We present an interview of information agency InterpressNews with head of the Club of Experts, former security minister of Abkhazia Levan Kiknadze on results of the so-called Abkhazian presidential elections and what expectations official Tbilisi may have regarding the new head of the Sukhumi authorities.
- Mr. Kiknadze, Ankvab gained a convincing victory in so-called Presidential elections in Abkhazia. What can Ankvab's victory mean? Why did voters choose Ankvab and not two other candidates and what is a political portrait of his voter like?
- Judging by the standards of international law there is no doubt that these elections are illegitimate and have no legal justification, but its peculiarity is that one cannot escape the fact and we have to get used to these elections too. I cannot agree with statements that it does not matter for us who will be the de facto president of Abkhazia. One should not forget that among Abkhazians, like other indigenous peoples of the Caucasus, a huge role, if not decisive, rests with an individual in shaping public opinion and especially in its governance – on a leader whom people will follow. In the short history such leader was Vladislav Ardzinba. Therefore, we should not kid ourselves, much depends on Ankvab.
The era of Ardzinba ended in a way that his policies actually collapsed. Authoritarian regime, clan-based governance, corruption in all branches of government, unpunished lawlessness of armed gangs, drugs, prostitution and many other unsolved problems in the society gave rise to a feeling of protest that is often expressed in the form of rallies.
Naturally, there was a demand for a new face to come to power - a leader who will lead the "independent" Abkhazia declared by Vladislav Ardzinba out of deep socio-political and economic crisis. Therefore, choice fell on Bagapsh. Confirmation of the above is the defeat of Ardzinba's successor - Raul Khajimba which meant abandonment of the course of Ardzinba.
A person knowledgeable in the events of that time in Abkhazia would have noticed that Ankvab's authority played an important role in the victory of Bagapsh - who, of course, was supported by his considerable electorate. If during the first term of the Bagapsh governance and because of difficult situation Ankvab agreed to be a prime minister, in the period of Bagapsh's second term he was already a vice-president. This is an indication that Ankvab enjoyed confidence of Bagapsh. Having a huge impact in the government, he could clearly see those negative things that Bagapsh could not avoid, but Ankvab remained calm and quietly balanced situation between the "president" and society, so that he was not part of an open confrontation with either of the parties. Politically correctly-calculated moves further enhanced authority of Ankvab in the population. Everybody understood, including the Kremlin, that Ankvab aimed at "presidency" and of course, Bagapsh, at the end of his second term, would have supported him with its own stable electorate. We cannot rule out that like the Medvedev-Putin tandem, we could have seen tandem of Bagapsh and Ankvab in Abkhazia. That is why attacks had been constantly carried out against Ankvab to frighten him or altogether eliminate him.
Of course, Ankvab well seized the moment when society was not ready for elections, and better than all the other candidates conducted his campaign. His main trump card was meetings with all groups in society and open discussions purpose of which was to show them what he and his team intended to do in case of coming to power. He did not avoid accents that they in Abkhazia are not ready yet to discuss, but, in his opinion, there are problems without solving of which there can be no economic revival of Abkhazia. In particular, he discussed a question of introduction into the Parliament of an issue of granting the right to purchase real estate to foreign nationals in order to attract investment. His promises to declare an uncompromising struggle against corruption, to improve crime situation and bureaucratic arrangements were accepted by society as real, as all agree that only Ankvab is able to fix the situation in these directions. Also, the population has welcomed his promise to abolish some of the highest positions in the structures of power. Ankvab moderately used administrative resources in the election campaign as well as issuance of passports to the population of the Gali district, especially just days before the elections.
- There is a lot of talk in certain political circles of Tbilisi and Abkhazia about pro-Georgian attitude of Ankvab ... have you known him? And another thing, what can we say about the allegations of former Georgian Defence Minister Kitovani that supposedly in 1992-1993 Ankvab worked for Georgian intelligence? As we know, the Shamba team issued the video interview of Kitovani in Sukhumi during the election campaign, which caused big noise in Abkhazia and as they say, it played a crucial role in the sharp drop of Shamba in rankings.
- The role of the Kremlin must be especially noted. Although its representatives said that they would not interfere in the elections, as it usually happens in such cases, interference with hidden or open methods was still obvious. Cheap propaganda against Ankvab first in the Internet space, and then in the print media that continued in the activities that were planned by the Shamba team, turned against Shamba itself. Kitovani's appearance on the stage aroused particular irritation of the public and that again points to inadequacy of Russian security services and their outdated methods that had long outlived themselves. It was like as Chernomyrdin said "we wanted better, but it turned out like always."
I would like to comment on the accusation, which refers to the alleged surrender of weapons by Ankvab to Avtandil Ioseliani. This issue was raised in Sukhumi against Ankvab back then when Ioseliani was still alive. Ioseliani denied this and called the accusation absurd. For my part I would add that anyone who comes up with such nonsense should understand at least a little bit what surrender of weapons means. Since we are talking about a certain quantity of weapons its surrender-reception was to be documented in compliance with all rules, by drawing up the act and in the presence of several representatives. I, as Ioseliani's deputy at the time, know nothing about it. Other Georgian officials who, according to the rules were to take and store weapons, know nothing about this either. It would be interesting to know what Abkhazian and Russian officials in Sukhumi are saying? What Genady Berulava, deputy of Avtandil Ioseliani, who was with us until the beginning of 1993 is saying? What dozens of Abkhazian workers who had also worked with us till the end of December of 1992 are saying?
Now to the greatest nonsense that allegedly Ankvab cooperated with the Georgian intelligence. The Shamba team "swallowed" this cheap bait. For them here is an excerpt from my article published last year on the site of the Club of Experts: "I believe that Alexander Ankvab does not need any anti-publicity or publicity. All his life deserves respect, not only from Abkhazians but from Georgians as well and that, despite the fact that today, unfortunately, he is on the other side of the barricades".
- During the election campaign Ankvab said that if he is elected "president" he "will allow relations with Georgia in conditions of any government in Tbilisi." It is known that Ankvab does not make such statements for nothing. In addition, he is known for his adherence to principles, pragmatism and consistency and has a reputation of "a man of his word." What official Tbilisi may expect from Ankvab?
Ankvab has already said that Abkhazia and Russia will remain allies. Can we in fact assume that if Ankvab takes concrete steps towards official Tbilisi, his actions would be coordinated with the Kremlin as finding a way-out of "Abkhazian impasse" is in the interests of Moscow as well ... Presumably, what steps can Ankvab take towards Georgia from this point of view?
- Ankvab knows what he says, despite the fact that the statement was made during the campaign. We also know that pragmatic part of the Abkhazian society have already started talking about the need to establish relations with the Georgian side behind the scene. They are well aware that artificial barriers cannot keep two kindred peoples in constant enmity. If Ankvab begins this process, I hope there will be results.
If Ankvab prevents Russia from conducting the colonial policy, it does not mean that Ankvab should abandon the so-called strategic partnership with Russia. It would be unreasonable for him from political, and, most importantly, economical point of view. Let's hope that the time will come, and some de facto leader of Abkhazia will seriously start resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz problem. Ankvab will not go blindly to starting complications with Moscow. It must be remembered that it is necessary that the attitude of the Abkhazian population to the issue to be transformed in our favour.
In my opinion, a lot depends on the leader in Abkhazia. All the more that by choosing Ankvab Abkhazians rejected the ideology of Ardzinba. Therefore, if Ankvab wishes, it is possible that he would raise before Moscow an issue of necessity to take concrete steps to normalize relations with Georgia. As for steps, I find it hard to talk about it, and I do not advise to impose our thoughts on Ankvab, especially since he is well acquainted with the problems of our peoples. I repeat the main thing is to shape public opinion as well as bold steps toward each other.
- In your opinion, what would be political future of the candidates? Many believe that Ankvab will not leave Shamba as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and that he will offer Khajimba to be a head of one of law enforcement agencies. It is interesting that Shamba has made a statement about his likely departure from politics ...
- Shamba made a lot of fatal errors regarding Ankvab. Ankvab can even forgive him, but I do not think that Shamba himself will be willing to take any position. As for Khajimba, if he no longer wants to be in the opposition and Ankvab offers him a place in the government, he may agree to it.
- According to the Abkhazian law, inauguration of a newly-elected president should be held within one month after the election. In your view, will Ankvab combine a day of his inauguration with day of the fall of Sukhumi - September 27th or "the day of liberation of Abkhazia" - September 30th?
- If one day is not a problem, Ankvab may avoid wasting resources and combine these events...