For media display: Abkhazian-Syrian meetings
Enab Baladi – Zeynep Masri
At a time when Syrian citizens are suffering enormous economic repercussions of the decade-long war in areas controlled by the Syrian regime, such as livelihood crises, high prices, and weak purchasing power, the Syrian government is heading to sign tourism and economic cooperation agreements with a country that is recognized internationally only by very few countries, including Syria.
During the past few days, the unilaterally announced visit of the president of the “republic” of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, to Syria and the signing of cooperation agreements in areas of economy and tourism made news headlines for many Syrian regime-affiliated media outlets.
Abkhazian delegation in Damascus
On 16 May, the President of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania, arrived in Damascus, heading a delegation that included several Abkhazian officials, on a visit to strengthen cooperation relations between the two countries.
Bashar al-Assad met with the delegation. The two sides discussed in detail the status of bilateral cooperation and prospects for its development, as well as joint work to enhance the relations between the two countries, especially on the economic level, as reported by the page of the Presidency of the Syrian Republic on 17 May.
After a visit to historical landmarks in the capital Damascus, on 18 May, the Abkhaz delegation inaugurated a representative office of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Abkhazia in Syria, in Dummar Central Incubator for Traditional Arts in Damascus.
During the opening, Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammad Samer al-Khalil spoke about the necessity of developing bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in import and export, according to Syria’s state SANA news.
The ambassador of Abkhazia in Damascus, Bagrat Khotaba Rashovich, talked about work to establish a Syrian industrial zone in Abkhazia. He pointed out that all the approvals were obtained to establish this zone and support Syrian products. In addition, he also talked about setting a company to transport goods from the port of Tartus, reported Iqtisadi —a local website focused on financial news.
According to a report by Jusoor Center for Studies, plans to set up a Syrian industrial zone in Abkhazia are mere announcements and will not be fulfilled, for Syrian investors and workers cannot access Abkhazia since the previously announced cancelation of entry visas between the two countries applies only to diplomats and officials.
The report further indicates that the weak productive capacities of both the Syrian regime and Abkhazia make it challenging to establish joint industries. There could be only some commercial exchange of some manufactured and agricultural products at best.
Even if the industrial zone in Abkhazia is economically feasible and despite the regime’s declared interest in the enterprise, the zone will be at the bottom of its agenda. Logically, the regime should first invest in the already existing Syrian industrial cities or build new ones.
Contrary to claims, the visit has no economic benefits
Abkhazia is considered “a semi-state.” It is the size of a small city, almost the size of the Syrian city of Manbij, northeast of Aleppo, and its population is less than the population of any Syrian district.
This mini-state cannot help businesspeople in investment or contribute in any way to boost Syria’s economy. Abkhazia does not have enough population nor resources to strengthen the economy, according to the head of the Syria Economy Working Group, Dr. Osama al-Qadi.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Qadi said that the economy of Abkhazia is almost worth nothing in the economic world. The ratio of its trade with the world amounts to less than 120 million US dollars. It also received European aid, totaling about 20 million euros for humanitarian purposes.
Al-Qadi believes that the regime will not benefit from a country that only five countries in the world recognize, and merely “spurning global imperialism.” Even if the Syrian government intends to smuggle or launder its money through Abkhazia, this can happen only through its chief patron, Russia.
Al-Qadi ruled out that there are mutual investment activities between Syria and Abkhazia. In terms of meetings and cooperation, what is being discussed is a “kind of Abkhazian return of favor” to Syria because it is one of the very few countries that recognized it.
He considered that the recent visit of the Abkhazian delegation is “for media display” while carrying no economic weight of any kind. The Syrian media coverage, for its part, highlights the “bankruptcy” of the Syrian regime.
According to the Middle East Institute (MEI) report issued on 28 September 2020, the past year was “very difficult” for Abkhazia. The economic situation was “catastrophic” with the collapse of the two pillars that used to impede the “shaky” state economy from falling, namely Russian aid, which constitutes nearly half of the state budget, and the tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Profiling the economy of this new partner, the Presidency of the Syrian Republic reported that tourism is the foundation of Abkhazia’s economy—Its revenues represent a third of the gross domestic product— depending next on trade and agriculture.
Gateway to the Russian economic activities
When talking about countries like Abkhazia dealing with and supporting the Syrian regime, it is necessary to know who is behind them. And as long as Abkhazia enjoys Russian recognition and support, this means Russia and Abkhazia are two sides for the same coin, Adham Qadimati told Enab Baladi.
Russia is trying to introduce Abkhazia into the Syrian arena to relieve pressure on its companies, which are put under the microscope of the US and EU economic sanctions for providing support to the Syrian regime, Qadimati told Enab Baladi.
He added that such a country could move through its companies invisibly, especially since it does not have recognition or representation in international councils.
Qadimati believes that the businesspeople of this “nascent country” can tend towards investments that Russia cannot enter. As a result of these investments, Abkhazia will be under Russian power.
He also believes that the Syrian regime is trying through Abkhazia to break its isolation and promote flimsy investments before its supporters. This type of investment does not benefit Syria; instead, it is just a new way to plunder what remains of Syria’s wealth.
|Abkhazia, with its capital, Sukhumi, is located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and has been self-governing since it declared its independence from Georgia in 1992.
Only these five countries Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, and Nauru, have formally acknowledged Abkhazia as an independent state.
A population of around 240,705 live in Abkhazia; about 70 percent of its people are Orthodox Christians.
The currency of Abkhazia is the Russian ruble, and its residents speak the Abkhaz and Russian languages.
The Syrian regime had signed an agreement with Abkhazia for the mutual exemption of travel visas for citizens of both countries who hold diplomatic, official, and private passports in October 2020.
Abkhazia has no international airports. This forces the traveler to request a “transit” visa through the Russian embassy, then travel from the Russian “Sochi” airport on the Black Sea and depart from it by bus towards Abkhazia.
The Syrian government recognized the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a gesture of thanks to its prominent supporter of late, Russia. The government also decided to establish diplomatic relations with them. The US and the EU responded by condemning this recognition, considering the two regions as dissidents from Georgia.
Abkhazia opened its embassy in Damascus on 6 October 2020, after the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Walid al-Muallem, received a copy of the credentials of the new Abkhaz ambassador to Syria.
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