Staunton, February 19 – In reporting on new bilateral treaties between Russia and Abkhazia and South Osetia, Vladimir Mukhin of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says that with these actions, “Moscow is abolishing the border” with the two breakaway republics, effectively setting the stage for “the expansion of Russian territory in the Trans-Caucasus.”
Two days ago, he reports, Vladislav Surkov, a close advisor to Vladimir Putin, said in Sukhumi that “the border between [Russia and Abkhazia] will soon disappear” after Abkhazia brings its legislation and practice into line with Russia’s and that of the Eurasian Economic Union (ng.ru/politics/2015-02-18/1_border.html).
And Mukhin cites the words of Vladimir Popov, whom he identifies as an expert on the problems of the Caucasus, to the effect that “’these Trans-Caucasus republics given Moscow’s economic assistance are in fact becoming unique confederative subjects of the Russian Federation.’”
Not surprisingly and with an eye to the implications of this move in light of Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea, Georgia, the US, and NATO reacted angrily, with some in the Western alliance characterizing these latest moves as representing “an act ‘of the annexation of Abkhazia by Russia.’”
The Russian foreign ministry has rejected such suggestions arguing that facilitating the movement of people and goods across borders by simplifying border procedures is a normal part of the agendas of neighboring countries and pointing out that this process will take some time given the requirements Abkhazia and South Osetia must meet before anything happens.
But as Mukhin reports, more is going on than just simplifying border crossings. The accords also make it easier for citizens of Abkhazia and South Osetia to acquire Russian citizenship, point toward the inclusion of those republics within Russia’s Southern Military District, and mandate that Moscow will promote their international recognition.
Perhaps the best way to characterize what is occurring is to employ a term that the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist doesn’t. This is “hybrid empire building,” and Putin clearly thinks he will be able to parry any objections to it given that at least at present there is little evidence that the West will do anything more than that.