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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Upper House Approves Abkhazian Peace Force

Russia was given the go-ahead on Tuesday to send its peacekeepers to the Black Sea region of Abkhazia when the upper house of parliament approved the deployment, overturning a decision it made earlier this month. The Federation Council voted overwhelmingly in a closed session to approve the dispatch of 3,000 soldiers in three battalions to the conflict zone. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, emerging from the session, told reporters that the vote was a "sign of excellent cooperation" between parliament and the government. He said that all the preparations for the deployment were complete and it could proceed "within the next few days." Grachev estimated the cost of the operation at 10 - 11 billion rubles ($5.5 million) but said it would be met by "reserve" funds from outside the military budget. The force is under the nominal control of the CIS but will almost exclusively consist of Russian forces. The president of the north Caucasian republic of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, said that he was reassured by a pledge from Grachev that soldiers would have a right to opt out of duty in Abkhazia if they wanted to. Different deputies gave different figures for the vote but all said that more than 100 of the approximately 120 deputies present voted for the initiative and that around six had voted against and six had abstained. On June 2 the chamber failed by one vote to approve the troop deployment. Deputies complained that they had not been properly informed about what the operation entailed. The deployment of Russian troops in Abkhazia is a triumph for Russian diplomacy, which has been trying to reassert its interests in the Caucasus. Abkhazia, once a favored Soviet holiday destination, is of particular strategic importance as the main railway connection to Georgia and Armenia runs through the region. The troops will be concentrated in the area around the Inguri River, which separates Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia. It is planned that they will oversee the return of the estimated 300,000 ethnic Georgian refugees who have fled the region. Abkhazia has been de facto independent of rule by Tbilisi since last fall when separatist forces overran the region, putting an end to 14 months of fighting in which about 3,000 people died. The Abkhaz government wants to hold a referendum on the future status of the republic. A new round of talks on the political future of Abkhazia is due to take place in Geneva on June 29 or 30, Reuters reported.