“Recognize Abkhazia first”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says major international organizations have to recognize Abkhazia's independence before sending their observers to the region.

The premier's comments came at a news conference after a meeting with the republic's leaders.

“Neither Abkhazia nor Russia mind the presence of observers from most organizations, including the UN and the OSCE. It's just that they should understand the reality and sign appropriate agreements with Abkhazia, recognizing its sovereignty,” Putin stated.

The UN and European monitors from the OSCE ended their work in the region last June because Russia refused to prolong their mandate, saying the West did not take into account “new realities”.

The high-level talks in the Abkhazian capital, Sukhum, were focused on Abkhazia’s social and economic development. The sides agreed that Russia will allocate 10.9 billion rubles (around $340 million) to Abkhazia for the period of 2010-2011.

“The money will be spent on infrastructure, communications, transport, healthcare and education,” Putin explained.

Earlier in the day, Putin took time to visit various locations in Sukhum. He laid flowers at Glory monument – the memorial dedicated to those who perished in the wars between Abkhazia and Georgia. For most Abkhazians, the day when war with Georgia began is a memorable but tragic date. Russia helped stop the bloodshed in 1993, sending in peacekeepers and helping refugees. Because of this, Prime Minister Putin is an honored guest in the country.

"The people of Abkhazia thank Russia for the peace we have today and for the recognition of our state. We believe you. We are your reliable ally," said local resident Konstantin Ozgan.

Vladimir Putin also visited a new maternity facility, where he was introduced to a newborn set of twins named Dmitry and Vladimir – after Russia’s president and prime minister.

The timing of the prime minister’s visit is significant. It coincides with the anniversary of Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia last August and subsequent recognition by Russia of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. So far, only Nicaragua has followed in Russia’s steps by recognizing Ossetia. But Abkhazia’s president is certain that others will follow – in time.

“The process of recognizing any state has never been quick or easy. It's not going to be quick with Abkhazia either. It is not about how soon we are recognized. It is about how soon we can restore our state politically and, most importantly, economically,” Sergey Bagapsh, President of Abkhazia, said.

It’s not just diplomacy – developments needed to kick start this fledgling country. Until Abkhazia stands on its own, Russian investment plans to regenerate infrastructure, help pensioners and work on creating a Black Sea resort to entice millions of tourists.

With over 20 billion roubles of financial aid and several new cooperation treaties, Russia is once again offering a helping hand to Abkhazia – the step which may give new hope to the people of Abkhazia that their homeland will become safer, without fear from further Georgian aggression.