Abkhazia: Bagapsh Stands Fast for Independence
Nearly a year after Georgia’s war with Russia, Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh is determined that Tbilisi will never rule his land again.
Shrugging off international calls for Georgia’s territorial integrity to be respected, Bagapsh said the West needed to come to terms with his Russian-protected Black Sea statelet.
“Abkhazia will never again be a part of Georgia. We are building an independent state, and have no intention of going anywhere,” he said.
Following the five-day war, when Russian troops crushed a Georgian land and air assault on South Ossetia, Russia recognized both rebel territories as independent states — a move followed so far only by Nicaragua. Although the West has so far refused to acknowledge Abkhaz independence, Bagapsh said he still wanted dialogue.
“We are not asking for any help from the West. We are asking only for understanding, understanding that there’s no going back,” Bagapsh said in an interview, conducted late Wednesday.
Abkhazia’s dilapidated seaside capital, paint flaking from villas that were once the playgrounds of the Soviet elite, still bears the scars of 1990s fighting between Abkhaz separatists and Georgian forces. The torched shell of the former communist offices stands gathering weeds, and ruined homes are fenced off in the heart of Sukhumi.
By agreement, Russia has taken charge of securing the region’s borders. Several thousand Russian soldiers are stationed here, and the Russian military is building a naval port south of Sukhumi and an air base to the north.
Russian tourists stroll the seafront, the ruble is the currency, and Russian the lingua franca. Russia is almost the sole source of aid and trade.
In the aspiring country of 200,000 people — many holding Russian passports — some are asking whether Abkhazia has simply swapped Georgian rule for government from Moscow.
“We must understand one thing — no country in the world is absolutely independent,” Bagapsh said in his seafront office.
“They [the Russians] are protecting us, our children. For 15 years we’ve been living not knowing whether war will start tomorrow or the day after,” he said.
Bagapsh rejected renewing talks with the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has faced an emboldened opposition since the war.
“Today, the leadership of Georgia is an aggressive leadership, whose hands bear the blood of Abkhaz and Ossetians,” he said.