Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with representatives of the Abkhaz opposition 

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, esteemed colleagues.

Mr Bagapsh and I have decided that this meeting would be timely during the first visit of a Russian Government delegation to Abkhazia. As I see it, the meeting is all the more necessary considering major recent changes in Russian-Abkhaz relations now that Russia has recognised the independence and state sovereignty of the Republic of Abkhazia.

You know how much Russia has done for this decision. Here I am not talking about material expenditures. I am, first and foremost, talking about human lives laid down for Abkhaz independence and a sense of security.

We and the Abkhaz Government have discussed our further partnership in practically all spheres-security, fortifying the border, security efforts by the Armed Forces and, last but not least, social development. 

President Bagapsh and I visited a maternity hospital to see its recent repairs. It is next door to the Central Republican Hospital. The plan we have drafted for 2010-2011earmarks total 10.9 billion-rouble allocations on social and economic development-infrastructural projects, transport, communications, social welfare, health services and education.  

I know that Abkhazia is preparing for major domestic political events, in particular, presidential elections. While supporting the Abkhaz nation in its striving for independence and sovereignty, Russia has never interfered in its domestic policy. Many in this gathering know this well.

However, we always rely on the incumbent authorities in our practical work. We cannot do otherwise because no one except the incumbents is responsible for the state of affairs in the republic.

But-I repeat-we never interfere in domestic political processes.

In addition, I continue by saying that Russian-Abkhaz contacts are vitally important not only for the independence and sovereignty of the Abkhaz state, but also for sheer survival of the Abkhaz people as an ethnic group. The essential importance of those relations and interstate links takes them beyond the limits of domestic political struggle, as I see from my contacts with the public. I am glad to see the supra-partisan nature of our relations and, I assure you, Russia will treat those relations as being above political parties.

Please go ahead.

Raul Khajimba: Thank you for sparing some time to meet with us-people no less responsible than others for what is going on in Abkhazia and its relations with Russia.

We have been building those relations for many years, irrespective of who has been at the helm. We are grateful to Russia for being the first to recognise Abkhazia and create conditions for us to get out of a situation that has encumbered Abkhaz developments all these years.

We see how much we as members of the opposition are responsible for the future of Abkhazia. We owe this realisation to the experience of political struggle we had before 2004. We never doubt that we can create conditions to avoid confrontation-but we have our own guiding principles and our own vision.

We are no different from the incumbents - that is our guiding star, whatever the press might be saying about the opposition. Abkhazia has no people who change and pursue other goals. We are building relations with Russia, and are going to do so in the future. We make it a point to be faithful to norms set by the previous and present leaderships. We all share goals.

The problematics of the inner content of our statehood raises certain questions. I believe this to be a normal process, and the authorities must realise the presence of questions that will be raised, and to be taken up in a normal political dialogue.

Gennady Alamia: I represent the World Congress of the Abkhaz-Abaza People. That is where I am involved politically. You see, the principal forces of Abkhaz opposition slightly differ from the classical concept of opposition. We have given you a book about Vladislav Ardzinba {the Abkhaz President from 1990 to 2004}. It presents the political line we have adhered to from the beginning, with a retrospective look on the national liberation movement, the war and post-war years. We have not given up their ideals. I often say jokingly that not us but people who have deviated from those ideals are true oppositionists.

We have our own stance on what is going on. Your visit and this reception matter a great deal to me. I am very grateful to you because of my contacts with the Abkhaz diaspora. You have visited Turkey recently, so you know its opinion of you. I think you have been told about it.

The Abkhaz diaspora has been indoctrinated for 150 years to believe that Tsarist Russia was conducting a policy hostile to Abkhazia and they had to flee due to that policy. We have overcome this brainwashing, I daresay-not only we but also Russia with its policy of the last few years. Relations towards Russia have made an amazing U-turn.

Not long ago I spent two months in Turkey visiting 14 cities. If the Turkish secret services were shadowing me, I will be never again admitted to that country. I told them out loud why Abkhazia should side with Russia. They understood.

Some border services are ruining it all. We are bringing ethnic Abkhaz tourist groups from Turkey to their ancestral land. A youth group is here now. You treat them well. If there are any suspicious people in those groups, you can spot them with my help. Don't treat them with the "they are from Turkey? I don't trust them" attitude. Such ways of thinking destroy what we are doing.

You probably understand what I want to say. Border guards should have unbiased attitudes towards those people because we are influencing them. Not that they should be admitted without any checks.

It is very difficult to exercise this kind of influence but we have been successful, to an extent. It is connected with the Olympics. Other countries are getting ready. They are spending huge money to indoctrinate the Caucasian diaspora, which is eight to ten million strong. Remember what Tibetans were saying worldwide during the Beijing Olympics? Something similar is brewing now, I am afraid. You know what sums South Korea is spending on such purposes. We take it all into consideration.

We should make 52 countries turn and face Russia and thank her after the Sochi Olympics. That is what we mean to do. I want you to see that we are not in a tug-of-war for power.

A recently adopted law gives the Abkhaz diaspora a status equal to that of Georgian refugees. We have arranged rallies and other act of protest because this law is a threat to the Abkhaz state.

Vladimir Putin: So you object to it?

Gennady Alamia: More than that. I was among the first to protest. I was shouting against it because such a law should be out of the question. No country in the world has done anything like that. Is Abkhazia anxious to be more progressive than the whole wide world?

Abkhazia should not offer itself into Russian slavery. I want to be Russia's friend. I know you regard Abkhazia as a beggar who whines: "We cannot do this and that, we cannot keep body and soul together without alms." True, we have to be as modest as a small nation should-but we must realise that we can become Russia's true friends.

This is very important to me. I have lived in Russia for 12 years and travelled around the country. I have gone to the back of beyond. I have written many verses about Russia. And if some agencies doomed to vanish soon come now and make dubious agreements, our relations will be spoiled.

We should not sow the seed today that might sprout evil tomorrow, I once said. Russian-Abkhaz relations must be guarded against headlong steps. As the whole world knows, we have no friend but Russia who would understand us.

Vladimir Putin: There is also Nicaragua, but it is very far away. True, there are no more friends.

Gennady Alamia: We really think so, not merely because we are in a deadlock. That is natural. Russians are our brothers, so we want to have rights equal to theirs. As I have said, your daughters and my son are of about the same age. Great Russia is behind them, and small Abkhazia behind my son. Does that mean they cannot make friends as equals do?

It will be fine if things go on like that. The Russian diaspora here is 150,000 strong, and the Abkhaz diaspora is about a million. We must convince them all to turn to Russia. That is even more important to Abkhazia than Russia. We are working to change public attitudes to Russia.

Thank you for everything you have done for us. We do need confirmation of our success from the Russian leadership. You said just a sentence about Abkhazia during your recent visit to Turkey. It was carried far and wide, and things improved much. They believe in me, thanks to you, and I am grateful.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. As for the diaspora in Turkey, the matter cannot be settled outside Russian relations with that country-this is the whole issue. But Russian-Turkish relations are developing apace.

In my view, our cooperation and neighbourly interaction with Turkey at today's level has never made such rapid progress before in previous years-never in history, to be frank, with the exception of Ataturk's short presidency, when Turkey had exceptional contacts with Soviet Russia. That was a very short time, and relations rested on quite a different basis.

Current relations base themselves on mutual interests and respect. I agree with everything you have said with the exception of one situation which I know better than you do, believe me. You say we Russians see Abkhazia standing with an outstretched hand. That is not the case. We treat Abkhazia as a small country and an Abkhaz people that has fallen into misfortune, as a fraternal nation that needs support but is in the position not merely to assert its independence, as it has done within the previous decades, but also to stand on its own two feet.

Abkhazia certainly needs help and support. Reciprocally, Russia needs a friendly country in the south; we are ready and will work for it.

Vladimir Zantaria: Mr Putin, thank you once again for this wonderful meeting. This is a rare occasion. I remember the strong impression you made about two years ago when you mentioned Abkhaz-Adyg and Abkhaz-Circassian genetic links in a live broadcast. We were glad to hear this from you.

Today, we have watched your interview on Abkhaz television, all of us together in our opposition headquarters. It is a subtle matter, and we are pleased to hear you refer to the history of Russian-Abkhaz relations and the period of incorporation of Abkhazia in Russia.

You are a man who understands all these subtleties by mind and intuition, and we are sure you are able to help us in overcoming other difficulties and issues existing for us now.

I want to inform you about the differences between the Abkhaz authorities and opposition-differences over essential matters, as Mr Raul Khajimba has said.

We believe we should join hands with the national leaders for clear-cut strategies on these problems. We have none yet, so headlong steps are made occasionally. I think you are too busy to have heard about amendments to the Citizenship Law of 2005, which our Parliament has passed.

As I see it, the law regulated the naturalisation of ethnic Georgians in the Gali District rather effectively. Still, the whole world recurs to particular forms of naturalisation during armed clashes. There are well-tested procedures, such as residence permits and suchlike.

Possibly, people who have cooperated with Abkhazia openly and fruitfully deserve naturalisation, and might be granted it-but to naturalise the entire population of the Gali District is a preposterous idea! Anti-Russian saboteur bands are in hiding to this day in the Lower Lakes and some other localities. Georgian gangs perpetrate anti-Russian acts even now.

So parliamentarians and reliable politicians should take a very responsible attitude to such decisions, and analyse all their aspects-legal, political, ethnic and cultural.

We have nothing against certain privileges for Georgian refugees returning after proper checks.

However, the latest amendments have caused public unrest in Abkhazia, with rallies. I think such decisions demand the utmost circumspection.

I want to make another remark. You have mentioned Abkhaz-Russian economic relations in your interview today. You have made a tactful reference to our economy being vulnerable after the war and the economic blockade. It has been said before, too.

We received a new lease of life in the 1990s. We know we had it thanks to your personal courage when you introduced border-crossing privileges. There was a time when exit from Abkhazia was banned to men. Now things are normal, more or less.

So when you talk about economics, we are pleased to hear about Russian aid and upcoming investments. But we should develop our economy ourselves. Regrettably, we have no clear economic concept and programme. It's all a trial-and-error business. I do not think it satisfies you, because we will never get out of dire straits unless we make at least small economic progress and monitor our budget. Just like Russia we have a corruption problem and other negative developments.

We also think that we oppositionists need a dialogue with the Abkhaz leadership. Currently, we have none. We speak to each other from a distance. This is bad. We have problems with access to information, though there is a relevant law. There are some other problems, too.

We are not too happy with the Russian press coverage of Abkhaz life. Not that we think we have the right to interfere in Russian press affairs but we see that unofficial viewpoints and opinions are mentioned extremely rarely. I was glad to see my recent interview published in Literaturnaya Rossiya, a weekly with a large readership. It pleased me as a writer. I did not seek contacts. The journalists found me themselves, and showed very objectively that I represented the opposition. That was good. But the Russian press presents clashing opinions only on rare occasions.

That is about all I have wanted to say. Thank you. We hope many problems of our concern will be settled. You Russians are helping Abkhazia. Its age-long dream has come true, however pretentious it might sound.

There are representatives of the national liberation movement of the 1970s and 80s in this gathering. I took part in it, too. I attended rallies appealing to Russia. Now, we have gained independence due to Russian help. We are euphoric. Now is the time to secure what has been achieved through bloodshed and thanks to generous Russian help. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Allow me to make comments.

First, I know about the Law On Citizenship in the Gali District. To be honest, Russia encouraged the former Abkhaz leadership in settling refugee return to the area.

Today, Abkhazia has something to report to the world. It can say to all who are not recognising its independence, and all who are encroaching on its interests at the negotiation table, that it is good on its pledges-which strengthens its position at talks.

As for those people's status, it is up to the Abkhaz leaders, public and Parliament. I have an opinion but I do not think I should express it now.

As for an economic development plan, you certainly remember the situation after World War Two. Europe never blushed to benefit from the Marshall Plan, though it possessed a sophisticated infrastructure, and could rehabilitate even single-handed after centuries of previous development. Progress needs an impetus.

That was why I met with President Bagapsh in Sochi some time ago, and that is why we have met again today to discuss the problem. We have blueprinted teamwork in 2010-2011. Our plan envisages 10.9 billion rouble allocations. Russia will carry on help with many social issues, continue pension payments, and so on.

This plan is not as ambitious and comprehensive as the Marshall Plan of European recovery, but it can give Abkhazia an impetus for independent development. To launch the independent progress of the Abkhaz economic basis, which includes tourism, energy, communications, development of natural resources, trade and consumer services is the basic goal of the plan. We have discussed all those spheres today.

As for the mass media, you are right to say that I can only recommend to government-financed outlets to reflect the official views of the Russian Government and Foreign Ministry. That is the function of government outlets. On the whole, however, they should reflect other points, too.

As for non-government outlets, we are often criticised for alleged attempts to handle them-which is wrong. Mind you, media people are attending this meeting. Their presence shows that I want you to be heard by the public. That is my personal stance.

Daur Arshba: I want to thank you for meeting with us and for all that Russia has done for Abkhazia in modernity.

As a member of Parliament, I cannot keep silent about the latest parliamentary situation around the passing and later abrogation of the bill on the Gali District.

You were right to say that the problem is rooted in the distant past. There is another complication-I do not think such a large number of refugees have returned after any other contemporary conflict. I think the Abkhaz leadership has complied with the relevant humanitarian standards.

However, there are international legal and political aspects to the problem. The population of the Gali District was not a mere onlooker. We regard it as one of the conflicting parties, so the problem demands a relevant approach.

This is not a domestic Abkhaz political conflict-it has a geopolitical content. The increase of the ethnic Georgian population might upset the demographic balance and be used as a tool of pressuring Abkhazia and changing the present geopolitical situation in the region.

We are monitoring all processes. We know about the attempts to pressure Russia when it was working for the international community to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

We know there are forces that are out to re-enact the past though that is hardly possible. We should withstand from headlong steps, as the one mentioned-but I think certain forces make use of such steps to influence Abkhaz domestic developments and use them on the international scene.

Source: Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Web Site




Articles & Opinion


Abkhaz World

Follow Us