Russia signs deal with Abkhazia, becomes commander of military in that region

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Russia President Vladimir Putin and the leader of Abkhazia have signed an agreement under which Putin will become the commander of a joint military force in the breakaway region.

“I’m sure that cooperation, unity and strategic partnership between Russia and Abkhazia will continue to strengthen,” stated Putin after signing the agreement Monday.

Russia already has a military presence in the territory. Russian troops have served in Abkhazia since it broke away from Georgia in a separatists war in the early 1990s.

The United States issued a statement in response to the deal. “The United States will not recognize the legitimacy of any so-called ‘treaty’ between Georgia’s Abkhazia region and the Russian Federation,” read a press release issued by the US State Department.

The US and other nations strongly suspect Russia is stepping up its attempt to expand in the region, which recently had a change in leadership after the former leader was forced to step down and a former Soviet KGB officer was elected president.

Read more: Prime Minister of Abkhazia Beaten After Car Blocked in Traffic, Escapes

The deal was signed by this president, Raul Khadzhimba.

“The United States’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains clear,” wrote Jeff Rathke, Director of the Bureau of Public Affairs at the Office of Press Relations for the State Department, “these regions are integral parts of Georgia, and we continue to support Georgia’s independence, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity.

“We once again urge Russia to fulfill all of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions, to reverse its recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and to provide free access for humanitarian assistance to these regions.

“We renew our full support for the Geneva international discussions as a means to achieving concrete progress on security and humanitarian issues that continue to impact the communities on the ground in Georgia.”

Georgia also condemned the move towards greater Russian involvement in Abkhazia, and called on the international community to speak out against the move.

However, Khadzhimba was more optimistic in his assessment.

“Ties with Russia offer us full security guarantees and broad opportunities for socio-economic development,” said Khadzhimba.

By Andy Stern