Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Georgia and Vanuatu establish diplomatic relations

On 12 July, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry announced that diplomatic relations had been established with Vanuatu. The news comes as no surprise as the intention to do so was already expressed by Vanuatu’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs Alfred Carlot in March, and by Vanuatu’s new government in April. Furthermore, with respect to Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Georgia is in itself much less relevant than Vanuatu’s general political support for Georgia as of late.

What is interesting is that the agreement signed in New York explicitly affirms that Vanuatu recognises Georgia’s territory as comprising Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But this does not yet amount to a formal suspension of Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia. The agreement was signed by ni-Vanuatu Ambassador to the U.N. Donald Kalpokas, who has a history of going against his government on the issue, triggering an attempt by Alfred Carlot to recall him (it is in fact doubtful whether he is actually still Ambassador to the U.N. at the moment).

And while President Saakashvili claimed in May that Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil of Vanuatu had confirmed to him having withdrawn recognition, a video of the meeting does not back this up, and ni-Vanuatu sources only affirm that Vanuatu has decided not to maintain diplomatic relations with Abkhazia, a subtle difference. (From the perspective of international law, it would be quite irresponsible of Vanuatu to withdraw recognition without this being merited by changed circumstances on the ground.)

Nevertheless, this is clearly a PR-victory for Georgia. Vanuatu’s change of mind would be unimpressive if Abkhazia had since secured recognition from a series of other countries, but at the moment, it only serves to underline that it has not. (Even though Abkhazia’s task to overcome Georgian and U.S. lobbying and expectations of monetary reward — justified or not — is a truly formidable one.)

Ni-Vanuatu politicians don’t come off looking very well from this. Radio New Zealand International quoted former Vanuatu Foreign Minister Jo Natuman as speculating that Alfred Carlot started pursuing friendly relations with Georgia after failing to secure money from Russia for recognising Abkhazia. This receives some confirmation by a recent statement by Australia Ministry for Foreign Affairs official Lachlan Strahan, who admitted that Russia hadn’t actually paid money to pacific states for recognising Abkhazia. And there were reports — evidently believed by former Prime Minister Sato Kilman — that one party had asked Georgia for money in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Georgia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , ,

Limited Caucasus Emirate presence in Abkhazia reconfirmed

Abkhazia’s Prosecutor’s Office has at long last finalised indictments in the investigation of several attempts on the life of President Alexander Ankvab (and Pitsunda Mayor Beslan Ardzinba). The investigation took shape and several people were arrested after the most recent attack in February 2012, that killed two of Ankvab’s guards. In line with previous statements, the Prosecutor’s Office says the attacks were ordered by crime boss Pavel Ardzinba, who is still on the run, and also involved former Interior Minister Almasbei Kchach, who committed suicide when police came to arrest him.

There seems to be no mention now of the spectacular claim made previously by the Russian National Counter-Terrorism Council that of the people involved in the assassination attempts, Rustan Gitsba and the Chitanava brothers were also planning an attack on the 2014 Sochi Olympics as part of the Caucasus Emirate. However, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, Edgar Chitanava and Rustan Gitsba were working to further the goals of the Caucasus Emirate in staging a bomb attack on the Sukhum railway on 9 August 2009.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Chechnya, Russia, , ,

Opposition leader on course to win by-election in Sukhum

Last Sunday’s by-election in constituency no. 1 in Sukhum has been won by opposition leader Daur Arshba, who will compete with former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba in a run-off on 13 July.

The by-election became necessary after the appointment of MP (and businessman) Beslan Eshba to the post of Vice Premier on 30 April. Eshba had very nearly not been an MP himself, since the original election in March 2012 — in which he had not participated — had only been declared invalid after a recount established the turnout to have been 24,9 rather than 25,1%.

While parliamentary elections in Abkhazia have become more and more competitive during the last ten years, the current by-election drew a particular prominent set of candidates. Arshba, who is Chairman of the opposition Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia, and former Vice Speaker Irina Agrba, were two of the most surprising losers of the 2012 elections and one will now enter Parliament after all. This makes Leonid Dzapshba the principal loser the first round of this by-election, scoring slightly fewer votes than Agrba (650 vs. 601 votes, 20.1 vs. 18.6%). Dzapshba was Interior Minister until the October 2011 inauguration of President Ankvab and is still under investigation for alleged embezzlement while in government, but he has not shied away from public life, recently founding his own opposition movement.

Dzapshba was in turn not too far ahead of Roman Tskua, who came in fourth place with 509 votes. The most disappointing result was perhaps attained by Roland Gamgia, who had won a plurality in the original, invalidated 2012 election, then came in second place in the re-run behind Eshba but who has now only received a paltry 9.9% fifth place. A sixth candidate, Nadir Bitiev, had run in the same constituency as Agrba in 2011 but now withdrew his candidacy shortly before election day. A seventh candidate, Lyuba Ashuba, came in last place with 22 votes (0,7%).

The close result for second place demonstrates the disadvantage of plurality-based electoral system (even with run-off) that the participation of several like-minded candidates can be detrimental to all due to vote-splitting. In the case at hand, Dzapshba and Tskua together gained more votes than winner Arshba (1043, 32.3%). By the same logic, Agrba may still win the run-off if she can get behind her the support of some of the other candidates, although past experience tells us the gap with Arshba is probably too large for that to happen.

Arshba’s present victory shows that the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia is gaining strength, following recent protests against rising energy prices and the liberal awarding of passports to Mingrelian residents in Gali District.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , ,

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