Georgia reacted furiously on Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Moscow-backed separatist region of Abkhazia on the anniversary of the outbreak of a brief war between Tbilisi and Moscow.
Putin visited the Black Sea resort town of Pitsunda in Abkhazia for talks with the leader of the self-proclaimed country, Raul Khajimba, on the ninth anniversary of the start of the war on August 8, 2008.
Georgia’s foreign ministry condemned Putin’s visit to what it called an occupied region as a ‘cynical action’, saying it represented a continuation of Moscow’s “deliberate policy against Georgia”.
It urged Moscow to cease ‘provocative actions’ and called on the international community to respond to Russia’s ‘aggressive steps’.
Abkhazia is internationally recognised as part of ex-Soviet Georgia but Russia sees it as a separate country – along with another region, South Ossetia – following the brief war with Georgia.
Moscow has thousands of troops stationed in the two breakaway regions in what Georgia calls a military “occupation”, and supports them financially.
In televised comments, Putin stressed that Russia “firmly guarantees the security and self-sufficiency of Abkhazia, its independence. I am sure that this will continue in the future.”
He described Russia’s military base, which is shared with Abkhazian forces, as crucial to security in the region.
“The united Russian base on Abkhazia’s territory continues to play a key role in providing stability in the region,” Putin said.
Khajimba, like Putin, is a former officer in the Soviet-era KGB spy agency. He was elected president of Abkhazia in 2014 and shortly afterwards signed a partnership deal with Moscow that formalised Russian dominance in the region.
Putin’s visit came after two Russian tourists in Abkhazia were killed and dozens hurt by an explosion at a munitions depot.