Setting up of a joint Russian-Abkhaz group of forces for collective defense, joint law enforcement structures for fighting crime, as well as broad range of Moscow-funded measures for Abkhazia’s further integration into Russia’s economic, social protection and healthcare systems are envisaged by a Kremlin-proposed draft of new treaty, which Moscow and the breakaway region intend to sign this year.
Text of the draft “Agreement Between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia on Alliance and Integration” was made public after it was posted on a website of official Abkhaz news agency Apsnipress on October 13.
Before the text was released, Abkhaz leader, Raul Khajimba, met with members of the breakaway region’s parliament and asked them “to prepare their remarks and proposals” on the draft agreement, which was presented to Sokhumi by Russia.
“Discussion of the document and elaboration of [Sokhumi’s] proposals will proceed in the atmosphere of openness and with taking into consideration interests of the Abkhaz people,” Khajimba told lawmakers, according to his press office.
Russian daily, Vedomosti, reported quoting unnamed Kremlin source, that Moscow thinks most of the clauses of the proposed draft will not cause negative reaction from Sokhumi, as it “broadens and complements” already existing comprehensive agreement on cooperation with Abkhazia and does not infringe Abkhazia’s sovereignty and independence.
According to the draft, key directions of “cooperation, integration and partnership” are: carrying out mutually agreed foreign policy; creation of “common defense and security space”, and creation of “common social and economic space.”
According to the draft, creation of “common security and defense space” entails establishment of “common defense infrastructure”; setting up of “combined group of forces” for the purpose of “repelling aggression”, and joint measures for border protection.
The draft agreement has a collective defense clause, according to which attack against one shall be considered an attack against another and they should provide “necessary assistance”, including military, to each other in case of such attack.
Within a year after entry into force of the agreement, Moscow and Sokhumi have to create Combined Group of Forces of the Russian and Abkhaz armed forces with its joint command, as well as joint defense infrastructure, according to the draft.
Russia will appoint commander of the Combined Group of Forces in the time of war or when there is an “immediate threat of aggression,” according to the draft treaty.
The draft agreement envisages “gradual unification of standards” of command and control systems, logistics, as well as salaries of Abkhaz servicemen with those of the Russian armed forces within three years after the entry into force of the treaty.
Russia undertakes commitment to fund these measures.
According to the draft, those residents of Abkhazia, who are Russian citizens – most of the Abkhaz residents are Russian passport holders – will have the right to join the Russian forces, stationed in Abkhazia, on contract basis.
Border Protection, Law Enforcement
According to the draft, Moscow offers Sokhumi to provide “complete freedom of movement across the Russian-Abkhaz state border. But the draft treaty also says that this measure should be subject to unspecified “restrictions, imposed for security reasons.”
New Abkhaz leader, Raul Khajimba, has been calling for easing border crossing with Russia and, on the other hand, for tightening of control on border with Georgia, including through closing down all but one crossing points on Enguri river, which divides the breakaway region from rest of Georgia.
In this section of the draft treaty, Russia reiterates its commitment to provide assistance in protection of the Abkhaz “state border” with Georgia, and also offers to “gradually” cut manpower and other resources now available for protection of the Russian-Abkhaz border and to redirect these resources on boosting protection of the Abkhaz-Georgian border.
The Russian-proposed draft also offers “joint control” on movement of people, transport and cargo at entry points in Abkhazia, including at ports.
‘Harmonization with Eurasian Union’
According to the draft, within 18 months after the entry into force of the agreement, Sokhumi will have to put its customs legislation in line with regulations of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
Abkhazia will also have to “harmonize” its budgetary and tax legislation with the Russian one within three years after the entry into forces of the agreement, according to the draft.
Social Protection, Pensions and Healthcare
According to the draft, Russia takes commitment to “co-finance” gradual increase of salaries of employees of the state-funded entities in Abkhazia, including in healthcare, education, social service, culture sectors. Average salaries in these state-funded entities, according to the draft agreement, should be increased to the amount existing in Russia’s Southern Federal District.
Russia will also fund, according to the draft, gradual increase of pensions for Russian citizens, residing in Abkhazia (most of the residents in the breakaway region are Russian passport holders).
This increase, which should take place within three years after the entry into force of the agreement, should aim at bringing monthly pensions in Abkhazia to the level existing in Russia’s Southern Federal Districts.
According to the draft, within three years after the entry into force of the agreement, Sokhumi should “create all the necessary conditions” for making Russian citizens, residing in Abkhazia, part of Russia’s federal compulsory health insurance system, which will allow them to have access to Russian-funded healthcare services in Russia.
Apart of Russia, Abkhazia is now recognized only by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
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