Director of ORSAM
Sergei Bagapsh won again in the Dec. 12 presidential elections held in Abkhazia, which has declared a one-sided (de facto) independence from Georgia. These elections were his second victory; he had won against Raul Hadjimba in presidential elections held on Oct. 3, 2004.
During his election campaign Bagapsh had vowed to develop the country’s economy, raise living standards and increase wages. He also said that in terms of foreign policy, economic and political ties would be strengthened with the Russian Federation, which recognizes Abkhazia’s independence. In his first term as president, from 2005 to 2009, Bagapsh lifted the economic embargo imposed by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) between 1996 and 2008. In this way, the Abkhazian economy was enlivened as 1.3 million tourists began visiting the country annually, and the country began to renew itself. Preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, three hours away from the capital, Sukhum, have also contributed to the economic revival. The August 2008 war (the Five-Day War) ensured the addition of Upper Kodor to Abkhazia. On Aug. 26, 2008 the Russian Federation recognized Abkhazia’s independence.
In 2009, Abkhazia adopted a multifaceted foreign policy initiative. It began creating ties with nations not under the influence of the US and NATO. Through this multifaceted foreign policy initiative, after Russia, they gained recognition from Nicaragua and Venezuela. Abkhazian parliamentarians went to Latin America and requested support for their country. Most recently, on Dec. 14, the Pacific island state of Nauru recognized Abkhazia, meaning that four UN members recognize the state’s independence. Nauru’s membership in the Commonwealth of Nations is important also in cracking open a new door for increased recognition of Abkhazia’s independence. But it is also important to recall that Nauru, which struggled against the British Empire in the 1960s for its independence, which it gained in 1967, was first recognized as independent by the Soviet Union, which was also the first to support its struggle.
The Bagapsh administration has also placed a priority on developing relations with those of Abkhazian descent who live outside Abkhazia and with the nations that they live in. As part of this political initiative, relations are being strengthened with countries such as Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Jordan, and Abkhazians living in the EU nations. But with a change made to Abkhazian election law, Abkhazian citizens who live abroad and have the right to vote could only do so in the Russian cities of Moscow and Cherkessk. As for the roughly 600,000 Abkhazian citizens living in Turkey and the Abkhazian citizens with the right to vote living in other nations, they didn’t have the opportunity to cast votes.
While during his first term in office Bagapsh was the president of a “de facto” state, he is now the head of state in a country that has begun to be recognized as “de jure.” For this reason, history has placed great responsibility upon his shoulders during his second term. In the next 10 years, Abkhazia will choose to become a mini satellite of the Russian Federation and become the next money laundering site for the Russian oligarchy after Cyprus. Or, protecting its good relations with Russia, it will try new ways to establish better relations with the nations of the world, beginning with its region.
This article was first published in Today's Zaman on 25 December 2009