On a trip to Moscow on Wednesday Sergey Bagapsh, the president of the rebel region Abkhazia, inked a raft of deals with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, including one that will establish a joint military ground force in the breakaway Georgian republic. Georgia winced and NATO wagged its finger. The ten bilateral deals, apparently signed to improve Abkhazia’s security, include plans to upgrade an existing Russian base. Bagapsh also said the breakaway republic hopes to join the Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia Customs Union.
Nauru, a Pacific island nation of just 11,000 people, this week became the fourth country to recognize the independence of the break-away Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. While Russia was accused of buying Nauru’s loyalty with $50 million in aid, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity predicted some 10 other states would soon follow Nauru’s example. So who else is prepared to take the Russian shilling, and is Russia willing to pay?
Comment by Sergey Markedonov
Special to Russia Profile,11/05/2009
Abkhazia has started preparing for the main political event of 2009 – the presidential elections. November 2 was the deadline to nominate candidates for the main governmental post of this partially-recognized republic. The upcoming elections are the fourth following the Georgian-Abkhazian armed conflict of the early 1990s, and each of the previous campaigns corresponded to particular stages in the internal evolution of the republic’s de-facto statehood. But this time, there is one fundamental difference.
By Ben Judah
Special to Russia Profile,08/19/2009
A full year since Russia and Georgia fought a short but violent war over the control of South Ossetia the futures of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia are taking shape. The Abkhaz elites are optimistic about their territory becoming a Russian tourist hub and an oil producer—confident of its long-term viability, Sukhumi is forging discreet ties with Turkey. But South Ossetia is less fortunate, since there is no meaningful economic activity on its territory. Unlike Abkhazia, South Ossetia faces a future of deeper integration with Russia.
Sergei Bagapsh (Сергей Васильевич Багапш) was born on April 4, 1949 in the town of Sukhumi, then capital of the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union. An Abkhaz politician, he served as leader of Abkhazia from 2005 to 2011.
Bagapsh graduated from the Georgian University of Subtropical Agriculture in 1971. During his studies, he worked in wine production and a bank. In 1972 Bagapsh was made head of the agronomical department of the Moscow State Olive Oil farm. From 1973 to 1974 he served in the Soviet Armed Forces. From 1978 to 1980 he worked his way up the ranks of the Komsomol and was appointed first secretary of the Komsomol Regional Committee in Abkhazia in 1980. Two years later he was appointed secretary of the Ochamchira district committee of the Communist Party of Georgia.
In 1992, Bagapsh was appointed First Deputy of the Chairman of the Soviet of Ministers of the Abkhaz Socialist Republic and reportedly headed a volunteer force that took part in the assault of Sukhumi during the Georgian-Abkhazian War of 1992-1993. In 1995 Bagapsh was made vice-president of the de facto republic of Abkhazia. Two years later he became prime-minister of Abkhazia and was in office from 29 April 1997 to 20 December 1999.
In 1999, Bagapsh turned to business, becoming general director of the state-owned Abkhaz energy company ChernoMorEnergo in 2001.
Bagapsh ran for president of Abkhazia in 2004, representing the United Abkhazia party and backed by the Amtsakhara Association of veterans from the Georgian-Akhazian conflict. Major disputes following voting in July led to clashes between Bagapsh and his main opponent, Raul Khadjimba. The Abkhaz Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court announced different winners before the two candidates agreed to run together for United Abkhazia in fresh elections. The party easily won the second vote, held in January 2005, and Bagapsh became president, with Khadjimba his deputy.
Bagapsh was reelected president in 2009, with former prime minister Alexander Ankvab running as his vice-presidential candidate. Bagapsh and Ankvab were sworn in on February 12 2010.
Abkhazia’s location has led Bagapsh to play a key role in regional issues. In June 2006, alongside heads of South Ossetia and Transdnestr, he signed a declaration of cooperation. This underlined the intention to form closer ties with Moscow and to create joint peacekeeping forces if Russia peacekeepers pull out.
Following an address from the Abkhaz parliament to then Russian president Vladimir Putin, in October 2006, Bagapsh declared Russia the guarantor of Abkhaz independence. At the outbreak of the South Ossetian War of August 2008, Bagapsh welcomed the news that Russian troops had entered Georgia and assistance from the Russian Black Sea Fleet to protect Abkhazia’s coastline from Georgia. Abkhazian troops were involved in retaking the Kodori Gorge from Georgian forces. Russia subsequently formally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Following his reelection, Bagapsh has announced his intention to lead Abkhazia into the customs union established between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia at the beginning of 2010 and the CIS. This could prove difficult given that the nation has thus far only been recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru as well as South Ossetia and Transdnestr, which find themselves in a similar position.
Bagapsh died of heart failure on May 30, 2011, in a Moscow hospital. He was 62 and had led Abkhazia for a total of six years. Bagapsh had been diagnosed with lung cancer and died due to complications following surgery. In the wake of Bagapsh's death, three days of mourning were declared in Abkhazia and Vice President Alexander Ankvab became acting president.
Bagapsh was married and had a son and a daughter.