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Russia will protect ships en route to Abkhazia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, August 31
The Russian Federal Security coast guard will escort vessels which enter waters controlled by the de facto authorities of Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, protecting them from arrest by Georgian law enforcers.

According to the Deputy Head of Russia’s Border Guard Service, Lieutenant-General Yevgeny Inchin, Russia will escort the vessels to ensure the security of the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in the Russian town of Sochi, near Abkhazia. The separatist region is actively assisting in these preparations.

The Russian General states that “security” will be provided by a “group of boats” based in Abkhazian ports under the command of the Russian Federal Security Service. “Believe me; they will do this in an effective and productive way, because the “Sochi factor” has a decisive influence in this case. This security provision will happen in the nearest future, now we must create the necessary conditions to ensure it does,” Inchin told the Russian media on August 28.

Georgian law states that vessels entering Abkhazian waters are violating the law on the occupied territories adopted by the Georgian Parliament soon after 2008 Russian-Georgian war. This law forbids any kind of economic activity in Abkhazia and South Ossetia without permission from the Georgian side or entering the waters of Abkhazia. In 2009 the Georgian Coast Guard has intercepted four ships en route to Abkhazia.

“An agreement between the Russian Federation and Abkhazia on joint protection of the state border envisages joint measures to provide security in the Republic’s territorial waters,” stated the de facto head of Abkhazia’s Border Guard Service, Zurab Margania, on August 28 as quoted by Interfax. Margania added that Abkhazian Coast Guard boats will assist the Russian Federal Security vessels.

Tbilisi has already commented, stating that if Russia interferes in the operations of the Georgian Coast Guard this will be considered “piracy.” “Along with its other illegal activities on Abkhazian territory, Russia wants to become a pirate now. This can only be considered piracy,” stated Georgian State Minister on Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili on Friday. “These are the territorial waters of Georgia and another country’s Coast Guard boats basing themselves in these [Abkhazian] waters is illegal,” added the head of Georgian Transport Administration Giorgi Bokuchava on August 30. He stated that any vessel wanting to enter Abkhazian ports must receive permission from Georgia first.

Despite the protest of Georgia’s Government, Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba has stated that Russia will not refuse to send its Border Guards to Abkhazia. “This corresponds to the agreement on joint control of the border we signed. The situation in the sea requires urgent measures to be taken,” Shamba told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on Sunday.

The latest arrest of vessels near Abkhazian waters occurred on August 20, when the Georgian Coast Guard seized a vessel with a cargo of more than 1,200 thousand tonnes of scrap metal which had come from one of the Abkhazian ports. The vessel, called Afrostar, was sailing under the Cambodian flag with a Syrian crew.