Under Soviet rule, Abkhazia had special status as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Georgian SSR. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, Abkhaz nationalism grew, with ethnic Abkhaz fearing a loss of autonomy if they became a part of an independent Georgia.
In February 1992, the provisional Georgian Military Council reinstated Georgia’s 1921 Constitution, interpreted by the Abkhaz as an abolition of their autonomous status. In July 1992, Abkhazia effectively declared independence from Georgia. This was recognised by no other country. In August 1992, Georgia dispatched troops to Abkhazia and retook control of the region. This provoked a separatist movement, with links to Chechen and Russian militias, to fight Georgian ‘occupation’. By the end of 1992, rebels held most of Abkhazia except the capital Sukhumi. A brief truce failed to hold and rebel forces retook Sukhumi in September 1993. Most ethnic Georgians fled.
The Moscow Agreement of 1994 brought a formal end to the fighting and the establishment of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), responsible for monitoring and verifying the observance of successive ceasefires. Sporadic acts of violence took place between 1994-2008. The worst flare up of fighting prior to 2008 occurred in May 1998 when around 100 people were killed in Gali, a predominantly ethnic Georgian region in southern Abkhazia. In August 2008, the Russians and Abkhaz took the opportunity to expel Georgians from the Kodori Gorge in the north eastern part of Abkhazia, and consolidate their hold through a big injection of forces.
Since the August 2008 war, Russia has sought to develop its economic and military links with the de facto Abkhazian authorities. In the absence of international monitors (UNOMIG’s presence ended in June 2009 after Russia vetoed its extension in the Security Council) the de facto authorities have agreed to the development of existing Russian military infrastructure and bases within Abkhazia, and the deployment of Russian security personnel along the ‘border’. Russian oil company Rosneft has signed a deal to explore for oil and gas off the Abkhaz coast. Direct Russian budgetary support will account for more than half of the Abkhaz budget in 2010. Abkhazia is also expected to play an important role in Russia’s staging of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, just up the coast from the border and Abkhazia has been promised contracts and jobs working on Olympic projects as part of recent economic deals.
Although Abkhazia is de facto independent it remains de jure part of Georgia. Only Russia and three other countries recognise the ‘independence’ of Abkhazia. The vast majority of the international community continues to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Abkhazia has a ‘multi-party presidential system’. The ‘president’ is head of state and head of government. ‘The People’s Assembly’ has 35 members, elected for a five year term in single seat constituencies. In December 2009, Abkhazia held its fourth ‘Presidential’ election since the post of President of the Republic of Abkhazia was created in 1994. The election was won by incumbent ‘president’ Sergei Bagapsh in the first round with 61% of the votes, thus gaining a second term in office.
In January 2010, the Georgian government unveiled a State Strategy on the Occupied Territories, intended to encourage economic cooperation, freedom of movement, the restoration of transport links and re-establishment of humanitarian links.
The de facto authorities in Abkhazia continue to restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote, participate in the political process, and exercise basic rights such as property ownership, business registration, and travel. Ethnic Georgians also have suffered harassment by Abkhaz and Russian forces, forced conscription in the Abkhaz "army," a lack of funding for basic infrastructure maintenance, and limitations on Georgian-language instruction in the Gali district schools.
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