Abkhazia Wants to Revive Maritime Traffic With Crimea

SUKHUMI, Abkhazia – Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region announced Monday that the rebel government in the internationally unrecognized district is looking to re-establish maritime traffic with Ukraine’s annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Abkhazia’s de facto Prime Minister Artur Mikvabia, said the rebel government in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi would like to immediately revive passenger and cargo ferry services that connected the two Black Sea regions during the Soviet Union.

Crimea’s Russian-installed government reciprocated Mikvabia’s overtures, saying an agreement on establishing sea traffic would benefit the economies of both regions, as increased trade would help bolster their flailing economies.

The Russian occupation of Crimea and Abkhazia’s Moscow-backed self-rule from Georgia has left the two Black Sea regions internationally isolated and crippled by severe economic sanctions.

The secessionist government in Abkhazia has struggled in recent months to stabilize the impoverished region’s collapsing economy due to the fall of the Russian ruble and the sudden end to its illicit, but widely known, trade relations with Turkey.

Georgia fought a brutal war against Russia and its local Abkhaz proxies in 1992-1993. The war left thousands dead and led to the ethnic cleansing of up to 200,000 ethnic Georgians.

Abkhazia was recognized, along with South Ossetia, as an independent state by Moscow following the 2008 Russian-Georgian War.

This left Abkhazia wholly dependent on the economic health of its patron Russia as the ruble is the de facto currency of the breakaway republic and most residents are issued Russian Federation passports. Moscow also subsidizes all state-run institutions as well as pays the region’s pension fund.

But with the precipitous drop in world oil prices, the subsequent collapse of Russia’s own economy and Turkey’s now fraught relations with Moscow after the Turkish military downed a Russian fighter jet over Syria in November 2015, Abkhazia’s already fragile economic balance has been crippled.

Ukraine’s annexed Crimea Peninsula has endured more than two years of deep international isolation after the Ireland-sized region was invaded and annexed by Russia. The US, EU, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea and a half dozen other countries slapped harsh economic sanctions on Moscow for its military occupation of Crimea and the ensuing mass human rights abuses perpetrated by local pro-Russian proxies on the region’s Muslim indigenous population, the Crimean Tatars.

The peninsula has been cut off from the outside world after most of the international community barred all economic and trading activity with the region’s Moscow-installed government.

Despite Russia’s initial enthusiasm for having annexed the region, Crimea’s ramshackle infrastructure as well as its crumbling Soviet-era housing and social services, has saddled Moscow’s occupation authorities with exorbitant costs as they attempt to physically and economically link the region to mainland Russia.

Russia’s massive military buildup and potential deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to the regions has further complicated matters as badly needed funding for basic social services are redirected to the military sector.

Establishing a modicum of trade between Abkhazia and Crimea would be a major coup for the regions’ pro-Russian authorities and the Kremlin, itself, as it attempts to consolidate control over strategic areas that it has long coveted.

By Nicholas Waller

Photo: Giorgio Comai/flickr

19 April 2016 21:53