Aug 29, 2011

Abkhazia: In Russia’s Shadow, Abkhazia Elects President

Abkhazian elections were deemed a success as the former vice president – Aleksandr Ankvab – was elected President by 55% of the votes. These free and fair elections have been acknowledged by Russia whose presence in Abkhazia has created a sense of calm and security for the Abkhaz people.  

Below is an article published by The New York Times


SUKHUMI, Georgia — Aleksandr Z. Ankvab has been elected president of Abkhazia, a rebel enclave of Georgia still struggling for legitimacy three years after Russia unilaterally declared it a sovereign nation.

Abkhazia’s Central Elections Commission announced on Saturday that Mr. Ankvab, the former vice president, won with nearly 55 percent of the vote, besting two opponents.

The election, which was held on Friday, was fairly unusual for regions of the former Soviet Union in that the outcome was not known beforehand, and it appeared to adhere to democratic principles.

But observers said the results would do little to alter politics in Abkhazia, a slice of subtropical land on the Black Sea that is dependent on Russia for its survival.

Russia unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway Georgian enclave, in August 2008, shortly after winning a brief war with Georgia over the territories. So far, Russia is the only major country to have done so, and it remains both regions’ sole guarantor of security and economic viability.

Georgia, which considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia its sovereign territory and accuses Russia of overseeing an occupation, refused to recognize the election.

“I don’t think this is going to change anything fundamentally,” said Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for the Georgian government. “We don’t take any position except for deeming these elections illegal.”

Unlike in previous years, Russia took no visible role in promoting any candidate, suggesting that whoever won would continue to be beholden to Moscow.

“Russia is mainly interested in the situation in Abkhazia remaining stable,” said Semyon V. Grigoriev, Russia’s ambassador to Abkhazia. “We do not think these elections will change our relations in the near future. We will remain close.”

Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, sent his congratulations to Mr. Ankvab after the results were announced on Saturday.

The snap election was called after the death in May of President Sergei V. Bagapsh, who is credited with securing the break with Georgia while preventing annexation by Russia.

There are some Abkhaz who have grown uneasy over Russia’s influence in Abkhazia. Moscow maintains 5,000 troops and border guards in the territory and has sought greater control over its assets, particularly its beachfront real estate.

But in interviews at polling places in Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s capital, many voters expressed satisfaction with the current arrangement, saying Russia had allowed them to feel secure for the first time in years. The Abkhaz had long feared a resumption of hostilities with the Georgians, whom they expelled after a brutal war in the early 1990s.

“The Abkhaz people are living now without a sense that cannons are being pointed at them,” said Georgi Sukhba, a 76-year-old pensioner. “Russia has given us this. No other country could.”