Sergei Bagapsh: Politician who guided the Republic of Abkhazia through its troubled beginnings

Sergei Bagapsh was the second president of the Republic of Abkhazia, the region of Georgia that broke away in 1993. He played a crucial role in guiding the country through troubled years.

Bagapsh was born in Abkhazia's capital, Sukhum, in 1949. He trained as an agronomist but after military service made his career in the structure of the Soviet Communist Party, serving in various capacities during most of the 1970s in the youth organisation Komsomol. He was First Secretary of the Ochamchira district from 1982 to 1989, which year saw critical developments in Abkhaz-Georgian relations, leading to Abkhazia's long-desired secession from Georgia in the wake of the bitter war of 1992-93.

In the build-up to war and during the difficult decade of the 1990s Bagapsh held various administrative offices under the leadership, and eventual presidency, of Vladislav Ardzinba. Ardzinba saw out his second term, but ill-health forced him to withdraw, allowing the one-time KGB operative Raoul Khadzhimba to take over.

Bagapsh, however, with the support of the Amtsakhara [Kinship Military Group] and Apsny Ak'zaara [United Abkhazia], stood against him in the presidential elections of 2004. Though the Kremlin-favoured Khadzhimba was initially declared the winner, the Supreme Court overturned the results. The consequent stand-off was resolved when the two opponents declared a readiness to put themselves before the electorate on a joint ticket for a re-run in January 2005. Bagapsh duly became president and Khadzhimba vice-president, the two forming an uneasy partnership with a strict division of competences. But the results of the next election, in 2009, were unchallengeable, and Bagapsh was returned to a second term.

Endowed with a different kind of charisma from that of his predecessor, Bagapsh conducted himself with quiet dignity and modesty. He was prepared patiently to keep restating the case for Abkhazia's independence from Georgia in his meetings with visiting politicians, diplomats and journalists, in the full knowledge, based on personal experience in 1989 and 1992-93, of what any compromise would mean for the fate of his small nation. Though willing to negotiate with Tbilisi and a promoter of good neighbourly relations, he broke off talks in 2006 after the Georgian president illegally introduced militia into Abkhazia's Upper K'odor Valley. Though in the spring of 2008 Abkhazia feared being the target of renewed Georgian aggression, it was South Ossetia which suffered. When Russia came to South Ossetia's aid, Bagapsh grasped the opportunity to retake the K'odor Valley, which had remained under Georgian control since 1993, and managed to do so without a battle. The crowning glory of Bagapsh's presidency came on 26 August 2008, when Russian president Dmitrij Medvedev formally recognised Abkhazia (and South Ossetia).

Bagapsh was married to a Mingrelian – outside Abkhazia, Mingrelians (and Svans) are generally described as Georgians – and this connection was widely seen as boosting his support among Mingrelians eligible to vote in Abkhazia's 2004-05 elections.

It has been argued that it was to counter any suspicion of excessive sympathy for the Mingrelians that he proved too accommodating to Russian interests. Bagapsh himself, however, maintained that the concessionary leases to allow Russia to provide security along the border with Georgia and to upgrade the railway and Sukhum's airport, were entirely practical, as Abkhazia itself did not have the wherewithal to undertake these tasks, and he could thus concentrate on rebuilding the war-damaged infrastructure and health-service. Given the US's and EU's continuing support of Georgia's determination, however unrealistic, to re-establish its Soviet borders, it is difficult to see how any Abkhazian president could have acted (or, indeed, act) differently.

Shortly before his death, Bagapsh was able to visit for the first time the Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey, with which country Abkhazians have high hopes of establishing relations. Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific state of Nauru followed Russia in recognising Abkhazia's independence. As Bagapsh lay unconscious, the diplomatic efforts of his administration were about to pay dividends, for on 31 May it was announced that another UN member-state, Vanuatu, had been added to the list, convinced of the validity of the proposition that, at the time Georgia won its own recognition after the collapse of the USSR, Abkhazia had no legal ties to it.

Sergej Wasil-ipa Bagapsh, politician; born Sukhum, Abkhazia 4 March 1949; Prime Minister of Abkhazia 1997-99; President of Abkhazia 2005-09, 2009-11; married Marina Shonia (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 29 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee