Presidential Candidates Strike Deal in Abkhazia

(–A last-minute deal between opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh and former Prime Minister Raul Khajimba appears to have ended a two-month stalemate over the outcome of Abkhazia’s presidential elections. Yet the pact’s consequences for Abkhazia’s relations with Georgia remain unknown. While mutual congratulations have flowed from Sukhumi and Moscow–Tbilisi has maintained a tight-lipped silence about the compromise.

Under the terms of the December 5 agreement–brokered by Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov and Abkhaz Prime Minister Nodar Khazhba–Bagapsh and Khajimba will be running mates in a second presidential election to be held at an as yet undecided date. Plans for Bagapsh’s inauguration–originally scheduled for December 6–were canceled following announcement of the pact.

Since the October 3 presidential elections in which Bagapsh claimed victory–Abkhazia has teetered on the brink of all-out civil conflict. Bagapsh’s and Khajimba’s armed supporters both hold government buildings throughout the Abkhaz capital–Sukhumi–while Bagapsh’s militias have taken control of broadcast facilities.

Commenting on the compromise to Russian television–Khajimba stated that the deal should bring the violence to an end. "We have agreed that we will take all the necessary measures . . . in order to defuse the situation," Khajimba said. Bagapsh told the Russian news agency Interfax that a "cabinet of national unity" would be formed after the second round of elections and that additional legislation would be drafted to expand the powers of the Abkhazian vice-president.

Unlike the disputed presidential election in Ukraine–Russia’s intervention in Abkhazia appears to have played a major role in tipping the scales in favor of its preferred candidate–Khajimba. On December 1–with Bagapsh’s inauguration just five days away–Russian presidential advisor Gennady Bukayev announced plans to suspend railway traffic with Abkhazia–terming the move necessary to end "instability" in the breakaway region. Already–border passage with Abkhazia had been restricted and agricultural imports from the sub-tropical region halted–a potentially fatal blow to the many Abkhaz farmers who depend on mandarin exports to Russia for their livelihoods.

Since de facto independence from Georgia in 1993–Abkhazia has been largely dependent economically and politically on Russia for its survival. While Bagapsh had vowed to withstand pressure from Moscow–the pact–according to one independent political analyst in Tbilisi–"shows that Russia’still has a tremendous amount of influence [in the region] and that even Bagapsh can’t stand up against them."


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