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My reaction to the attempt on the life of Abkhazian president Aleksander Ankvab, by Richard Berge

Richard Berge | Special to Abkhaz World

Much has already been written about the attempt on the life of Abkhazian president Aleksander Ankvab in Gudauta on 23rd of February. In Abkhazian society, condemnation of the attack has been virtually unanimous, with impromptu demonstrations taking place in support of the president in the capital Sukhum(i). The reaction of the Abkhazian blogosphere has also been harsh, with Abkhazian journalist, blogger and social critic Inal Khashig calling it an attack on Abkhazian sovereignty. On 26th February, the Russian Caucasus expert Sergei Markedonov also weighed in with his opinion, arguing that the attempted assassination sows doubts about Abkhazia’s ability to function as an independent state. Markedonov also views the problem of organised crime as an obstacle to attaining wider international recognition for the small Caucasian republic.

It is important to note that the attack on Ankvab was not primarily an attack on the office of Abkhazian president and the sovereignty of Abkhazia; rather it was specifically on the person of Aleksander Ankvab, whose past as Abkhazian Minister of Interior brought him into conflict with powerful members of the criminal underworld. Ankvab has survived numerous assassination attempts, all blamed on organised crime, the last time in July 2007 when he was still Prime Minister.

In addition to this, it has been speculated that Ankvab’s recent anti-corruption drive against a number of Abkhazian officials has upset some influential people, who, in turn, might have ordered the attack. The possibility that the assassination-attempt was orchestrated by foreign intelligence services is seen as unlikely but cannot be totally ruled out either. Regardless of the true nature of the attack and the identity of the attackers, it is certain that it raises serious questions about the capability of the Abkhazian authorities to exercise effective control over the territory of the republic, to uphold the public trust, and to administer justice. 

Still, it is unlikely, as Markedonov argues, that this assassination-attempt will affect Abkhazia’s chances of attaining wider international recognition. After all, the game of international recognition has more to do with realpolitik and the geopolitical ambitions of powerful international players than with the internal affairs of small republics like Abkhazia. However, both Khashig and Markedonov are right when they argue that the sovereignty and long term viability of the Abkhazian state are at stake. While international recognition can certainly boost sovereignty in a juridical and symbolic sense, substantial sovereignty comes from a state’s ability to build robust state-institutions and a well-functioning economy which are both democratic and responsive, in the case of institutions, and free of all forms of corruption.

Strong and efficient state-institutions and economies are a crucial part of what has enabled states such as Taiwan and Israel to survive and thrive, despite not being recognised by large parts of the international community and in the face of hostile neighbours. If the Abkhazian authorities are serious about defending their sovereignty and safeguarding the long-term development-prospects of their state, they should redouble their efforts to fight crime and corruption, starting with finding and punishing those responsible for the attack on Aleksander Ankvab.

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