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Thursday
Sep172009

Abkhazia

Abkhazia rests on the southeast shores of the Black Sea.   More than 80% of the land is mountainous.   Some of the mountains have permanent snow cover.  However, the coastal plains and lowlands have a subtropical climate.   It is often warm and sunny and some areas do not ever or rarely have freezing temperatures.  Agricultural goods include tobacco, citrus fruits and cattle. 

Abkhazia has about 200,000 people.  The capital and largest city is Sukhom.  It sits on the coast in central Abkhazia.  The primary tourist region runs from south of the border with Russia at Gagra to Pitsunda.  Novy Afon is a major shrine of Orthodox Christianity.  

Due to its dramatic beauty with the Caucasus Mountains extending down to the sea and warm climate, Abkhazia has been a major tourist destination.  During Soviet times, it was regarded as the number one destination for vacationers in the entire Soviet Union.  Stalin had 5 country homes (dachas) built there, most with sweeping sea or lakeside views.  Khrushchev had 4 and Gorbachev had 1, also.

Monday
Sep142009

Crossing into Abkhazia

I arrived in Sochi early this afternoon and will cross the border into Abkhazia later today.  The border is only about 20 miles from Sochi's center.

Preparations are in the final stages for the Sochi Economic Forum which will be held from September 17- 20.  The Forum is one of two held each year in Russia.   Governmental and business leaders from all over Russia and the world attend.  Sochi has a great deal of significance because of the growth in the region and the 2014 Winter Olympiad, which will be held here.  Prime Minister Putin has a dacha outside of Sochi in the mountains at Krasnaya Polyana.  The alpine events are to be held nearby.

I should be able to post from Abkhazia and I will add photos from the trip later.  I expect to return to Sochi later in the week to fly to Moscow for meetings.

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Friday
Sep112009

Abkhazia hopes for Turkish recognition

This week's visit by a high level Turkish diplomat  has  raised hopes of official recognition by Turkey.   The Abkhazian Diapora in Turkey numbers about 500,000 and they are pressing for closer ties.  Abkhazia would like to see direct transportation links as well as aid and trade.  The situation is complicated for Turkey.  They have close ties with Georgia;  their citizens can use Georgian airports without a passport.    So,  Turkey  has not changed its official policy on recognition of Georgia's borders.   But Abkhazia would like Turkey to mediate the sea blockade that Georgia maintains.   Russia, which supports Abkhazia, is a huge trade partner for Turkey.  At least the visit is a hopeful sign.

Friday
Sep112009

On Abkhazia

Several weeks ago, Georgia intercepted a Turkish merchant vessel bound for Abkhazia. They then put the captain on trial and sentenced him to 24 years in prison (Only after the Turkish foreign minister visited did they agree to release him.). This was followed by bellicose statements towards Abkhazia.  If there is a more self-defeating posture Georgia could take, I would be surprised. It looks like Georgia hopes that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will fail, but that is not going to happen. That should be obvious after Russia announced they would spend $500 million for the security and defense of Abkhazia.

Anyone with knowledge of the Caucasus, except the Georgian nationalists, knows that these regions are not going to be reintegrated. And it appears to me that the Georgian nationalists were part of the problem in the first place. Reportedly, they wanted to limit the number of "guests" (i.e those who were not Georgian or, I think, Mingrelian) in the Republic of Georgia to 5% in the period before the two countries declared their independence.  This would be very threatening to an Abkhazian or South Ossetian.

It seems to me that a better posture would have been to accept some sort of autonomy in 1992 or even in 1995 after the wars, and to create a "Transcaucasian Economic and Security Zone" with the other governments in the region. Perhaps with time, there could have been normal relations and Georgia could have participated in their economic development. Maybe it would not have worked, but it seems to me that what they are doing is guaranteed not to work. They are driving the Ossetians and Abkazians right to Russia for aid and protection.But the man on the street in the U.S. thought that the conflict last year was about Georgia's independence. Senator John McCain's "We are all Georgians" was a terribly uninformed statement. "We" might be, but I am pretty sure that the Ossetians and Abkhazians don't think that they are. They have strong national identities, their own cultures and languages.  Georgia is seen as colonizer and oppressor, but Russia and the Russians are seen very favorably.

The common American view has been that Georgia's "territorial integrity" is at issue. But Georgia did not spring fully formed from the ether in the shape that President Saakashvili is trying to resurrect. The modern borders of Georgia were decided by Josef Stalin after the South Caucusus was brought back into Moscow's orbit following the chaos of the revolution and civil war. So a Georgian running the Soviet Union drew the borders and moved Georgians into the two regions.

I thought it was amusing that McCain and former President Bush were supporting Stalin on the issue. But I never saw anyone in the media point it out.

I know several Abkhazians very well and despite years of American support for Georgia, my experience has been that Abkhazians view Americans favorably. U.S. recognition would lead to quicker reconstruction (and investment opportunities for American firms) in the region, enhanced American prestige and better relations with Russia. I suppose Georgia won't like it, but I don't think that they are going to shut the oil off.

Friday
Sep112009

Venezuela recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia

September 10 in Moscow, President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela will give formal recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  I wonder if Cuba and maybe Bolivia will soon follow.  I have read that Belarus and Syria are considering the move, also.