The recent visit of Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania to Damascus and his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reflects Russia’s ambition to maximize the political gains of the countries that fall under its influence.
Abkhazia is not recognized internationally; the United Nations and the international community consider Abkhazia, in legal terms, to be an autonomous region within Georgia.
In 2018, the Syrian government recognized the independence of Abkhazia, joining Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
Bzhani arrived at Damascus International Airport on May 16 at the head of an economic delegation on a visit that lasted several days.
“Russia is trying to bring Syria back into the bosom of the Arab nation and restore its economic ties with the neighboring countries, after the sanctions that were imposed on Damascus as per the [United States'] Caesar Act. Moscow has, however, failed in its attempts because in order to remove the sanctions, the Syrian regime has to meet the UN’s demands of a political transition procession, something Damascus refuses to do,” he said.
Assad won reelection to a fourth term term last week in a process the West considered to be fraudulent.
Wissam Aldien Aloklah, a political scientist at Mardin Artuklu University in Turkey, told Al-Monitor, “There is nothing Abkhazia can offer to the Syrian regime. The country’s economy and budget are directly subordinated to Russia, while the latter controls the wealth and resources in Syrian regime-held areas.”
He added, “This visit will add nothing new to the table. Syria’s recognition of Abkhazia in 2018 did not encourage other countries to follow suit, even though it has been nearly 30 years since Abkhazia declared independence [from Georgia]. Also, the fact that Abkhazia opened an embassy in Damascus [in July 2020] did not encourage other countries to have their own embassies in Syria.”
During the visit, the two parties agreed to establish a Syrian industrial zone in Abkhazia.
But if this industrial zone proved to be economically feasible, it would be at the bottom of the Syrian regime’s agenda. Logic dictates that investment ought to be done first in existing Syrian industrial cities, such as Sheikh Najjar, for instance, in Aleppo. The city is completely idle. There is also the industrial city of Adra, which is only partially operating. The industrial city of Hassia is operating, but at a slow pace. Another possibility would be to build more industrial zones within Syria.
Still, Abdul Moneim Halabi, an economist at Gaziantep University in Turkey, told Al-Monitor, “The main economic gain for the Syrian regime [with Abkhazia] is the tobacco industry, which was a lucrative business until the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. Abkhazia, on the other hand, has large plains of tobacco, which the Syrian government could invest in. This could be what they meant with the establishment of an industrial zone, which is something that would be very beneficial to the Syrian regime, given Abkhazia’s good location at the gate of eastern Europe and Syrian’s ability to export tobacco to the region’s countries.”
It is noteworthy that Abkhazia’s economy is fragile and weak, not to mention its dilapidated infrastructure, some of which was destroyed during the years of war with Georgia, which ended in 1993. Russia funds nearly half of Abkhazia’s budget, and the Russian ruble is Abkhazia's official currency.