Ekho Kavkaza | Yesterday, Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following the meeting, he gave an interview to the Russian newspaper "Izvestia", in which he made several statements. To further delve into the essence of the meeting and its broader implications, ex-deputy of the Abkhazian parliament and spokesperson for the "Aamta" expert fund, Givi Kvarchia, shared his insights, addressing the anticipations and apprehensions tied to the summit, as well as reflecting on the president's key remarks.
– Givi, the day before yesterday, Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and yesterday he had a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What's your impression of these events?
– These are the most recent in a series of meetings with Russian leadership; such meetings have taken place before. The rendezvous with the Russian president had been long-awaited, as they hadn't met for some time, which, understandably, stirred some unease within the community. The date for the meeting was announced, but, as you know, its commencement was postponed until late evening. Naturally, everyone was curious about the subjects to be discussed, and this anticipation fueled the prevalent apprehension. Observing our president's actions, we note that certain matters concerning the Russian Federation were deliberated behind closed doors, with decisions also being made discreetly by our leadership. Specifically, I would like to remind you of the decision regarding the Pitsunda state residence. Neither parliamentary deputies nor the public were aware of the signed agreement. The new parliamentary assembly was only informed about this three months into their tenure. The apartment issue was also under discussion. We're troubled by these topics initiated by our president, fearing they might instigate a degree of Russophobia. Why this concern? It's because our society holds Russia and its people in high regard; we would be loath to tarnish this relationship. Yet, at times, the leadership artificially frames these concerns as a power-versus-opposition dynamic. The apprehension stems from the potential emergence of issues unknown to the public, as we often discover such initiatives only post facto.
– Based on President Aslan Bzhania's recent interview with "Izvestia", he mentioned that Abkhazia is considering the prospect of potentially joining the Russia-Belarus union state in the foreseeable future. Could you share your thoughts on the president's remarks? How did it resonate with you, and what do you anticipate will be its reception in Abkhazia?
– The discussion regarding our republic potentially joining the union state of Russia and Belarus isn't new; it has been a topic of conversation for some time now. As far back as the initial meeting between Putin and Bzhania in 2020, this subject was brought up by Aslan Bzhania, if memory serves me correctly. Even then, some of my colleagues published articles regarding this possibility. These talks mainly revolve around establishing protective mechanisms in the security domain, which would preclude the possibility of military conflicts. I won't delve into the current global and regional scenarios right now, but there exists an undeniable risk, although, from Georgia's standpoint, I presently discern more pragmatism. The chance of low-intensity military conflicts arising is there, and I don't entirely dismiss it. We should be directing our attention not just to the non-use of force agreement, which we've been advocating for in recent years. If we reflect upon world history, it becomes evident that no document has ever truly prevented the onset of military confrontations. Hence, we must be more proactive in establishing protective mechanisms for our security and the region at large. One such mechanism, which I frequently allude to, is the potential for international transit through our country and Georgia. This is of profound interest to the Russian Federation and other major stakeholders. Furthermore, we should intensify our dialogue concerning the repeal of the law on occupied territories and persuade the international community, especially our neighbours in Georgia, that we are not an occupied land. Such a move would provide a significant economic impetus for various investors, including those from the Russian Federation.
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– Givi, when it comes to the potential alignment with the union state, what's your stance? How do you interpret this possibility?
– Our primary objective remains the establishment of an independent and sovereign nation. However, contingent upon certain conditions, our populace does entertain the idea of amalgamating with the Russia-Belarus union state, provided it's an equal partnership. But there's a prerequisite that's beyond our control – an official recognition of our nationhood by Belarus, an affirmation of our sovereignty and independence. Since 2008, Belarus has hesitated in this regard. Hence, any comprehensive dialogue can only transpire post this crucial acknowledgment.
– Aslan Bzhania also made a statement indicating that Sukhum is prepared to deepen its military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation, and that a new permanent base for the Russian Navy will be established on the Black Sea coast in Abkhazia. Could you comment on this matter?
– As for the enhanced military-technical cooperation between our nations, it is already outlined in the broader alliance and strategic partnership agreement, as well as in interdepartmental agreements between our defence ministries. This isn't a new development; it has been in planning for a long time. Perhaps it hasn't proceeded at the pace we'd desire, especially in terms of military-technical cooperation. Regarding the Ochamchira port and the basing of certain Black Sea Fleet ships or a portion of it there, this isn't new in Abkhazian politics either. Discussions and negotiations about the joint use of the Ochamchira port by the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia have been ongoing for years, and as far as I know, an agreement has been reached to use this port on mutually beneficial terms.
– Givi, could you elaborate on the essence of these "mutually beneficial terms"?
– The crux of it is that a portion of this port will be used by the Abkhazian side for economic purposes. Meanwhile, another portion will be utilised by the Russian Federation for military objectives.
– Givi, considering the war in Ukraine and recent information that a drone made its way to Sochi, aren't you concerned that a Naval base in Ochamchira might pose a security threat to the citizens or the country as a whole? What are your thoughts?
– Any military base or basing point can serve as both protection and a potential threat. However, our discussions about the Ochamchira port began before the military operation in Ukraine unfolded. To put it simply, it's a double-edged sword, but from our perspective, it represents more of a security measure than a threat, in my view.
This interview was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.