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Russia's Defense Minister Visits Russian Military Base in Abkhazia
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 15 May.'13 / 20:55

Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, was in breakaway Abkhazia on May 14, where he visited the Russian military base located in Gudauta.

He toured military infrastructure facilities there and “paid special attention to the living conditions of the servicemen at the military base”, the Russian Ministry of Defense said.

It said that Shoigu also toured “a parking lot, which is now under construction, designed for deployment of existing and coming into service new military hardware.”

Shoigu also visited Russian military sanatorium in Gudauta.

Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group said in its April report on Abkhazia, that 2008 war with Georgia allowed Russia "to greatly enhance its already considerable military presence" in the region and investments in development of its military infrastructure, also including residential compounds for Russian military personnel in the breakaway region, “are clear signs Moscow plans to stay in Abkhazia indefinitely.”

Citing Russian officials, the report says that there are about 5,000 Russian personnel in Abkhazia of which 3,500 are military and 1,500 Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and border guards.

“Moscow allocated $465 million over four years to the rehabilitation and construction of military infrastructure. This included work on Bombora, the largest military airfield in the South Caucasus, in Gudauta. Though Russian media sources describe significant weapons at the base, Western military officials in late 2012 said intelligence indicated only four fighter craft there on a regular basis – two Sukhoi 27s and two MiG-29s,” the report reads.

According to the report foreign military experts estimate that the Russian military infrastructure in Abkhazia could support up to 10,000 troops.

“The Russians also refurbished a smaller, though strategically and symbolically important naval port in Ochamchire, just 30km from Georgian-controlled territory,” according to the International Crisis Group report. “Eight Russian ‘border patrol’ boats are reportedly there – including two new craft that arrived in 2012. According to FSB officials, they likewise set up several radar stations along the coast to cover Abkhazia’s ‘territorial waters’ and monitor areas under Georgian naval control.”

The report says that Russia has “clearly solidified its security presence in Abkhazia over the past five years”, but Moscow is apparently “not utilising its renovated infrastructure to full capacity.” According to the report this may be due to a desire to not be seen as an occupying force, but may also be linked to Russian armed forces’ heavy commitment to combating a insurgency in the North Caucasus that limits resources available for use in Abkhazia.

“It is less likely that Russia is doing this to keep the door open to a compromise with Georgia,” the report says.

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