The Cable

Russia’s Foreign Minister Announces Visit to Open Embassy in Abkhazia

Sergei Lavrov’s announcement comes on the anniversary of a mass protest against Soviet influence in Georgia.

abkhazia

Fresh off his Moscow meeting with U.S. Secretary Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced he will visit Abkhazia for the opening of the Russian Embassy there.

Abkhazia, like Georgia’s other Russianoccupied region South Ossetia, declared independence in the 1990s. Like South Ossetia, it is not recognized as independent by the vast majority of countries around the world. It is, however, recognized as independent by — and financially supported by — Russia, with which Abkhazia, in Nov. 2016, established a new military force over which Russia, per the agreement, will have control in times of war. At the time, then-State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, “We do not recognize the legitimacy of this so-called ‘treaty,’ which does not constitute a valid international agreement.”

But Russia is seemingly undeterred, given that it is opening an embassy in Abkhazia during Lavrov’s visit, which will take place on Apr. 18 and 19. The opening of an embassy is clearly meant to indicate that, yes, Russia, still means to act as though Abkhazia is an internationally recognized independent country.

The announcement of Lavrov’s visit comes, intentionally or otherwise, on a particularly fraught day: Friday is the 39th anniversary of a massive protest in Georgia against Soviet rule. On April 14, 1978, thousands, many of them students, took to the streets to protest a proposed change to the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic’s constitution that would have diminished their language by equating in with Russian under the law. The opponents succeeded in blocking the change. The protest was one of the main outbursts of mass protest in Georgia, where dissidence took a nationalistic bent in no small part because it was an occupied country.

Thirty nine years later, Russia offers a reminder that that has not entirely changed.

Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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