Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:
Sergei Bagapsh: Prime Minister Putin, thank you very much on behalf of our elders, the Council of Elders. You met our Council. They are the leaders of our regional branches of the Council of Elders.
You have a good understanding of what the word elder means for any people, but particularly for Abkhazians and people from the Caucasus. We are glad that the current Council of Elders includes highly respected people, all of who have significant life experience, experience earned in the service of many different organisations. And today, during these difficult times, as we establish our own country, what these people say, these people's words, should carry great weight, because of all that they have seen and experienced in life. And they will say what they must say.
Now, on their behalf, and speaking in a personal capacity, I thank you for finding the time, despite of your hectic schedule... When we were preparing for this, Mr Putin said the Council of the Elders comes first of all, and then everything else. And so welcome.
Konstantin Ozgan (chairman of the Abkhazian Council of Elders): Prime Minister Putin, let me, on behalf of all my comrades, the members of the Council of Elders of Abkhazia, welcome you to our ancient Abkhaz land. The people of Abkhazia thank Russia, the Russian President, and you, Prime Minister Putin, for the peace that we have now throughout Abkhazia, and for recognising our country.
We are closely examining the agreement that was signed by the Governments of Russia and Abkhazia. The people of Abkhazia believe in the Russian Government, the people of Abkhazia trust the Russian President, and the people of Abkhazia trust you, Mr Putin. The Republic of Abkhazia is Russia's reliable ally.
I have a particular perspective. I have been involved in Abkhazian and North Caucasus politics for a long time. After what happened in August last year in the North Caucasus, the Russian Government made a very strong, brave decision, perhaps even one which damaged its own foreign policy. When the Russian state put an end to the aggression, it saved the people of South Ossetia from annihilation.
After that came the recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia. The people of Abkhazia and the peoples of the Caucasus saw this as a sign that Russia is the guarantor of peace, political stability, and prosperity in the Caucasus and in the Republic of Abkhazia.
But I think that this understanding alone is not sufficient. It is vital for the Council of Elders of the North Caucasus Republics, and maybe even for the forum of the Council of Elders of the whole Caucasus and the Council of Elders of Abkhazia, to announce to the whole world that neither the United States, nor the NATO member states, nor any European country can act as guarantor here, in this land. And that the people of the North Caucasus and the peoples of Abkhazia think only Russia can be that guarantor.
In this regard I think that perhaps it makes sense for the Council of Elders to make this their priority, and to be more active. Today we, in the Council of Elders of the Republic of Abkhazia, agreed that we consider this to be the chief focus of our activity.
Prime Minister Putin, you are recognised worldwide. You are involved in solving problems worldwide. We thank you for the fact that you are here, today, in Abkhazia. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Thank you for finding time for this meeting today.
Mr Bagapsh and I have spoken extensively about our relationship. I have just met with representatives of the opposition. I was pleased to observe that the Russian-Abkhaz relationship is not politicised; it is above party politics. And there is an absolute consensus in Abkhazian society regarding the development of our relationship. That is very important.
I would like to assure you, to tell you, that we have almost worked out the fundamental parameters of this relationship with the Republic's administration, and that we will now refine the details of our planned cooperation, the plans for cooperation on rebuilding the Republic's economic potential.
But, in my opinion, the most important work has been carried out by you, the elders, the people of the older generation in Abkhazia. Because it was you who raised those people on whom the status and future of the Republic now rests. Their courage enabled you to withstand the blockade, and allowed you to insist on your right to independence in 1992 and 1993. This is what laid the groundwork for today's circumstances, for Russia's recognition of the Republic's independence.
I know that there are many such able people. I do not doubt that Russia will find that it has a reliable friend on its southern border with Abkhazia.