The unilaterally announced visit of the president of the “republic” of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, to Syria reflected a trend towards strengthening relations between separatist regions in the former Soviet space, within the framework of supporting the Russian position and expanding trade, economic and tourism exchange with Syria to alleviate the repercussions of the Western sanctions imposed on both Moscow and Damascus.
Bzhania’s second visit to Damascus was described as “official”, with an agenda that included a wide range of meetings, including talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The visit is the second step to strengthening “bilateral cooperation between the two republics”, according to the Abkhaz statement, after the two sides exchanged embassies last October.
Damascus recognized the independence of Abkhazia in 2018. The step was followed by the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia, the second Georgian region that declared a unilateral secession from Georgia with Russian support. Syria was the fifth country to recognize the independence of the two regions, after Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru.
“Establishing diplomatic relations between the Republic of Abkhazia and the Syrian Arab Republic is important from the humanitarian point of view, due to the presence of an Abkhaz community living in Syria, and many Syrian citizens of Abkhazian origins currently living in Abkhazia. Mutual relations will facilitate communication between them,” said the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia.
However, Damascus paid a heavy price for this move. Georgia, which had previously maintained neutrality regarding the internal Syrian crisis, announced the severance of its diplomatic relations with Damascus. Ukraine soon took a similar position, after Damascus recognized the annexation of Crimea to Russia. These steps also aroused widespread discontent within the European Union.
However, the position of Damascus, which was taken under the influence of the overwhelming Russian presence in the country, impacted a more dangerous issue, as Russian observers said. The Syrian government has taken steps to enhance its cooperation with the unilaterally declared Luhansk and Donetsk republics in eastern Ukraine.
Although Moscow at the official level welcomed Damascus’ recognition of the independence of the separatist regions and the decision to annex Crimea, experts played down the importance of the step. In earlier remarks, head of research at the Institute for Dialogue of Civilizations, Alexey Malashenko, noted that Moscow has pushed the Syrian government to recognize the separatist Caucasian republics.
“Given Assad’s reputation and his situation at the regional and international levels, this is not the best diplomatic move for Russia. Its harms surpass its benefits.”