February 9, 2014. Sochi, Russia. People have expressed a fear of going to the Sochi Olympics due to the uncertainty and threats of violence from rebel groups. But the war zone the Olympics are closest to isn’t a battlefield of a break-away republic. Instead, it’s the still-simmering war zone of Abkhazia - the break-away Georgian province that recently declared independence and whose athletes compete on the Russian Olympic team.
The city of Sochi, Russia is only 24 miles from the break-away Georgian province of Abkhazia. But the Olympic security perimeter actually stretches 7 miles inside Georgia, complete with Russian tanks. Image courtesy of PolicyMic.com.
Sochi and Abkhazia
When the Sochi Olympics were first announced and the perimeter of the Olympic Village was laid out, people questioned not only the warm climate of the city, but also the fact that it’s located just 24 miles from the battle-torn streets of Abkhazia. And when Russian security expanded the Olympic footprint, they actually moved it onto those same war-weary streets of Abkhazia - a territory filled with armed militias, occupied by Russian peacekeepers, and still claimed by Georgia as evidenced by the two countries’ 2008 war.
As detailed by the BBC, Georgian officials protested when Russia expanded the Olympic security zone 7 miles inside Abkhazian territory, or as is the position of 90% of the world’s countries who still recognize the province as part of Georgia, inside Georgian sovereign territory. It’s no secret that Russians and Georgians despise each other these days. Georgia, a staunch US ally and a Christian democratic-republic, sits isolated and alone surrounded by Russian and Soviet Republics to the north and Turkey and Islamic nations to the south.
Abkhazia, along with the other break-away Georgian province of South Ossetia, has been in dispute between Russia and Georgia for over a century. While the world has assigned ownership to Georgia, 90 percent of the Abkhazian people choose to carry Russian citizenship, speak Russian and until recently, considered themselves part of Russia. The province has declared its independence, but it still utilizes Russian peace keepers to defend its disputed borders.
2008 Russia-Georgia War
It was in 2008 that violence escalated. For years, Russian and Georgian civilian militias staged attacks on the other’s national protector. Georgian militias attacked Russian peace keepers attempting to drive the Russians out of Abkhazia. While Russian militias attacked Georgian troops who still insist Abkhazia is part of Georgia. Six year ago, without warning, Georgia escalated the conflict by launching a full-scale military attack and invasion of Abkhazia to take back control from Russia. In the end, the Russian military responded for Abkhazia, pushing Georgian forces back out of the break-away province. Thousands died and hundreds of thousands of Georgians were left homeless.
As detailed by the above-linked BBC report, the main threat of terror attacks against this week’s Sochi Olympics doesn’t come from any of the above groups. Instead, it comes from a mutual enemy of them all - militant Islamic separatists. They operate in the mountains, out of the sight and reach of both Russian and Georgian authorities. Even still, Russia isn’t taking any chances with the other ten percent of Abkhazians who remain loyal to Georgia. All Abkhazian contractors have been banned from Olympics construction from the start, even though they can see the lights from the stadiums from their homes.
While Russia recognizes Abkhazia’s independence, President Putin had no problem rolling Russian tanks across their sovereign border to secure the Olympic city. Russian officials haven’t announced how long its forces will occupy the independent-Georgian province. But Georgian authorities have said the temporary move of the national borders will revert back on March 21 after the Olympics and their after-events are over. We hope so. If not, Russia just pulled off the slickest military invasion since the Trojan Horse.
The break-away province of Abkhazia is the region in the northwest corner of Georgia along the border with Russia and Sochi.
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