Georgia. During the latter part of the year, Georgia was
in the shadow of the Russian Federation's war against the
breakaway republic of Chechnya. Georgia accused the Russian
federation of violating Georgian airspace and bombing
Georgian villages. In August, Moscow acknowledged such an
attack and apologized. In November, Georgia made new
accusations before the UN Security Council. The Russian
Federation responded by accusing Georgia of allowing arms
smuggling across its border into Chechnya. Moscow demanded
Russian soldiers to guard the Georgian border, but Georgia
who felt militarily threatened refused.
Countryaah official website, President Eduard Shevardnadze's Western-friendly foreign
policy also came into conflict with the Russian Federation.
He supported NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia in the spring and
expressed his desire to see Georgia as a member of NATO by
2005. During the year, Georgia joined the Council of Europe.
However, in November, the Georgia and Russian Federations
agreed that the Russian Federation should, until 2001,
reduce the forces and shut down two of the four military
bases that the country has had in Georgia since the
dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the October parliamentary elections, Shevardnadze's
central party won the Citizens' Union with 42% of the vote.
The Georgia Renewal Union, an alliance of small parties
formed in protest of economic deterioration, came in second
place with 26%. Government and opposition blamed each other
for electoral fraud, and OSCE observers reported significant
In November, an agreement on new oil and gas pipelines
was signed from the Caspian Sea via Azerbaijan, Georgia and
Turkey to the port city of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. It
is hoped that the oil pipeline will be completed in 2004,
but economic analysts questioned whether the oil in the
Caspian Sea is sufficient for the project to be profitable.
In November, the Abkhazian outbreak region declared the
region independent from Georgia, after 98% voted in a
referendum. Shevardnadze condemned both the referendum and
the presidential elections held in Abkhazia and the
breakaway region of South Ossetia.
In October, a group of armed men took seven UN observers
hostage in Abkhazia, including the Swede Jörgen Öberg. All
were released undamaged after a few days.
Minority in own country
Although some economic investments in the following
decades significantly raised the standard of living,
Abkhazians still felt displaced in their own country. At the
end of the 1980s, they made up only one fifth of the
population in their home province. In early 1989, the
Abkhazians, led by Vladislav Ardzinba, launched a campaign
to free Abkhazia from Georgia.
In July 1992, a declaration of independence was issued.
Tensions between Georgians and Abkhazians escalated. Georgia
captured Suchumi and fled the rebellion leader, but after an
abkhazi counter-offensive in the fall of 1993, the Georgian
troops were forced to leave the republic.
Georgia accused forces within the Russian army of helping
the Abkhazians, which created tension in the contact between
Georgia and Russia. When Russia later began issuing Russian
citizenship to the Abkhaz, it fueled the suspicion that
Russia was secretly supporting the Abkhaz outbreak.
An armistice came into force in May 1994. It was to be
monitored by UN observers. In June, more than 3,000
soldiers, mostly Russians, were deployed in a peacekeeping
squad in a zone on the border between Abkhazia and the rest
of Georgia. They then remained.
Despite several new agreements on the cessation of fire
in the following years, riots continued to flourish.
In October 2004, a presidential election was held in
Abkhazia to appoint successor to the ill-fated Ardzinba. The
election became messy with mutual accusations of electoral
fraud. After re-election in early 2005, the opposition
candidate Sergei Bagapsh finally became new president.
The conflict intensified in the summer of 2006 when
Georgian army forces regained full control of the Kodorid
Valley in the northeast, and the Georgian-backed Abkhazian
government, which was in exile, moved there.
Aggravated crisis in 2008
In March 2008, the Abkhazian Parliament called on the UN
and other international organizations to recognize the
independence of the territory. Just before that, in another
Georgian outbreak province, South Ossetia, Parliament had
made a similar statement. Then a direct parallel was drawn
to Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from
Serbia a few weeks earlier.
In April, Georgia's President Saakashvili submitted a
proposal for greater autonomy for Abkhazia against the
outbreak, recognizing Georgia's supremacy over the area. The
proposal was rejected by the political leadership of
Shortly thereafter, Russia withdrew from a 1996 treaty
established within the Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS) that would isolate the outbreak regime in Abkhazia
through trade sanctions and prohibitions on other contacts.
Russia claimed that "conditions had changed" and said
contacts with Abkhazia would now be strengthened. In May,
Moscow increased the number of Russian soldiers in the
peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia.
Bagapsj declared in June that the province's border with
the rest of Georgia would be closed until further notice.
The cause was said to be a series of bomb blasts, among
others, in Suchumi that injured at least twelve people,
including a Russian tourist. According to Bagapsh, Georgian
special forces were behind the explosions, something the
Government of Georgia denied.
In July, a series of new explosions occurred on both
sides of the Georgian-Abkhazian border. One of them, in an
Abkhazian cafe, demanded four lives, causing the Abkhazian
leadership to discontinue all contact with Georgia.
When direct fighting between Georgian and Russian troops
broke out in South Ossetia in August (see Georgia: Current
Policy), tensions also increased in Abkhazia. Russia
introduced military reinforcements in the area and Russian
planes bombed Georgian positions in the Kodorid Valley. The
force of the breakaway republic entered Kodori and returned
to the area.
After the war, Moscow recognized Abkhazia's independence
and entered into a friendship and cooperation agreement with
Abkhazia's leaders. This laid the foundation for military
cooperation and Russia was given the right to hold military
bases in the republic.
One year after the war, Abkhazia was visited by Russian
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He declared that Russia will
support the military outbreak region militarily if needed
and promised the equivalent of SEK 3.6 billion to strengthen
Abkhazia's military security. Georgia described Putin's
visit as a provocation, and the EU considered that the visit
violated the principles of territorial integrity and would
not have happened without Georgia's consent.