Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
On 11 October 2017, the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the armed forces of the separatist republic of Abkhazia was celebrated. Despite festive mood, part of the Abkhazian public and the political elite believe that the level of influence of Abkhazians in the field of security of Abkhazia has been declining since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, whilst the level of influence of Russia is increasing year-by-year. Russia’s growing activities are noticeable in several directions, especially in the fields of defense, policing and controlling the de-facto border.
Russia’s Seventh Military Base and Russian Generals
After 2008 Russia-Georgia war, the protection of the Russian interests in the defense field of Abkhazia and the security of the separatist republic of Abkhazia is being ensured by the Seventh Military Base of Russia, headed by Igor Egorov since 2017. The Seventh Military Base is subject to the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation, which is headed by Alexander Dvornikov since 2016. Before his appointment, Dvornikov was the leader of the Russian army military grouping in Syria. The Southern Military District exists since 2010 and is tasked with defending the southern border of the Russian Federation. Apart from Abkhazia, the forces of the District are also placed on the territory of the Tskhinvali region. The local Border Police Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, working on the occupied Georgian territories since 2009, is also under the command of the Military District.
Dvornikov himself is looking after the processes and projects taking place in the field of defense in Abkhazia, monitoring of which is his direct responsibility. He visits Abkhazia quite often. For example, in May 2017 Dvornikov inspected the existing infrastructure as well as the infrastructural projects being implemented at the Russian base in Abkhazia, also checking the condition of military technologies placed there.
The level of influence of the Russian soldiers over the Abkhazian armed forces is also quite high. Representatives of the Russian Federation hold high-profile positions in the armed forces of Abkhazia. In this sense, we must single out Anatoly Khruliov, who has served as the Deputy Minister of Defense of the de-facto republic of Abkhazia since 18 May 2015, also occupying the position of the Chief of General Staff. During the August war of 2008, he headed the 58th Army of the North Caucasus Military District. On 9 August 2008, Khruliov sustained a heavy injury as a result of the shelling from the Georgian side.
Control of the Field of Policing
Despite the resistance from the local society and parts of the political groups, the role of Russia in the law enforcement structures of Abkhazia is steadily growing. In this regard, the formation of the Common Information-Coordination Center between the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation and the de-facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia was an important development. The agreement about the formation of this structure was signed on 18 May 2017 in Sochi, by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia, Igor Zubov and the de-facto Minister of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia, Aslan Kobakhia. The aim of the center is to coordinate the work of the Russian and Abkhazian law enforcement structures in terms of organized crime and combating other violent crimes. In order to achieve the proposed aim, the Center is set to ensure the recording, analysis and exchange of the information connected with criminal activity.
On 26 July 2017, the de-facto Parliament of Abkhazia ratified the foundational agreement of the Center. Only 23 out of 34 MPs supported the decision, with nine going against, whilst two were absent. The issue of the creation of the Center sparked a serious public concern in Abkhazia. The opponents of the creation of the Center were stating that “by founding a joint center the government renounced the independence of Abkhazia”. According to the supporters of the Center, on the other hand, the work of the structure, which will not have the authority to undertake investigations, will further activate the combat against crime. The proponents of the creation of the Center were forced to take the existing negative positions into account, which meant the reduction of the number of employees of the Center to 20 people. Each side will now have 10 employees.
Beslan Parulua was appointed on the position of the Director of the Center on 9 September 2017, previously serving as Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of the de-facto republic of Abkhazia. According to the agreement, the Deputy Director of the Center will be the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. According to the current information, in three years, a representative of Russia will become the Director of the Center, whilst the deputy will be appointed by Abkhazia. Parulua’s candidacy was agreed during the August 2017 visit of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russian Federation, Igor Zubov, to Abkhazia. Zubov oversees the field of policing in Abkhazia from the Russian side. He often meets with the de-facto leaders of Abkhazia, including the representatives of the law enforcement structures.
Russia also has a significant influence on the appointments in the de-facto government of Abkhazia in terms of policing. For example, the critique from Russia about the criminal situation in Abkhazia was followed by the appointment of a new Minister of Internal Affairs. One case of murder of the Russian tourist and multiple cases of attacks were recorded in Abkhazia in summer of 2017. The de-facto Ambassador of Russia to Abkhazia, Semyon Gregoriev expressed his critical remarks about this issue, stating that it should be a priority for the government of Abkhazia to ensure the safety of Russian tourists. Gregoriev’s statement caused discontent in the Abkhazian society and he was accused of interfering in the internal affairs of Abkhazia. The discontent from the Russian side was ultimately followed by the appointment of a new Minister of Internal Affairs, Gari Arshba on 21 October 2017. For years, Arshba worked for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia as well as for the de-facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia. More recently, from 2013 until his appointment as Minister, he worked on various positions in the general headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in Northern Caucasus District.
Control of the De-Facto Border
0n 30 April 2009, an agreement was signed between the President of the Russian Federation and the de-facto President of Abkhazia “on the Joint Actions for Protecting the State Border of the Republic of Abkhazia”. This day is considered to be the day of the establishment of the Border Police Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation in Abkhazia (the de-facto embassy of Russia to Abkhazia started functioning on that day as well). The responsibility of the Department is to protect the land and maritime borders of the occupied region.
Since 2009, the Department has detained thousands of Georgian citizens for the violation of the so-called border regime. The Department is directly involved in closing down the crossing points on the occupation line, erecting physical barriers and the so-called border demarcation, which has a negative influence on the day-to-day life of the Georgian population of Gali in particular.
General-Major Dimitri Iudin has served as the Head of the Department since 24 March 2015, actively participating in all important events in the region. He has a very close professional relationship with the de-facto President of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba. He periodically meets with Khajimba and discusses the operative situation in the occupied region. For example, in April 2016, Iudin informed Khajimba about the situation around the closing of the crossing point Tagiloni on the so-called administrative border and the works necessary for the closure. Heads of Border Police services are directly involved in the implementation of infrastructural projects and inspect the occupation line of Abkhazia periodically, together with the leaders of Abkhazia. The infrastructural projects implemented lately concern both the strengthening of the de-facto border, as well as improving the living conditions of Russian border police and their families.
Of the representatives of the Russian security forces in Abkhazia, the border police are the most appreciated ones. In 30 April 2010, even a street of Heroes of Border Police was opened in Sokhumi. The work of the deceased Russian border police members was also adequately appreciated. For example, 0n 12 January 2016, a memorial board was opened in Sokhumi for the Head of the Cynological group of the border police department, Andrei Udaltsev, who died on one of the Russian border-control posts on 12 January 2015, during the joint operation in the village of Refo-Etseri, in Gali district. Sokhumi also hosts a memorial dedicated to another Russian border police member, Vice-Colonel Vasili Kvitko. Kvitko was part of an engineering reconnaissance mission with other border police members on 8 April 2011 in the village of Tchuburkhinji in Gali district, when unidentified persons opened fire to the group when they were inspecting homes. As a result, he died.
- After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia by the Russian Federation, the main aim of Kremlin’s policy is to exert full control over the domestic processes unfolding in Abkhazia, including the fields of defense, policing and protection of the de-facto border.
- In Abkhazia, the issues of military, policing and defense of the de-facto border are supervised by the representatives of the Russian security structures, who also influence important appointment decisions in these fields.
- The growing influence of Russia over the security of Abkhazia causes discontent among the people of Abkhazia and parts of its political elite; however, given the security environment formed in the region after 2008 Russia-Georgia war, their leverage to counter Kremlin’s policies is weak and marginally effective.
- The actions of the Border Police Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, which is implementing large-scale military and civilian infrastructure projects near the occupation line, threatens the Georgian population almost every day, especially the Georgian speaking population of Gali district.
- The growing control over the field of security in both Abkhazia as well as Tskhinvali region exerted by Russia and the development of military infrastructure near the occupation line since 2008 is the main challenge for the security of Georgia.