Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Two Days after Qarabagh Declaration, Putin Moves to Tighten Moscow’s Grip on Abkhazia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Two days after Vladimir Putin orchestrated the signing of a declaration ending the most recent fighting in Qarabagh, he met with the president of Abkhazia and signed an agreement that gives Russia more power over that unrecognized breakaway republic in exchange for more Russian aid.

            Abkhaz President Aslan Gzhaniya had been seeking such a meeting for eight months because of the difficulties his republic faces, Russian Caucasus expert Arkady Dubnov says; but he got the meeting, either in Moscow or Sochi where Putin has identical offices only after the Qarabagh declaration (theins.ru/opinions/arkadij-dubnov/237622).

            The new agreement, which runs until 2023, has only now been published by Sukhumi (presidentofabkhazia.org/upload/iblock/dc5/programma-_1_.pdf). Its timing likely reflects the fact that Bzhaniya was more ready to make concessions after the Qarabagh fighting than before and that Putin feels his moves in one part of the Caucasus can be followed by moves elsewhere.

            The new accord’s 45 provisions give Russia a greater voice in Abkhaz affairs and further integrate that republic into Russia’s legal space in exchange for increased Russian subsidies to a place that finds it difficult if not impossible to get assistance from anywhere else, Dubnov continues.

            (Only six countries besides Russia recognize Abkhazian independence, and none of them – Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, Nauru, Vanuatu and Tuvalu – have the means to provide it with any help, the Russian analyst points out.)

            In presenting the accord to Abkhazians, Bzhaniya drew a parallel with what had just happened in Qarabagh, pointing out that the republic needs support lest Tbilisi, which does not recognize its secession as legitimate, move as Baku has and use force to reintegrate Abkhazia into the Republic of Georgia.

            Bzhaniya said that Putin for his part declared at their meeting that “the situation on the Eurasian continent and in the world as a whole is now such that we need special relations with Belarus, with the Abkhazians and with those who consider us to be close to them.” That dictates Moscow’s moves and requires further steps to “some kind of union.”

            Some in the West view this language as threatening the international order. The Czech foreign ministry denounced the November 12 accord and called on Moscow not to take steps in a direction that will destabilize the situation in the Caucasus or violate the armistice of August 2008. Dubnov says that it is likely Prague is speaking for the entire EU.

            There is a real danger, the analyst suggests, that if the West does not speak out even more forcefully, Putin will not only move toward the incorporation of Abkhazia into the Russian Federation but take the same approach to Transdniestria and even Karabakh. Clearly, November 10 thus opens a new period for Putin’s policies in the former Soviet space.


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