Raul Khajimba was sworn in as fourth president of breakaway Abkhazia for a five-year term on Thursday after winning snap election on August 24, which was called after his predecessor Alexander Ankvab was forced out of office as a result of street protests.
In his inauguration speech Khajimba, who led protests against Ankvab, spoke of need of unity, fundamental changes, creating of efficient government and constitutional reform to provide for better system of checks and balances.
In seven-minute speech, delivered at an indoor ceremony in a governmental building in Sokhumi, Khajimba stressed on importance of relations with Russia and reiterated that a new agreement to “deepen integration” with Russia will be signed before the end of this year.
Khajimba, who met Russia’s President Vladimir Putin three days after winning the snap presidential election, said that Abkhazia and Russia “live and develop in common civilization space.”
“Russia is guarantor of Abkhazia’s security and independence,” he said.
“Of course our relations are not in a static mode,” Khajimba continued. “Today’s realities, multiple threats and challenges, which are emerging in the region, require new approaches in forming agenda of Russian-Abkhaz cooperation.”
“That’s why we are calling for signing of a new agreement between our states before the end of this year, which will be directed towards deepening of integration, first and foremost in the areas of defense, protection of border, and expanding of our economic capabilities,” Khajimba said.
The new agreement, he said, will create more firm guarantees for the sovereignty of Abkhazia, “elevate its defense system qualitatively to a new level”, and will provide more opportunities for attracting investments.
Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s aide in charge of overseeing Moscow’s relations with breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was among the guests attending the inauguration ceremony.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate my friend [Raul Khajimba] on taking president’s office of our brotherly Abkhazia,” Surkov told journalists in Sokhumi, according to the Russian and Abkhaz news agencies.
Surkov, who was mediating between the conflicting parties during political standoff in Abkhazia which led to resignation of Ankvab, said that the new agreement on cooperation and integration between Abkhazia and Russia will be signed before the end of this year, which, he said, will be followed by more than doubling of Moscow’s financial aid to Sokhumi.
“In line with this agreement we will gradually open border and there will be no barrier for movement of people and cargo. [The planned agreement] will strengthen interaction in the sphere of defense and law enforcement,” Surkov said.
He also said that efforts will be made to provide to the residents of Abkhazia “pension guarantees” similar to those available in Russia.
“Additional funding will be needed for that and Russia is ready to provide it,” Surkov said. “Financial assistance to our brotherly Abkhazia will more than double after signing of the agreement already next year. This assistance will be growing in following years.”
He said that Russia will also help Abkhazia to “improve its investment climate” in order for the region to develop not only with financial aid coming from Russia, but with its own resources as well.
“A special investment agency has been established in Russia this summer, which will specialize on funding of projects in Abkhazia. It will allow to collect more taxes in Abkhazia and to have own money for your needs,” Surkov said.
Leaders of Russia’s North Caucasus republics, among them heads of North Ossetia, Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, were among the guests attending Khajimba’s inauguration.
Leader of Georgia’s another breakaway region of South Ossetia, Leonid Tibilov, was also present, as well as speaker of parliament of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh.
In his inauguration speech Khajimba also said that he considers his election as the president “not as a victory of any party, but as a result of persistent demand for fundamental change in the life of our people.”
“The path we are going to embark on is difficult, but we have no other choice. In order to build a successful state, we should first of all get rid of deeply rooted legal nihilism and habits of solving our problems through bypassing laws,” Khajimba said.
He said that the authorities should be “constantly in dialogue with the public” and “professionals”, regardless of their political sympathies, should be involved in governance.
“In a quite short period of time we should make government efficient, transparent, which will be under public oversight,” Khajimba said.
“Constitutional reform is needed for that purpose, which would entail redistribution of powers between branches of government,” he said. “It will lay the foundation for a long-term political stability.”
On economy he said that the government should focus on fostering job creation, encouraging private initiatives, and modernization of economy management.
“Special attention will be paid to lagging regions in eastern Abkhazia,” he said referring to predominantly ethnic Georgian populated Gali, as well as Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire districts.
“Abkhazia is multi-national and we should value this wealth, provide genuine equality and mutual respect of various ethnic groups,” Khajimba said.