Russia confirms its strategic interests in Abkhazia and the South Caucasus

Government of Abkhazia in Sukhum
The Government of Abkhazia in Sukhum (Credits: Alaexis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 26 Issue 2
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi

The Russian State Duma’s official visit to Abkhazia confirms the Kremlin’s presence in the South Caucasus and the Abkhaz territory’s strategic role in Russia’s foreign policy. Moscow-Sukhum improving relations stress the Russian desire to confirm its influence in the Caucasus in a challenging time characterised by the Ukraine conflict and the confrontation with the West.

On December 1st, 2022, deputies of the Russian State Duma paid an official visit to Abkhazia. The Russian delegation was headed by Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament. It also included Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Neverov, Chairman of the Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Leonid Kalashnikov, Committee on Defense, Andrey Kartapolov, Committee on Tourism and Tourism Infrastructure Development, Sangadzhi Tarbaev, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, Svetlana Zhurova, Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, Konstantin Zatulin.

At the Sukhumi International Airport, an Abkhaz delegation headed by the Chairman of the People’s Assembly, Lasha Ashuba, and Russian Ambassador to the Republic, Mikhail Shurgalin, met the Russian parliamentarians.

The Abkhaz President Aslan stressed that the official Russian visit impels the bilateral relations and makes Abkhazia and Russia closer. Volodin, in turn, emphasised the two countries have a strategic alliance.

Geopolitical scenario

The 2008 Russo-Georgian Conflict marked the independence of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia). Since 2008, the Russian Government has supported Sukhum in maintaining its territory and confronting neighbouring Georgia.

After the 2021 Russian parliamentary elections, Vyacheslav Volodin was re-appointed as the Chairman of the State Duma. Therefore, on December 1st, 2022, Volodin paid his first visit to Sukhum as a chairman of the 8th State Duma and confirmed Russia-Abkhazia strategic partnership by signing with the Abkhaz authorities the cooperation agreement in different fields, especially in regional security.

Since March 2022 parliamentary elections, the new Abkhaz Government has enhanced its cooperation with Moscow by organising official visits and meetings and promoting collaboration in different fields.

Risk Assessment

The Russian military presence in Abkhazia and Moscow-Sukhum strategic relations guarantees the Kremlin’s presence in the region and supports the Russian strategy in the South Caucasus, an area part of Russia’s blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad) and lebensraum (vital space).

In the recent past, the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict confirmed the Russian Federation’s strategic role in the South Caucasus. Recently, after September 2022 Armenia-Azerbaijan military escalation, the European Union and the United States showed more interest and commitment to playing a significant role in the Caucasian dynamics by influencing the Yerevan-Baku peace talks.

Indeed, on December 1st, 2022, the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, stated that the West wants to ‘privatise’ the agreements reached between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides with the participation of Russia.

Furthermore, Russia’s strengthening relations with Abkhazia contrast with the idea that neighbouring Georgia might open a ‘second front’ in the Caucasus to divide the Russian military forces currently fighting in Ukraine.

In this scenario, we might forecast a notable Russian involvement in the South Caucasian dynamics through an improvement and development of cooperation and partnership between Russia and Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) since the Sukhum Government is concerned about the Georgian desire to take control of the Abkhaz territory by using the military force.

Considering the geopolitical consequences that the Ukraine conflict has caused in the international arena and the Russia-West confrontation, Moscow is attempting to strengthen its influence in neighbouring strategic areas such as the Caucasus thanks to diplomatic activities, economic partnerships, and military cooperation.

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