Abkhazia's de facto leaders continue to express concern over military threats from Tbilisi should Georgia's ongoing wave of protests result in a change of government.
Last week, the authorities in Sukhumi restricted movement to Georgia proper ahead of an opposition party's pro-EU rally in Tbilisi.
Oddly, in reiterating their fears of being attacked, Abkhaz leaders very much echo the Georgian government's own conspiracy theory about the West trying to drag the country into Russia's war against Ukraine.
The Georgian opposition "plans to start new mass protests [on April 9], with the goal of changing the government in Georgia to a pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian government," the Abkhaz state security service said in a statement on April 8.
"A possible mechanism for consolidation of the fragmented Georgian society is the 'return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian jurisdiction'," the statement said. "This will make it possible to realize the plans of NATO countries and Ukraine to open a 'second front' against the Russian Federation."
Based on these fears and alleged intelligence that residents of Abkhazia's ethnic Georgian-populated Gali District were "actively recruited" to join the rally, the de-facto authorities greatly restricted movement to Tbilisi-controlled territory from April 7 to April 10.
It is not the first time the Abkhaz de-facto authorities have spoken of the risk of a "second front". This rhetoric is strangely harmonious with a conspiracy theory that has long blossomed -- and may have its origin -- in Tbilisi's governing circles.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia as a result of conflicts in the early 1990s during and after the Soviet collapse. After the brief Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Moscow recognized them as independent states and continues to back them politically and militarily. The two self-proclaimed states, however, lack broad international recognition.
After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, some officials in Kyiv, desperate for help in their defensive fight, called on Tbilisi to seize the opportunity to retake the regions by force.
The argument went that, since Russia failed to secure a quick victory in Ukraine and reportedly had to redeploy substantial military resources from Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the frontline, these regions would be ripe for Georgia's taking. And such a move would of course aid Ukraine by distracting Moscow's military.
The scenario, however, was soundly rejected by Georgia's political class: Both the ruling party and the opposition reiterated their commitment to the country's declared policy of seeking the restoration of territorial integrity "only through peaceful means and diplomatic efforts."
That policy has also enjoyed strong support from Georgia's Western allies (Georgia has taken similar commitments under Association Agreement with the European Union where it currently seeks membership) as well as civil society groups and the broader public.
But none of this stopped the "second front" conspiracy theory from flourishing in Tbilisi. Seizing on the initial calls from Kyiv, the ruling Georgian Dream party and its allies started attributing every criticism of its rule to a grand Western scheme -- backed by the domestic opposition -- to drag Georgia into war with Russia. And despite repeated denials by Western officials and diplomats, the conspiracy theory has been actively echoed in Moscow and the breakaway regions.
Those echoes intensified amid the March 7-9 protests in Tbilisi against the adoption of the controversial "foreign agent" laws.
The protests were focused on pushing the ruling party to recall the bills that threatened Georgia's EU prospects (and succeeded in doing so). But videos of occasional chanting of "Sukhumi" and "Tskhinvali" -- implying a hope for Georgians' eventual return to the two territories, from which hundreds of thousands were displaced -- were perceived by some as war cries.
This led to concerns on social media about the risks of Tbilisi attacking the breakaway regions in case of a government change. Those were met by assurances from Georgian voices that nobody is actually considering such a plan in Tbilisi, and that the chants were misinterpreted.
"Georgia has no time for Abkhazia at the moment, they have their own internal problems. But it's hard to predict what will come of this," Tass quoted Sergey Shamba, head of the Abkhaz security council, as saying on March 10. Shamba emphasized the importance of staying alert amid the "instability in the neighboring state," particularly when hearing "all kinds of disturbing calls" at the Tbilisi rallies.
Later in March, de facto president Aslan Bzhania repeated the conspiracy theory, saying that the global powers resisting Russia's war in Ukraine "want to overthrow the Georgian government and open a second front." According to Bzhania, for that purpose, "large-scale political rallies are being prepared in Georgia for April and May this year."
Sukhumi again brought up its "second front" concerns during the latest round of Geneva International Discussions -- the talks involving representatives of breakaway regions, Georgia, and Russia. (That meeting went ahead despite earlier concerns that the format would be scrapped because of Russia's war in Ukraine.)
And then it was the April 9 rally, organized by the United National Movement, Georgia's former ruling party, that caught Sukhumi's attention.
That rally's organizers selected the date to coincide with the anniversary of the day in 1989 when Soviet troops cracked down with lethal force on demonstrators in Tbilisi and the day in 1991 when Georgia declared independence from the USSR.
That massacre occurred several days into a series of rallies initially held to condemn the burgeoning secessionist movement in Abkhazia but that ultimately came to see demands for Georgia's independence.
For Georgians, the day marks the galvanization of national consciousness while for the Abkhaz, it is a symbol of Georgian domination.
As it happened, the April 9, 2023, demonstration took place without incident, and with little if any focus on Abkhazia.