The Abkhazian opposition has labelled the president as "essentially a foreign agent."

Aslan Bzhania, President of the Republic of Abkhazia.

The President of the Republic of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, has long been the target of the opposition.

Vitaly Sharia | Ekho Kavkaza — Late last week, several Abkhazian opposition political groups released statements, marking the first time this year that the executive authority faced accusations.

Prominently, the online community focused on a joint statement by five opposition groups, headlined in the media as "Opposition calls to sabotage the current regime." The statement opens with a critique of the country's fuel and energy situation:

“In light of the Republic’s circumstances, the current government should have voluntarily resigned long ago. At the People's Meeting in Sukhum on May 30 last year, a key demand was the resignation of the utterly bankrupt and detrimental Government. Such a step was the only way to halt the country’s further decline. It was already evident that this team’s continued rule would only aggravate the nation’s economic and social problems. Regrettably, the consequences soon became apparent. At the year’s end, Abkhazia’s citizens bore the cost of their mistakes, paying one billion rubles for excessive electricity consumption. Now, as 2024 begins, we face widespread power outages. Yet, their ambition didn’t stop there. The next target is the monopolisation of the fuel market. Portraying the fuel market’s forceful takeover by a company linked to the Cabinet’s top echelons as a covert decision by the Russian Government to favour RN ‘Abkhazia’ is hardly convincing. We recognise that Rosneft has been a responsible market player and a model taxpayer in Abkhazia since 2009, with no prior issues. The onset of soaring prices, shortages, and now attempts at market monopolisation coincided with the emergence of the Podorozhnik gas station network, owned by ‘Apsny Oil,’ directly tied to the current leadership.”

The appeal's authors assert that these and other national issues arise from the elected president's neglect and indifference towards his people since 2020. Continuing, they state:

“Aslan Bzhania’s disregard for the populace was starkly evident during the devastating fire at the National Art Gallery (the Central Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Abkhazia where the National Art Gallery's entire collection housed — Trans.). As the nation grieved over this cultural loss, Bzhania, after briefly appearing before cameras at the smouldering site, quickly left for a lavish banquet at the state-owned Ritsa lake dacha. Discussions about reforms or fulfilling electoral promises have ceased. We solemnly declare that there is an ongoing and deliberate dismantling of Abkhaz statehood. The substitution of local businesses with foreign oligarchs, the destruction of the energy sector, the influx of hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals, among other actions, are part of Aslan Bzhania's policy under the pretext that ‘The Abkhazian people are incapable on their own.’ For the first time in modern history, the incumbent president is effectively a foreign agent and a catalyst for anti-Russian sentiments.”

The document concludes with a call “to all citizens of the nation, irrespective of their political beliefs, ethnicity, or religion, to resist and undermine the efforts of the present regime that is intent on destroying the country and its people.” This appeal is endorsed by the political parties “FNEA” and “Apsny,” along with the public organisations “Aruaa,” “AND,” and “Our Capital.” The first four groups have been collaborating since autumn 2020, and were joined last year by “Our Capital.”

Observers have noted that this principal coalition of opposition forces remains united. This solidarity was unaffected by the R[epublican] P[ublic] A[ssociation] “Aruaa’s” differing stance on the parliament's December 27 decision regarding the state dacha "Pitsunda," seen as a reasonable compromise. However, this particular appeal omits any mention of this agreement. Meanwhile, other opposition groups like "Aidgylara" and the Committee for the Protection of the Sovereignty of Abkhazia typically don't co-sign such joint statements and appeals.

Simultaneously, the NGO “Aruaa” issued an appeal to the speaker and members of the parliament:

“On 22 December 2023, the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economy of the Republic of Abkhazia, Kristina Ozgan, discreetly departed the Republic for Georgia. On December 24, ‘Aruaa’ responded to this trip with a public statement. It took three days after her return for Kristina Ozgan to briefly announce through the media her negotiations with the Georgian side on energy matters. Previously, all such discussions were held within Abkhazia at the IngurHPP Administrative building. Since 2008, no Abkhazian official had ever travelled to Georgia, but Kristina Ozgan spent over seven hours there with a delegation. The identities of the delegates from both Abkhazia and Georgia remain undisclosed. Notably, following these discussions, the general director of IngurHPP, Levan Mebonia, who had earlier formally proposed restoring and repairing the drop HPPs, retracted his statements. Consequently, the only remaining offer for repairing these HPPs seems decidedly disadvantageous for Abkhazia. Given the lack of antitrust laws and regulators in Abkhazia, we suspect collusion between Kristina Ozgan and the Georgian delegation. Based on these events, we propose inviting the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economy of Abkhazia to a public meeting of the People's Assembly - Parliament of Abkhazia, with media presence, to provide a full disclosure of information.”

We also sought the insights of the socio-political figure Nugzar Agrba on these appeals. Initially, he backed “Aruaa’s” suggestion for a public session of the relevant parliamentary committee, likely including Kristina Ozgan, to address numerous unresolved issues. Agrba recalled that months ago, "Aruaa" chairman Temur Gulia opposed parliamentarian and former “Chernomorenergo” (State owned energy company —Trans.) leader Rezo Zantaria's idea of leasing the Drop-2 of the Inguri cascade to a Russian investor. Gulia advocated for Levan Mebonia's more advantageous proposal to have the Georgian side restore the dormant drop HPPs within RA territory. Contrary to common practice, the pro-government party “Amtsakhara” then criticised the oppositionist for pursuing cooperation with Georgia. Now, “Aruaa” asserts that Mebonia's retraction of his previous offer, broadcasted on Abkhaz television, was not due to new assessments by Georgian power engineers but influenced by Kristina Ozgan's journey beyond Ingur...

In relation to the collective opposition appeal's allegations of an attempt by Abkhazian players to monopolise the local fuel market, Nugzar Agrba suggests that the upcoming trip to Moscow by Aslan Bzhania, President of Abkhazia, and Jansukh Nanba, First Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Transport, might shed light on several unresolved issues.

Commenting on the controversy surrounding the “corporate event” at Lake Ritsa on a day of national mourning, Agrba observed that the situation poses a significant image problem for the authorities. He added:

- "Was the president actually seen enjoying himself at Ritsa?

A rebuttal or denial should have been issued... Yet, the ruling team remained silent.

- “They probably prefer not to discuss this issue... It's possible that foreign dignitaries were present. On the other hand, the president did attend the fire, inspected the site, and issued necessary instructions, as far as I am aware... He might have then left to meet some guests. The matter was brought up as though someone was closely monitoring his movements and instantly reporting them.”

On the call for citizens to “sabotage the work of the current regime,” Agrba expressed scepticism about its practicality:

- “Does this mean going to work and doing nothing? If so, it’s better not to go to work at all. Declare refusal of your salary - that would be real sabotage... But no, such actions are futile; there will be no sabotage. The focus should be on preparing for the next presidential elections. The opposition needs to organise its leaders, develop a compelling program, and win the people's support. We have no other viable option.”

Agrba also touched on the current administration's significant reputational losses. He highlighted a recent incident where Levan Mikaa, a prominent opposition figure, and his minor daughter were detained at the Psou checkpoint by Russian border guards, held for about an hour without justification. This incident is not an isolated case. He remarked:

- “To be honest, the conduct of the Russian border guards deeply disturbs me. The thought of crossing the border, whether in winter or summer, is off-putting. I recognise that they may tighten security as deemed necessary, but it often feels more like a tactic of intimidation. If there are issues to be resolved with someone, they should be addressed locally.”

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.




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