Georgia on Thursday protested plans by its breakaway Abkhazia region to transfer control of the railway in the Black Sea territory to Russia, a move it said amounted to “robbery.”
Abkhazia says the Russian railway authority will provide “reconstruction and rehabilitation” for the stretch of line running along the sub-tropical coastline from the de facto border with Georgia to Abkhazia’s northern frontier with Russia.
Joint Russian-Abkhaz management of the line will allow Abkhazia to use Russia’s internationally-recognized country code in order to operate properly, Abkhaz deputy foreign minister Maxim Gvindzia told Reuters.
Georgia, which lost control of the two pro-Russian regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia in wars in the early 1990s, called on its Western allies to respond.
“Acting behind the shield of the occupying forces deployed in the occupied territories of Georgia, the Kremlin continues to rob Georgia of its own assets,” the Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The Georgian side considers this … another step toward reinforcing the military infrastructure in Georgia’s occupied region, preparation for a new wave of military aggression against Georgia and robbery of its natural resources.”
Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states a year ago this week, after crushing a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in a five-day war. Georgian security forces were driven from the Kodori gorge, their last foothold in Abkhazia.
A lush strip of coastline, Abkhazia wants to re-position itself as a top tourist destination, having once been the playground of the Soviet elite. It also hopes to reap the benefits of Russian preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, just a few miles from Abkhazia.
But its infrastructure is old and in need of repair.
Only Nicaragua has followed Russia in recognizing either region. The West continues to shun them, leaving both heavily dependent on Russian military and economic support.
Gvindzia said Abkhazia had applied for an international operating code for the railway, but had been turned down.
South Ossetia has said it hopes one day to join Russia, but Abkhazia insists it can be a viable independent state. Russia has taken control of the de facto borders of both regions, and says it will cap troop numbers in each to 1,700.