Abkhaz Leaders Wary of Russian Integration Proposal

Russia’s vassal in the South Caucasus is unwilling to give up its independence.

A Russian proposal to deepen security cooperation with the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia is meeting resistance not just from Tbilisi but the region itself. While the separatist enclave on the Black Sea coast has few allies besides Russia, it is reluctant to surrender sovereignty to it.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, acting Abkhaz president Valeri Bganba said Russia’s proposals were unacceptable. When lawmakers were presented with the details last week, the reaction was “close to” negative, he said, “because many points are about losing sovereignty.”

Russia proposes to merge the Abkhaz and Russian forces stationed in the area and give itself the right to take command of the joint force in times of crisis.

Abkhazia has depended on Russian economic and military support since it seceded from Georgia in 1993. Georgia most recently attempted to retake control of the territory in 2008 when it also attacked South Ossetia, another breakaway province. Without Russian support, it is doubtful the two statelets would have been able to withstand the Georgian offensive.

Under a proposed treaty, Abkhazia would also harmonize its customs and tax regulations with those of the Eurasian Economic Union which is due to go into effect next year. Besides Russia, the trade bloc includes Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic in Central Asia, has expressed an interest in joining.

In order to entice Abkhazia to accept the proposal, Russia has promised to pay for the increases in Abkhaz pensions and public-sector salaries needed to align them with those in Russia.

South Ossetia is more enthusiastic about integration. Following Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, its leaders openly called on Russia to annex them as well. So did lawmakers in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria.

Russia is one of few countries that recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It does not recognize Transnistria as such.

Georgia described the proposed Russian treaty as yet another attempt to seize control of its territory. President Giorgi Margvelashvili called on parliament and the country’s international partners to act.