Seven years after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia broke out over the autonomy of the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, the tiny de facto nation sits in a politically-favorable position for Russia. On July 16, Russian security forces moved the administrative boundary fence in order to place more Georgian territory under Russian control, part of a “creeping annexation of Abkhazia,” according to The Guardian.
Once uniformly regarded as the Soviet Union’s glamorous “Red Riviera,” Abkhazia now sits in limbo in the northwest corner of Georgia. It is currently only formally recognized as a sovereign state by four countries in the world, a list which unsurprisingly includes Russia and excludes Georgia.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s declaration of its independence in 1991, preexisting ethnic tensions between the Georgian and Abkhaz people ran especially high and sparked outcry for Abkhaz sovereignty. Georgia’s repeated offerings of considerable autonomy have continuously been turned away by Abkhazia, which demands there be absolutely no unity with Georgia.
The aforementioned 2008 Russo-Georgian war ended with French President Nicolas Sarkozy negotiating a peace plan which Russia is still in violation of seven years later, due to its refusal to relocate its troops to pre-war positions and denial of international visitors into Abkhazia.
Abkhazia has steadily headed further into Russian influence in recent years. In August 2014 Abkhazia voted in Raul Khajimba as de facto president in an election which was considered illegal by both Georgia and the EU. Khajimba, a KGB graduate, supports closer ties with Russia. In November after Khajimba took office Russia and Abkhazia signed a treaty which coagulated the two nations’ military and economic ties, placing the “military forces in the region under joint command,” in order to guard the common border, reported International Business Times.
So why is Russia so invested in the partially-recognized, miniature country, you may be wondering? Apart from the fact that Abkhazia is the home of fertile lands as well as other valuable resources (do with that information what you will), the answer to this question may be as simple as the desire to demonstrate disdain for Georgia’s repeated interest in the EU and the West (read: the United States). Another answer to this question, while not mutually exclusive from the first, could be a Russian interest in expanding its sphere of influence through the Eurasian Economic Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed a desire to expand the EEU to all ex-Soviet states, excluding the Baltic nations which are current EU members. President Putin’s plan, according to The Guardian, indicates growing the EEU into a large enough institution to rival the EU. Harnessing a firm grasp on Abkhazia could simply be another step up towards this plan.
Whatever Russia’s motives for its gradual influence over Abkhazia, it is clear that Georgia and Russia wont consider themselves friends anytime soon.