[lg policy] A repost from Eurasianet.org on Abkhazia

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 6 15:13:05 UTC 2013

All:  This is an old item, but one I missed a while back.

Abkhazia: Preparing for the Future, Post-Bagapsh
 May 31, 2011 - 5:24am, by Paul Rimple
  [image: Abkhazia: Preparing for the Future,

The unexpected May 29 death of Sergei Bagapsh, the de facto leader of the
breakaway region of Abkhazia, is certain to shake up Abkhaz politics, but
some Abkhaz observers say that the underlying question is whether or not it
will lead to instability in the territory.

Sixty-two-year-old Bagapsh, hailed by many Abkhaz as a can-do technocrat
who presided over a period of relative calm in the territory’s topsy-turvy
fortunes, succumbed to complications that ended in heart failure following
surgery on his right lung in a Moscow clinic, Abkhaz and Russian news
agencies reported. A spokesperson for the de facto Abkhaz president told
the Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti on May 30 that Bagapsh died
from cancer.

Bagapsh will be buried on June 2, after three days of official mourning, in
his family's native village of Dzhgyarda, near Ochamchira, a Black Sea
coastal town not far from the administrative border with
Georgian-controlled territory.

Bagapsh’s sudden death after nearly seven years in power has left many
Abkhaz feeling as if a rug has been yanked suddenly from underneath their
feet. "For [the] last few years, we got some feeling of stability and I
hope it will not crash,” commented 30-something Sukhumi native Vlad Dheniya.

“I saw him three weeks ago. I didn’t see any signs that he was going to
die,” said Liana Kvarchelia, deputy director of the Center for Humanitarian
Programs, a Sukhumi-based non-governmental organization. Conspiracy
theories about foul play have started to circulate, Kvarchelia said, but
noted that local politicians tend to keep their medical secrets out of the
public view. Vladislav Ardzinba, the leader of Abkhazia’s 1992-1993
rebellion against Tbilisi, resigned in 2004 for unknown health reasons,
widely believed to be cancer. He died in Moscow in 2010.

Abkhazia’s de facto Vice-President Alexander Ankvab has become acting
president pending a fresh presidential election within three months of
Bagapsh’s death. Along with Ankvab, de facto Prime Minister Sergei Shamba,
a longtime political player and veteran advocate for Abkhaz independence,
and former vice-president and onetime KGB officer Raul Khadjimba are
expected to be front-runners for the post.

Since Russia’s 2008 recognition of Abkhaz independence, Bagapsh had played
a difficult balancing act between increasing Russian influence in energy,
transportation, real estate and defense spheres, and local critics’
accusations of selling out on Abkhaz independence.

Some observers, like Inal Khashig, editor-in-chief of the independent
newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda, worry that the upcoming power struggle to
succeed Bagapsh will undermine Abkhazia’s stability. In a May 29 column for
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ekho Kavkaza, Khashig stated that
Abkhazia is not ready for the political anxiety that will follow Bagapsh’s

“Of course, the president’s death has created enormous problems. The
country is not prepared not only morally; in general, it is not prepared
for political disturbances,” Khashig wrote. “And now everyone understands
that stability has departed with President Bagapsh.”

An avid basketball player, Bagapsh had been head of the local energy
company Chernomorenergo (Black Sea Energy) for six years, when, in 2005, he
became Abkhazia’s second de facto president after a run-off election
against Khadjimba. A local Communist Party boss during the 1980s, he held
various posts in Abkhazia’s separatist government following the split with
Tbilisi, including that of de facto prime minister from 1997-1999.

Liana Kvarchelia believes that although some people expect to see a power
struggle between Shamba and Ankvab this summer, others also believe that
Bagapsh, upon reaching the top of Abkhazia’s political establishment, had
established institutions for the transfer of power.

“I don’t think there will be destabilization,” Kvarchelia said. “In 2009
[when Bagapsh was re-elected to a second de facto term], the people voted
for stabilization and I think they will continue to vote for stability.”

One of Bagapsh’s great strengths, she says, was his ability to unite
disparate characters. She points to his power-sharing deal with Khadjimba,
a candidate strongly backed by Moscow, following the latter’s loss in the
region’s 2004 de facto presidential election. Now an outspoken nationalist
politician, Khadjimba served as vice-president until his resignation in

Other observers like Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Russia in
Global Affairs journal, believe that Abkhaz voters' strong national pride
and sense of independence mean that Moscow will not be able openly to
influence a particular candidate, as it attempted to do in 2004, when the
Kremlin publicly backed Khadjimba.

“At the same time, it (Moscow) cannot let things to get out of control –
that would be a big gift to Georgia and risk further destabilization in the
North Caucasus,” Lukyanov said. The likely scenario, he adds, is that
Moscow will closely consult the parties and see who has the best chance of
consolidating power.

Tbilisi, so far, has commented only that any election to select Bagapsh’s
successor would be invalid and have no impact on Abkhazia’s political bill
of health.

Georgian officials have not indicated whether or not the topic was
discussed during a May 29-31 visit to Tbilisi by Swiss President and
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. Switzerland currently acts as
mediator between Russia and Georgia.

Alexander Rondeli, director of Tbilisi’s Georgian Foundation for Strategic
and International Studies, though, also believes that Russia will stay in
the shadows and not repeat its 2004 mistake. As do most Georgian analysts,
he asserts, however, that Abkhazia’s de facto government is clearly under
Russian control.

“Moscow will choose the most obedient guy, but this time they will be
delicate,” Rondeli predicted. “If they openly show a preference, the people
will be against them.”


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