The puppet regime of Abkhazia has a new old "president". But Genearl Levan Kiknadze, president of "the Club of Experts and a former Minister of Security of Abkhazia does not agree with a suggestion of experts that unprecedented victory of Bagapsh in the elections might be followed by a series of opposition demonstrations. He gives other option of event development to the newspaper "Versia".
Mister Kiknadze how would you assess so-called presidential election in Abkhazia? There was a constant talk that Russia would not allow Bagapsh to become the president again. And you were saying that Putin would try to push Khajimba to become a president. But the fact is that Bagapsh is again a president. How can the victory of his clan be explained?
Before the election campaign the situation was such that I thought that Khajimba really had a real chance of winning. In spring he resigned and became a leader of electorate with oppositional tendencies the major part of which was old fighters. There were rumours that Beslan Butba and Raul Khajimba were to unite. My opinion was reinforced that Bagapsh authorities that were up to their neck in corruption and their rating that hit the bottom would have made Russia to decide to bring a person that would have provided order and stability as the head of the separatist government. But as later events clarified either Putin caved in or a deal was made. The main thing is that Russia decided not to get involved very actively in the elections and to leave it to Abkhazians. By doing so they showed the world that Abkhazia as an independent democratic country was established. They also took into consideration the previous so-called presidential elections when their active involvement in the process caused a negative attitude towards Russia in many in Abkhazia. Additionally, they probably decided that their work was done there and it was of no great importance who would be a leader.
As soon as the green light was on from the Russian side the separatist regime put a mechanism in motion that is characteristic to dictatorial regimes – wins whoever is in power.
Bagapsh used his state resources to the maximum extent. He ordered to make amendments into a law about elections that were just beneficial for him. For example, he subordinated state electronic media and the press to his election headquarters; he also used well visits of Russian high officials to Abkhazia for his election campaign. An important role was played also by an opinion in society that recognition of so-called Abkhazian independence by Russia and getting control over the Kodori gorge were achieved during the presidency of Bagapsh and this was his great achievement.
According to your information, what kind of violations mainly happened there and how transparent were the elections?
As so-called candidates for the presidency are saying the elections in Abkhazia were conducted with unprecedented violations. Opposition candidates, their headquarters and their supporters were under immense pressure from Interior Ministry and the prosecutor's office. Russians, Armenians and representatives of other ethnic groups as well as socially defenseless electorate were being threatened. They were warned that if they were not going to participate in the elections in favour of Bagapsh they would not have respective mark in the passports and would not get pensions, or new Russian passports, especially Abkhazian population who would get no posts in the government. Thus participation in the elections was put on the same level as participation in the Georgian-Abkhazian war. And what attitude is in Abkhazia when it comes to those who did not take part in the above mentioned war was clearly shown on the example of one of the Presidential candidates Beslan Butba who had to constantly justify himself.
Other violations were also recorded. Namely, after the elections number of voters that was in the electorate lists was 139 000 that is 11 400 more than the number that was announced by CEC. That was because of so-called carousels that were actively used during the elections. In many polling stations the electorate lists included people who were not permanently living in Abkhazia. Among them were those who had not lived in Abkhazia since 1992-93 (we cannot rule out that abovementioned lists also included refugees that are temporarily living in Tbilisi and Russia).
Despite such violations Russian so-called observers assessed the elections as democratic and transparent. They were saying that well ahead of the end of the election process in their interviews while appeared to be tipsy. The head of the Russian Central Election Commission was probably given so much to drink that he could not understand in which city of eastern Abkhazia he was observing the election process and was confusing Gudauta with Ochamchire.
What process will start to take place in Abkhazia after the election? We know that the opposition is preparing for protest demonstrations. Do you think that confrontations between clans will get even tenser?
I don't' think that Khajimba will take such radical steps. Intense confrontation might have started only if Bagapsh won with low margin. I do not think that situation will get so difficult that it will come to armed confrontation. First of all, Russia will not allow this. Probably Khajimba will also be warned that there is a line that should not be crossed. Aggravation of the situation is not in Russia's interests so it will not allow internal disorders there.
How will a government be formed? What does it mean that Alexander Ankvab is a candidate for a post of vice president of Bagapsh? They say that Russia will send Kolesnikov to neutralize him.
If we look at the personnel policy of Bagapsh he will again rely on those people that he gathered around him in the beginning. These people were always at his side. This election campaign was also on their shoulders and I do not think that Bagapsh will make cardinal changes in his personnel policy. Of course, Alexander Ankvab remains one of the most influential figures. If he during the first term of Bagapsh's presidency was somehow in the shadow after becoming the vice president he will, I think, become actively involved in the political life and a post of vice president will also get importance that it previously lacked. And if we take into account that after the second term is finished Bagapsh will try to leave the most acceptable member of his circle as his successor. And Ankvab is an ideal candidate for this. How Bagapsh will manage to form power vertical so that neither side is left displeased remains to be seen. Apart from this it is possible that issue of satisfying Khajimba's ambitions might become a problem. At the time when we were working together in security services Raul Khajimba seemed a professional and responsible worker with principles and it appears he did not lose this. In these circumstances if he is deprived of an acceptable post in the Bagapsh government it is possible that in Khajimba Russia will get indeed a pro-Abkhazian, quite influential nationalist leader that will interfere in realizing its imperial intentions. But it is also possible that Russia will have to fulfill ambitions of Putin's favourite General Raul Khajimba once again and we might see the same deal as in the previous elections. Let's wait and see.
As to Kolesnikov becoming the vice president Russia is maybe considering such option but how acceptable this would be for Kolesnikov himself is a questionable issue. But I do not rule out that Kolesnikov will swap his quiet life with less safe but more financially profitable life, all the more if this is an instruction of his Russian authorities.
As to Georgian-Abkhazian relations, should we expect changes in this direction? It is also interesting what else is Russia expecting to get from "new authorities of Abkhazia"?
It is hard to tell when it will end but Georgian-Abkhazian hostilities cannot last long. Many pragmatically thinking representatives of Abkhazian intelligentsia say that but they refrain from saying that out loud because of well-known reasons. It should be also noted that residents of Abkhazia are so occupied with social problems, so brainwashed and they are promised so much that they are in uncertainty. I still have a hope that if people diplomacy will be given a green light, mixed Georgian-Abkhazian families will be actively involved and all this is supported by international organizations we should definitely expect thawing in Georgian-Abkhazian relationship.
And although Bagapsh in his very first press-conference after becoming "the president" announced that they would never return to Georgia a question comes to mind whether he himself really believes in his words. Anyway he had to say this.
If we are to become even more attractive country I assure you that the situation will change drastically. Russia got almost everything from Bagapsh authorities. And a "new authorities" will be the same old one both in its essence and with regards to its members. Today in Abkhazia there is no economical lever, even an insignificant one, which is not in Russia's hands.