Russia is planning to build a permanent naval base on the Black Sea coast in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, the region’s leader said.
Abkhazia and Russia have already signed an agreement and the new base will be in the Ochamchira district “in the near future,” Aslan Bzhania, the leader of the occupied Moscow-backed region, told the Izvestiya newspaper in an interview published Thursday.
“All this is aimed at increasing the level of defense capability of both Russia and Abkhazia, and this kind of cooperation will continue, because it ensures the fundamental interests of both Abkhazia and Russia, and security is above all,” he said. “There are also things I can’t talk about.”
News of the new naval base comes a day after the Wall Street Journal reported the Kremlin has withdrawn the bulk of its Black Sea Fleet from its main base in occupied Crimea. Citing Western officials and satellite images, the newspaper wrote that Russia had moved its vessels from Sevastopol — which has been targeted by Ukrainian missiles — to other ports that “offer better protection.”
Abkhazia is one of two breakaway regions in Georgia — the other is South Ossetia — that Moscow unilaterally recognized as independent states in 2008, following a brief war during which Russian forces occupied nearly 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.
The Kremlin’s influence over the region has long been a contentious issue, with thousands of Russian troops still stationed within the territory and along the border with Georgia, which has repeatedly expressed interest in joining both NATO and the EU over the years.
While Abkhazia remains firm in its commitment as an ally of Russia, it has rejected the idea it could be annexed by Russia and insists that it maintains sovereignty, POLITICO reports.