Drone arms race heating up in the Caucasus?
Abkhazia has for some time been complaining about Georgia's violation of its airspace with unmanned drone aircraft. And now Sukhumi is going to fight back. Reports Aspnypress (in Russian; translation by BBC Monitoring):
The presentation of up-to-date unmanned aircraft developed by Russian specialists was held at Sukhumi airport today. Vice president Aleksandr Ankvab and prime minister Sergey Shamba, and representatives of the interior ministry, state security service, and department for emergency situations attended the presentation.
The Russian ZALA AERO company from Izhevsk also presented its products. Specialists of the company provided technical details of the unmanned aircraft, which are equipped with up-to-date video cameras, thermal imagers and photo cameras.
Two kinds of unmanned aircraft were launched as part of the show.
The representatives of the Abkhaz leadership took an interest in the products, as law-enforcement agencies can use them for monitoring transport on the roads and the border. Unmanned aircraft can also be helpful in emergency situations.
"We familiarized ourselves with presented specimen. We are interested and we will make a choice," prime minister Sergey Shamba told Apsnypress after the presentation.
Abkhazia is trying to walk the narrow line between relying on Russia for security against Georgia, while trying to build up their political independence, not just from Georgia but from Russia as well. There was a recent purge of top Abkhazian military officers that was interpreted variously as Russia cementing its control over the Abkhazian armed forces, or Sukhumi's attempt to remove pro-Moscow elements.
This potential UAV acquisition, too, could be interpreted both ways. Presumably Russia is paying for these drones, so why are they just not using their own to monitor Abkhazia? Is this Abkhazian acquisition just a fig leaf for a deployment of drones that will ultimately be controlled by Russia? Or is is a move by Sukhumi to take over some part of its security affairs from Russia?