09TBILISI1131, GEORGIA: RUSSIA KEY TOPIC IN ABKHAZ POLITICS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1131 2009-06-19 13:42 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO4149
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1131/01 1701342
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191342Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1770
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001131 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/16/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF MOPS KBTS RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: RUSSIA KEY TOPIC IN ABKHAZ POLITICS 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 1035 
     B. TBILISI 1034 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  In seeming contradiction to 
recent reports of concern in Abkhazia about Russian influence 
(ref A), UNOMIG officials, de facto authorities, opposition 
journalists, and NGOs in Abkhazia told visiting poloff that 
Abkhaz politicians are trying to out-do each other to show 
they are the most pro-Russian.  However, sources also noted a 
growing wariness among Abkhaz that Russian interests in 
Abkhazia should be moderated.  One long-term observer of 
Abkhazia said that even these mild statements of 
apprehension, when made to a U.S. official, indicate there is 
real concern.  Several opposition candidates seem to be 
emerging, but no one has yet announced intentions to run in 
the December "presidential" elections.  NGOs in Abkhazia also 
reported on self-proclaimed progress in democratic reforms. 
De facto "vice foreign minister" Maxim Gundjia commented on 
plans and hopes for Abkhaz economic development.  It was 
clear that no one in Abkhazia - de facto authorities, 
opposition leaders or NGO representatives - was willing to 
concede to poloff or publicly any anti-Russian sentiment, 
possibly for fear of Russia response.  The fact that they 
went as far as telling poloff that they wanted to ensure 
Abkhaz interests were considered a priority in Abkhazia over 
Russian interests is an indication that there is likely more 
suspicion and worry over Russian actions in Abkhazia than 
they were willing to admit.  Whatever the sentiment is 
towards Russia among the Abkhaz - anti-Russia, pro-Russia, or 
ambivalent - Russia plays a a significant role in their 
discussion of their present and future situation.  End 
summary and comment. 
 
ANTI-RUSSIA OR PRO-RUSSIA? 
 
2. (C) During meetings in Sukhumi, UNOMIG officials, 
opposition-leaning journalists, and de facto Abkhaz 
authorities told visiting poloff that opposition leaders and 
de facto authorities continue to be pro-Russia.  According to 
UNOMIG officials, leaders are trying to outdo each other in 
their support for Russia.  According to opposition-leaning 
journalists, the majority of people do not think that Russia 
has too much control over Abkhazia.  However, they noted that 
the Abkhaz have no illusions about Russia and understand that 
Russia wants to protect its own strategic interests in 
Abkhazia.  All interlocutors admitted that there is a 
wariness about allowing Abkhaz and Russian interests to 
become too intertwined, and emphasized the importance of 
keeping Abkhaz interests above Russian interests.  According 
to these same sources, people generally appreciate Russian 
economic and political support and understand that they have 
to rely on Russia now in order to maintain independence. 
However, NGOs representatives and de facto "vice foreign 
minister" Maxim Gundjia stated emphatically that they would 
welcome assistance from the West, and without this 
assistance, it will be difficult for Abkhazia to escape the 
influence of Russia.  A western scholar who has been 
conducting civil society dialogue in Abkhazia for 30 years 
told poloffs that on a June 10-17 trip to Abkhazia she 
observed a definite increase in guardedness among the Abkhaz 
towards Russia.  She expressed surprised that NGOs and de 
facto authorities expressed as much concern as they did, and 
took this admission to a U.S. diplomat as a sure sign of a 
growing anti-Russian sentiment. 
 
DECEMBER "PRESIDENTIAL" ELECTIONS 
 
3. (C) Elections for a new Abkhaz "president" are scheduled 
Qto take place in mid-December.  As of yet, no one, including 
Bagapsh, has announced plans to run.  However, most people 
assume that Bagapsh, former de-facto "vice-president" Raul 
Khajimba, and shady businessman Beslan Butba will likely run 
for the position.  UNOMIG officials and opposition-leaning 
journalists emphasized to poloff that while Bagapsh will 
likely be the winner, the Abkhaz are unpredictable, so no one 
will really know the outcome until it happens.  The success 
or failure of current economic projects, such as the railway 
and foreign investment (ref A), will play a role in 
determining the winner, as will the financial resources of 
the candidates.  Khajimba is considered to have the least 
financial resources available. 
 
WHAT DOES THE OPPOSITION STAND FOR? 
 
4. (C) UN officials, de facto authorities, and NGO 
representatives told poloff that while there is a nascent 
opposition in Abkhazia, none of the leaders' positions differ 
much from either each other or the de facto authorities.  The 
opposition is criticized for only condemning the de facto 
authorities, but not presenting any substantive alternative 
proposals of their own.  Those with whom poloff spoke in 
 
TBILISI 00001131  002 OF 002 
 
 
Abhazia, noted that the opposition is not united and 
constantly contradicts each other. &#x
000A; 
DEMOCRATIC REFORMS - PROGRESS MADE IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT 
 
5. (C) Representatives from the Center for Humanitarian 
Development (CHD), an NGO in Sukhumi, talked with poloff on 
the state of democratic reforms in Abkhazia.  CHD 
representatives told poloff that democratic institutions are 
developing in Abkhazia in a particularly unfriendly 
environment, with the West and Georgia working against 
Abkhazia, and Russia not caring about democratic reforms. 
According to the representative, since Russia and Nicaragua 
recognized Abkhaz independence, Abkhazia has gained 
confidence in its security situation and now feels that it 
can be more bold in instituting reforms and challenging the 
de facto authorities.  However, the representative was not 
able to articulate to poloff any specific gains made in 
democratic reforms. 
 
THE STATE OF FREE MEDIA 
 
6. (C) The CHD representative outlined what she considered to 
be Abkhaz successes in free media.  The representative 
elaborated that CHD had lobbied for a law, that has since 
passed the de facto "parliament," on increasing access to 
public information.  The representative admitted that the de 
facto authorities do pressure journalists, but said that 
journalists exaggerate this harassment.  UNOMIG officials, 
CHD representatives and journalists described to poloff one 
incident of harassment in June, in which the two leading 
opposition papers were prohibited from using the local 
printing house.  They do not have the in-house resources to 
print the papers, and they are also restricted from sending 
the paper to Russia for printing, so this effectively shut 
them down.  While the de facto authorities posited that this 
was strictly a business decision by the management of the 
printing house, most others believed that this case did 
involve some level of pressure by the de facto authorities on 
the printing house. 
 
7. (C) Another recent incident involves Butba's television 
channel, which is currently only broadcast in Sukhumi.  He 
sought permission from the de facto authorities to broadcast 
across all of Abkhazia, but they denied this request. 
Journalists also reported to poloff that they are targets of 
other forms of direct pressure from de facto authorities, 
including the blocking of publication of certain articles the 
authorities deem inappropriate.  Furthermore, in Abkhazia 
people only have access to Russian and Abkhaz news sources, 
and while BBC is occasionally broadcast, it is not translated 
into either Russian or the Abkhaz language. 
 
THE SINGAPORE MODEL 
 
8. (C) Gundjia told poloff that economic development in 
Abkhazia was the de facto authorities' number one priority, 
acknowledging that widespread international political 
recognition could take 20 years or more.  He said Abkhazia is 
pursuing the "Singapore Model," defined by Gundjia as a free 
economic zone with a transparent and open business 
environment.  He expressed frustration that non-recognition 
by most of the international community has prevented Abkhazia 
from being transparent, something he argued it very much 
aspires to.  He stated that Abkhazia wants to attract more 
tourists, Russian and others, and thinks opening clothing 
stores would help.  (Note:  This is undoubtedly a reference 
to the recent announcement and then quick rescinding of the 
announcement that Bennetton would be opening a store in 
Sukhumi - ref B.  End note.)  Gundjia said Abkhazia would 
welcome Georgian and Western business and tourism, which 
would benefit everyone.  However, he emphatically stated that 
Qwould benefit everyone.  However, he emphatically stated that 
time cannot be turned back, and while Abkhazia will never 
again be part of Georgia, he welcomed a future of normal 
relations with Georgia as a neighbor. 
TEFFT

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