New Abkhaz de facto leadership suggests détente with Tbilisi and passports for Georgians from the Gali district
Two high ranking officials of the new Abkhaz de facto government – the head of the region’s security council, Sergei Shamba and its de facto prime minister Alexander Ankvab – have recently suggested the development of trade relations and dialogue with Tbilisi. These statements, coupled with support for passportisation of ethnic Georgians living in the Gali district controlled by Abkhazian de facto authorities were met with harsh criticism from local opposition groups.
Sergei Shamba gave a lengthy interview to RFE/RL’s Russian-language Ekho Kavkaza on August 8 in which he claimed that the armed conflict with Tbilisi „is over“ and therefore, Sukhumi should think, how to build „friendly relations“ with Tbilisi. Former Abkhazian prime minister and minister of foreign affairs specifically spoke of „legalising“ trade and preventing smuggling across the Enguri River, which divides this separatist region from Georgia proper. Shamba admitted that agreement with Georgia on trade is not realistic at the moment, as Tbilisi rejects sealing any deal with representatives of Sukhumi, but he added that the latter could still introduce customs control on such goods.
Regarding the sensitive issue of Abkhaz citizenship for ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia’s easternmost district of Gali, Shamba stressed, that these people should not be alienated, especially „as they are mostly indigenous inhabitants of Abkhazia.“ Denying Abkhaz „passports‘ to Gali Georgians on the grounds of their holding of Georgian citizenship is „wrong“, taking into account the fact that Abkhaz enjoy having Russian passports even though Sokhumi and Moscow have not yet signed an agreement on dual citizenship, added the new head of the region’s security council.
In a similar sense continued Alexander Ankvab, Abkhazia’s de facto head of the government, in his interview with local media outlet Apsnypress on August 13.
Ankvab noted that it is „unfair „to deprive Gali Georgians their Abkhaz passports. On the other hand, de facto prime minister slammed a recent statement by Georgian Reconciliation Minister Paata Zakareishvili, who claimed that the new Abkhaz leadership is „less pro-Russian“ than the previous one. Ankvab called it „ridiculous.“ „There were no such leaders in the Abkhaz political space, and there are none. This fully applies to president Bzhania, Ankvab, Shamba, and Khajimba,“ he underscored.
These comments were however met with harsh criticism from local opposition groups. In its statement from August 17, „Aruaa“, an influential union of Abkhaz war veterans, said that Ankvabs statements regarding passportisation of the Gali district have bred resentment „among all patriotic forces of the country.“ Organisation also claimed that the de facto prime minister is neglecting the rights of other nationalities residing in Abkhazia while advocating exclusively for the rights of Georgian nationals. Aruaa reminded Ankvab that similar policies of „illegal“ issuance of Abkhaz „passports“ to Georgian citizens had led to his ousting from the office back in 2014, and threatened with protests.
Abkhaz political party „Apsny“ in its statement expressed concerns over Abkhaz leadership’s consideration of cooperation with Georgia, which due to the statement remains „in a state of war with us (Abkhaz)“.
In 2014, the Abkhaz Parliament annulled the previously-issued Abkhaz passports of the 27,000 inhabitants of Gali District, due to the dual-citizenship of its inhabitants (most of whom are ethnic Georgians) with Georgia, which is illegal under the laws of Abkhazia.