More Post-Soviet Revolutions: Enter Abkhazia
Crowds storming a presidential building, a massive night vigil on the town square, a leader defying calls for resignation -- no, this is not Ukraine. This is Abkhazia and it is happening now.
Calling for an end to corruption and one-upmanship, angry protesters on May 27 in the Abkhaz capital, Sokhumi, stormed into the building that houses the office of de-facto President Alexander Ankvab . The government’s opponents, largely led by Raul Khajimba of the Forum of People’s Unity of Abkhazia, declared a provisional ruling body, and demanded Ankvab's resignation. The territory's so-called “siloviki” (“power”) agencies (the de-facto defense, interior and security ministries) have thrown their support behind Ankvab.
At latest report, the pause-button in the subtropical region's so-called "tangerine" or "eucalyptus revolution" has been pressed. The protesters remain on the presidential building's first and second floors, ITAR-TASS has specified. The de-facto parliament convened around midday to discuss next steps, while Ankvab said in a television interview that he was meeting with members of the de-facto Security Council to decide on a way to restore order without causing further upheavals.
Protesters claim that billions of Russian rubles, which Moscow has been pumping into Abkhazia since 2008 after recognizing its independence from Georgia, have been spent on Ankvab’s fads instead of being used to pull the region out of poverty. Ankvab and his entourage dismiss the uprising as illegitimate, but reportedly have promised to make concessions such as dismissing the most controversial de-facto officials.
Meanwhile, with an eye on its Abkhaz military installations, Moscow, which has pushed for international recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and its breakaway twin, South Ossetia, has dispatched a presidential aide (Vladislav Surkov) and Security Council Deputy Secretary Rashid Nurgaliyev to try and act as intermediaries between the two sides.
That could prove a challenge. In 2004, Khajimba, then seen as Moscow's man, lost his bid for leadership in Abkhazia after protests erupted once he claimed election as the region's de-facto president. After a power-sharing deal with the late Sergei Bagapsh crumbled in 2009, Khadjimba, a former KGB professional who has held various senior positions in Abkhazia's de-facto government, went on to be reborn as a regular critic of the dangers of overly cozy ties with Russia.
But those outsiders who think this attempted revolution now means that the tables have turned on Moscow might want to think again. Much as many Abkhaz find Russia's embrace smothering, the issues at hand in Sokhumi -- complaints about the economy and rule of law, framed within a power struggle -- appear more local than geopolitical.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.