vladimir putin, georgia, russia, Abkhazia, Caucasus war
AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool
Local residents of Sukhumi, the capital of separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia, greet visiting
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009.

Putin’s Support of Abkhazia’s Independence Increases Tensions With Georgia

August 13, 2009 03:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Vladimir Putin’s promise to defend the Abkhazia region has reignited tensions with Georgia, stoking fears of another armed conflict.

Putin’s Visit Taunts Georgian Authorities

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to the Caucasus region on Wednesday, “pledg[ing] half a billion dollars to defend the breakaway region of Abkhazia” and raising tensions with Georgia, Reuters reported. So far, only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; “the rest of the world views the enclaves as part of Georgia.”

According to The Guardian, “[m]uch of the money is expected to fund construction of a new naval base in the Abkhaz town of Ochamchira, within striking distance of Georgia’s Poti and Batumi ports.” Russia also plans on strengthening Abkhazia’s borders and enlarging their air base near Gudauta.

The proximity and large scale of these plans has deeply angered Georgia, threatening the flimsy peace that had been maintained since last year’s military conflicts ended. Many fear another conflict similar to the five-day war that ended on Aug. 12, 2008. “Russia has recognised the independence of Abkhazia and intends to, and will, provide all embracing economic, political and, if needed, military support,” Reuters quoted Putin as saying.

Background: The Russia-Georgia War

The Russia-Georgia War, also known as the South Ossetia War, began in early August 2008. Russian troops invaded the Georgian region of South Ossetia on Aug. 8, giving way to an armed conflict that lasted until Aug. 12. The conflict stemmed from the separatist unrest Georgia faced in Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1993, Georgian troops were forced out of the region, and Russia tacitly supported Georgian opposition movements ever since.

“My country is in self-defense against Russian aggression. Russian troops invaded Georgia,” Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said in an interview with CNN, The Washington Times reported.

Russia, however, stated that it launched the attack to protect South Ossetia and the Russian population there. “The Georgian leadership has launched a dirty adventure,” a statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry said, according to Georgia Daily. “We will not leave our peacekeepers and Russian citizens unprotected.”

Reactions: Russia’s military expansion causes international concern

Georgia has regarded Putin’s visit to the region as a direct provocation, and an unveiled attempt to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty and “destabilise the situation and escalate tension in the Caucasus region,” Georgia’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters.

Alexander Nalbandov, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, described Russia’s military support of Abkhazia as a violation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s peace agreement, established after the conflicts in 2008. “This is an illegal initiative on occupied territory and we call on the international community to condemn it,” he told The Guardian.

The European Union has criticized Russia for allowing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to visit South Ossetia, and “said it supported Georgia’s territorial integrity,” according to Reuters. Similarly, the United States had steadfastly sided with Georgia throughout the conflicts, and has “called for Georgia’s sovereignty to be respected,” Reuters reports.

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