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Son of Russian security official revealed as Sukhumi Airport investor

31 October 2023
Image via Apsnypress.

The mystery Russian investor behind the restoration of the Sukhumi (Sukhum) airport has been revealed as the son of Rashid Nurgaliyev — Russia’s former interior minister and current First Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council.

On Friday, Abkhazia’s Economy Ministry and Russia’s Economic Development Ministry announced that Infrastructural Development, a recently established company based in Moscow, had won the controversial tender. The company is owned by Nurgaliyev’s son — also named Rashid Nurgaliyev.

His father is currently serving as the First Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council and is subject to Western sanctions against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The deal for a Russian investor to restore the airport has led to fears it could trap Abkhazia in debt and lead to a loss of sovereignty, fears exacerbated by the identity of the investor being kept secret until now.

Nurgaliyev said that the restoration of the airport, which has been out of commission since 1992, would make travel to Abkhazia quicker for Russian tourists.

‘Interest in the resorts of Abkhazia from tourists from Russia is growing from year to year’, said Nurgaliyev, noting that a modern airport would allow the ‘high tourism potential of [Abkhazia] to be fully realised’.

Sergey Gribkov, Infrastructural Development’s general director, has said that the company intended to build a new airport complex in parallel with the restoration work.

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The airport is expected to resume operation by the end of 2024.

The announcement drew criticism from Abkhazia’s opposition and civil society.

Izida Chania, a journalist and political commentator, likened the tender to that of the railway project of 2010 — a failed tender that ‘plunged the country into unaffordable debt’.

However, many in Abkhazia support the restoration of the airport. Astamur Lakashia, an Abkhaz entrepreneur, said that the airport would create ‘a lot of jobs and new infrastructure’.

 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.