ROAR: Russia will continue cooperation with Abkhazia “in all directions”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russian media and analysts are not surprised at the results of the recent election in Abkhazia, the first of its kind since it was recognized as an independent state.

The Abkhazians fought a war for independence against Georgia in 1992-1993. After the August 2008 events in the Caucasus, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

On December 12, Abkhazia held its first presidential election since Russia’s recognition. The incumbent President Sergey Bagapsh was re-elected with more than 59% of the vote after conducting a campaign described as “modest” in the media.

Russia will continue cooperation with Abkhazia “in all directions,” said Igor Lyakin-Frolov, deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s information and press department.

Former Vice President Raul Khadjimba, who came second in the election with more than 15% of the vote, said he did not recognize the results. He also promised to appeal to the Central Election Commission and court, the media say.

The majority of more than 80 international observers from 24 countries who watched the elections called them fair and democratic and recognized the results, the media say. Russian observers said they were satisfied “with the organization of the elections,” Vedomosti daily said.

Vladimir Churov, head of the Russian Central Election Commission, “praised the Abkhaz authorities for the transparency of the voting, accessibility of the lists of voters, transparent ballot-boxes and sufficient level of the ballot protection,” the paper said.

The daily quoted Abkhaz analysts as saying that, despite some irregularities during the voting, their number “was not critical.” The three opponents of Bagapsh lost the election because “their personal ambitions were the most important for them,” Abkhazian political scientist Inal Khashig told the paper.

The opposition leaders preferred to compete against each other rather than against Bagapsh “who proved to be the most understandable and predictable politician for the voters,” the analyst said.

Some opposition leaders accused the authorities of forcing people to go to the polls. People had stamps in their passports showing that they took part in the election, and “the rumor had it that those without the stamp would have problems, including those during the crossing of the Russian border,” RBC daily said.

Vremya Novostey daily said that Khadzhimba was ready to protest against the election’s results, but “was not going to lead people to the streets.” Another paper, Gazeta, quoted the politician as saying that “the election has finished, but it does not mean that we will sit on our hands, we will continue our work.”

Many papers described the voting in Abkhazia as “quiet”. “During the previous presidential election, a nervous atmosphere emerged because of the confrontation between Bagapsh and Khadzhimba,” RBC daily wrote, adding, “It lasted four months and almost led to the civil split.”

“Unlike the elections five years ago, when Khadzhimba’s followers took to the streets, ardently supporting him, last Sunday it was all quiet on the streets of [Abkhazian capital] Sukhum,” the paper noted. Many opponents of Bagapsh expected a protracted contest and the second round – but that did not happen, the paper added.

“All Abkhazian political parties said that they would try to avoid civil confrontation,” RBC daily said. The candidates in the election were also unanimous “in stressing the need to strengthen relations with Russia.”

The recognition of the results by international observers was “undoubtedly praise to Sergey Bagapsh under whom an entire system of democratic institutions has been formed,” Vremya Novostey daily wrote.

“This election is the third in the republic’s history,” wrote Vremya. “The first one, held in 1999, were with one candidate, the second almost led to a civil war,” it added. “But this time the authorities did not try to distract the opponents from the election, did not prevent them from asking sharp questions publicly,” the daily said. The opposition candidates were engaged in real politics, they met with voters and developed their own programs, the paper said.

Despite some irregularities, the campaign “was civilized.” There was “a kind of gentlemen’s agreement” that the competition should not destabilize the situation in the republic where “all the candidates are real patriots’ and the majority of the voters are relatives or good friends,” Vremya wrote.

“Ethical norms were not always observed,” the paper said. “But one should not worry about the stability as the experience of previous elections shows that a mass protest is possible only when people are imposed results that are absolutely contrary to what they expect,” it added.

Bagapsh called his main priorities developing economic relations with Russia. In particular, he mentioned such projects as “the arrangement of railway and air communication, restoration of the Sukhum Military Road, building a pipeline from Tuapse to Sukhum, and exploring sea shelf for possible oil production,” the media noted.

The Abkhaz leader promised “to unite the society and called the election, if not excellent, then very good,” Kommersant wrote. He stressed that the results will serve as “a good stimulus” for the countries of the European Union which do not recognize Abkhazia, the paper added. He also pledged that “Abkhazia will never be part of Georgia,” the daily added.

Analysts also predict that the new vice president of the republic will have more influence because “Aleksandr Ankvab is known as a very energetic and ambitious politician,” Vremya said.

Khadzhimba, on the contrary, may now lose his position, the paper said. He became vice president in January 2005 in a compromise with Bagapsh and left the post to take part in the presidential election.

Bagapsh’s victory was determined “by his followers emphasizing the achievements of previous years, and the key one – the recognition of the republic’s independence by Russia,” Evgenia Voyko of the Center for Political Conjuncture said.

“The present presidential campaign has been paid little attention by the Russian leadership,” the analyst said, offering two explanations. First, Moscow “learned the lessons of the 2004 campaign” when supporting Khadzhimba led to the protest voting and appearance of Bagapsh on the Abkhazian political scene, she stressed.

“Secondly, any result of the voting would not influence the political orientation of Abkhazia, into which Russia has invested solid economic, political and military capital over the last several years,” the analyst added.

Sergey Borisov, RT