The World

Trouble in Russia’s Other Backyard

Opposition protesters rally in front of the presidential office in Sukhumi, the capital of the Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, on May 27, 2014. 

Photo by Ibragim Chkadua/AFP/Getty Images

While the world’s attention has been focused on the annexation of Crimea and the violence in eastern Ukraine, things seem to be falling apart in another of Russia’s controversial satellites.

The president of the semi-independent state of Abkhazia has apparently fled the capital, Sukhumi, after protesters stormed his headquarters. The opposition is reportedly still in control of the building. 

Abkhazia, the breakaway region that along with nearby South Ossetia was the main focus of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, is today a de facto independent country, although its independence is recognized only by Russia and three other countries and it remains heavily dependent on Russian support. According to one recent report, Russia funds accounted for 70 percent of the country’s budget in 2012.

Public dissatisfaction with President Alexander Ankvab’s government had been growing for some time thanks to an ailing economy and allegations of public corruption, but the massive demonstration that forced the president to flee to an undisclosed location Tuesday is still a bit of shock.

Moscow is evidently taking the situation pretty seriously and has dispatched Vladislav Surkov, one of Vladimir Putin’s most influential senior aides, to meet with Ankvab.

The strange developments come the same week as the official formation of the Eurasian Economic Union, the trade partnership among Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan that was also supposed to include Ukraine, until the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.  

Abkhazia may be a backwater, and the demonstrations seem motivated by local concerns, but it’s a reminder, as Russia attempts to solidify its regional influence and the violence continues in eastern Ukraine, that assuming responsibility for disputed foreign dependencies can be a headache.