Russia's dominance of Abkhazia has become nearly total, with 4,000 to 5,000 Russian land, air, and naval troops believed to be deployed in the region. Russian forces are building facilities for a naval base in Ochamchire on the northern coast. Moscow has also been granted control over the territory's borders, airport, and railway system.And why not? After all, Ukraine and Byelorussia (now Belarus) had their own seats in the UN alongside the Soviet one, even though they were SSRs in the Union thereof. Time Abkhazia acquired its seat.
Moreover, Abkhazia is dependent on Moscow for state aid, and trade, and foreign investment.
Most Abkhaz residents carry Russian passports in order to be able to travel abroad and communicate predominantly in the Russian language. And the Russian ruble remains the territory's official currency.
Also today, the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, adopted a statement marking the 200th anniversary of "Russia's patronage over Abkhazia."
ITAR-TASS quoted the document as saying that in effect, the peoples of Abkhazia and Russia form "one people."
The Financial Times says that "Moscow tightens grip on Abkhazia". This implies that there had been a loosening of said grip.
RBC Daily, a Russian business newspaper is quoted directly by RIAN [scroll to the bottom of the page]
Russia gaining foothold in the CaucasusMust be quite a relief not to have to look for excuses or hand out passports to various people in order to make them Russian nationals in dire need of protection. Next time oil prices fall and
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh will sign an agreement on a unified Russian military base in Abkhazia on February 17. The document will legalize and regulate the deployment of Russian troops in the newly-independent republic.The agreement has a 49 year term with optional extensions in 15-year increments. A similar agreement may be signed with South Ossetia in March.
The six-day war in August 2008 and Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states have led to the termination of previous agreements on collective peacekeeping forces, with Russian forces stationed in the two republics having lost their peacekeeper status.
An agreement was reached last spring enabling Russian border guards to protect the Georgian-Abkhazian border, and in the fall, Russia and Abkhazia signed a military cooperation agreement, which opened the door to building a Russian military base with headquarters in Gudauta. Almost immediately Russian coastal guards began working on a naval base in Ochamchir with patrol boats.
"Now all Russian servicemen from the various units will be part of a unified system," said Akhra Smyr, a local political commentator.
The Abkhazian government traditionally views Russia's military presence as the sole protection against potential Georgian aggression or a new war. However, Smyr does not see any public euphoria about Russian military bases in Abkhazia.
"The signing of the border agreement was accompanied by heated debate on the format of cooperation, the rights to be granted to the Russian military and to what extent they should be subject to Abkhazian jurisdiction. The new agreement's details are still unknown, but some sticking points might spark debate in Abkhazia again," the commentator said.
The new agreement generally fits into both countries' long-term strategies. "The West calls for Russia to backtrack on its recognition of Abkhazia, which is why it is important for Moscow to take root in Abkhazia, to establish institutions and gain a foothold, making the decision irrevocable," Smyr said.
"Abkhazia is wary of Georgia's strategy on the 'invaded territories.' The Georgian authorities plan to work toward a 'peaceful reintegration' of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but once the 'invaders' pull out they will be free to use the army against these 'puppet governments,'" he adds.
"Moscow may now view any aggression against Abkhazia as aggression against Russia, which would make a war with Georgia more legitimate and eliminate the need to find excuses and cite the protection of Russian nationals like in August 2008," added Yana Amelina from the National Strategy Institute.