Duma’s Zatulin: Russian Military, Intelligence Supported Abkhaz since ’90s

Key Takeaways from Interview with Apsua TV

Konstantin Zatulin, a long-serving Russian Duma member from Putin’s United Russia ruling party, confirmed that many from the Russian military and State Duma have been helping the Abkhaz independence since the early 1990s. He also scolded the Abkhaz politicians for stifling Russian investment.

Wartime allies

In an August 26 interview with Apsua/Abkhaz TV, recorded on the 12th anniversary since Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia, Zatulin recalled that many Russians, including the “volunteers from the North Caucasus” had been supporting the Abkhaz cause since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

According to Zatulin, who was first elected to Russia’s State Duma in 1993, before Putin’s coming to power, the Russian policy towards Abkhazia was contradictory and at times hostile to the Abkhza cause, as seen, for example, from the economic blockade formally imposed in 1994 on Abkhazia.

The official positions back then were split, Zatulin went on, saying the Russian Foreign Ministry led by Minister Andrey Kozyrev was seeking to reintegrate Abkhazia back into Georgia, while the Russian military and Spetssluzhbi [intelligence agencies] were simultaneously backing Abkhazia “even though not publicly” as much as possible. This reiterated the old narrative against Kozyrev advanced by the Russian hardliners of the time, of whom Zatulin was a notable member.

Such support, according to Zatulin, among others, was also provided by peacekeeping forces stationed upon request of the conflicting parties to ensure the separation of their forces along the Enguri River, and by the Duma lawmakers who felt even closer to this “patriotic stance”.

He remarked that many of these people, including himself, supported,  “the independence and right of the Abkhaz nation to self-determination”, adding that they did not follow the executive’s lead in pushing for “some sort of [conflict] resolution”.

Zatulin recalled that he was part of a group of Russian MPs that penned a letter advising President Yeltsin against signing any military agreement with Georgia upon his visit to Tbilisi in early 1994, where he met Eduard Shevardnadze, then Georgian leader. Although Yeltsin still signed an agreement on arming Georgia after their defeat against the Abkhaz, Zatulin said, this agreement was not ratified by the Duma.

After 2008

The lawmaker recalled that the differences among Russian agencies existed also ahead of recognition to Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia in 2008. According to him, some in the government supported “some sort of association with Abkhazia and Ossetia” short of recognition. But these proposals were “rejected by the leadership,” according to Zatulin.

Problematic locals

During the interview, Zatulin criticized Abkhaz elites and society for hampering economic cooperation.

He ridiculed some of the Abkhaz, who say that Russia paralyzed the entrepreneurial drive of local businessmen. Zatulin blamed the Sokhumi government for delaying the adoption of regulations that could facilitate doing business. He says he constantly has to reassure the Abkhaz that “nobody is planning to take Abkhaz soil, Abkhaz nature of the real estate out of Abkhazia.”

Zatulin contrasted such delays with a bussiness-friendly climate in Georgia’s Adjara region.  Himself born in Batumi, Adjara in the family of the Soviet military serviceman, Zatulin said this region is now thriving thanks to the Georgian government’s effort to attract foreign investors.

The MP remarked that the urge of the Abkhaz MPs to be seen by the public as patriots at times prevails over their common sense. Zatulin called the restrictions preventing the Russian citizens from owning property in Abkhazia are “discriminatory”.

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