Caucasus. Abkhazia. State-client-patron relations: the case of land ownership in Russia-Abkhaz relations

I“de facto” DEPENDENT [1] since 1993 and an open conflict in Georgia, the Republic of Abkhazia, located on the east coast of the Black Sea, has been supported by Russia since the early 2000s. First UN member state to recognize Abkhazia on August 26, 2008, feeding the Abkhazian budget to more than 70% and holding the “de facto” borders of Georgia, Russia now allows economic, political and military of the Republic of Abkhazia. Despite this asymmetrical relationship, there are issues where the “de facto” Abkhazian authorities do not agree to Russia’s demands. This is the case with the issue of land ownership.

In Abkhaz legal texts it is stated that in order to acquire real estate, an individual must be a holder of Abkhaz citizenship. Acquiring this citizenship means, in particular, knowledge of the Abkhaz language. [2]it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Russians to obtain this citizenship and therefore real estate.

It is possible for Russian citizens to acquire property in Abkhazia, with professional status. Opening a business activity with headquarters in Abkhazia, allows anyone to acquire real estate or land.

This law continues today, despite Russian authorities apparently showing their desire to change Abkhazian law. This is the case of Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia: “We are a little surprised that this problem is still unresolved, now that the unrest seems to have calmed down, we will definitely return to this topic. » [3].

A turbulent relationship with the patron state [4]Russia, punctuated in an unstable economic context

With elections, in early 2020, in Aslan Bjania, following the overthrow of Raul Khadjimba, donkey in the Kremlin, Russian-Abkhaz relations first weighed down. Elected in March 2020, Aslan Bjania initially promoted the resumption of bilateral dialogue between Abkhazia and Georgia, and the search for new strategic partners. In return, Russia cut the financial aid promised for 6 months and the new President Bjania had to increase round trips to Russia to restore good relations, but above all financial endowments. [5].

The Abkhazian economy relies heavily on tourism. The covid-19 pandemic did not save the separatist region, however, the 2020 tourist season, cut in half, cut Abkhazian GDP by 35%. In addition to this economic blow, Abkhazia is now experiencing a major energy crisis. The low cost of electricity favors the construction of facilities for mining activities on encrypted properties [6]. The activity absorbs a large portion of Abkhazian electricity, mostly from the Jvari dam, which is administered in Abkhazia and Georgia.

That is why the Abkhaz authorities, in order to quell economic difficulties and deal with energy shortages, are turning to their protector. It is in the context of growing confidence that Russia-Abkhaz relations are developing.

It remains, despite all, that some questions, including land ownership, constitute a red line that cannot be crossed for the authorities and Abkhazian civil society. The political authorities have very little room for manipulation: on the one hand, the economic and military confidence of Russia, which should not be questioned, and on the other, a politically active Abkhazian population, which wants to remain independent and not take too. many steps to harmonize the two entities. In fact, unlike other “de facto” states in the post-Soviet zone such as South Ossetia or Transnistria, the Abkhaz population wants to remain independent of Russia, not to be included in it. [7]. He did not hesitate to announce it, on this question of land ownership but also by voting against Kremlin candidate Raul Khadjimba, in 2004, 2011 or even 2020.

In November 2020, an agreement, signed between Abkhazia and Russia, provided for the sale of electricity from Russia to Abkhazia, leaving the possibility of privatization of the Abkhazian energy system. This agreement also and above all includes the removal of the ban on the sale of residential real estate to Russian citizens. [8]. By the end of December 2021, no law has been filed, nor any announcement has been made and opposition to this project remains strong in Abkhazia.

Social risks and memory issues

One of the first reasons to mobilize the understanding of Abkhaz skepticism of the liberalization of the real estate market is a social reason. Indeed, even if liberalization could attract Abkhazian capital, such a measure could have the effect of an explosion in Abkhaz real estate market prices. Prices in Abkhazia are more favorable compared to the resort town of Sochi, located a few kilometers north of Abkhazia. If in Sochi the average purchase price of a house is 250,000 euros (22 million rubles), in Abkhazia the average purchase price is 44,000 euros (4 million rubles). [9]. Thus investments by Russian individuals could quickly redirect to Abkhazia, seeing the demand for real estate explode, and hence its prices. Due to the difference in living standards in Russia and Abkhazia, it is likely that in an explosion in real estate market prices, a large part of the inhabitants of Abkhazia will not be able to get a Property. This is the cause that has always been put forward, which seems reasonable and justifiable, but as skepticism is equally associated with the traumas of history that are the basis of Abkhaz history.

Real estate in Abkhazia: real opportunities for investors, obvious risks for locals
Directed by: Robin Leterrier (IFG)

An issue of memory must also be raised here to understand Abkhaz skepticism. Today, the Abkhaz ethnic group holds political power in Abkhazia, it is also the majority of the ethnic groups in Abkhazia according to the official census, with about 50% of the total population. [10]. This has not always been the case in past centuries. The recent history of Abkhazian is in fact marked by periods when the “ethnic” Abkhazians had no control over political power nor did they represent a demographic majority between the banks of the Psou and Inguri rivers. .

With the rise of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus in the 19th century, the Abkhazians came under the yoke of the tsarist authorities. Living in conflict, in fact, after the uprisings of 1866 in particular, and a collaboration with the Ottomans during the war of 1877-1878, the Abkhazians were moved to the rank of “guilty”. people, and 60% of the Abkhazian population was displaced. to the Ottoman Empire. This period, “amhudjirra” in Abkhaz, constitutes a real trauma, a period that, according to them, the Abkhazians could have disappeared from their “historic” land.

Second, in the center of the Soviet era, Abkhazia, an autonomous region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia, experienced brutal treatment, which remains as present in current accounts. In fact, from 1931 to 1953, the Abkhazian language lost its Cyrillic characters to be written by Georgian characters, the teaching of the Abkhazian language was suspended. During this period, Georgians gradually replaced Abkhazians within state institutions and occupied most of the important positions. Georgians were encouraged to settle in Abkhazia. So in 1897, Georgians represented approximately 20% of the population, in 1989, they were more than 50%. Thus, in Abkhaz historiography, this moment is represented as a political will on Georgia’s part to politically, culturally and demographically eradicate the Abkhaz ethnic group.

Over the past 30 years, these times have come to mark the national account of Abkhaz and the establishment of the “de facto” state. This State was ultimately designed with the aim of preserving the Abkhaz ethnic group from any attempt to exterminate, and now it is against this account and it builds Russia against trying to re-create Abkhazia a Riviera in the Sochi model, as happened during the Soviet era.

Unlike other “de facto” states in the region, South Ossetia or Transnistria, Abkhazia has shown genuine desires not to allow the Russian boss to completely dictate his agenda. By causing Moscow-backed candidates to be defeated, by blatantly refusing to implement certain measures, as in the case of the land ownership question until the end of 2020, Abkhazia has shown willingness. to plan his course. [11]. How long will he be able to challenge Russia, will he have a way of doing it at the heart of a trusting relationship?

Georgia’s political crisis has pushed frozen conflict into the background in recent months, but Abkhazia being a pillar of Russia’s geopolitics in the South Caucasus and a central issue in Georgia, the state’s interest ”in truth “easily finds itself at the center of discussions, again.

The manuscript will close on December 31, 2021

Copyright December 2021-Leterrier/

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