Too close to Anaklia or one step away from Abkhazia – Georgian and Abkhaz societies discuss the Russian navy in Ochamchira

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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.

In recent weeks, Georgian and Abkhazian societies have been discussing information about a planned Russian naval base in Ochamchira. In Tbilisi they express concern that it will be located very close to Anaklia, while Abkhazian commentators say that it was in Anaklia they are going to build a deep-water port that will threaten the security of Abkhazia.

A few days ago the Georgian Democracy Research Institute (DRI) said that near the village of Pichori, in southern Abkhazia, where it is called Pichora in Abkhazian, a large-scale preparatory work for deployment of a base of the Russian Navy has been going on for three weeks. The reaction of the Georgian authorities “is insufficient and, therefore, ineffective,” NGOs believe.

According to DRI, “the Russian military in conversations with local residents say that Pichori will serve as an auxiliary function of a large naval base in Ochamchira; the Russians are conducting exercises in which a simulated drone attack on the military port of Ochamchira was used; according to the residents of Ochamchira, installation of electronic warfare systems, which will most likely be used against Ukrainian drones and missiles, is underway at the site”.

The NGO notes that Pichora is located only four kilometers from the Georgian city of Anaklia, where Tbilisi has been planning to create a deep-water port for many years.

Obviously, work on a Russian naval base in Abkhazia is already underway. Public attention to this topic was raised after an interview of Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania early last month with Russian newspaper Izvestia, right after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

And it is no coincidence that during a press conference on October 19th, several journalists asked Bzhania questions about the stationing point of Russian warships in Abkhazia, who replied:

“We are constantly engaged in strengthening the defense capability of our state. But the position of our ally is very important here. I want to inform you that we are acting as a united front in this matter.

You may have noticed that on Victory Day, a small missile ship visited us. It is called a small missile ship, but it is very effective, equipped with modern weapons. And you probably also noticed what kind of reaction there was to the visit of this ship.

Logistical support for the Russian Navy will be deployed in the port of Ochamchira, because it corresponds to our interests. This will only intensify, because security issues have been of paramount importance before, and now you see the situation in Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East – the world is on the verge of a major war, and in no case should this be allowed. I do not think it is necessary to talk about it more specifically in the media.

This will be a military unit that will perform the appropriate tasks. A decree on allocation of land for the logistics base of the Russian Navy has been signed there. Since 2009, naval units of the Border Guard Department have been based in this port. And then the need arose because the military and political situation became more complicated…”

And it cannot be said that this topic arose only this fall. On May 6, 2022 the website of the Cabinet of Ministers of Abkhazia reported that Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab held a meeting on the issue of expanding the capacity of the Ochamchira seaport and the possibility of transferring it from the status of civilian to dual-purpose. The meeting was attended by the head of the RUE “Abkhazian Shipping Company”, Daur Ardzinba.

Here are some facts about Ochamchira seaport, taken from open sources. The bay of artificial origin was developed at the mouth of the Djukmur River, northwest of the city of Ochamchira. It is a harbor with a narrow passage, protected by two breakwaters. The port was created in 1933-1935 as a civilian trading port, but after five years it was withdrawn to Poti, and a brigade of NKVD border guard ships was relocated to Ochamchira. A military camp was set up near the port to accommodate the brigade’s personnel.

During the Great Patriotic War, the mouth of the Jukmur River had man-made channels dug under eucalyptus trees to shelter submarines engaged in combat operations against the Nazi troops and their allies. The location of the submarines was never discovered during the war, although the patrol boats were repeatedly subjected to air raids.

In the late 1980s, plans were underway to expand the port and increase the military presence in the area, but the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s prevented the realization of these plans. In 1992, after the outbreak of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, the brigade, together with the 36th Sukhumi border guard detachment of the Russian Federation, provided support from the sea for the evacuation of the local population and families of soldiers.

In August 1996, at the request of Georgia, the brigade was withdrawn from Ochamchira and redeployed to the city of Kaspiysk. Throughout the 2000s the bay was used for joint basing of civilian vessels and military boats of the Navy of the Republic of Abkhazia. In January 2009, it was handed over to Russia to establish a fleet base there.

When Ukrainian UAVs began hitting targets in the Sevastopol bay during the SAO, the Russian Navy thought about the task of dispersing the basing of ships. In mid-October, Abkhazian society commented with alarm on a report about some drones that were shot down and fell into the sea near Adler.

Public figure and blogger Tengiz Dzhopua in a conversation with Ekho Kavkaza noted that the arrangement of the Russian military base is part of allied relations between Sukhum and Moscow:

“We have already chosen our position, our strategic partner is the Russian Federation. We have long adhered to this position and we have consolidated it as far as possible, and not only in the field of security.

The fact that Russia has certain problems in Ukraine and that strikes can be made in connection with this is a natural process. Whether we like it or not… Allied relations – there are also some costs associated with them. Of course, we do not want Abkhazia to become a place where Ukraine would be interested in sending its drones.

But, as Russians say, if you like to ride, you like to take a sled. And from the point of view of the security of Abkhazia I think that this is normal. It is in our interests. First of all, in the interests of the Russian Federation, because fixation on the Black Sea, especially its coastal strip, was strategically important for Russia in the nineteenth century. This urgency did not arise now.

The only thing that confuses me is that the military base in Bambora, now there will be a naval base… This should not reassure us that we forget about our own work to ensure the security of Abkhazia.”

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