Spend enough time at Brehalovka, an iconic coffee house and hotbed of political gossip on Sukhumi’s seaside promenade, and you are bound to hear whispers of Chinese interest in investing in the separatist territory of Abkhazia. Russia remains Abkhazia’s political overlord, but many locals are hoping China will become a major economic player.
If it pans out, Chinese interest in this former Soviet holiday hotspot could have major economic and geopolitical ramifications. But is the renminbi’s purported arrival a panacea for stagnating Abkhazia, or merely a pipe dream?
“Did you hear that at Brehalovka?” said Abkhazia’s de-facto foreign minister, Daur Kove, with a laugh, when questioned in his office in central Sukhumi about Chinese investment prospects.
“It's true that there is a project under discussion to build a road from Abkhazia to the North Caucasus. The name of a Chinese company has arisen, but it was all very preliminary,” Kove said. Kove’s deputy, Kan Taniya, was more blunt. “Lots of blah blah blah, nothing concrete,” the 29-year-old said.
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Kieran Pender is a freelance journalist, contributing to a range of publications including The Guardian. He is also a Research Fellow with the Black Sea Institute.