Russia plans to start building a naval base in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region this year, the leadership of the Black Sea province said Monday.
A move to base warships in the separatist Black Sea province of Abkhazia would heighten tensions between Russia and Georgia following the war between the two in last summer. It also would deepen Western concerns about Russia's growing military presence in a region the United States, Europe and most of the world consider Georgian territory.
Russia recognized Abkhazia and another separatist province, South Ossetia, as independent nations after the August war broke out over South Ossetia, and has vowed to maintain thousands of troops in both regions.
The U.S. and EU accuse Russia of violating a cease-fire deal that limited the Russian military presence in the breakaway provinces after the war, which brought ties with Moscow to a post-Cold War low.
Russia, meanwhile, accuses the U.S. of encouraging a belligerent Georgia and has warned the West against helping rebuild the small nation's military.
Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh said the separatist region had agreed in principle to allow Russia to create a base for Black Sea fleet warships in Ochamchira, an Abkhazian port about 20 miles (32 kilometers) up the coast from Georgian-controlled territory, according to his spokesman, Kristian Bzhania. He said three was no written agreement but that Russia intends to begin building the base this year.
Bzhania spoke in Abkhazia's capital, Sukhumi, after the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying that Russia has decided to build a naval base in Ochamchira. The official said work on the project, including dredging, would start in 2009, but suggested it could take a few years to complete the base, the report said.
Interesting development. I wonder if it will pan out. Russia's facing a big crunch economically here.