Mikhail Shurgalin, the Russian Ambassador to Abkhazia was interviewed by Ria Novosti on 26 August about key issues in the occupied region including whether Russian plans to expand its military presence, the transfer of the Bichvinta resort town, as well as how he plans to further relations between Abkhazia and Russia.
Russia’s Military Presence
Asked whether Russia plans to increase its military presence in Abkhazia in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Shurgalin said, “… the security of the republic is fully ensured by the forces of the 7th joint Russian military base and the border control of the FSB of Russia…”
In that context, he emphasized that while there are no plans for a new military base, both the FSB and the existing base “are constantly being improved, [and] their functioning requires the modernization of the original framework of their presence on the territory of the republic.”
Geneva International Discussions
Speaking about the Geneva International Discussions (GID) Shurgalin noted that they “have been and remain a key international format for ensuring security and stability in the Transcaucasus” which he emphasized is an attitude that is “fully shared” in Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
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He underscored however that the “United States and the European Union have set a course for the actual ‘freezing’ of the Geneva discussions” under the pretext of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which Shurgalin believes has “nothing to do with the agenda of the format…”
“The United States has long been known for its anti-Russian policy and its desire to isolate us ‘on all fronts,’ and the European Union, which acts as an intermediary in Geneva, is now guided by the same,” Shurgalin claimed.
He added that the OSCE co-moderator of GID has also “become a hostage to the Polish current chairmanship of this organization” and that the UN is the only “co-chair of [GID] who is making efforts to ‘revive’ the format. Although this organization is also subject to the influence of the moods of Western countries…”
“We hope that common sense will prevail in Brussels and Washington, and we will be able to hold one round of the Geneva discussions this year,” he concluded.
Bichvinta Resort Town
Asked about the issue of Bichvinta resort town and its effect on Russian-Abkhaz relations, Shurgalin said the issue of concluding the agreement has been “overly politicized.”
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“Simply put, the document has become hostage to the confrontation between the opposition and the authorities,” he remarked.
While Shurgalin acknowledged that the Russian Embassy has “no right and does not want to interfere in the internal affairs of Abkhazia,” since Bichvinta directly concerns Russian-Abkhaz relations, “I, as an Ambassador, would like to warn that political speculation on this topic can harm the further development of interaction between our countries.”
He underscored the importance of understanding Abkhaz readiness to “make balanced decisions” since a delay in ratifying the Bichvinta agreement will “obviously affect the desire of the Russian side to invest in such large-scale projects on the territory of the republic such as the construction of an airport, tourist facilities, [and] reconstruction of the Abkhaz railway.”
“The choice is between openness and readiness for mutually beneficial cooperation, on the one hand, or closeness and protectionism, on the other,” Shurgalin explained.
He promised however that, Bichvinta “will not negatively affect the current volume of socio-economic assistance provided to Abkhazia by Russia.”
In reference to concerns that some have raised, Shurgalin also asserted that “in no case” would Bichvinta be transferred to private individuals or third-party organizations if Russia takes ownership.
Plans for Developing Relations with Abkhazia
While discussing plans in Abkhazia for the near future, Shurgalin stated, “… bilateral relations between our countries are developing dynamically…”
He highlighted that a key area of Russian-Abkhaz cooperation is the “active development of political dialogue” including within the framework of implementing tasks outlined by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of 2009 and the Treaty of Alliance and Strategic Partnership of 2014.
He also brought attention to the intergovernmental commission on socio-economic cooperation which approves and controls investments in Abkhazia. “… Active work is underway [in the Commission] to implement the plan for the formation of a single economic and social space based on the harmonization of the legislation of the Republic of Abkhazia with the Russian one,” Shurgalin explained.
The Russian Ambassador also noted the significance of the plan for the socio-economic development of Abkhazia for 2022-2025 which was approved in December 2021.
Abkhaz Energy Crisis
Addressing the energy crisis in Abkhazia, Shurgalin stated, “… the growth of business and industrial activity in the republic leads to an increase in energy shortages. The so-called [cryptocurrency] ‘mining farms,’ non-payments for consumed electricity, unfair tariff practices, and so on, add problems.”
He noted that while Russia has so far satisfied Abkhazia’s repeated requests for additional electricity supplies from Russia, “… it is already clear to everyone that the problem of supplying electricity should be solved radically, by attracting investments in the energy sector.”