Georgia: Abkhazia Hands Airport, Railway Over to Russian Management
In a move heavy with potential geopolitical ramifications, the breakaway region of Abkhazia has granted Russia 10-year management rights for its railway system and main airport.
"This is a not a sale. It's a transfer for a temporary period," de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh announced on May 15, the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported. Georgia, which claims Abkhazia as its own territory, has not yet responded to the news of Russia's involvement in either project.
Under the deal with Russia, Abkhazia will receive a 2 million-ruble (about $62,270) credit from Moscow for reconstruction work on its railway. Bagapsh said that the work was needed so that the rail system would be capable of transporting raw supplies presumably needed for construction projects to Abkhazia's north, in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Russian participation in an eventual reopening of Sukhumi's Babushera airport had long been predicted by Abkhaz officials and politicians. Bagapsh indicated that the dual-runway airport could reopen for regular flights by June 2009. The airport currently only handles a few diplomatic flights, mostly those flying under United Nations auspices.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency, has stated that reopening the airport could result in sanctions against participating airlines. How Abkhazia or its Russian partners would respond to such sanctions is not certain.