Abkhazia Presidential Rivals seek Russian Mediation to end Chaos
Sergei Bagapsh, the rival to Moscow-backed candidate Raul Khadzhimba, was officially declared the winner of the Oct. 3 poll.
But he has failed to convince officials to let him take up the reins of power in the Black Sea territory, which won de facto independence from Georgia in a 1992-3 conflict.
Both Abkhaz separatist leaders seek closer ties with Russia and see Moscow’s patronage as crucial in their attempt to gain independence from Georgia.
But the disputed election result —- Khadzhimba argues the poll was fraudulently conducted and wants new elections —- has left a power vacuum in a key part of the strategically crucial South Caucasus region, where Moscow and Washington vie for influence.
Bagapsh has defied an order by the outgoing president for new elections and been quoted as saying he will go ahead with his inauguration regardless.
“Yes, they are both in Moscow,” said Roin Agrba, a spokesman for Khadzhimba, who was Abkhaz prime minister before the poll and won backing from Moscow after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“They are unlikely to be in Moscow to go to a restaurant,” he said laconically. “They are probably meeting with the Russian leadership, but the situation is very foggy.”
Bagapsh did not answer his mobile phone on Tuesday but Natalya Guliya, the Abkhaz representative in Moscow, said the two rivals had come to Russia. She did not know which Russian officials they would be meeting.
Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio quoted informed sources as saying the two men would be holding talks with each other mediated by Russian officials. Russian officials remained silent about their visit to Moscow.
Georgia accuses Moscow of employing double standards in tacitly supporting the internationally unrecognized administration in Abkhazia and in a separate rebel region of South Ossetia, while cracking down on its own separatist rebels in the Russian region of Chechnya.
Russia denies supporting Abkhazia, where some three-quarters of the population have been given Russian passports and pensions are paid from Moscow, and says high-level meetings are purely to exchange information.
Television and radio in Abkhazia have repeatedly been forced
off the air, parliament is blockaded by armed men while the premises of the
high court and election commission were taken over briefly by party activists.