Russian President’s aide Vladislav Surkov, who met leaders of breakaway Abkhazia in Sokhumi on December 29, said that he discussed, among other issues, Abkhazia’s relations with Turkey and the need to coordinate policies in this regard.
The Abkhaz leadership and opposition parties condemned downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey near Turkey-Syria border in November. Abkhaz commentators have been expressing fears over negative consequences of Turkey-Russia tensions on Abkhazia and its economy.
Trade with Turkey accounts for 18-20% of breakaway region’s foreign trade turnover; Turkey is destination of about 10% of Abkhaz exports, according to Russian and Abkhaz sources. The breakaway region imports mostly building materials, fuel, food and textile from Turkey; it exports coal, fish and scrap metal.
Turkish fishing vessels have been actively involved in the fishery along the Abkhaz Black Sea coast. But in mid-December Russia’s federal fishing agency, Rosrybolovstvo, said that the Russian fishing vessels would launch fishery in the Abkhaz waters and would possibly also “replace” Turkish fishing vessels.
Such economic activities in Abkhazia violate Georgia’s legislation, including the law on occupied territories. At least four Turkish vessels were detained by the Georgian coast guard in 2013 for unauthorized entry to breakaway Abkhazia; no such cases were reported since then.
“We touched upon this issue of relations with Turkey,” said Surkov, who is Russian President’s aide in charge of overseeing Moscow’s relations with breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Actually, Abkhazia has no formal relations with Turkey. As you know Turkey does not recognize Abkhazia, but at the same time it [Turkey] tries to tackle certain economic and, I think, some political issues,” Surkov told journalists in Sokhumi.
“Certain circles in Turkey include Abkhazia in [Turkish] possible sphere of influence,” he added.
“There are delicate, very important, and centuries old relations with [Abkhaz] diaspora [in Turkey] and it should not in any way be forgotten.”
“Moreover, there is no goal whatsoever to worsen economic situation of Abkhazia through inapt and rigid actions of the Abkhaz authorities or through our incorrectly coordinated actions. That’s why we will weigh all the aspects. Russia too is not introducing sanctions indiscriminately against Turkey; Russia is doing it selectively and not on all the directions,” Surkov said.
He said that Turkish construction companies should not be hired for implementing infrastructure projects carried out in Abkhazia with Russian aid funds.
“I can tell you that Turkish contractors will hardly be able to build [in Abkhazia] with Russian money – that’s probably quite obvious,” he said.
“But all the rest – fishing, certain access to natural resources etc, we will consider them separately… and then the Abkhaz government will probably inform you how we would coordinate our policies in this regard,” Surkov added.
Abkhaz leader, Raul Khajimba, said that “nothing will spoil” overall atmosphere between Abkhazia and Russia.
“Turkey and Russia – problem that exist now is [a matter] of relations between the two countries. But we also have relevant documents, which regulate these issues. The treaty [on alliance and strategic partnership between Russia and Abkhazia] imposes certain obligations on us,” Khajimba said, referring to 2014 treaty, which, among others, envisages carrying out “coordinated” foreign policy.
“Our economy will not be harmed,” Khajimba added.
Surkov said that on top of increased salaries for employees of state agencies and increased age pensions, Russia also plans to allocate 4.7 billion rubles (about USD 64 mln as of December 30) to fund “investment program” in Abkhazia for 2016.