The presidential race in breakaway Abkhazia, which up to now was proceeding without any major heated debates or confrontation, took an ugly turn after one of the candidates, Alexander Ankvab, accused another, Sergey Shamba, of “provocation” following an outdoor screening of a video in Sokhumi by the latter’s supporters in which Ankvab is accused of treason.
A video featuring an interview with Tengiz Kitovani, who was Georgia’s defense minister in early 1990s and who led the Georgian forces into Abkhazia in 1992, prompting armed conflict, was screened outside the Philharmonic Hall in Sokhumi on Monday evening before several hundred people.
Last week the Russian newspaper, Moskovskaya Pravda, ran an interview with Kitovani, who now lives in Moscow, in which he claimed that during the armed conflict in early 1990s Ankvab was cooperating with the Georgian authorities providing intelligence information.
During the armed conflict Ankvab, who served as deputy interior minister of Soviet Georgia in 1980s, was interior minister in the rebel Abkhaz government. Kitovani, who is notorious in Abkhazia and usually described there as “war criminal”, voiced the same allegation in the video interview screened in Sokhumi.
Although Sergey Shamba has not been personally involved in leveling allegations against Ankvab, the outdoor screening of the video was preceded by speeches of some of Shamba’s supporters accusing Ankvab of treason during the armed conflict of early 1990s. At the gathering outside the Philharmonic Hall in Sokhumi, some of the war veterans, now supporting Shamba’s presidential bid, were calling on the prosecutor’s office to launch probe into Ankvab’s war-time activities, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported.
“I call on my opponents not to walk the same path, which in 2004 elections almost led armed confrontation. It will be dangerous for the young state,” Ankvab said in an interview with the Russian news agency, Interfax, on August 15 after the video was screened by his opponents.
Ankvab said mudslinging in the electoral campaign was not the right way for democratic development.
“What happened today in Sukhumi was expected,” Ankvab continued, referring to the outdoor screening. “We knew that the campaign team of presidential candidate Sergey Shamba was preparing a provocation.”
He said that Kitovani’s interview published last week and screening of the video in Sokhumi “are links on the same chain.”
“It is striking, that war criminal, killer of the Abkhaz people Tengiz Kitovani, whose hands are stained with blood of my people, has been brought as a witness, in fact as an ally. I am sure he has been paid for [that interview],” Ankvab said.
“Political shortsightedness of my opponents causes a huge astonishment. It is, to say the least, political foolishness to show this ‘compromising’ interview of the war criminal in the days when the country is commemorating anniversary of the start of the Georgian aggression,” Ankvab said, referring to the launch of the armed conflict in Abkhazia on August 14, 1992.
He also said that if Shamba and his supporters knew that he was a traitor why they kept silence about it when Shamba was serving under his leadership in the government. Ankvab was the breakaway region's PM from 2005 till early 2010 and Shamba was the foreign minister at that time. Ankvab became vice president in February, 2010 and Shamba was appointed as prime minister at the time.
Few hours before the outdoor screening in Sokhumi, Ankvab’s campaign team was showing restraint, refraining from leveling accusations directly against Shamba.
“Sergey Shamba is a dignified person and I do not think that he is behind [Kitovani’s interview]. Electing president of Abkhazia based on interview of the war criminal who led the occupation of Abkhazia… is unacceptable,” Apsnipress reported quoting Ankvab’s campaign team member Konstantin Kvitsinia, who was speaking at a meeting with voters hours before the outdoor screening of the video.
Third presidential candidate Raul Khajimba also condemned screening of the film saying that it was a violation of an agreement between the candidates. With cordial smiles and vigorous handshakes three presidential candidates signed on July 27 a joint agreement for “clean and fair election”, pledging not to use “dirty tricks” against each other during the campaign.
“Why this information [referring to Kitovani’s interview] emerged now [during the election campaign]? I am surprised that this information emerged now, but I hope that everything will proceed calmly. I think there is no need to make the situation tenser,” Khajimba told Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile in Tbilisi, some of those persons who at the time of the armed conflict in Abkhazia held senior positions in the Georgian government, suggested that Moscow was behind Kitovani’s interview and allegations and supposed that it was done with an aim to harm Ankvab’s presidential bid.
Irakli Batiashvili, who at the time was in charge of the security service, told the Georgian daily Rezonansi, the allegation that Ankvab cooperated with Tbilisi was “absurd.”
“We had contacts with Ankvab, who at the time was a self-styled interior minister of Abkhazia, only in respect of exchange of detainees,” Batiashvili said.