Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Abkhazian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company for a documentary about former President Sergey Bagapsh of the Republic of Abkhazia, Moscow, August 26, 2019
Sergey Bagapsh and I were acquainted quite closely. We met and became friends even before 2008, in 2005, when Mr Bagapsh was elected Abkhazia’s second president and engaged, among other things, in issues related to the political settlement process as part of the talks, at which Abkhazia sought to secure the language, socioeconomic and other rights of its citizens. As is clear, this process was launched in the wake of the war that had been fought in the early 1990s. It was proceeding with difficulty because the Georgian leaders were putting forward ultimatum-like demands and at some stage departed from the idea of forming a confederation, which could have proved a success. But in any case, Mr Bagapsh was involved in contacts aimed at finding a generally acceptable settlement. These efforts were dashed in 2008, when Mikheil Saakashvili ordered that aggressive action be taken against his own citizens and, in fact, demonstrated his intention to bend the Abkhazians and South Ossetians to his will within the framework of what was actually a unitary state, rather than to come to terms with them on some forms of cohabitation. During those troublesome days in August 2008, Mr Bagapsh showed himself a real statesman and a politician fully conscious of his responsibility before his people and his country and capable of standing by his word. These are very important qualities that were generally inherent in this wonderful man.
We were working with Sergey Bagapsh and his team immediately after the August war in 2008, when Abkhazia declared its independence and the Russian Federation recognised it, as it did South Ossetia’s independence, which was the only way to prevent any further aggressive pretensions by the Saakashvili regime.
It was under Sergey Bagapsh that our two countries evolved a contractual legal framework. Today, more than 100 interstate and intergovernmental documents are in effect, which regulate our relations with Abkhazia. But at that time, we were beginning from scratch. He presided over the signing of the basic Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, the Agreement on Joint Efforts in Guarding the State Border of the Republic of Abkhazia, the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia on the Joint Russian Military Base in the Republic of Abkhazia, and the Agreement on Providing Aid to the Republic of Abkhazia in its Socioeconomic Development. This is the foundation of the contractual legal framework that is in effect to this day.
Of course, I would like to note that Mr Bagapsh paid much attention to property problems which some Russian citizens came to face after the hostilities in the early 1990s. It was Sergey Bagapsh who established a special commission that operates up to this day and takes care of Russian citizens’ legitimate rights in Abkhazia. We appreciate highly Mr Bagapsh’s contribution to this aspect of our relations as well.
Of course, the process of international recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia got under way during his tenure. Nicaragua was the first to recognise it, followed by Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu; recently the Syrian Arab Republic has joined the countries which have recognised Abkhazia. I am confident that this process is irreversible and that Abkhazia has come into its own as a democratic state, whose foundations were laid by Sergey Bagapsh.
As far as our personal relations are concerned, I recall warmly all our meetings in Moscow and Sukhum, where the discussion of important political problems always revealed his wonderful human qualities. He could always digress to some non-political matters. It was a pleasure to just talk with him about life. I always bring to mind our joint waterfront walk in Sukhum in April 2011, not long before his untimely death, as one of the liveliest recollections in my career. We took a stroll along the embankment, dropped into the famous Brekhalovka (a popular seaside cafe), and had coffee. I saw how ordinary people were treating him, how he talked to his citizens – openly, totally transparently, and without any concealment – discussed real problems of his country and even asked their advice.
I am proud to have been friends with this wonderful man and I will always cherish his memory and revere the contribution he made to Russian-Abkhazian relations.