In a press conference held on November 17, Moscow-backed leader of occupied Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania answered journalists’ questions in relation to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on November 12, the controversy over the border village of Aibga, and the recent developments in Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Bzhania, an agreement to restore the functioning of the Sokhumi airport, closed since the early 1990s following the armed conflict, was reached in Sochi during his meeting with the Russian President.
“He [Putin] shares our approach and already gave relevant instructions,” Bzhania remarked, and added that the first deputy head of the Federal Air Transport Agency Oleg Storchev arrived in Abkhazia on November 17 for negotiations.
Abkhazia leader also said with President Putin they also discussed the prospects for gasification of the occupied region. He noted that Russian President ordered relevant bodies to study the issue.
Bzhania said with the Russian President they discussed long-standing controversy around the village of Aibga, that lies on the both, Russian and Abkhaz-controlled Georgian sides of Psou River.
“Russia does not intend to annex the territory of Aibga, as Sokhumi and Moscow will deal with the issue as close allies,” Abkhaz leader underscored.
Abkhaz leader also stated that “border control services” of Abkhazia and Russia will control movements across the suspension bridge connecting two parts of Aibga to prevent “illegal” transit of people and goods.
“I told him [Putin] what I know about the settlement of Aibga, relying on the documents Abkhaz side possesses. He took this information into account,” Bzhania remarked, and added that Russia does not experience a territorial deficit and in “a calm discussion,” Putin promised to solve this issue “fairly and lawfully.”
The meeting between Bzhania and Putin was preceded by political tensions in Abkhazia over the allegedly “illegal” construction of a suspension bridge by Russia connecting Aibga village with Adler District of Sochi Municipality, without prior agreement with Sokhumi. The opposition had called on Bzhania to raise this issue with Putin.
Decades-long issue of the Aibga village resurfaced again in 2019 as reports broke in Georgian media that Russia had incorporated the Aibga mountain, Georgia’s northwesternmost point controlled by the Russian-backed Sokhumi authorities. Abkhaz “foreign minister” Daur Kove rebuffed the reports as disinformation back then, noting that “the Abkhaz-Russian delimitation and demarcation commission continues working” on solving the issue.
“Lessons of Karabakh”
Aslan Bzhania stated that the war in Karabakh demonstrated how important is for Abkhazia to strengthen the ties with Russia. He said maintaining peace and ensuring the security of the occupied region are crucial goals.
“We have a global unresolved problem with Georgia. There are some analogies between the relations of Azerbaijan with Karabakh, and of Georgia with us. Against this background, it is obvious that in order to secure the interests of Abkhaz people at this stage of history, as well as in future, we should strengthen our alliance with Russia,” Bzhania asserted.
The leader of the occupied region also compared the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, stating that modern technological development in military sphere is the most important difference between the two events.
Reflecting on the security concerns of the occupied region, Bzhania recalled “open sources” showing Georgia’s military potential and possible threats coming from such capabilities. He went on drawing an analogy with Azerbaijan, referring to the transformation of its army over the past 30 years and concluding that it is good “that in South Caucasus there is such a strong factor as Russia.”