Abkhazia held a presidential election this past Sunday. Outside of the dwindling circle of Western Caucasus observers, few noted the importance of the election or even that it occurred. Why does it matter? The Caucasus is a pivotal region and the geographic point where the geostrategic interests of several prospective hegemons, countries with long-term interests in the transportation of natural resources, cross. Iran, Russia, and Turkey all have substantial interest in the continued stability of what is an essential geographical location for the transportation of energy resources extracted from the Caspian Sea basin.
Abkhazia is located in northeastern Georgia. Abkhazia officially declared secession in 1999 with Russian support. While the international community still recognizes the territory as part of Georgia, Abkhazia (along with South Ossetia) was officially declared an “occupied territory” by the Tbilisi government in late August of 2008 after the arrival of Russian military troops. While the issue of Abkhazian independence and autonomy, its administration by the newly independent former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 1991, and its present status as an “unrecognized state” goes back generations, for our purposes here I will focus upon the period following the declaration of the region as an “occupied state” in mid-2008.
Following the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Georgian authorities and government officials regularly accused Russia of supplying the separatist campaign in Abkhazia with weapons and money. While Russian troops remain in Abkhazia, separatist leaders have had a difficult time establishing international legitimacy for statehood. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Narau officially recognize Abkhazia as a state.
On June 1, Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab (considerably more Georgian-friendly than many separatist leaders preferred) stepped down, ostensibly ousted by large-scale protests following his failure to cede to the demands of separatists. In a May 5 ultimatum which demanded the dismissal of his government and the installation of radical reforms, President Ankvab was cornered by political opponents into ceding to the demands of a powerful separatist movement that was demanding radical reforms to established laws in the breakaway region. Following the political turmoil, Ankvab was unable to maintain his grip on power. He resigned June 1.