Nov 24, 2014 9:06 AM
Deal gives Russia greater control over Abkhazia
The Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) Russia further tightened its control over Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia on Monday with a new treaty envisaging closer military and economic ties, a move that has drawn outrage in Georgia.
Under the treaty signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Abkhazia's leader, Russian and Abkhazian forces will come under joint command.
While the Russian troops have been deployed in Abkhazia for more than two decades since it broke away from Georgian in a separatist war in the early 1990s, the agreement reflected an attempt by Moscow to further expand its presence in the lush Black Sea region of 240,000.
Coming amid a chill in Russia-West ties over the Ukrainian crisis, the deal raises further suspicions about Moscow's intentions. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has denounced the new agreement as a "step toward annexation" of Abkhazia and warned it jeopardize efforts to normalize ties with Russia.
Russian-Georgian relations were ruptured in the August 2008 war that erupted when former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili attempted to restore control over another breakaway province of South Ossetia. The Russian military routed the Georgian forces in five days of fighting and Moscow recognized both rebel provinces as independent states.
The Georgian Dream bloc led by Russia-friendly billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, which unseated Saakashvili's party in the 2012 parliamentary vote and formed the new government, has sought to repair ties with Moscow. But while economic relations have improved, political ties have remained frozen because of Moscow's staunch refusal to compromise on the status of separatist regions.
The importance of the Black Sea for Russia has been evident during the Ukraine crisis. Putin justified the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by saying it would guarantee that NATO warships would never be welcome on the peninsula, the home base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Lynn Berry in Moscow and Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia contributed to this report.