Abkhazia didn’t feature much in the headlines in recent years. The small territory on the eastern coast of the Black Sea separated from Georgia in a bloody conflict in the early 1990s. In 2008, it declared itself an independent state following the five-day Russo-Georgian War. Since then, there has been speculation about whether (or when) Russia, which supports Abkhazia financially and has troops stationed there, will take over the territory – especially since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. The protests in May of this year led to the resignation of President Alexander Ankvab and the scheduling of an election for August 24, 2014, adding further complexity to the existing situation. But how likely is Abkhazia to strive for closer ties or even unity with Russia following the vote? According to various observers, Abkhazia, unlike Crimea, is not a target of Russia’s expansionist ambitions.
The Black Sea region that broke away from Georgia more than 20 years ago might serve as a prime example of Russia‘s ability to impose its will on its neighbours through separatist movements. The Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia is holding snap presidential elections on Sunday that might not pass unnoticed. Russia‘s annexation of Crimea and its covert military support for the insurgents in eastern Ukraine reminds many of the war in the early 1990s that led to Abkhazia‘s secession from Georgia. But the ouster of president Alexander Ankvab, who quit on June 1 after protesters stormed his administration building in the regional capital Sukhumi, also reminded observers that the lush subtropical region has its own unresolved problems.
The parliament of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia has voted to hold early presidential elections in August, a deputy said on Saturday, in a move denounced by the prime minister as “revolutionary” after the opposition seized control. On Tuesday protesters broke into the capital’s presidential headquarters and opposition leaders formed a Provisional National Council in the Russian-backed province, which they say is now under their control since President Alexander Ankvab fled the capital.
Can voters be trusted with democracy? Not in Russia: Vladimir Putin barred plausible alternative candidates from standing and rigged votes to ensure his victory in the recent presidential election. If Mr Putin thought more highly of voters in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, he miscalculated. In November they voted for Alla Dzhioyeva over Anatoly Bibilov, the Russia-backed candidate. But the Supreme Court in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, annulled Ms Dzhioyeva’s victory, citing unconvincing allegations of fraud. The electorate has been given a second chance to get it right this Sunday, and the authorities have ensured Ms Dzhioyeva is no longer on the ballot. Voters in Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, were given more leeway in last summer’s presidential vote when they chose Alexander Ankvab over Sergei Shamba, Russia’s preferred candidate. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, even congratulated Mr Ankvab by telephone. Parliamentary elections in the region, on March 10th, were similar.
Parliamentary elections are being held in the separatist territory of Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia in a bloody war in the 1990s. Today there is a fragile ceasefire between Abkhazia and Georgia but some worry that signs of instability are growing in the region again. A burning car and a road strewn with machine guns and cartridges – that was the scene a few weeks ago, after Abkhazia’s President Alexander Ankvab was attacked in an ambush. He was on his way to work when a bomb blew up his car and men hidden behind the trees started firing with machine-guns. The president survived but his two bodyguards were killed. Mr Ankvab, who became president in August, says his main aim is to fight corruption. But in this region, that can be a risky undertaking.