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Explainer: Viacheslav Chirikba resigns as Foreign Minister of Abkhazia

On 20 September, Viacheslav Chirikba announced his resignation as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia. Subsequent statements by him and President Raul Khajimba present diverging accounts of what happened.

Who is Chirikba?
Viacheslav Chirikba is a respected Caucasian linguist, educated in Kharkiv (Ukraine) and Leiden (the Netherlands). He has also acted as Abkhazia’s representative in Western Europe since the early nineties before being appointed as Foreign Minister in 2011 upon Alexander Ankvab’s election as President. He was one of a handful of government members to survive the revolution against Ankvab and the subsequent election of Raul Khajimba.

Why did Chirikba resign now?
Both accounts agree that he was not going to be re-appointed by Khajimba, so his resignation was not exactly voluntary. The previous Prime Minister, Artur Mikvabia, resigned in late July. Following standard procedure, the rest of the cabinet continued in caretaker mode. Khajimba appointed Mikvabia’s successor Beslan Bartsits in early August, and most ministers were either re-appointed or replaced in the weeks that followed. Conspicuously, Chirikba was neither re-appointed nor replaced, remaining in his post only as acting Foreign Minister, even while the new cabinet started working.

Why was Chirikba not re-appointed?
This is where the President and Chirikba disagree. The President’s office initially claimed Chirikba was not re-appointed because he refused to lead the Abkhazian delegation to Transnistria to attend the Republic Day celebrations in early September. Chirikba rejects the account of the President’s Office of that episode, and claims the decision not to re-appoint him had already been made at that point, although he doesn’t know why. This in fact appears more credible, because when the delegation visited Transnistria, the other ministerial appointments had already been made.

In a later press conference, Khajimba indicated Chirikba had not been active enough, that he had failed to deliver in time a foreign policy plan, and that as the head of the ministry, he was responsible for financial issues that have been discovered by the Chamber of Control. It is possible Khajimba was simply dissatisfied with Chirikba’s performance.

Why did Chirikba not go to Transnistria?
The President’s Office claims Chirikba refused to lead the delegation because he feared that if he were deported from Moldova, this would have consequences for travelling in Europe in the future. In the event, the delegation was led by Deputy Minister Oleg Arshba, who was indeed deported. As allegations go, this appears relatively harmless, especially since being able to travel through Europe should be a legitimate concern for a Foreign Minister. Chirikba himself claims that he had in fact planned to lead the delegation, but that on the eve of the departure, he suffered from an attack of hypertension, and that this is why he sent Arshba instead, and, moreover, that in doing so, he was not disobeying any direct order from President Khajimba.

What else does Chirikba say?
Chirikba claims that for the month leading up to his resignation, Khajimba refused to meet him to discuss important aspects of foreign policy, and in particular, that Khajimba was unreachable when he suffered his attack of hypertension that prevented him from visiting Transnistria and that instead, he received an angry phone call by Prime Minister Bartsits. Chirikba says that he originally submitted his resignation on 31 August, which must have been right after this phone call, but that he failed to obtain any reaction from Khajimba, and so now decided to make his resignation public.

As it stands, Khajimba comes out of this looking badly. His failure to either re-appoint Chirikba or to appoint someone else in time, and his apparent unwillingness to communicate with Chirikba betray a lack of professionalism and leadership, and have left him without a foreign minister.

How has Chirikba done as Foreign Minister?
There are two factors that complicate any evaluation of Chirikba’s track record. First, it is unclear how much the Abkhazian foreign ministry can do, given that its work is actively sabotaged by the West, and it is unclear how much support it receives from Russia. Second, the ministry does not discuss much of its activity openly, precisely because this would provide further opportunity for sabotage.

The biggest disappointment of Chirikba’s ministry is that he failed to increase the number of countries that recognise Abkhazia. In his defence, it has always seemed that his strategy was to pursue less visible long-term development, rather than short-term success stories, perhaps consciously foregoing further recognition by pacific island states that might be hard to consolidate, as in the case of Vanuatu and Tuvalu, in favour of building support in countries closer to home, in particular Turkey and Italy. His achievements include permanent representations there, friendship agreements on the regional and municipal level, a polling station for Abkhazian elections in Istanbul, the repatriation of members of the Abkhazian diaspora from Syria and the professionalisation of the foreign ministry.

Who succeeds Chirikba?
Daur Kove, who served as Deputy Minister between 2006 and 2010. Khajimba appointed Kove more than two weeks after Chirikba’s resignation, underlining the fact that he did not have a clear candidate at the time. Kove (1979) represents a younger generation, who may bring with him fresh energy and original ideas, although both Deputy Minister Kan Tania (1987) and Irakli Khintba (1983), another former Deputy Minister, who now leads the Russian theatre, might have made for even bolder choices.

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