Abkhazia was an autonomous republic within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. With its location along the Black Sea coast of northwestern Georgia, along the border with southern Russia, and with a pleasant climate, it had been a holiday paradise for Russians during the Soviet era.
The Abkhazians, a Muslim mountain people, had been increasingly displaced by the influx of ethnic Georgians. In the late 1980s, Abkhazians made up only one-fifth of the region’s population, while around half were Georgians. The Abkhazians felt that they were losing influence over their territory and tensions arose between the groups. At the end of the Soviet era, claims to its own state increased.
In the summer of 1992, Abkhazia declared independence. Georgian forces entered the region and captured the capital Suchumi, but after Abkhazian troops went on the counter-offensive, they were forced back and in 1993 the Georgian forces left the area. Georgia accused Russia of interfering in the conflict on the Abkhaz side. In 1994, a ceasefire was concluded and a UN observation force, Unomig, was deployed in the area to monitor its compliance. Thousands had died during the war and around 250,000 fled, most of them ethnic ethnic Georgians who left the breakaway republic to reach Georgia itself. Many died during the flight through the mountains due to lack of food and cold.
Despite the ceasefire, tensions in the area did not cease. The region has also been characterized by widespread smuggling of petrol between leagues in Georgia and Abkhazia. They have had an interest in keeping the conflict alive as long as they continue to make big money from smuggling.
When the war against South Ossetia broke out in August 2008, tensions in Abkhazia also rose. Several explosions had already taken place in recent months on both sides of the Abkhazian-Georgian border, prompting the region’s President Sergei Bagapsj to close the border completely in June. At the same time, Russia had strengthened its ties with the region and increased its Russian military presence in the area. As early as March, Russia had made a signal to Abkhazia by repealing the agreement reached by the CIS states in January 1996 on trade sanctions against the breakaway state. During the short-lived war, Russian and Georgian troops fought in the area and Russian planes bombed targets in the Kodori Valley in northeastern Abkhazia. The Georgians, who captured the Kodori Valley in 2006, were driven out and the area came under Abkhaz control again. Prior to the attack, a warning was issued,
Following Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia’s independence shortly after the end of the war, a peace and friendship agreement was concluded which increased military and economic cooperation between Russia and Abkhazia. Russia today accounts for around 90 percent of foreign investment in the area. During 2001-2007, Russia had removed the four Russian military bases in Georgia, but the agreement opened up the possibility of Russian military bases in Abkhazia. Since 2009, Russia has been guarding the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. The UN observers who have been monitoring the ceasefire since 1994 have resigned since Russia in 2009 vetoed extending their mandate.
In November 2014, Abkhazia and Russia concluded an agreement on “strategic partnership”, which includes the incorporation of the Abkhazian defense forces into the Russian army, the commitment of Russia to modernize the Abkhaz forces and the doubling of Russia’s financial support. The Georgian government condemned the agreement as a step towards a Russian annexation of Abkhazia. The agreement was also condemned by the United States, the European Union and NATO. In November 2016, it was announced that in the event of war, the Abkhazian-Russian force would be placed directly under the command of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The political situation in Georgia
The political climate in Georgia has since the independence been strongly affected by the conflicts with the breakaway regions. In addition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the region of Adjara, in southwestern Georgia, has also been in conflict with the central government. Azerbaijan, like Abkhazia, had the status of an autonomous republic under the 1995 constitution. The area had developed into a smuggling paradise under local leader Aslan Abasjidze, and when President Saakashvili took office in 2004 and the tone sharpened against breakaway republics, one of his first challenges was to restore law and order. in Adjara. In the conflict that arose in the summer of 2004, the threat of war was imminent. However, this could be avoided with the help of Moscow, which managed to get Abashidze to resign. The area lost its autonomous position and came under the rule of the central government.
The solution to the conflict in Azerbaijan was seen as the first political victory of then-President Saakashvili. That he came to power in 2004 had meant a generational change in Georgian politics. The 36-year-old lawyer had led the opposition in peaceful mass protests, the so-called Rose Revolution, when former President Eduard Shevardnadze was forced to resign, accused of electoral fraud and corruption. Shevardnadze, with a political past as Soviet foreign minister, had ruled since the early 1990s. He had been given temporary power to put an end to the political chaos that erupted after independence in 1991 and ended with the country’s first elected president, Zviad Gamsachurdia, being ousted in a bloody coup. With the help of Russian troops, Shevardnadze managed to drive out Gamsachurdia’s followers and the conflict ended.
President Saakashvili’s support waned and he was accused of authoritarian rule and corruption. Despite strong protests against him in 2007, he was still superiorly re-elected in 2008, but according to the OSCE, there were errors during the election. He received great support during the war against Russia in 2008, but the failure of the conflict, combined with a weak economic development in the country, contributed to the growing public discontent. In October 2012, his party lost government power and when Saakashvili resigned a year later, the presidency also went to the former opposition.
Despite some concerns in the West that the new leaders would show greater sensitivity to Russia, Georgia’s rapprochement with the EU and NATO has continued. In June 2014, Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU and in March 2017, Georgians were given the right to travel to the Schengen area without a visa.
On the other hand, membership negotiations on joining NATO have been sluggish. Some NATO countries have expressed skepticism about including the country in the defense alliance as long as the conflicts with the breakaway republics are not resolved. However, in 2017, Georgia was given the right to participate in NATO’s activities in the Black Sea region.