#39 - JRL 2009-149 - JRL Home
12 August 2009
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with representatives of the Abkhazian opposition

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, esteemed colleagues.

Mr Sergei Bagapsh and I have decided that this meeting would be timely during the first visit of a Russian Government delegation to Abkhazia. As I see it, the meeting is all the more necessary considering major recent changes in Russian-Abkhazian relations now that Russia has recognised the independence and state sovereignty of the Republic of Abkhazia.

You know how much Russia has done for this decision. I mean not material expenditures but human lives laid down for Abkhazian independence and complete security.

We and the Abkhazian Government have discussed our further partnership in practically all spheres-security, equipping the border, security efforts by the Armed Forces and, last but not least, social welfare.

President Bagapsh and I visited a maternity ward to see its recent repairs. It is next doors to the Central Republican Hospital. The plan we have drafted for 2010-2011earmarks total 10.9 billion rouble allocations on social and economic development-infrastructural projects, transport, communications, social welfare, health services and education.

I know that Abkhazia is preparing to major domestic political events, in particular, presidential elections. While supporting the Abkhaz nation in its striving for independence and sovereignty, Russia has never interfered in its domestic policy. Many in this gathering know it quite well.

However, we always rely on the incumbent authorities in our practical work. We cannot do otherwise because none but incumbents are responsible for the state of affairs in the republic.

But-I repeat-we never interfere in domestic political processes.

Russian-Abkhazian contacts are vitally important not only for the independence and sovereignty of the Abkhazian state but also for sheer survival of the Abkhaz as an ethnic entity. The essential importance of those relations and interstate links takes them beyond the limits of domestic political struggle, as I see from my contacts with the public. I am glad to see the supra-partisan nature of our relations and, I assure you, Russia will treat those relations as being above political parties.

Speak up please.

Raul Khajimba: Thank you for sparing time to meet with us-people no less responsible than others for what is on in Abkhazia and its relations with Russia.

We have been building those relations, irrespective of who was at the helm. We are grateful to Russia for being the first to recognise Abkhazia and create conditions for us to get out of a situation that has complicated Abkhazian developments all these years.

We see how much we oppositionists are responsible for the future of Abkhazia. We owe this realisation to the experience of political struggle we had stored before 2004. We never doubt that we can create conditions to avoid confrontation-but we have our own opinions, vision and bearings.

We are no different from the incumbents. That is our principal bearing point, whatever the press might be saying about the opposition. Abkhazia has no people to switch to other goals. We are building relations with Russia, and are going to do so in the future. We make it a point to be faithful to norms set by the previous and present leaderships. We all share goals.

The inner content of our statehood arouses certain questions. I think this is normal, and authorities should realise the presence of questions to be posed, and to be taken up in a normal political dialogue.

Gennady Alamia: I represent the World Congress of the Abkhaz-Abaza People. That is my partisanship. You see, the principal forces of Abkhazian opposition slightly differ from the classical concept of opposition. We have given you a book about Vladislav Ardzinba {the Abkhazian President in 1990-2004}. It presents the political line we have adhered to from the start, with a retrospect of the national liberation movement, the war and post-war years. We have not given up their ideals. I often say in joke that not we but people who have deviated from those ideals are true oppositionists.

We have our own stance on what is going on. Your visit and this reception matter tremendously to me. I am extremely grateful to you because of my contacts with the Abkhaz Diaspora. You have visited Turkey recently, so you know its opinion of you. I think you have been told about it.

The Abkhaz Diaspora has been indoctrinated for 150 years to believe that Tsarist Russia was conducting a policy hostile to Abkhazia and they had to flee due to that policy. We have overcome this brainwashing, I daresay-not we alone but also Russia with its policy of the last few years. Opinions of Russia have made an amazing U-turn.

I spent two months in Turkey recently to visit 14 cities. If the Turkish secret services were shadowing me, I will be never again admitted to that country. I told them out loud why Abkhazia should side with Russia. They understood, believe it or not!

Some border services are spoiling it all. We are bringing ethnic Abkhaz tourist groups from Turkey to their ancestral land. A youth group is here now. You treat them well. If there are any suspicious persons in those groups, you can spot them with my help. Don't treat them with the old prejudice: "They are from Turkey? Dark horses, the lot of them!" Such attitudes destroy what we are doing.

You see what I mean? Border guards should take unbiased attitudes to those people because we are influencing them. Not that they should be admitted without any checks.

It is very hard to exercise such influence but we have been success, to an extent. The affair is connected with the Olympics. Other countries are getting ready. They are spending huge money to indoctrinate the Caucasian Diaspora, which is eight to ten million strong. Remember what Tibetans were saying worldwide during the Beijing Olympics? Something similar is brewing now, I am afraid. You know what sums South Korea is spending on such purposes. We take it all into consideration.

We should make 52 countries turn face to Russia and thank it after the Sochi Olympics. That is what we mean to do. I want you to see that we are not in a tug-of-war for power.

A recently adopted law gives the Abkhaz Diaspora a status equal to Georgian refugees'. We have arranged rallies and other protest actions because this law threatens the Abkhazian state.

Vladimir Putin: So you object to it?

Gennady Alamia: More than that. I was among the first to protest. I was shouting against it because such a law should be out of the question. No country in the world has done anything like that. Is Abkhazia anxious to be more progressive than the whole wide world?

Abkhazia should not offer itself into Russian slavery. I want to be Russia's friend. I know you regard Abkhazia as a beggar whining: "We cannot do this and that, we cannot keep body and soul together without alms." That is the root of present attitudes to my country. True, we have to be as modest as a small nation should-but we must realise that we can make Russia's true friends.

It matters to me tremendously. I have lived in Russia for 12 years and travelled about it. I have gone to the back of beyond. I have written verse about Russia. And if some agencies doomed to vanish soon come now and make doubtful agreements, our relations will be spoiled.

We should not sow the seed today that might sprout evil tomorrow, I said once. Russian-Abkhazian relations must be guarded against headlong steps. As the whole world knows, we have no friend but Russia who would understand us.

Vladimir Putin: There is also Nicaragua, but it is very far away. True, there are no more friends.

Gennady Alamia: We really think so, not merely because we are in a deadlock. That is natural. Russians are our brothers, so we want to have rights equal to theirs. As I have said, your daughters and my son are of about the same age. Great Russia is behind them, and small Abkhazia behind my son. Does than mean they cannot make friends as equals do?

It will be fine if things go on like that. The Russian Diaspora here is 150,000 strong, and the Abkhaz Diaspora is about a million. We must convince them all to sympathise with Russia. That is even more important to Abkhazia than Russia. We are working to change public attitudes to Russia.

Thank you for everything you have done for us. We do need confirmation of our success from the Russian leadership. You said just a sentence about Abkhazia during your visit to Turkey-the last but one. It was carried far and wide, and things improved much. I am believed thanks to you, and I am grateful.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. As for the Diaspora in Turkey, the matter cannot be settled outside Russian relations with that country-that's the whole problem. But Russian-Turkish relations are developing apace.

These neighbourly have never made such rapid progress before-never in history, I think, with the exception of Ataturk's short presidency, when Turkey had exceptional contacts with Soviet Russia. That was a very short time, and relations rested on quite a different basis.

Current relations base on mutual interests and respect. I agree with everything you have said with the exception of one situation, which I know better than you do, believe me. You say we Russians regard Abkhazia as a beggar. That is not so. We treat Abkhazia as a small country in trouble, as a fraternal nation that needs support but is able not merely to assert its independence, as it has done within the previous decades, but also to achieve a renaissance.

Abkhazia certainly needs help and support. Reciprocally, Russia needs a friendly country in the south, and will work for it.

Vladimir Zantaria: Mr Putin, thank you once again for this wonderful meeting. It is a rare occasion. I remember the strong impression you made about two years ago when you mentioned Abkhaz-Adyg and Abkhaz-Circassian genetic links in a live broadcast. We were glad to hear you say it.

Today, we have watched your interview over the Abkhazian Television all together in our opposition headquarters. It is a subtle thing, and we are pleased to hear you refer to the history of Russian-Abkhazian relations and the incorporation of Abkhazia in Russia.

You are a man who understands all these subtleties by mind and intuition, and we are sure you are able to help us out of many difficulties.

I want to inform you about differences between the Abkhazian authorities and opposition-differences over essential matters, as Mr Raul Khajimba said.

We think we should join hands with the national leaders for explicit strategies on those matters. We have none yet, so headlong steps are made occasionally. I think you are too busy to have heard about amendments to the Citizenship Law of 2005, which our Parliament has passed.

As I see it, the law regulated the naturalisation of ethnic Georgians in the Gali District rather effectively. Still, the whole world recurs to particular forms of naturalisation during armed clashes. There are well-tested procedures, such as residence permits and suchlike.

Possibly, people who have cooperated with Abkhazia openly and fruitfully deserve naturalization, and might be granted it-but to natularise the entire population of the Gali District is a preposterous idea! Anti-Russian saboteur bands are in hiding to this day in Lower Lakes and some other localities. Georgian gangs perpetrate anti-Russian acts even now.

So parliamentarians and reliable politicians should take a very responsible attitude to such decisions, and analyse all their aspects-legal, political, ethnic and cultural.

We have nothing against certain privileges for Georgian refugees returning after proper checks.

However, the latest amendments have caused public unrest in Abkhazia, with rallies. I think such decisions as that demand the utmost circumspection.

I want to make another remark. You have mentioned Abkhazian-Russian economic relations in your interview today. You have made a tactful reference to our economy being vulnerable after the war and the economic blockade. It has been said before, too.

We received a new lease of life in the 1990s. We know we had it thanks to your personal courage when you introduced border-crossing privileges. There was a time when exit from Abkhazia was banned to men. Now, things are normal, more or less.

So when you talk economics, we are pleased to hear about Russian aid and upcoming investments. But we should develop our economy ourselves. Regrettably, we have no explicit economic concept and programme. It's all a trial-and-error business. I do not think it satisfies you, because we will never get out of dire straits unless we make at least small economic progress and monitor our budget, what with corruption and other problems we share with Russia.

We also think that we oppositionists need a dialogue with the Abkhazian leadership. Meanwhile, we have none. We speak to each other from a distance. That is bad. We have problems with access to information, though there is a relevant law. There are some other problems, too.

We are not too happy with the Russian press coverage of Abkhazian life. Not that we think we have the right to interfere in Russian press affairs but we see that unofficial viewpoints and opinions are mentioned extremely rarely. I was glad to see my recent interview published in Literaturnaya Rossia, a weekly with a large readership. It pleased me as a writer. I did not seek contacts. The journalists found me themselves, and showed very objectively that I represented the opposition. That was good. But the Russian press presents clashing opinions only on rare occasions.

That is about all I have wanted to say. Thank you. We hope many problems of our concern will be settled. You Russians are helping Abkhazia. Its age-long dream has come true, however high-falutin' it might sound.

There are representatives of the national liberation movement of the 1970s and 80s in this gathering. I took part in it, too. I attended rallies appealing to Russia. Now, we have gained independence due to Russian help. We are euphoric. Now is the time to secure what has been achieved through bloodshed and thanks to generous Russian help. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Allow me to make comments.

First, I know about the law on citizenship in the Gali District. To be honest, Russia encouraged the former Abkhazian leadership in settling refugee return to the area.

Today, Abkhazia has something to report to the world. It can say to all who are not recognising its independence, and all who are encroaching on its interests at the negotiation table, that it is good on its pledges-which strengthens its position at talks.

As for those people's status, it is up to the Abkhaz leaders, public and parliament. I have an opinion but I do not think I should express it now.

As for an economic development plan, you certainly remember the situation after World War Two. Europe never blushed to benefit from the Marshall Plan, though it possessed a sophisticated infrastructure, and could rehabilitate even single-handed after centuries of previous development. Progress needs an impetus.

That was why I met with President Bagapsh in Sochi some time ago, and that is why we have met again today to discuss the problem. We have blueprinted teamwork in 2010-2011. Our plan envisages 10.9 billion rouble allocations. Russia will carry on help with many social issues, continue pension payments, and so on.

This plan is not as ambitious and comprehensive as the Marshall Plan of European Recovery, but it can give Abkhazia an impetus for independent development. To launch the independent progress of the Abkhazian economic basis, which includes tourism, energy, communications, development of natural resources, trade and consumer services is the basic goal of the plan. We have discussed all those spheres today.

As for the mass media, you are right to say that I can only recommend to government-financed outlets to reflect the official views of the Russian Government and Foreign Ministry. That is the function of government outlets. On the whole, however, they should reflect other points, too.

As for nongovernment outlets, we are often criticised for alleged attempts to handle them-which is wrong. Mind you, media people are attending this meeting. Their presence shows that I want you heard by the public. That is my personal stance.

Daur Arshba: I want to thank you, as others have, for meeting with us and for all that Russia has done for Abkhazia in modernity.

As a member of parliament, I cannot keep silent about the latest parliamentary situation round the passing and later abrogation of the bill on the Gali District.

You were right to say that the problem is rooted in the distant past. There is another complication-I do not think such a large number of refugees have returned after any other contemporary conflict. I think the Abkhazian leadership has complied with the relevant humanitarian standards.

However, there are international legal and political aspects to the problem. The population of the Gali District was not a mere onlooker. We regard it as one of the conflicting parties, so the problem demands a relevant approach.

This is not a domestic Abkhazian political conflict-it has a geopolitical content. The increase of the ethnic Georgian population might upset the demographic balance and be used as a tool of pressuring Abkhazia and changing the present geopolitical situation in the region.

We are monitoring all processes. We know about the attempts to pressure Russia when it was working for the international community to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

We know there are forces that are out to re-enact the past though that is hardly possible. We should withstand from headlong steps, as the one mentioned-but I think certain forces make use of such steps to influence Abkhazian domestic developments and use them on the international scene.

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