Russian navy in Ochamchira
This article was originally published on the Ekho Kavkaza website. The text and terminology of the article have been transferred without changes. All rights belong to “Ekho Kavkaza”. Date of publication: November 1, 2023.
The words of Abkhazian leader Aslan Bzhania about Russia’s intention to build a new base for the Black Sea Fleet in Ochamchira are both an indirect recognition that Moscow has come to terms with the loss of Sevastopol as the main base of its naval forces in the Black Sea, and a new threat to Georgia.
Such conclusions are drawn by the Georgian opposition and expert community, but the government of the country believes that the information voiced by Sukhumi needs to be confirmed. Georgian Dream prefers not to believe that Moscow’s policy of non-aggression can lead to the threat of opening the notorious “second front” within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia.
“We have signed an agreement, and in the near future there will be a permanent basing point for the Russian Navy in the Ochamchira district. This is all aimed at increasing the level of defense capability of both Russia and Abkhazia. And this kind of cooperation will continue because it is to ensure the fundamental interests of both Abkhazia and Russia. Security above all.”
In Tbilisi, Bzhania’s revelations caused mixed reactions. The Georgian Foreign Ministry called such statements “a blatant violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia”. The foreign ministry said:
“We express concern over the statement of the Russian occupation regime in Sukhumi about the establishment of an additional Russian military base on the occupied territory of Georgia. Such actions represent a gross violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and another provocative attempt to legitimize the illegal occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.”
However, Georgian Dream immediately doubted the veracity of the words of the Abkhazian leader. According to representative of the ruling party Gia Volsky, one should not rush to conclusions until all the details are clarified. Volsky believes there is no agreement between Moscow and Sukhumi:
“First of all, whether it is true or not, no one knows. Secondly, there is no agreement between Abkhazia and Russia. This is some kind of formality, sometimes Bzhania is allowed to talk to someone at a high level, including the president. It is in the interest of Russia to gather forces not to give up the Caucasus region, which Saakashvili surrendered at a rate of 20 percent.”
At the meeting with Bzhania, Putin did not say a word about the naval base, but the Abkhazian leader unequivocally made it clear that he wants to participate in “integration processes initiated by the Russian side.”
“We note with satisfaction that our relations have recently received an additional impetus. The process of harmonization is underway: a lot has been done for this harmonization, and much remains to be done. This is what brings our positions closer in creating a common socio-economic and defense space. This is very important. We are doing it and will continue to do it.”
Among the Georgian opposition, Bzhania’s statement was perceived as a direct threat. According to Badri Japaridze, one of the leaders of the Lelo party, the deployment of warships shelling Ukrainian cities near Georgian shores, albeit on territory outside the control of official Tbilisi, threatens to move the front line to Georgia’s internationally recognized borders:
“This is an attempt by the Russian Federation to transfer hostilities to Georgia, an attempt to move the front line to Abkhazia – within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. We all need to understand that this base will be used to shelter the Russian naval forces that are currently under attack in the ports of Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. These ships carry cruise missiles that are being fired at Ukrainian civilians every day. Accordingly, these ships are legitimate targets of the Ukrainian armed forces, and therefore the construction of this base is a direct attempt to transfer hostilities to Abkhazia, and this is a great threat to the security of local residents, security of Georgian citizens in general.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that most of the Black Sea Fleet ships have already been withdrawn from Sevastopol. According to an analysis of satellite images, Russia has moved all three remaining submarines, two cruise missile-capable frigates and a patrol ship to Novorossiysk. Other vessels, including a large landing ship, a number of small missile ships and new minesweepers, were moved to Feodosiya.
In the face of constant attacks by the AFU, which have already cost Moscow several warships and a submarine, the Black Sea Fleet command apparently decided to move the remaining afloat ships to more protected ports. According to experts, the withdrawal of the main forces to Novorossiysk may indicate that Moscow is counting on the West’s ban on the use of cruise missiles provided to Ukraine for strikes on Russian territory.
“It (Russia), losing the war in Ukraine, is losing the military base located in Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula, which has a strategic position in the Black Sea. And for them the only chance to fully maintain a presence in the Black Sea is the territory adjacent to Ochamchira. And now it is clear why the port of Anaklia is not being built. And here we can already see the treacherous policy of our authorities. Russia is doing this with the hands of our government.”
According to Georgian experts, the only correct step for Tbilisi in this situation would be a loud and harsh reaction from the top officials of the state, demanding an emergency convocation of the UN Security Council and using all diplomatic channels in order to strengthen military assistance to the country from Georgia’s strategic allies.