Russia, Abkhazia to build joint military base

President Dmitry Medvedev and his Abkhazian counterpart Sergey Bagapsh have signed ten bilateral deals, including an agreement to establish a military base in Abkhazia.

Bagapsh arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, just several days after the inauguration following his re-election for another presidential term. The meeting with president Medvedev at the Kremlin appeared to be quite fruitful. In addition to talking crucial political, international and security issues, the two sides have signed deals on cooperation in different fields, including military.

“We have an agreement with Abkhazia on military cooperation. Today we signed an agreement on a joint Russian-Abkhazian military base in Abkhazia,” Medvedev said at a joint media conference following the talks.

Watch the conference

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The base will be set up in order to protect the sovereignty and security of the Abkhazian republic, as well as counteracting international terrorism, Itar-Tass news agency wrote earlier, citing a source at the Russian armed forces. The document will be valid for 49 years, to be later extended automatically for 15 more years.

Currently, in line with a military cooperation agreement signed in September 2009 between Moscow and Sukhum, a Russian base with 1,700 servicemen is located in Gudauta. The new agreement will allow Russia to develop this base’s infrastructure and form a joint group of forces.

Dmitry Medvedev underlined that the documents signed by Moscow and Sukhum “correspond to our concept of the development of relations with Abkhazia.” However, most importantly, he went on, the deals are “a foundation for the peaceful development of Abkhazia as an independent state.”

Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia shortly after Georgia launched an attack on Tskhinval in August 2008, starting a five-day war. Since then the newly-born states have been recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Republic of Nauru.

Saakashvili – “persona non grata”

On Wednesday, the Abkhaz president has once again expressed his gratitude to Russia for the recognition of his state, adding that “it was a brave and wise step.”

“We have started to develop as an independent state,” Sergey Bagapsh said during the conference. “And we still have a lot to learn. A member of the international community has more obligations than privileges. We want to do everything to live up to the hopes of those who believe in us.”

Meanwhile, both the Russian and Abkhazian leaders remain firm that there will be no dialogue with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

”The regime of Georgian president Saakashvili is directly responsible for the conflict of 2008,” Medvedev said. “Without a doubt it was a crime that has yet to be legally examined.”

”I, personally, will not do any business with the current President of Georgia,” he went on. “He is persona non grata for the Russian Federation,” the president stressed.

That, however, does not mean that Moscow and Sukhum do not want friendly relations with Georgian people.

“We will get back to normal and fully-fledged relations with Georgia sooner or later, I am sure,” Medvedev said. “There is no other way.”

Drawing a clear line between Saakashvili and the Georgian people, Medvedev noted that the history of friendly relations between the two nations is hundreds of years old; the grave conflict of 2008 has not spoilt these relations: “We have always had and will always have the friendliest feelings for the Georgian people.” Thus, the Russian president concluded, Georgian people must decide on their own within set constitutional procedures “who can run the state and who can lead Georgia to prosperity and normal friendly relations with neighboring countries.”

Bagapsh echoed his Russian counterpart, saying that he has absolutely nothing against the Georgians. “But it is up to the Georgian people to decide who will govern them,” he added.

The Abkhazian leader believes Saakashvili – “whose hands are covered with blood” – should bear responsibility for crimes he committed against Abkhazian, South Ossetian and Georgian people.

Meanwhile, agreements Russia signed with Abkhazia and South Ossetia pledging to help protect the two republics' borders have been submitted to the State Duma for ratification, Interfax agency writes.

Dmitry Babich, political analyst from RIA Novosti news agency, discussed with RT the importance of the joint military base.

“It’s mostly important for Abkhazia, because it’s a guarantee that Abkhazia won’t be attacked again by Georgia,” Babich stressed. “This may be a sad day for ethnic Georgians, who had to flee Abkhazia more than 15 years ago. But I hope that now that the situation is stabilized, probably these people will have a better chance to return than before.”

Watch the interview with Dmitry Babich

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Moscow-Sukhum to boost cooperation

Past troubles aside, the Russian and Abkhazian leaders look positively into the future. Medvedev said he believes that Abkhazia's cooperation with Russia on the international arena will contribute to the recognition of the republic's independence in the world.

“We will develop cooperation on the international scene, including that within the framework of the Geneva discussions. This forum is a good platform for direct contacts of Abkhazian friends with western partners and international structures,” Medvedev said. “Finally, all this will contribute to recognition of the republic's independence.”

Speaking about Moscow-Sukhum ties, the Russian head of state said that the two countries will work intensively “to make the cooperation between our two states very concrete and target-oriented.”

“We have a number of promising areas for cooperation and we have just signed documents on some of those,” Medvedev said. Those areas include transport infrastructure, since the “economy cannot develop without that,” he noted.

During the meeting with Russia’s vice-premier Sergey Ivanov, the Abkhazian president said that he hopes that “today’s agreements will help to get off the ground the questions concerning the operations of the railways and the airport in the republic”. The two sides are expected to sign an agreement on transferring management of Abkhazian railways to rail company Russian Railways.

Another agreement has to do with preventing emergencies, the Russian president said, adding that “we do not want any emergencies, but this is life.”

All in all, 22 new deals are currently being drafted. They will cover the whole range of bilateral relations between Russia and Abkhazia.

Political analyst Irina Kobrinskaya from the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations explains Russian-Abkhazian relations:

“There are no doubts on both sides about the very strong dependence of Abkhazia on Russia,” she said, adding, “It was clear from the very start, from the time of the conflict and from the moment when Abkhazia declared its independence and was recognized by Russia. Today’s signing of the documents in different spheres just institutionalized the new relations.”

Watch the interview with Irina Kobrinskaya

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