News / Europe

Protected by Russia, Abkhazia Cautiously Engages Georgia

Protected by Russia, Abkhazia Cautiously Reaches Out to Georgiai
X
April 11, 2013 8:01 PM
After the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, Russia recognized Abkhazia, which had broken away from Georgia in a 1992-93 war, as an independent country. Russia then funneled half a billion dollars in air, naval, and land defense bases for Abkhazia, which is almost the size of Kosovo. James Brooke takes a look at how Abkhazia is faring.
Protected by Russia, Abkhazia Cautiously Reaches Out to Georgia - (Video by Austin Malloy)
James Brooke
In the aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, Russia recognized Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, as a fully independent country. Then, Moscow funneled half a billion dollars into Russian air, naval and border defense bases in Abkhazia, an entity almost the size of Kosovo.

Five years after this Russian-imposed peace, a quiet self-confidence is settling over this subtropical land on the Black Sea Coast.

People speak Russian, use Russian rubles, carry Russian passports and receive Russian pensions. The only train goes north to the Russian city of Sochi, and, ultimately, to Moscow.

Reflecting this new stability, two million Russian tourists this year are expected to visit this land of coastal resorts, rushing rivers and forest-clad Caucasus mountains.

In Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s coastal capital, Izida Chania edits Nujnaya Gazeta, a weekly newspaper.

"In the summer it’s really difficult to find a place to stay in a hotel," she said in her office, across the street from a high-rise bombed out during the war. "The resorts and hotels don’t have enough space to fully accommodate the amount of tourist that come to Abkhazia."

  • The sun sets over a pier and the waterfront quay in the Black Sea port of Sukhumi, a landscape that prompted early 20th century painters and vacationers to call Abkhazia ‘the Russian Riviera.’ (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Gagra train station was built to welcome Soviet leader Joseph Stalin who vacationed at a villa on the shores of Lake Ritsa, high in the Caucasus Mountains. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • At Pitsunda, an observation deck and disco entertained 1970's vacationers from East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.(V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Used as a warehouse during the Soviet era, New Athos Monastery how has newly restored gold domes and freshly painted white walls. It is the pride of contemporary Abkhazia. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Above the Monastery, Christian pilgrims have left icons in a mountainside grotto, where Simon the Zealot, one of the 12 Apostles, is believed to have lived. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Looming over Freedom Square in Sukhumi stands the bombed out ruin of the Georgian military’s last headquarters, untouched since they lost control of Abkhazia in the summer of 1993. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Mold spreads over a Lenin statue standing outside the gutted shell of a Georgian language school in Bzipta, Abkhazia. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Images of war heroes are superimposed on the Abkhaz flag, with the inscription in Russian and Abkhaz: “For the peace and freedom of Abkhazia!” (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • A decaying hillside mansion, built in the Art Nouveau style, speaks of Sukhumi’s prosperous days as a Czarist era port and health cure sanatorium. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • A Turkish ship unloads cargo in Sukhumi. Georgian Navy patrol boats have largely stopped detaining Turkish ships that supply Abkhazia, an entity still viewed by almost all nations as legally part of Georgia. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • Even off season, in March, local fruit products are for sale in Sukhumi’s Central Market. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • The Sukhumi Botanical Garden was founded in 1840 to introduce tea and citrus to Czarist Russia’s new territories in the Caucasus. It was restored after the 1992-1993 war. (V. Undritz/VOA)
  • “Eternal Glory to the Heroes of Abkhazia” proclaims a memorial to soldiers from Abkhazia and other Caucasian republics who died to win control over a key highway bridge into Sukhumi in 1993. (V. Undritz/VOA)

But people here say they don’t live in the Russian Riviera, but in the independent nation of Abkhazia.

At Abkhaz State University, a hilltop campus where Russian aid is rebuilding the Soviet-era buildings, Beslan Baratelia teaches economics.

"Those people that survived the war and blockade aren’t here only because of economic reasons," he said, referring to the national pride among many students. "People don’t talk here about how in Russia or any other country the income is higher than Abkhazia.  The talk is about how people, who survived the war and stayed until independence, value living in their homeland."

Everywhere, there are sign of Abkhazia’s successful 1992-1993 separatist war against Georgia. There are billboards hailing war heroes. There are the bombed out houses that were once homes to some of the 200,000 ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia after independence.

And,  in Georgia, things also are changing after 20 years.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s new prime minister, is working to restore relations with Russia, Abkhazia’s patron.

Ivanishvili wants to restore rail service between Georgia and Abkhazia. In a signal to this breakaway republic, the Georgian leader is canceling military parades and renaming the Ministry of Reintegration  - the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Some Georgians calculate that after the February, 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia will have less use for Abkhazia, Sochi’s southern neighbor. For Russia, Abkhazia now serves as a convenient buffer state, protecting Olympic sites from direct proximity with Russia’s adversary in the August, 2008 war.

Viacheslav Chirikba, Abkhazia’s foreign minister, is cautious.

"We are getting used to new eras in Georgia," he said in an interview with VOA in Sukhumi. "Happily, we can look at it from a safe distance. It is not part of our political life any more, happily. Because it is a foreign country."

But, he added, Abkhazia plans to increase the number of border crossings with Georgia - from one today, to five by year’s end. Analysts say that, if Russia’s financial support for Abkhazia dwindles after the Olympics, Abkhazia will have an incentive to restore economic ties with Georgia.

"We are very responsive to any positive signals from Georgia," the foreign minister said. "And everything that is peaceful sounding is welcome, of course, in Abkhazia. We don’t want to be eternal enemies with Georgians."

With Russian military bases taking the threat of a Georgian invasion off the table, Abkhazians now seem to be looking at gradually normalizing relations with their long-time adversary.

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Nika from: Georgia
April 14, 2013 6:33 PM
MR. James Brooke sorry but your news are wrong and incorrect. there is not Sokhumi - Abkhazia but is Sokhumi Georgia :) you recognize occupied Abkhazia with your reportage as a independent country like it did Russia and Hamas. :)
In Response

by: Abkhaz Eagle from: Aqwa
April 28, 2013 4:03 PM
I dont understand the authorities trying to talk Georgian fascists like you. Abkhazia is older than any country on Europe, although your hatred almost destroyed it twice. Around a million Abkhaz endure hardships of being refugees because your colonist grandfathers wanted their lands. Now you speak about our independence, yes we are independent in Abkhazia, nobody gives us directives, or sends us to bomb hospitals. And If you decide to mess with it again, you will have just another lesson.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs