How will the placement of the Russian fleet in Ochamchire impact the transformation of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict? Vision from the Gali district
The information voiced at the meeting held between de facto Abkhazian president Aslan Bzhania and Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 4, 2023, about the possible placement of a Russian fleet in occupied Ochamchire drew the attention of Georgian and Abkhaz societies. On both sides, mainstream and social media are actively discussing the consequences of this step of the Russian Federation for Georgia and, accordingly, for occupied Abkhazia.
Expectations and forecasts are contradictory
For Abkhazians, the placement of the Russian fleet in Ochamchire means additional military guarantees against Georgia and, at the same time, the expectation of a large flow of money from Russia for the establishment of military and naval infrastructure in occupied Ochamchire, in the background of the decreasing financial aid from Russia.
For the Georgian society, the placement of the fleet in Abkhazia clearly represents another step towards the annexation of occupied Abkhazia and, moreover, in the context of Russian aggression in Ukraine, an attempt to transfer military actions to the territory of Georgia.
Against the background of these two extremely opposing poles of moods and expectations, the vision of the residents of the Gali district –what the construction of a Russian naval base on the territory of Ochamchire and the transfer of the Black Sea military fleet from the territory occupied by Russia in Ukraine will bring to the Georgians of Gali - is not in the center of public attention either in Sokhumi or in Tbilisi. As Abkhazians are given hope that an additional Russian military contingent will further isolate them from the rest of Georgia, and the Georgians fear the prospect of being dragged into the Ukraine-Russia war, the Georgian population of the Gali district fears that their geographical location between occupied Ochamchire and the rest of Georgia will further increase their vulnerability.
This fear and negative vision of the future has a basis. The rights situation of the Gali population is already extremely unfavorable in occupied Abkhazia. Due to their Georgian ethnic identity, the de-facto government and Abkhazian society consider them as a fifth column, a threat and a pillar of the Georgian government. Consequently, the hopes for a large Russian military support may further increase pressure on them. The weak and ineffective policy of the Georgian authorities towards the Gali district and the uncertainty of the Gali population about what kind of help they may receive from the other side of Enguri puts them in an even more helpless situation.
Against this background, Russia is resorting to propaganda methods that have been tried many times against the Georgians of Gali. Last week, Gali was visited by the representatives of the so-called Russian embassy based in Sokhumi, who presented Gali teenagers with school textbooks for the eighth-ninth grades, which had been a shortage. In addition, the administration of Gali was facilitated to sign a memorandum on close friendship and cooperation with the Tambov Governorate of the Russian Federation. All this was delivered to the Georgians of the Gali district with one message that Russia would not leave its "fraternal Georgian people in trouble".
Against the backdrop of Russia's extremely active soft power policy in the Gali district, it is difficult to foresee what changes Russia's increased military presence may bring to the attitudes of the Georgian population of Gali, who currently do not even have guarantees for security or a dignified life on their own land. All the more so when it is not known to them what vision the Georgian Government will have regarding Abkhazia and specifically the Gali district if the Russian military fleet currently based in occupied Crimea is transferred to occupied Ochamchire.