Updated: Aug 28, 2019
By: Dominique Gomez
Origins of Abkhazia’s Foreign Policy
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to declarations of independence by its former republics. Several outbreaks of inter-state clashes and wars of independence occurred, leading to the political landscape seen today.
Ganerally, Western policy was to recognize the independence of former Soviet Socialist Republics, but not autonomous regions within those republics, or territories made up of ethnic minorities who were also seeking independence.
Some of these territories have gained de facto independence but have not been internationally recognized as independent state - leading to a state of 'frozen conflict.' These entities have also be referred to as 'post-Soviet frozen conflict zones,' because their political status has been 'frozen in time' since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
The Georgia-Abkhaz war that ensued from 1992-1993 is a good example of such a case. With the withdrawal and official defeat of the Georgian forces, Abkhazia successfully won the war and a ceasefire between the two parties was established in 1994 - leading to de facto sovereignty over its territory.
As a result, the Republic of Abkhazia came into fruition, declaring its official independence from Georgia in 1999. Abkhazia held its first ever democratic presidential elections in 2014.
However, the European Union and Georgia denounced the legitimacy of the elections, in line with its historical policy of not recognizing such states and their political processes.
After the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, Russia officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. With this, tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated, creating varying perspectives on whether or not member-states in the United Nations should consider the possibility of recognizing Abkhazia as an independent country.
That being said, regional organizations such as the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), among others, have yet to officially recognize the Republic of Abkhazia in fear of aggravating tensions in the region, as well as creating other similar cases across the globe.
Despite its unrecognized status, Abkhazia is home to several diplomatic missions including: Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru, aside from Russia - all of which have officially recognized the country.
In 2011, Nauru and Vanuatu recognized the independence of Abkhazia. However, differing political and diplomatic concerns of Nauru and Vanuatu arose, leading both countries to withdraw their recognition of Abkhazia in 2014.
In addition, Abkhazia currently operates several diplomatic missions around the world.
These missions include; three in Russia, Venezuela, South Ossetia, Transnistria, China, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Germany, Turkey, Syria, Greece, Tunisia, Italy, Jordan and Austria.
Membership in International Organizations
Although the country is unrecognized, and largely unable to join international organizations, there are a few exceptions.
Abkhazia is a member of various international and regional organizations such as: WVI (World Vision International), MSF (Medecins Sans Frontriers), DRC (Danish Refugee Council), IRC (International Community of the Red Cross), PU (Premier Urgence), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and lastly, the HALO Trust.
As of 1991, the Republic of Abkhazia is also represented in the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization) by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Abkhazia – Russia Relations
The formal and diplomatic relations of Abkhazia and Russia are seen through the lens of several partnerships and mutual agreements between the two parties over the previous decades.
The relations between these two states mainly comprises security, defense and economic ties since the recognition of independence. Notably, Russia deems Abkhazia as a “special, strategic and an allied character” in their bilateral endeavors.
In this regard, Russia has used Abkhazia as leverage against neighboring countries and Western allies - much in the same way it does other unrecognized countries (South Ossetia, Transnistria, Donetsk and Luhansk).
In 2009, Russia signed a five-year agreement with Abkhazia to formally command its borders.
Following this agreement, in 2014, Abkhazia and Russia signed a bilateral treaty which primarily focused on “alliance and strategic partnership.”
One of the main focal points of the agreement led to the creation of a joint Russian-Abkhazia military unit and a “joint information/coordination center of the organs of internal affairs.”
Aside from mutual defense agreements to protect Abkhazia from illegal outside intervention, Russian investment in Abkhazia amounts to 11 billion roubles or 60 percent of the annual budget - thus making Russia its primary trading partner.
The exports of Abkhazia to Russia mainly consists of alcohol, fruit and other agricultural products, while imports from Russia are comprised of food products, petrol, machinery, alcohol, tobacco and industrial items.
Alongside the growth in agricultural trade, Russia has been consistent in its efforts to provide economic support to Abkhazia since its independence.
In 2014, Russian president, Vladimir Putin announced that they will continuously invest in Abkhazia by providing more than 12 billion roubles until the year 2019.
Consequently, Russia will actively provide financial aid to Abkhazia for an increase in the salaries of government employees, healthcare and pensions to the Abkhaz citizens.
As of present, Russia announced that it will supply electricity to Abkhazia, due to the critical situation of its main power source, the Enguri HPP. With this, the Ministry of Economy of Georgia and the Electricity System Commercial Operator (ESCO) of Russia signed an agreement. The agreement states that both countries will supply the region of Abkhazia with electricity - sourcing from Russia.
Abkhazia – Syria Relations
In 2018, the Syrian Arab Republic formally and officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. The diplomatic gesture was made in “gratitude for the assistance against terrorist aggression,” in the civil war in Syria, as a token of appreciation to the military aid given by the Russian Federation.
Following this, the Syrian foreign ministry announced plans to establish a diplomatic mission in Abkhazia.
After the breakout of civil war in Syria, Abkhazia began its campaign of repatriation of its own diaspora in Syria, known as “Abkhaz” in the war-torn country.
The repatriation process of ethnic Abkhazians in Syria is active until to this day, with the participation and assistance of Russia to the concerned individuals.
Tourism in Abkhazia
Abkhazia is widely known as the “Soviet Riviera” and was commonly known as a popular holiday destination for the Soviet elites.
At the time, the most popular tourist site in Abkhazia was the Sanitarium of Ms. Gaivoronskaya. It was originally built in 1952 to serve as a retreat spot for the secret police of Stalin, the former leader of the Soviet Union.
The sanitarium offers exclusive access to a pebble beach of the Black Sea, a statue of Stalin and private rooms inspired and decorated by the 1950s Soviet era.
In 1960, the Communist Party Central Committee took over the sanitarium as their primary vacation spot.
Based on a report by the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the only way for visitors to gain access to Abkhazia is by physically entering the country through its borders which are heavily guarded by Russian soldiers.
All foreign nationals are required to apply for a tourist visa with the exception of Russian nationals. In 2016, the number of tourists to Abkhazia grew to 1.5 million, with various foreign nationals visiting the country each year.
Tourism in the country has indeed been shaped by the country’s foreign relations and policy. According to the Minister of Resorts and Tourism in Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia, it is estimated that 90 percent of the tourists that visit the country come from Russia, while as for the remaining visitors, they mostly originated from other former Soviet countries.
The Future of Abkhazia’s Foreign Policy
The Republic of Abkhazia is currently going through what seems to be an endless struggle to seek recognition. As such, it seems the road ahead will be a tough one.
At this point in time, it has been unable to gain legitimacy and recognition from countries outside of Russia’s influence.
Although, it is evident that the Abkhaz government is interested and consistent in its efforts to operate with states beyond Russian influence.
According to Mr. Pacher, Editor-in-Chief of Nouvelle Magazine, this stance of Abkhazia “signals that it has additional friends out there other than Russia and it is gradually normalizing its foreign policy behavior.”
Abkhazia is pushing forward with its attempt to be seen as a state that will act on its own accord to achieve its independent foreign policy objectives, strategic goals and national interests without the interference of external influences.
By doing so, Abkhazia is hoping to increase the possibility of being seen as more than just an ‘occupied region of Georgia.’
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