09TBILISI1035, GEORGIA: DISCONTENT IN ABKHAZIA WITH RUSSIA’S WARM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1035 2009-06-05 09:15 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1347
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1035/01 1560915
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 050915Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1668
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001035 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF MOPS KBTS RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: DISCONTENT IN ABKHAZIA WITH RUSSIA'S WARM 
EMBRACE 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 924 
     B. TBILISI 1034 
     C. TBILISI 321 
     D. 08 TBILISI 2174 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  According to press reporting and 
the Abkhaz government-in-exile, civil society groups and 
others in Abkhazia have begun to criticize de facto Abkhaz 
"president" Sergey Bagapsh for handing Abkhazia over to the 
Russians.  Opposition leaders and ordinary Abkhaz appear 
especially unhappy with the arrival of Russian border guards 
on the administrative boundary line.  They have also 
expressed concern over economic deals made that give Rosneft 
an exclusive license to explore for oil and gas deposits in 
the Black Sea off the coast of Abkhazia, and the transfer of 
management rights of the Sukhumi airport and "Abkhaz" railway 
to the Russians.  With "presidential" elections slated to be 
held in Abkhazia on December 12, opposition figures are 
speaking out publicly against these actions.  This discontent 
is yet another example of Abkhazia's struggle to find a 
balance between dependence on Russia for security and 
financial resources and their desire for independence.   End 
summary and comment. 
 
RUSSIA FULLY IN CONTROL 
 
2. (C) On April 30, Russia and Abkhaz de facto authorities 
signed an agreement delegating to Russia the authority to 
protect the Abkhaz administrative boundary, and the Russian 
border guards are well on their way to assuming full 
responsibility for the boundary (ref A).  On May 26, the 
Abkhaz granted a license to state-owned Russian company 
Rosneft to develop offshore oil and gas deposits off the 
coast of Abkhazia, which are estimated at between 80 and 200 
million tons.  Earlier, on May 15, de facto Abkhaz officials 
granted Russia 10-year management rights to both the rail 
system and Sukhumi airport, in exchange for which the 
Russians are providing the Abkhaz with a two million ruble 
credit for railway reconstruction work (ref B). 
 
3. (C) While Bagapsh has stressed that this is only a 
temporary transfer, the Abkhaz population sees this as one 
more sign that their territory is being handed over to the 
Russians, according to Malkhaz Akishbaia, Chairman of the 
Governent of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (in exile). 
 Akishbaia maintains strong contacts in Abkhazia and believes 
that ordinary Abkhaz citizens are distressed by what they see 
as the Russian takeover of Abkhazia.  He highlighted the 
Upper Kodori region (an ethnic Georgian area) as another 
example of Russian control, as only six or seven Abkhaz 
militia are stationed with 350 Russian border guards.  He 
said that the Russians are attempting to circumvent local 
property laws, which require Abkhaz "citizenship" to own 
land.  He reported that the Russians are inventorying all 
houses and property in Gali region in anticipation of 
bringing thousands of most likely Russian military personnel 
and their families in to Gali. 
 
PUSHING BACK AGAINST RUSSIAN CONTROL 
 
4. (C) Leaders of six political and social organizations in 
Abkhazia released a declaration in May criticizing Bagapsh 
for allowing the Russians to assume so much control over 
their territory and calling for a more balanced relationship 
with Russia.  The leader of the opposition party Economic 
Development, Beslan Butba, who has been mentioned as a 
possible "presidential" candidate, issued a similar 
statement.  The de facto "vice-president" Raul Khajimba 
resigned his post on May 26, citing disagreements with 
Qresigned his post on May 26, citing disagreements with 
Bagapsh over his treatment of the opposition, but also 
criticizing the border agreement signed in April with Russia; 
he is another possible rival to Bagapsh.  Perhaps with an eye 
on the December elections, Bagapsh was recently quoted in The 
New York Times stating that the independence of Abkhazia was 
one of his main concerns.  He noted that he had pushed back 
on the Russians several times when they wanted more from 
Abkhazia then he was supposedly willing to concede. 
Akishbaia said that while the last election, in 2005, was 
split among Abkhaz, the Georgians voted as a bloc for 
Bagapsh, and that recently Bagapsh's party, United Abkhazia, 
had been treating the Georgians in Gali better in an attempt 
to again win their vote in December.  According to Akishbaia, 
the Georgians in Gali still support Bagapsh because, despite 
their disappointment in his policies since the conflict, he 
is at least a familiar face to them. 
 
COMMENT 
 
 
TBILISI 00001035  002 OF 002 
 
 
5. (C) Although few would call Abkhaz local politics 
democratic, it appears there is some room for public debate. 
In the lead up to "presidential" election
s in December, it is 
instructive that the one issue Bagapsh's rivals have seized 
upon is his enthusiastic embrace of Russian influence. 
Ironically, Russia opposed Bagapsh and supported Khajimba in 
the last "presidential" election - and now Khajimba is 
criticizing Bagapsh for being too close to Moscow, while 
Bagapsh must defend those ties.  Although the ethnic Abkhaz 
and Armenian residents of Abkhazia are still strongly 
supportive of independence, they clearly have become quite 
uncomfortable with the true impact of Russia's actions.  As 
one Abkhaz from Sukhumi joked to EmbOff, "we used to have our 
freedom, but now we have our independence." 
TEFFT

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