SUKHUM / AQW'A ― A press conference with President of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, was held on Thursday, 19 October, where he addressed a range of concerns raised by the republic's media representatives.
While the President answered many questions, we highlight some of the crucial ones below:
On the Investment Programme
President Bzhania informed the media about an anticipated reduction in Russian funding through the Investment Programme meant to boost Abkhazia's socio-economic development.
"In the past three years, our focus under this programme has been infrastructure enhancement, which is pivotal for our economy's growth. This includes roads, energy, water supply, and sewerage," he explained. "However, we will ensure the completion of vital projects like the children's hospital in Sukhum."
He emphasised the need for Abkhazia to self-finance, saying, "Though the investment programme is now a tenth of what it was a decade ago, our gratitude to the Russian Federation remains. Yet, we must learn self-reliance."
Regarding Apartment Construction
"Apartment construction isn't banned in Abkhazia," stated Bzhania, underscoring the ongoing apartment construction activities. He advocated for legal regulation, saying, "A law outlining the legal status of apartments will help streamline regulations and boost tax revenues."
He refrained from politicising the matter, entrusting the Parliament with the decision-making. "Apartments are an economic concern; let's not politicise it."
On Engaging with the Opposition
Bzhania revealed that efforts are ongoing to engage the opposition in dialogue. Touching on the apartment matter, he expressed disappointment with its politicisation and emphasised respect for the Parliament's jurisdiction.
+ President Bzhania Responds to Zelensky's Call for Georgia to Engage in Conflict
+ Another Day, Another EU Concern: The Unending Tale of Failed Conflict Resolutions
Russian Navy's Presence in Abkhazia
Bzhania confirmed that the Russian Navy's base in Ochamchira seaport aligns with Abkhazia's interests. "Strengthening our defensive capabilities is paramount. The support of our allies is crucial," he remarked. Referring to rising global tensions, he said, "An official decree has been issued for the Russian Navy's basing. Specifics, especially on military security, should remain discreet."
Ministry of Internal Affairs' Performance
Bzhania acknowledged a noticeable decline in major crimes in Abkhazia but raised concerns over increasing road accidents. "Vehicle registrations have nearly doubled since 2019, but our roads remain unchanged," he said. For enhancing road safety, he highlighted improvements to the republican highway and mentioned a new road safety programme with a 30 million ruble (around $310,000) budget for 2023. "Soon, Abkhazia will have a centre to manage all road violations," he added.
Regarding the Council of Ministers' Site
Addressing concerns over the dilapidated state of the government building complex at Freedom Square, the President described the premises as a crime hotspot. With restoration estimated to cost over two billion roubles, Bzhania discussed prospects of a multifunctional complex. "While decisions are pending, we will ensure public and expert consultations," he promised.
Bzhania announced that the public will soon be informed about the contractor for the Sukhum Airport's reconstruction. He assured that all expenses will be borne by the investor, with technical flights scheduled for July and a launch date set for 31 December 2024.
Relations with Belarus
Highlighting the emerging diplomatic ties with Belarus, Bzhania termed it a significant development. "Although premature to anticipate Belarus recognising Abkhazia's independence, our ties are growing. Our primary alliance remains with the Russian Federation, followed by Belarus," he said.
Support for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses
President Aslan Bzhania discussed the support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Abkhazia. He highlighted the disparity in tourism numbers, noting that Sochi welcomed 7.2 million tourists in 2022, while Abkhazia anticipates only 600,000 by the close of 2023.
"There is significant potential for growth. All our small hotels were fully booked during the peak season, yet we lack road hotels. Smaller guesthouses serve a different market segment, and our tourism market is far from saturation. There is ample room for expansion, and we must seize this opportunity," the President emphasised.
Bzhania added that hotel business investors contribute substantially to the tax revenue. He dispelled the notion that large tourism enterprises threaten smaller businesses, stating, "There is a market for every offering." The President also mentioned the availability of preferential lending programs to bolster the growth of SMEs.