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October 15, 2001
Abkhazia Seeks to Escape from Georgian Sphere of Influence – into Russia’s “Associate member status” with Russia preferred over annexation by Georgia
By Patricia Heffernan

The premier of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, Anri Dzhergenniya, announced on Sunday that the region is actively trying to cobble together a political framework, within which Abkhazia could be incorporated into the Russian Federation.

During a nationally televised interview on TV6 Sunday night, Dzhergenniya underscored the fact that an official notification of the region's political initiative had already been sent to Moscow, regarding the "associate membership" of Abkhazia within the Russian Federation.

Dzhergenniya went on to say that the concept would mean Abkazia's incorporation into Russia's legal system. "We're talking about unified legislation, a single currency, as well as joint border and customs services", said the premier, adding that, "fundamentally, we're talking about Abkhazia joining Russia".

There has so far been no response from Moscow, admitted Dzhergenniya. Based on recent statements made by President Putin on the issue, any response may be a long time in coming. If Russia does make an official statement on the question, it will almost certainly be in the negative.

Speaking from the Kremlin over the weekend, Vladimir Putin outlined Russia's position of principle in the matter of territorial integrity of Georgia. "We believed in the past and continue to believe today that our position on this issue will not change: Georgia's territorial integrity must be assured," he stated. In this connection, Russia regards the difficulties in relations between Abkhazia and Georgia "as Georgia's internal political problem."

Perhaps sensing Russia's overwhelming reluctanceto antagonize Georgia by considering Abkhazia's request, the premier noted that approximately 50,000 Russian citizens currently live in Abkhazia.

Meanwhile, military activity in the region continues, as Abkhazia's armed forces launched airstrikes against groups of retreating Chechen rebels, who had managed, over the past 48 hours, to breakout of their encirclement in Abkazia's Kodorskiy Gorge, in the republic's Sugarhead Mountain region.

Abkhazia's deputy defense minister, Garry Kupalba, told Russian newswires on Monday that "Last Sunday, at approximately 16:00, one of the groups of rebels retreating from the Kodorskiy Gorge was discovered, and airstrikes were launched against them." Such statements are obviously motivated to soften Russia's likely negative response to Abkhazia's political overture, by underlining - what Abkazia is characterizing as its - firm stand on Russia's side in the struggle to suppress Chechen insurgents.

Jumping on the anti-terrorism bandwagon to further bolster their own political agenda - in yet another effort to increase the breakaway republic's slim chances of support from Moscow for their political initiative - Kupalba underscored the fact that, "the Abkhazian armed forces are using all weapons at their disposal in the fight against terrorists."

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