 200 Abkhazians.
Bzhaniya also announced plans to establish an Abkhazian trading house in Minsk and to export Abkhazian wine to Belarus.
‘We are allies of Russia, we want to be allies for Belarus, and in this vein we definitely need to work’, he added.
Inal Khashig, an Abkhazian political observer, argued that Bzhaniya’s visit to Minsk can provide him with political leverage in Abkhazia.
‘We see that active economic cooperation has begun, construction has begun in Ochamchira with Belarusian money’, Khashig told OC Media. ‘The authorities can turn this into an asset despite criticism from the opposition’.
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.