Russia Closes Door on Abkhazia for Olympics
If the Abkhaz want to visit the Winter Olympics next February in the Russian city of Sochi, about 25 kilometers to the north, they might need to walk. And even then there is no guaranteed access through a gateway that Russia plans to keep ajar.
In a recent decree laying out the do's and don'ts during the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for strictly limiting access to Sochi from the de-facto border crossing with breakaway Abkhazia, recognized by Moscow as a sovereign state.
Trains from Abkhazia will be cancelled for a month during the Olympics, and entrance by vehicles restricted. While Putin’s August 23 ukaz does not state this definitively, some outlets report that vehicles with Abkhaz license plates will not be allowed to cross into Russia.
Residents living in the border area will have some freedom of movement, though they might find interior ministry troops hanging out in their backyards. The troops also will be policing the coastline south of Tuapse, a seaside city north of Sochi.
The Sochi area itself will be broken up into restricted zones, entrance into which will be subjected to search. All demonstrations, unless part of the Olympics, will be prohibited. The sale of poisonous or potentially poisonous substances, save for prescription drugs, will also be banned.
Such restrictions are not exactly what Abkhazia, which largely depends on Russia for its economic survival and, itself, cannot participate in the Games, had in mind.
Nonetheless, in September 27 comments, Alexander Ankvab, the region's de-facto president, underlined that Abkhazia stands ready with lodging for guests of the Games and volunteers.
"In general, we will act as our traditions demand: to help a neighbor when he has a celebration," Ankvab detailed to the Russian defense ministry's Krasnaya Zvezda.
Whether or not that neighbor will accept the help, and in what form, remains unclear.
Right now, Russia appears primarily poised for potential trouble -- whether by land, sea or, yes, air. Scores of combat boats and divers, armed with underwater guns, will be on hand to prevent any seaborne trouble, Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reports, while as a safety and anti-terrorist measure, the Sochi skies will be closed for private jets.
Some rich Russians are irked. “I want to arrive at the Olympics in my own airplane, but then I will be considered a terrorist, which is quite offensive,” Dmitry Shapovalov, who chairs a pilots' club, complained to Izvestia.
For the region’s Olympic fans, watching the Olympics on TV might be the best option.