Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia will compile list of restrictions they plan to introduce in economic and trade ties with Turkey as part of Sokhumi’s move to join Russia’s sanctions against Ankara.
The breakaway region’s Prime Minister Artur Mikvabia signed a decree on January 11 instructing ministries to propose for consideration before January 20 a list of specific measures – ranging from “strengthening control” over Turkish nonprofit entities operating in Abkhazia to banning import of some products from Turkey.
While most of the measures have to be elaborated by January 20, the decree has already banned hiring of Turkish companies or other entities “controlled” by Turkish citizens for implementing infrastructure projects carried out in Abkhazia with Russian aid funds.
The decree says that the move is pursuant to the treaty on alliance and strategic partnership between Russia and Abkhazia, which, among others, also envisages carrying out “coordinated” foreign policy.
The decision comes two weeks after Russian President’s aide Vladislav Surkov visited Sokhumi to press authorities there for “coordinated” actions amid Turkey-Russia tensions following downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey in November.
According to the decree, the breakaway region’s foreign ministry has to submit before January 20 to the government proposals to “strengthen control over interactions of the Abkhaz state entities, organizations and enterprises with entities under the jurisdiction of Turkey and/or organizations under control of Turkish citizens.”
The breakaway region’s justice ministry has been instructed “to submit before January 20, 2016 proposals on strengthening control over activities of those non-commercial organizations and entities, operating on the territory of Abkhazia, which are founded or managed by Turkish citizens, and/or organizations, which are under the Turkish jurisdiction and/or organizations controlled by the Turkish citizens.”
The economy and agriculture ministries, as well as the customs service have been instructed to submit before January 20 proposals on “temporary restrictive measures on import of certain products, produced in Turkey.”
Some Russian and Abkhaz sources estimate that trade with Turkey accounts for 18-20% of breakaway region’s total foreign trade turnover.
Turkey is destination of about 10% of Abkhaz exports; it exports mostly coal, fish and scrap metal.
According to the breakaway region’s deputy PM Dmitri Serikov, trade turnover between Abkhazia and Turkey amounted to 2.5 billion rubles (about USD 32.6 million as of Jan. 13) in the first ten months of 2015.
Serikov, who has been tasked with overseeing implementation of the PM’s decree, said that Abkhaz exports to Turkey will not be affected by planned restrictions, which will only apply to import of some products from Turkey.
Abkhazia imports mostly building materials, fuel, food and textile from Turkey.
“Proposals from the ministries will be discussed by the cabinet by January 20; proposed [restrictive measures] will either be approved or not only after consideration by the cabinet,” RFE/RL’s Russian-language Ekho Kavkaza reported on January 12 quoting Serikov.
He said that the economic interests of Abkhazia will be a priority while making decision on specific restrictive measures.
“No one is going to cut off the branch on which we sit,” deputy PM of the breakaway region said.
Some members of the breakaway region’s parliament, Ekho Kavkaza reported, have expressed concerns over government’s intention to impose restrictive measures, noting that it would affect businesses of those Turkish citizens in Abkhazia, who are representatives of Abkhaz diaspora in Turkey with whom Sokhumi tries to keep close ties.
Abkhaz MP Beslan Tsvinaria said that it was “a hasty decision”.
“We are not taking into consideration that our diaspora lives there [in Turkey],” he told Ekho Kavkaza. “This decision will hit first and foremost our diaspora. I think this is not right.”
Bloc of the Opposition Forces, which like the Abkhaz government condemned in November downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey, said in a statement on January 12 that the authorities should spare no effort in order to maintain ties with the Abkhaz diaspora in Turkey.
“Abkhazia is Russia’s strategic partner… Of course participation of the Turkish companies in construction of facilities financed through Russian assistance is inadmissible. At the same time we believe that the Abkhaz authorities should do everything in their power in order not to allow cutting ties of our diaspora in Turkey with their historic homeland as a result of sanctions,” reads the statement of Bloc of the Opposition Forces.
Turkish fishing vessels were 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.
Economic activities in Abkhazia without authorization from the Georgian authorities represent violation of 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; but no such cases of detention of Turkish vessels were reported since then.