New Abkhaz Leader Aslan Bzhania Takes Office

Aslan Bzhania was sworn in as the fifth leader of Moscow-backed Abkhazia for a five-year term on Thursday, April 23, after winning repeat polls on March 22, which was called after the local court ruled to declare September 2019 ‘runoffs’ invalid, followed by Moscow-facilitated resignation of his predecessor Raul Khajimba’s amid stormy January events in Sokhumi.

In his inauguration speech Bzhania spoke of strengthening Abkhaz institutions, building public confidence in the authorities, the need to defeating organized crime and corruption, and deepening ties with Russia.

In six-minute speech delivered in Russian language before around 60 people at an indoor ceremony in Abkhaz ‘presidential headquarters’ in Sokhumi, Bzhania stressed that the main goal for Abkhazia is to transform and strengthen “the key institutions.”

“[Only] within such framework the preservation and sustainable development of the people of Abkhazia is possible,” he added.

Bzhania said pre-election campaign gave him hopes that new political culture is emerging in Abkhazia, adding that he is looking forward to work together with his rivals “in terms of countering political extremism and other threats” facing the region.

Aslan Bzhania said the primary task for him as the new leader of the region is “to restore public confidence in authorities,” adding that it is only possible to be achieved through working honestly and transparently. He noted that everyone invited to perform the work of a public servant “must demonstrate to society unconditional adherence to the principles of rule of law and the equality of all before the law.”

New Abkhaz leader emphasized that he cannot make a promise of “an instant improvement in the lives of citizens.” He stressed that the first stage of solving the problem requires defeating “numerous threats, such as organized crime and its integral part of corruption.”

In this backdrop, he emphasized that “without establishing law ad order and ensuring safety of citizens, creating conditions for economic development and attracting investment is impossible.”

Speaking of relations with Russia, Bzhania said “strengthening and developing comprehensive cooperation with our main ally and strategic partner, the Russian Federation, has been and remains a priority area” of ​​Abkhaz foreign policy.

“We will conduct more intensive work with fraternal Russia on all aspects of bilateral, equal and mutually beneficial cooperation,” he added.

Referring to coronavirus pandemic, he thanked medical workers, as well as employees of other relevant bodies for “their coordinated actions” that “made it possible to localize the scope of this problem at this stage,” Bzhania stressed.

Georgia and most of the international community do not recognize constitutional and legal framework of the polls in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.

Denouncing Abkhaz polls as illegitimate, Georgian Foreign Ministry stated on March 22 that “the so called elections in region are illegal and fully contradict international law, while half million IDPs & refugees are expelled due to ethnic cleansing, and Russian occupying power exercises effective control on ground.”

Aslan Bzhania, 57, a Soviet KGB school graduate, has long considered to become the Abkhaz leader. He was deemed the main rival of then incumbent leader, ex-KGB officer Raul Khajimba in 2019 leadership race, but had to quit the contest after being poisoned with heavy metals.

On March 2 this year, Bzhania was hospitalized again and eventually delivered to a hospital in Krasnodar, Russian regional capital some 300 kilometers north from Sochi. Bzhania was discharged from the hospital on March 11 after being treated for double multilobar aspiration pneumonia.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)