Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
On March 30, 2018, according to the Directive of the President of Russia, Aleksey Dvinianin was appointed to the position of the new Russian “Ambassador” to the de-facto Republic of Abkhazia. He replaced Semyon Grigoryev, who served as the “Ambassador” of Russia to Abkhazia since 2008 August War. The new “Ambassador”, much like the previous one, has good knowledge of South Caucasus affairs. Dvinianin’s Abkhazian career started on May 15, 2018, when he presented his letter of credence to the de-facto leader of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba.
“Embassy” of Russia to Abkhazia – First Steps
The Russian “Embassy” to Abkhazia was opened after August 26, 2008, as Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia after the Russia-Georgia War. After the establishment of diplomatic relations between the “parties” on September 9, 2008, Semyon Grigoryev was appointed to the position of the first Russian “Ambassador” to Abkhazia on October 25, 2008. On December 16, 2008, Grigoryev presented his letters of credence to the then de-facto leader of Abkhazia, Sergey Baghapsh.
Russian “Embassy” to Abkhazia was officially established on February 9, 2009. On April 30, 2009, Grigoryev, together with five coworkers, arrived in Sokhumi. Currently, 18 diplomats are working at the ”Embassy”. At first, the Embassy was located at the former Headquarters of the CIS Peacekeeping Forces, on the territory of Sanatorium Sukhumi. On April 18, 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, attended the opening of the new “Embassy” building.
Semyon Grigoryev – Russia’s First “Ambassador to Abkhazia
Semyon Grigoryev was supposed to leave Abkhazia in 2017; however, his work there was prolonged by a year. According to the information of the local media, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, arriving for the opening of the new “Embassy” building in Abkhazia on April 18, 2017, was also supposed to present the new candidate for the position of “Ambassador” to the local political elite; however, the identity of Grigoryev’s successor was not revealed at that time.
Grigoryev is known to the Russian political circles as a fine diplomat and knowledgeable in the Eastern affairs. His placement in Abkhazia back in the day indicated that Moscow was paying special attention to developing relations between Abkhazia and Russia, while in Tskhinvali they appointed the “Ambassador” of much less political weight – Elbrus Kargiev.
Grigoryev graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations and started working as a diplomat since 1983. In 1983, he worked at the Embassy of the Soviet Union to Afghanistan, while from 1990 to 1997 he worked at the Embassy of USSR/Russia to Iran. Grigoryev is quite a knowledgeable diplomat in Georgian affairs. As Deputy Director of Fourth CIS Department (4CISD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, he was in charge of Russian-Georgian relations and, as a member of the Russian delegation, was working on the issues of the removal of Russian military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki. In February-December 2008 he was Deputy Director of Fourth CIS Department. He was in charge of the affairs of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Later Grigoryev was appointed to the position of the Russian “Ambassador” to Abkhazia. His long diplomatic career in Abkhazia ended on March 20, 2018.
Grigoryev had a special contribution to the new type of bilateral relations between Russia and Abkhazia. Given the new reality established after the 2008 war, the Kremlin officially started strengthening its ties with Abkhazia on a “state” level. It was during the tenure of Grigoryev that the treaty-legal basis, necessary for bilateral relations to be developed, was established (over a 100 treaties and agreements were made since the 2008 August War) along with the social-economic cooperation program.
On November 24, 2014, during Grigoryev’s tenure, the Agreement on Alliance and Strategic Partnership was signed. In 2013, Vladimir Putin visited Abkhazia in the role of a President for the first time. In August 2017 Putin once again visited Abkhazia. A new Russian “Embassy” building was opened in April 2017. During Grigoryev’s tenure as “Ambassador”, Russian State Duma Election as well as Russian Presidential Election was held in Abkhazia.
Grigoryev was granted multiple awards by the Abkhazian side, including the November 1, 2012 title of a Honorary Professor of Abkhazian State University; he was given Orders in 2010 and 2013 for strengthening friendship between Russia and Abkhazia; in 2013, the de-facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia awarded him a medal for “services” and at the end of his tenure as “Ambassador”, he also received the highest state award of Abkhazia, the Akhidz-Apsha Order.
One of the biggest issues during Grigoryev’s tenure as “Ambassador” was the one about Russian citizens acquiring real estate in Abkhazia, which has not been resolved starting from 2008 to date.
In September 2013, the First Secretary of the Russian “Embassy” to Abkhazia, Dmitri Vishernev, was murdered. A Russian tourist was murdered in Bichvinta in July 2017, while two other Russian tourists were killed in a plane crash. In August of same year, two Russian tourists died in an ammunition depot explosion near the village of Primorsk.
In July 2017, Grigoryev sharply criticized the government of Abkhazia due to the murders of two Russian tourists in Abkhazia. According to him, he had told the Abkhazian government multiple times that it should be a priority task for them to ensure safety for Russian tourists. According to his assessment, the Abkhazian law enforcement structures were supposed to find, arrest and punish those culpable in shortest possible time. Abkhazian politicians and the public assessed the “Ambassador’s” statements very negatively, accusing him of trying to interfere in domestic Abkhazian affairs.
Aleksey Dvinianin – Russia’s New “Ambassador” to Abkhazia
Russia’s second “Ambassador” to Abkhazia – Aleksey Dvinianin, was appointed on March 30, 2018, through the Directive of the President of Russia. Aleksey Dvinianin was born on March 5, 1967 in the city of Voronezh. In 1989, he graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations. On January 25, 2008 he was awarded the Order of the Second Class for Services to the Homeland through the Directive of the President of Russia. On August 15, 2011 he was awarded a title of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Second Class. He is quite knowledgeable in South Caucasus affairs, including those of Georgia. He is a frequent participant in the conferences regarding the South Caucasus and has authored articles about conflicts.
Dvinianin’s diplomatic career started in 1989, immediately after graduating from the university. In different periods of time he worked for the Central Apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, as well as its representations abroad, including in New York, in Russia’s Permanent Representation in the United Nations (1995-1999) and in Vienna, in the Permanent Representation in OSCE (2002-2005).
The issue of Georgia became the sphere of Dvinianin’s responsibility since 2006, when he was appointed to the position of the Head of Regional Conflict Resolution Department of the Fourth CIS Department (4CISD). From 2009 to March 2018, before his appointment to the positions of “Ambassador”, he served as a Deputy Director of the Fourth CIS Department.
Dvinianin was an active participant of the Geneva Discussions established after the 2008 August War. From 2011 to 2018 he was the Deputy Head of the Russian Delegation at the Geneva Discussions and was actively involved in the process of preparing the discussions. One of his spheres of responsibility was preparing the negotiation topics together with the representatives of the occupied Georgian territories and agreeing on common positions with them.
The Fourth CIS Department (4CISD)
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the Fourth CIS Department (4CISD) is in charge of relations with Georgia and the occupied regions. The sphere of responsibility of the Department includes Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, and from 2008 – occupied Georgian regions as well. Aleksey Pavlovski has served as the Director of the Department since July 4, 2011. In terms of the Foreign Policy Coordination Mechanism, Pavlovski periodically holds consultations with the “Ambassadors” of the occupied Georgian regions to Russia.
- Russia attributes more political importance to Abkhazia, as compared to the Tskhinvali region, and hence appoints people knowledgeable about the South Caucasus, including Georgia, to the position of Russian “Ambassador” there. Both of the “Ambassadors” of Russia were, at a certain point in their careers, responsible for Russian relations with Georgia.
- The careers of most of the “Ambassadors” of Russia to the occupied Georgian territories are connected to the Fourth CIS Department (4CISD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. Apart from Russian “Ambassadors” to Abkhazia, the first “Ambassador” of Russia to Tskhinvali region, Elbrus Kargyev, was the Senior Advisor of the Department in 2007-2008.