Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili on Tuesday denounced a reported Russian plan to set up a navy base in the breakaway Abkhazia region as a threat to security in the Black Sea.
Last October, as Ukraine stepped up attacks on Moscow’s Black Sea fleet, Abkhazia’s separatist leader Aslan Bzhania said he has signed an agreement with Russia to establish a Russian naval base at the Black Sea town of Ochamchire “in the near future.”
“Russia’s plan to transform the Ochamchire port into its navy base is aimed at shifting the confrontation into the Black Sea, into our territorial waters, and at creating a threat to the strategic perspective of the Black Sea,” Zurabishvili said during an address to parliament on Tuesday.
Zurabishvili — who has repeatedly clashed with the Georgian government and accused it of being too close to Moscow — also warned Russia had “begun fresh attacks in its hybrid war on Georgia.”
Her role is largely ceremonial, though she has been a staunch backer of Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Russia already has permanent military bases in Abkhazia and another Moscow-backed separatist region, South Ossetia — both of which it recognised as independent states in the wake of its war with the Caucasus country in 2008.
Ochamchire is a seaside town located near Georgia’s key maritime location of Anaklia on the Black Sea. It has been a base for Russian patrol vessels operating in the Black Sea since 2009.
Ochamchire port is too shallow to receive major ships and transforming it into a significant naval base would require massive renovation of its obsolete infrastructure.
Ukraine’s defense intelligence service said in October that Russia was actively “reconstructing the (Ochamchire) port infrastructure in some places to ensure that warships can be based there.”
Despite its stalled counter-offensive on the land, Ukraine has had more success fighting Russia in the Black Sea, sinking several Russian warships and being able to operate an export corridor for commercial ships along its southern coast.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the Russian navy “is no longer capable of operating in the western part of the Black Sea and is gradually retreating from Crimea.”
Ukraine last year struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet on the annexed Crimean peninsula in a missile attack, marking a major blow for Moscow.