01 August 2021,   11:38
Russia annexes part of Gagra district - a governor accountable to Russia appointed in the village of Aibgha, writes DRI

Democratic Research Institute publishes a survey about the occupation of part of Gagra district in Abkhazia.

“In May 2021, the Russian Federation officially formalized, beyond de facto control, the annexation of the village of Aibgha, which is part of occupied Abkhazia. The area is marked as part of the Adler district of Krasnodar region, and more specifically, as one of the villages in the Nizhnyaya Shilovka community. According to the information available to the Democracy Research Institute, the governor of the Krasnodar region of Russia was charged with the supervision of the governor of the village of Aibgha, which means that a territory of Abkhazia has been formalized as part of Russia.

Russia first voiced its desire to annex Aibgha in 2001, in a conversation with the then de facto President Vladislav Ardzinba. As then Russia had not recognized the so-called independence of Abkhazia, meaning that they would have to discuss this issue with the Georgian side, they decided to suspend the issue. The situation changed radically in 2008 when Russia recognized Abkhazia and demanded the delimitation and demarcation of the “state border” with Abkhazia. Preparations for the above began in the spring of 2010. The Russian side intensified the publication of scientific articles and monographs, as well as organization of conferences in Sokhumi, where “studies” claimed that the village of Aibgha was part of the Krasnodar region. In response to this and for the purpose of preventing possible annexation, on May 21, 2010, the de facto Parliament passed the Law on State Borders of the Republic of Abkhazia, which states that “the state border between Abkhazia and the Russian Federation runs along the borders recognized by the USSR”, which implied that the village of Aibgha remained part of Abkhazia. In 2010, Abkhazians categorically rejected Russia’s offer to concede the village, although Russia resumed the process during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Abkhazia was offered to hold part of the competitions in Aibgha and to involve the village in sports events, but the Abkhaz side rejected this offer too.

The Russian Federation successfully annexed the village after the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The appointment of a governor in May 2021 is a proof of this. The annexation of the village was facilitated by two factors. The first factor was the poverty of the local population and the lack of infrastructure in the village, which Abkhazia could not eliminate with its scarce budget dependent on Russia. By 2019, none of the two schools of the village was operational, there was no medical facility, and there were problems with electricity supply. As a result of the avalanches, roads were damaged so badly that it became virtually impossible to reach the lowlands. Second, the majority of the population in Aibgha is ethnically Russian. This circumstance was again used by the Russian Federation successfully for the de facto and formal annexation of the village.

In early 2020, the local population appealed to the governor of the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation and “asked for help” in changing the unbearable conditions. Abkhazians presume that the appeal was organized by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The “appeal of the people” was followed by immediate actions by Russia, without asking for permission from Abkhazians. Russians solved the problem of electricity and transport logistics in the village, built a new road with the funding of the Sochi City Hall in the summer, built a new bridge and connected the village directly to the Psou River, but it is only possible to get to the Russian and not Abkhaz side of the village through the bridge. Sending medical brigades and humanitarian aid, as well as employing local men in the villages in Adler and Sochi, has been intensified.

In August 2020, in response to the above-mentioned processes, the Abkhaz side opened a border checkpoint on the newly built bridge on the River Psou. The opening of the border checkpoint was followed by a protest of locals. The delegation from the de facto Parliament, which arrived from Sokhumi to negotiate, was directly told by locals that they wanted the village of Aibgha to become part of the Russian Federation. On November 13, 2020, Aslan Bzhania, de facto leader of Abkhazia, raised the issue during a meeting with Putin, who promised a fair solution to the issue.On May 19, 2021, speaking at Sokhumi University, Astamur Logua, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the de facto Parliament, said that they were working with the Russian side to resolve the issue. However, according to the information available to the Democracy Research Institute, beyond official statements, Abkhazians believe that Aibgha is lost.

Ethnic Russians living in the region and representatives of the occupying forces, who are currently in Gali, have said in informal conversations that their interest is bigger - they want to fully annex the Aibgha Plateau, which stretches from the Psou River to Lake Ritsa and Avadhar, covering about 20% of the Gagra municipality. As it turns out, in addition to the heights of strategic importance, the Russian side is very interested in this area due to the large reserves of minerals on this perimeter.

In view of the above, the Democracy Research Institute calls on international actors to immediately express their position on the de facto and de jure annexation of part of Abkhazia by Russia.

The Georgian authorities should immediately use all possible formats to properly respond to the annexation of Abkhazia by the Russian Federation and to hold Russia accountable”, - reads the survey of DRI.