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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia Threatens to Destroy Georgian Ships

Abkhazia's leader on Wednesday threatened to destroy Georgian ships that entered the breakaway Georgian region's "territorial waters."

"I issued an order to our navy to destroy Georgian ships violating Abkhazia's sea border," Sergei Bagapsh told Interfax. "This step has been motivated by unending acts of piracy by Georgia."

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said Tbilisi would hold Russia, which controls Abkhazia's borders and its coastline under a deal with the region, responsible for any attacks on its ships.

"Abkhazia's navy does not exist," he said. "There are no Abkhaz territorial waters because these waters belong to Georgia. If there is an attack on Georgian ships, Russia would be responsible, not the separatist government."

Tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia in the Black Sea have risen sharply in recent weeks, with Georgia trying to impose an economic and commercial embargo adopted last year after its five-day war with Russia.

Georgia says it has detained four ships delivering goods to Abkhazia this year, including two within several days of each other late last month.

Yevgeny Inchin, deputy head of the State Border Service, said Friday that the Russian coast guard would ensure the safety of merchant ships entering Abkhaz waters, but did not specify how.

Russian defense analysts say the Abkhaz navy consists of eight boats armed with light guns.

Bagapsh said Russian ships would not be involved in any operations against Georgian ships.

"I want to stress that we are talking exclusively about the Abkhaz navy," he said. "Russia's navy is not being used and will not be used to carry out this task."

A Georgian court on Tuesday sentenced the captain of a Turkish-operated tanker to 24 years in jail for trying to deliver fuel to Abkhazia. Georgia says it detained the tanker in Georgian waters, but its operator says it was seized at gunpoint in international waters.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is expected to visit Tbilisi to ask Georgia to overturn the decision, a Turkish government official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Davutoglu was on a Middle East tour in Egypt on Wednesday. No date was given for a trip to Georgia.

"We think the Georgians violated international maritime law regarding both the letter and the spirit of the law," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and Georgia's other rebel region, South Ossetia, last August after repelling a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in a five-day war. The regions are shunned by the West.

Russia needs safe and stable merchant and passenger traffic in the area as it prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a few kilometers from the Abkhaz border.