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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January 2005, 12:00 GMT
Russia twice shy in Abkhazia
By Steven Eke
BBC Russia analyst

Abkhaz voters cast ballots in October
Moscow actively backed Raul Khadzhimba in October's vote
The repeat presidential vote in Abkhazia will be watched most closely by Russia - the only country to have sent official election monitors.

Abkhazia, while legally still part of Georgia, is effectively a Russian protectorate, where locals have Russian passports and use Russian roubles.

However loud the protestations of the Georgian leadership, Abkhazia has moved much closer to Russia.

Many of the steps needed for Abkhazia to join Russia have already been taken.

As well as common passports and money, there have been reforms to unify the two legal systems. Importantly, Abkhazia remains a useful bargaining chip in the Kremlin's often difficult relationship with Georgia.

And Moscow has sought loyal political proxies in Abkhazia, over the course of its unrecognised independence.

Compromise

During the first round of voting in the region's presidential election last October, it actively backed the strongly pro-Russian Raul Khadzhimba.

Mr Khadzhimba actually lost the vote to the more independence-minded Sergei Bagapsh, precipitating a political crisis that brought Abkhazia to the brink of unrest.
Map showing location of Abkhazia
Russia responded to the failure of its candidate by introducing a sea and railway blockade, and by ending much-needed humanitarian aid.

Russian political mediation then led to a compromise. But many analysts felt Russia had overplayed its hand by meddling in an election to try to ensure its chosen candidate won.

They say that, having burnt its fingers in Abkhazia, Russia then made the same mistake in Ukraine.

This time, Russia has kept a much lower profile. Russia has sent election monitors, but there have been no top Russian pop stars or politicians lobbying for any single candidate.


SEE ALSO:
Georgia's forgotten conflict
03 Jul 03 |  Europe


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