Russia plans naval base on Black Sea coast of Georgian breakaway region

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Russia has signed a deal for a permanent naval base on the Black Sea coast of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, its leader was quoted on Thursday as saying by the Izvestiya newspaper, a day after he met President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian forces since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Aslan Bzhania, the self-styled president of Russian-backed Abkhazia, said an agreement had been signed for a permanent naval base in the Ochamchira region.

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“We have signed an agreement, and in the near future there will be a permanent base of the Russian Navy in the Ochamchira district,” Bzhania told Izvestiya.

“This is all aimed at increasing the level of defense capability of both Russia and Abkhazia, and this kind of interaction will continue,” he said. “There are also things I can’t talk about.”

Russia made no immediate comment.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, as independent states in 2008 after Russian troops repelled a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia in a five-day war which ended on August 12, 2008.

NATO concern

The West accused Russia of effectively annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia and when talk surfaced in 2009 of a Russian base in Ochamchira, the NATO military alliance expressed concern.

Three of the Black Sea littoral states are NATO members - Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

Most of the world recognizes Abkhazia as part of Georgia. Besides Russia, only Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria have recognized Abkhazia as independent.

The news of the Russian base at Ochamchira, where the Soviet Union had a naval base, could indicate Russia is seeking alternatives to Sevastopol while also expanding its military presence down the Black Sea coast toward Turkey.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Russia had withdrawn the bulk of its Black Sea Fleet from its main base in annexed Crimea due to Ukrainian attacks.

At his meeting with Bzhania on Wednesday, Putin did not say anything about a naval base. But Bzhania did say that he wanted to participate in “the integration processes initiated by the Russian side.”

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