Abkhazia: Russia threatens Abkhazia blockade amid crisis
Russia threatened on Tuesday to halt all economic aid to the rebel Georgian region of Abkhazia if a political crisis in the region is not resolved.
The strategically important region, which depends almost entirely on cash from Moscow, was plunged into crisis last month when opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh won a presidential election.
Officials loyal to Moscow-backed candidate Raul Khadzhimba refused to allow him take power, prompting Bagapsh supporters to seize government buildings. The police have refused to obey government orders and a Russian mediation attempt has failed.
"We cannot send humanitarian and financial support in a situation when we do not have the possibility of controlling the use of these means," Interfax news agency quoted a Russian government spokesman as saying.
"The political situation in Abkhazia is not stable, and individuals are seeking to exploit this to come to power by illegitimate means," he said.
Abkhazia, which is officially part of Georgia but broke away in a war after the Soviet Union collapsed, is not recognised as an independent country by Russia. But 75 percent of residents have been given Russian passports and pensions from Moscow help keep the region's ruined economy afloat.
A full blockade, as suggested by some officials, would see Abkhazia cut off from the world and threaten what remains of an economy once rich in tea and tobacco.
"Russia will have to halt the dispatch of humanitarian aid to Abkhazia until the legal crisis is resolved," the spokesman was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Russian support for Abkhazia infuriates Georgia, which accuses Moscow of hypocrisy by backing separatists in Georgia while cracking down on its own rebels in Chechnya.
Analysts say Russia is keen to keep its foothold in Abkhazia to maintain sway over Georgia and the strategically crucial South Caucasus, where Washington has been extending its influence in recent years.
U.S. troops have been training the Georgian army, which aspires to join NATO and Georgia hosts a key Western-backed pipeline between the Caspian and Mediterranean seas.
But Georgia can take little comfort from victory for either of the two rivals
for power, since both fully support the region's independence.