The recent death of Sergei Bagapsh, the de facto president of Abkhazia, presents a policy challenge for the separatist territory, as well as for its political patron, Russia.
Bagapsh, who was 62 at the time of his death, was a savvy politician who could maintain a delicate balance between the desire of the Abkhaz people for genuine independence and Russia’s strategic needs. Most Abkhaz have Russian citizenship, yet many are uncomfortable with the territory’s all-but-complete dependence on Russia. Whoever follows Bagapsh, then, will be challenged to please both the Kremlin and the people, while keeping Georgia, which seeks the restoration of its pre-1992 borders, at bay.
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Lincoln Mitchell is an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University's Harriman Institute. He is a frequent commenter on political development in the former Soviet Union and is currently writing a book on the Color Revolutions.