Jul 06, 2011

Abkhazia: Third Presidential Candidate Expected As Political Process Continues

Ongoing political debates regarding the Presidential candidates of Abkhazia only strengthen evidence of political autonomy.

Below is an article published by the Georgian Daily:

On June 20 [2011], the Forum of the National Unity of Abkhazia issued a statement about the nomination of a candidate for the presidency in the Georgian breakaway territory of Abkhazia. It is expected that Raul Khadzhimba will become the third candidate in the Abkhaz presidential elections scheduled to take place on August 26 [2011].

Following the sudden death of the president of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh in Moscow on May 29 [2011], an intriguing scramble for power is unfolding in this small, but politically important region. The two primary candidates for the presidency in this territory are Sergei Shamba, the prime minister of Abkhazia and Alexander Ankvab, the vice president and, currently, the acting interim head of Abkhazia. According to some estimates, Raul Khadzhimba may garner as much as 20 percent to 25 percent of the votes and thereby become a possible kingmaker in Abkhazia. The chances of Khadzhimba joining forces with Shamba are reportedly significantly lower than Khadzhimba’s support for Ankvab’s candidacy.

Moscow officially recognized Abkhazia as an independent country in August 2008 after the so-called five-day Russia-Georgia war, despite fierce protests in Georgia and among western countries. Since then, Abkhazia has grown even more dependent on Russia for security guarantees and its economic survival.


Both the main candidates share much in common, however, including their explicit pro-Russian orientation and reluctance to criticize Moscow even when it comes to defending Abkhazia’s national interests. Shamba is described as a more diplomatic and flexible political figure, while Ankvab has a reputation for his principled position on fighting corruption.

Alexander Ankvab survived five attempts on his life in Abkhazia. The latest occurred in September 2010. So many attempts on a politician’s life in Abkhazia appear to indicate that there are some forces in Russia who are unhappy with him. In 2008, Moscow reportedly wanted to remove Ankvab from his post as prime minister, but Sergei Bagapsh defended him, since Ankvab enjoyed support from Abkhaz war veterans. Ankvab seems to have had uneasy relations with Moscow for some reason. But at the same time Ankvab’s spectacular early career in the interior ministry during the late Soviet era and in particular his appointment to the political department of Georgia’s interior ministry in 1984 strongly suggest his roots in the KGB. Ankvab also spent 10 years living in Moscow, unlike the more homegrown candidate Sergei Shamba. Thus, if there is a conflict between Alexander Ankvab and Moscow it is likely to be a tactical one, not reflecting any particular rebellious character or unruliness of Abkhazia’s acting president. Ankvab and Khadzhimba’s cooperation during the elections will make much sense as both men appear to have old ties with the Soviet and later the Russian security services.

Shamba’s biography, in contrast to Ankvab, reflects a more self-made man with an academic background that often bred nationalists across the Caucasus in the 1980s. Shamba appears to have been elevated to high positions due to his outstanding diplomatic skills as well as twists of recent rocky history of Abkhazia.


Anxious about losing a shaky majority in their homeland, the Abkhaz are trying to zealously ward off possible infringements on the current ethnic balance status-quo. In 2010 this caused a scandal in Russian-Abkhaz relations as the Abkhaz government refused to return property to Russian citizens who left Abkhazia prior to the war of 1992-1993. Moreover, a short border dispute erupted between Abkhazia and Russia over a small village in the mountains that Moscow reportedly wanted for the purposes of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.


The political underpinnings of the outwardly religious conflict in Abkhazia are obvious – the Abkhaz are increasingly resentful of actual or perceived attempts by Moscow to control their country. “Moscow needs to understand that Abkhaz independence is not a sham,” Abkhaz print publication editor Inal Khashig said in an interview for Kommersant-Vlast. The problem, however, is that Moscow considers Abkhazia’s independence as “a fake.” Referring to Ukraine as “not even a state” and condescendingly treating other CIS countries, Vladimir Putin is unlikely to seriously perceive Abkhazia as an equal partner for Russia, especially given the uncertain circumstances of Abkhazia’s statehood.

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