Putin pays last respects to Abkhaz president

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the farewell ceremony for late Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh (RIA Novosti / Alexey Druzhinin)
Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has attended the farewell ceremony for late Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh, who died in a Moscow hospital on May 29.

Thousands of people came on Thursday to the Philharmonic in the capital Sukhum – where the coffin with Bagapsh’s body was placed for the ceremony – to pay their last respects to the Abkhaz leader.

Putin laid roses on the coffin and expressed his condolences to Bagapsh’s widow and son. Along with the Russian prime minister, Chief of Russian Presidential Administration Sergey Naryshkin, Minister of Regional Development of the Russian Federation Viktor Basargin and Governor of Krasnodar Region Alexander Tkachev arrived in Sukhum to honor the memory of the Abkhaz president.

Later, the mourning procession moved on to places Bagapsh used to visit, including the presidential administration building, the gym where he used to play basketball when he was young and the Red Bridge, where back in 1992 the Abkhazian militia blocked the way to Georgian tanks.

The president, under whose leadership Abkhazia gained independence from Georgia, will be laid to rest in his home village Dzhgerda in the Ochamchira District.

The 62-year-old died in Moscow last Sunday, after undergoing surgery on his right lung.

Moscow hopes for restoration of Abkhazia–Georgia relations

After the mourning ceremony, Prime Minister Putin met with his Abkhazian counterpart Sergey Shamba. The Russian premier said that Moscow hopes for the restoration of relations between Georgians and Abkhazians.

“I am confident that relations between Russia and Abkhazia will develop in all directions. We will favor the development of your foreign contacts with all states, including the nearest neighbors,” Putin said.

“Time will cure all wounds. I hope relations between Abkhaz and Georgian people will be restored,” he added, as cited by RIA Novosti.

Putin also said that Russia might increase its financial aid to the republic.

Shamba noted that economic revival is one of the republic’s key tasks and some positive results have already been achieved on that path. Among Abkhazia’s ambitious projects is the construction of a ski resort in the Caucasian republic. Shamba noted that Russia’s Vnesheconombank (VEB) bank “is ready to finance [the project],” if the idea gets support from the Russian government.

Later in the day, during a meeting with acting Abkhazian President Aleksandr Ankvab, Putin reiterated that Russia will help the republic to settle the development problems and to stand on their own feet.

“I am confident that the Abkhaz people will feel safe and that they can rest assured that Russia is their closest ally, and as a true friend will be side by side with the Abkhaz people and will help them overcome problems and get on to their feet on their own," Putin stated, quotes Itar-Tass. He added that “our common duty is to carry on the work and build on what was started in previous years."

Putin once again expressed condolences over the death of Sergey Bagapsh, saying it is a great “bereavement for Russia as well.” The late president did a lot for the making of Abkhazia as an independent state and for the development of Russian-Abkhazian relations.

Ankvab thanked the Russian leadership for their attention to the tragic event, saying it was greatly appreciated.

Shortly after the 2008 August war in the Caucasus, which started after Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinval, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and the neighboring Abkhazia. Tbilisi, however, considers the two republics Georgian territories under “Russian occupation”.