Medvedev in first visit to Abkhazia since Georgia war

8th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday made an unannounced visit to Abkhazia, his first trip to the breakaway Georgian region since Moscow's war with Tbilisi two years ago.

Medvedev held talks with Abkhazia's rebel leader Sergei Bagapsh and toured the sea embankment of its main city Sukhumi on the two year anniversary of the conflict with Georgia, an AFP correspondent reported.

In the wake of the August 2008 war, Moscow recognised Abkhazia and fellow rebel region South Ossetia as independent states -- a move so far followed by only a handful of countries and condemned by the West.

"It was not a simple decision," Medvedev said. "But time has shown that it was the right decision. The existence of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was under threat."

"If that decision had not been taken, the situation now would be completely different," he added.

The August 2008 war saw Russian forces pour into Georgia after fighting broke out over South Ossetia, and later over Abkhazia itself, prompting the worst post-Cold War crisis between Russia and the West.

Russian official news agencies confirmed that the visit was the first by a Russian president since Moscow recognised Abkhazia's independence.

Georgia, which along with most of the international community insists the region is an integral part of its territory, reacted with exasperation to the visit.

"I think it would be better if the Russian president were focused on domestic problems. I think maybe he is trying to distract attention," Deputy Prime Minister and Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told AFP.

"They are still playing a game that they have lost. These territories are now recognised as occupied territories and these kinds of trips will not change that or add anything positive to the region."

Abkhaz separatists waged a civil war with Georgia in the 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union that killed several thousand people and left 250,000 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, as refugees.

Since Moscow's declaration of its independence, Abkhazia has been boosted by significant Russian aid and visits by large numbers of Russian tourists. But its economy remains stricken by the lack of international recognition.

© 2010 AFP

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