Russian Abkhaz ‘Coup’ Timed to Georgia-EU Deal: Alasania

A “coup” last month in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia was staged by Russia as a warning to Georgia as it prepares to deepen ties with the European Union, the country’s defense minister said.

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

“It’s a coup that Russian special services staged,” Irakli Alasania said in an interview in Brussels today. “In my point of view it is tied and tailored specifically before the signing of the association agreement of Georgia.”

EU President Herman Van Rompuy said today that the bloc will sign association agreements with the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova ahead of an EU summit later this month. The agreements, intended to deepen political and economic ties, provide for the creation of free-trade areas.

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.

Alasania, who attended a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers in Brussels, said Russia’s next step would be to sign its own version of association agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “to demonstrate to us and to the west that Russia is still in charge.”

Russia regards the political upheaval in Abkhazia as an ‘‘internal matter,’’ Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on June 2.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today that Georgia has made progress in meeting NATO conditions for membership, and the alliance stands by its pledge to admit Georgia if it meets all the conditions that have been set.

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