Abkhazia Expects Deals On Russian Bases Soon

Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia expects to sign a deal within a few months allowing Russia to establish a naval base and an air base on its soil, a separatist official said Thursday.

NATO expressed concern Wednesday at reports quoting unidentified Russian military sources as saying Moscow planned a naval base in Abkhazia, one of two breakaway regions Georgia seeks to reclaim. There has been no Kremlin confirmation.

"This is true -- the Russian Federation and Abkhazia are in talks on setting up two Russian bases on Abkhaz soil, proceeding from our treaty on friendship and mutual assistance," Kristian Bzhania, a spokesman for the Abkhaz separatist leadership, said by telephone from the region's capital, Sukhumi.

"The talk is about a naval base in Ochamchira, where a group of Russian Black Sea Fleet warships will be based, and a former airborne troops base in the town of Gudauta," he said. "We are now talking about this deal being signed, most probably within the next few months."

Interfax quoted an unidentified Russian military official as saying the airfield near Gudauta, also known as the Bombara Aerodrome, could accommodate about 20 jet fighters, ground attack aircraft and military transport planes.

An Air Force spokesman declined to comment.

During Russia's war with Georgia in August -- when fighting focused on the second rebel region, South Ossetia -- Russia sent its warships to Abkhazia and landed its soldiers at the site of the projected naval base, Ochamchire.

Georgians spell the port as Ochamchire, while the separatists call it Ochamchira.

A naval base at Ochamchire and revival of the airfield could present fresh concern for NATO strategists worried about an assertive Russia projecting its military strength beyond its borders.

Abkhazia is close to NATO member Turkey, and the Soviet military presence there was a frontline position in the Cold War.

Gudauta hosted Soviet paratroopers and later Russian troops after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.