DRI: What does the regulation of NGOs’ activities by Russian legislation in Abkhazia mean?
The first sign of changes in Abkhazian politics was the appointment of Inal Ardzinba as a de facto foreign minister, a person with experience of working for Putin’s authorities in Moscow. Any kind of ties with Russia has always been useful for the promotion in the so-called government of Abkhazia – as it meant that the person had the necessary ties. However, it is not only ties that matter in Ardzinba’s case, who was even thought by some to become Abkhazia's de facto president, until the recent developments. Socialization with the Russian bureaucratic environment is a more important factor. It can be said that in terms of career and personal development, he has more in common with Russian political and bureaucratic circles than with Abkhazians. Therefore, at the end of 2021, the launch of fight by him against international organizations operating in Abkhazia, which seem to be acting independently from the de facto government of Abkhazia, was correctly assessed as the Kremlin's voice in its "protégé" republic. However, even then, the possibility that the Russian "foreign agent" legislation could be extended to non-governmental organizations operating in Abkhazia was less credible.
Now that the de facto government of Abkhazia seems to have finally decided to legislate for the Russian regulatory framework, known as "foreign agent law", to restrict non-governmental organizations, the risks likely to face Abkhazia, especially in terms of its growing dependence on Russia, are becoming evident. The de facto government of Abkhazia, first of all, needs to convince its own society of the need for such a decision. In this regard, the activity of the de-facto minister of foreign affairs, who attacks the civil organizations involved in the dialogue with the Georgian side and claims that the direct contact of Abkhazians with Georgians harms the interests of Abkhazia, is conspicuous; and because of this, similar meetings or joint projects under the umbrella of international organizations are not allowed to be carried out. It has not been specified what format may be acceptable to the de facto government and the ministry of foreign affairs for the civil dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides. Most likely, the acceptable format implies projects implemented with the participation, leadership or initiative of the Russian side.
We can assume that the task of the current de facto government of Abkhazia and its minister of foreign affairs, at the behest of the Russian Federation, is not only to reformulate or suppress the Georgian-Abkhazian civil dialogue, but it has more far-reaching goals. First of all, of course, it could be aimed at cutting another weak link between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, created by cooperation and dialogue between NGOs. In turn, this may have two consequences. First, to strengthen the isolation of Abkhazia and the dependence of its intellectual human resources on Russia. Accordingly, the conflict transformation will be fully controlled by Russia, by minimizing or suppressing the dynamics created by independent actors. The second, and presumably, Russia's main task is to close Abkhazia to the weak Western influence that the local NGOs try to exert by promoting the principles of democracy, transparency and the rule of law.
The above steps taken by the de facto government of Abkhazia further increase Abkhazia's dependence on Russia and provide a fertile ground for neutralizing potential opponents to this process for the purpose of the region's integration with Russia.