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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhaz Rivals Turn to Moscow

VedomostiSergei Bagapsh
The two rivals for leadership of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region were in Moscow on Tuesday, Abkhaz officials said, in what seemed to be a Russian effort to sort out the chaos left by an inconclusive election last month.

Sergei Bagapsh, the rival to Moscow-backed candidate Raul Khadzhimba, was officially declared winner of the Oct. 3 poll.

But he has failed to convince officials to let him take up the reins of power in the Black Sea territory, which won de facto independence from Georgia in a 1992-93 conflict.

Both Abkhaz separatist leaders seek closer ties with Russia and see Moscow's patronage as crucial in their attempt to gain independence from Georgia.

But the disputed election result -- Khadzhimba argues the poll was fraudulently conducted and wants new elections -- has left a power vacuum in the region.

Bagapsh has defied an order by the outgoing president for new elections and been quoted as saying he will go ahead with his inauguration regardless.

"Yes, they are both in Moscow," said Roin Agrba, a spokesman for Khadzhimba, who was Abkhaz prime minister before the poll and won backing from Moscow after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

"They are unlikely to be in Moscow to go to a restaurant," he said laconically. "They are probably meeting with the Russian leadership, but the situation is very foggy."

Bagapsh did not answer his cellphone Tuesday but Natalya Guliya, the Abkhaz representative in Moscow, confirmed the two rivals had come to Russia.

Ekho Moskvy radio quoted sources as saying the two men would be holding talks with each other mediated by Russian officials.

Russian officials remained silent about the visit, but Georgian officials in Tbilisi were angry.

"The aim of their visit is clear -- it is to get very important instructions on how to go forward ... They will discuss the resolution of a conflict in which neither candidate wants to step aside," State Minister Georgy Khaindrava was quoted by Interfax as saying.

"And as has always happened over the past 10 years, the question of who becomes leader will be answered in Russia."

Georgia accuses Moscow of employing double standards in tacitly supporting the unrecognized administrations in Abkhazia and in a separate rebel region of South Ossetia, while cracking down on its own separatists in Chechnya.


Raul Khadzhimba

Russia denies supporting Abkhazia, where some three quarters of the population have been given Russian passports and pensions are paid from Moscow, and says high-level meetings are purely to exchange information.

The sole television station in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia resumed broadcasting late Monday after being ordered to suspend services by officials amid the turmoil following last month's presidential election and this weekend's contradictory court rulings.

Abkhazian Prime Minister Nodar Khashba ordered the station to suspend broadcasts until what he called law and order were restored at the building and Interior Ministry guards were deployed to protect it. Hundreds of Khadzhimba supporters were camped outside, according to a station official.