Abkhazia's Rebel Opposition Sets Sights on Customs Union
Protesters in breakaway Abkhazia on May 29 called for joining Russia's Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus in an apparent bid to win Moscow over to their side as they push for the ouster of the Black-Sea territory's de-facto government.
“We count on Russia’s support in this matter,” declared a joint statement of the opposition groups who have defied the rule of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab, Kavkazsky Uzel news service reported.
Moscow, which has poured both hundreds of troops and millions of rubles into Abkhazia since recognition of its independence from Georgia in 2008, has not responded.
But events may soon veer in another direction. The region’s de-facto prime minister, Leonid Lakerbaia, said on the afternoon of May 29 that the de-facto government may resign as if tensions continue to escalate.
Accusing the region's authorities of misusing Russian aid, mismanaging the economy and authoritarianism, protesters on May 28 stormed the building that houses Ankvab's office in the Abkhaz capital, Sokhumi . Moscow, in the role of concerned big brother, dispatched two troubleshooters, President Vladimir Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov and Deputy National Security Chief Rashid Nurgaliyev, to mediate.
Faced with demands to step down and having lost physical control of his own office, Ankvab says he is going nowhere, and has called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Ankvab’s main rival, Raul Khajimba, said he and his supporters would back off only if the president steps down. “There will be no compromise, only resignation,” Khajimba said after meeting with Russian officials, Aiaaira news site reported.
Against that backdrop, hitting on the Customs-Union appeal suggests that alternative ideas for a way out of this impasse are running slim.
Out of the Customs-Union troika, only Russia recognizes the region's independence. And it is a region with little in the way of an economy.
Aside from that, though, the Union already has indicated that another Caucasus breakaway region, Nagorno Karabakh, will be denied the right to piggyback-privileges when its sponsor, Armenia, becomes a member next month.
The likely reason? Strong objections from Azerbaijan, which claims Karabakh as its own and is a strategic ally of Union co-founders Kazakhstan and Belarus.
The two also enjoy warm ties with Georgia, which is eager to reestablish control over Abkhazia.
In this crapshoot, therefore, don't look for the latest dice thrown by the Abkhaz opposition to roll too far.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.