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Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Abkhazia on 8 August, as hundreds of Georgians gathered near the South Ossetian and Abkhazian borders to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the 2008 August War. The previous day, commemorations were held in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali for ‘victims of Georgian aggression’.
Putin in Abkhazia
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Abkhazia by helicopter on 8 August, where he met with Abkhazian leader Raul Khadzhimba.
‘We have a very special relationship with Abkhazia. We reliably guarantee the security and independence of Abkhazia. I am sure, that this will continue’, Sputnik Abkhazia quoted Putin as saying.
According to Sputnik Abkhazia, an agreement was signed for Russia to provide health insurance to Abkhazians with Russian citizenship.
The deal, announced in March, has been seen by some observers as a counterpoint to medical treatment in Georgia provided by the Georgian government. Abkhazia’s health minister underlined his certainty that after signing the agreement, the number of Abkhazian citizens going to Georgia will significantly reduce.
[Read on OC Media: Abkhazians with Russian passports to receive Russian medical insurance]
The last time Putin visited Abkhazia was in 2013, when he met with then-president Aleksandr Ankvab. His recent visit has seen seen by some as a response to US Vice President Mike Pence’s 1 August visit to Tbilisi. Tbilisi called Putin’s visit provocative and cynical.
‘The war was everyone’s tragedy’
Hundreds of Georgian activists gathered on a highway near the villages of Karapila and Khurvaleti at the South Ossetian border to create a human chain against ‘Russia’s creeping occupation’.
Demonstrators stood linking arms roughly 400 metres from the border for about 45 minutes, and then dispersed.
The demonstration was organised by a group who recently began daily civilian patrols to monitor the border. The move followed the installation of new banners on the line, leaving at least one local farmer cut off from his land.
Protesters held posters with messages such as, ‘I know that peace is better, that’s why we are ready for war’ and ‘Strength is in unity’, according to Georgian news agency InterPressNews.
According to Georgian news outlet Livepress, dozens joined a protest rally organised by opposition parties European Georgia and United National Movement near the bridge at River Enguri (Ingur), which divides Sukhumi (Sukhum) and Tbilisi-controlled territories.
Commemorations for soldiers killed in the war were held in several towns across Georgia.
Families and friends of Georgian soldiers were joined by government officials at the Mukhatgverdi Brothers’ Cemetery in Tbilisi.
‘We are standing here with painful and sorrowful pride’, the sister of one deceased soldier told Rustavi 2.
‘The war was everyone’s tragedy, so we have to look in each other’s eyes and we must reconcile’, Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said. ‘We will live in a unified Georgia and will unite the hearts of Georgians, Abkhazians, and Ossetians’, he added.
Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze swore to ‘restore justice’ with ‘active diplomatic actions’.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili reaffirmed that ‘Georgian citizens and the whole international community does not recognise any borders, any trenches, any men with automatic weapons on Georgian soil, which causes problems for the citizens of Georgia’.
János Herman, EU Ambassador to Georgia, said that measures taken by ‘Georgia’s breakaway regions’ towards closer integration with Russia ‘have no legitimate force’.
Commemorations in South Ossetia
Dozens gathered in the center of Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) on 7 August to commemorate the victims of ‘Georgian aggression’, Russian state-owned website Sputnik Ossetia reported.
‘The people of South Ossetia will always remember those who stood up for the defence of the Ossetian people’, South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov said at a rally in the centre of Tskhinvali.
The authorities brought flowers to a monument to Russian soldiers and visited the Museum of Burnt Souls — a memorial consisting of the wrecks of cars allegedly destroyed trying to flee Tskhinvali during the war.
Local authorities shut down a checkpoint to Tbilisi-controlled territory until 9 August, Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported.
The 2008 August War resulted in Georgia losing control over a number of areas in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that it had previously held. It was followed by Moscow’s recognition on 26 August of the two as independent states.
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.