Russia’s plans to station a portion of its Black Sea navy in separatist Abkhazia may increase the Russia-Ukraine conflict near Georgia. The war’s shifting topography is causing concerns among Georgians about getting trapped in the crossfire. Aslan Bzhania, the leader of separatist Abkhazia, announced that Russia will establish a naval facility in Ochamchire to improve defensive capacity.
The majority of the navy has withdrawn to Novorossiysk, Russia, while some may be deployed closer to the southeast to Ochamchire. Warships in Ochamchire are alleged to participate in strikes on Ukraine’s civilians, making them targets for the Ukrainian military. The port is not deep enough to handle Russia’s largest battleships but can anchor smaller ships and set up resupply and logistical activities.
Following rocket assaults on Russia’s Black Sea navy forces and fleet by Ukraine, Russia’s withdrawal towards the east of the Black Sea implies restraint in the Russian military. Ukraine’s missile attacks on the Russian navy have made Crimea an unwelcome operating environment for Russia.
The Kremlin is considering a permanent movement towards the east, away from occupied Ukrainian territories, indicating concern about its ability to move further west in Ukraine or towards Georgia. Georgia has expressed alarm over the installation, stating that it represents an unjust assault on Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Georgia’s occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, which are occupied by Russia, are causing concern for the country’s stability. Russia maintains a significant presence in these territories and maintains a viable economy, despite their status as sovereign republics. Bzhania has expressed his willingness to join the Union State between Russia and Belarus, which could lead to a Russian naval presence in Abkhazia.
This presence could potentially turn the territory into an extra front, enabling the war against Ukraine and potentially stretching the battle into Georgia. An Abkhazian navy station would allow Russia to carry out assaults from the Georgian shoreline and make Tbilisi a target for anti-Russian strikes. Russia would also gain new leverage to hinder Black Sea economic activity and establish indirect influence over the construction of the Anaklia deep sea port project, which is seen as a crucial knot for regional connectivity in the Middle Corridor project expansion.
The establishment of this base could pose a threat to pan-Eurasian supply chains and trade routes, which will be enhanced through the construction of the Anaklia deep sea port. The prolonged existence of this naval facility demonstrates Russia’s readiness for a protracted conflict in Ukraine. The creation of another Russian station in the Black Sea amid Ukraine’s war demonstrates Russia’s desire to block Ukraine’s agricultural traffic to Africa and Asia, putting the Caucasian states’ imports and exports at risk.
Moscow’s recent actions in Georgia, including supporting breakaway administrations and expecting pro-Russian attitudes, appear sloppy and unpredictable. This weakens the Georgian Dream government’s position and discredits pro-Russian reactionary parties. The decision to build a base in Abkhazia signals concern for Russia’s deteriorating standing in the region, especially given the deadlock in Ukraine’s and Azerbaijan’s anti-terrorist campaign in Karabakh.
Russia’s decision to establish a base in Abkhazia suggests its potential for annexation, potentially in a de-jure manner. The Union State offer by Bzhania and the transfer of Abkhazian lands to the Russian elite and even Putin himself further exacerbate this situation. Abkhazia’s de-facto Security Council Secretary, Sergei Shamba, and former chairman of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, Vakhtang Kolbaya, discussed the potential for mutually beneficial peaceful relations, but his words and involvement were met with uncertainty in occupied Abkhazia, where Georgians are widely despised.
The Kremlin has been rumored to have ordered Abkhazia’s puppet government to negotiate with Georgia, rumored to restore railroad connectivity and open the Sukhumi airport with Tbilisi’s cooperation. This could potentially undermine Georgia’s regional position and geopolitical standing, particularly regarding Anaklia’s deep sea port’s importance in the Middle Corridor. The Russian Federation’s endgame is to create its own supply route, which goes from Iran to Abkhazia, reaching Russia as an endpoint.
This would solidify Russia’s position in the South Caucasus and reduce Chinese influence by having more leverage over supply chains and trade routes. This could also serve as a bargaining chip for Russia to demand more in return for safe trade routes. The Abkhazian normalization issue, as Russia is working to establish a railway connection between Russia and Armenia, raises alarms as it could change the status quo of South Caucasian connectivity.