Russia Says Abkhaz Leader’s Ouster Won’t Derail Relations

Russia said its ties with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia won’t be affected by political upheaval that ousted the territory’s leadership.

“I’m sure relations between Russia and Abkhazia will continue to develop,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters today in Moscow. “We regard the crisis in Abkhazia as an internal matter.”

Protesters irked at a lack of progress on integration with Russia stormed the presidential administration in the capital, Sukhumi, on May 27, forcing the country’s leader, Alexander Ankvab, to resign at the weekend. His prime minister followed a day later. A presidential election has been set for Aug. 24.

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia after a war in the early 1990s that left hundreds of thousands displaced. In August 2008, Russia routed Georgia’s army in a war over another separatist region, South Ossetia, and then recognized both regions’ independence, agreeing to defend their borders. Georgia considers both regions part of its territory.

Infighting within the elite over the distribution of Russian aid has been growing, according to Svante Cornell, research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program in Stockholm.

“There’s a big fight over money coming from Russia as it’s the primary source of income,” he said by phone.

Nugzar Tsiklauri, a lawmaker from the former ruling party of ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, said Ankvab was removed to avoid any rapprochement with Georgia and the election will be won by forces that will cement ties further with Russia.

Ankvab was elected in 2011 and survived several attempts on his life in recent years. His overthrow makes it less likely the Abkhaz authorities will try to engage with Georgia’s central government, according to Anna Walker, an analyst at London-based advisory group Control Risks.

“Any overture to the government in Tbilisi would be taken as a sign of weakness,” Walker said by e-mail.

To contact the reporters on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net; Helena Bedwell in Tbilisi at hbedwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net Andrew Langley

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