Prospering Smuggling Prospers in Abkhazia

Prospering Smuggling Prospers in Abkhazia May Pose a Serious Threat to International Community
The criminal situation in Abkhazia is getting worse. The central government has stated on numerous occasions that this territory is being used for the transit of drugs and weapons. Sokhumi calls these statements a provocation aimed at justifying an intrusion into Abkhazia by Georgian troops. However, it turns out that the accusations of Tbilisi are not groundless.
If the current lawlessness continues it may threaten not only Georgia or neighboring states but the wider international community. Particularly alarming is the possibility of using this territory for the transit of nuclear materials.
The territory of Abkhazia is being used not only for smuggling drugs and weapons but also for the human trafficking. Quite a few of women from Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia are trafficked to the brothels of the countries of the East. Besides, quite a few people are working as slaves for the high ranking officials and criminal gangs of the separatist regime. Mamuka Areshidze, expert on the Caucasus issues, at least partly agrees with it.
“Trafficking is another interesting topic. The Abkhazian press writes about it very rarely but it is proved that there are victims of trafficking in Abkhazia. Most of them are of Slavic origin and work on the land. Before the conflict, it was Georgians who were involved in the agricultural work in Abkhazia. After they have been forced to leave their homes, the lands are not cultivated. Abkhazians use Slavic workers for land works especially in northern Abkhazia. Up from Ochamchire there are several hundred of such men who are forced to work on the lands of criminal gang chiefs and power structure officials,” Areshidze says.
One of the routes used by smugglers to smuggle drugs in Russia through Abkhazia has been identified. As Mamuka Areshidze says, it is no secret that there are drug plantations in the Gali region but poppies produced there are not good enough for making opium. That is why most of the drug fields are used for marijuana. But all the drug harvest of Abkhazia cannot match the amount of drugs brought to Abkhazia on ships from Turkey which are then transported to Russia.
“We knew that there was a smuggling route in Abkhazia. Our group has been working on this issue for quite a long time. Finally we have identified how and where drugs come to Abkhazia, where they are packaged and how they go then to Russia. It turns out that this is done very easily. One of our informers has become witness of this process himself. Now we know that drugs are brought to Tkvarcheli from Turkey on ships. Not far from the Engurhes (Enguri Hydro Power Plant) there is a base where they are packaged. Then Russian military men arrive on a helicopter with leather suitcases supposedly containing money and leave with white sacks full of drugs. This is a pure Russian militaries’ business,” Areshidze says.
Despite such an alarming situation, the international community does not speed up the process of replacing Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia with international police forces.
“The drug and arms trade is a very serious issue. It involves not only local authorities and peacekeepers but the high ranking officials of the neighboring countries as well. The situation is similar to what was happening in the end of 1990s when under the patronage of Georgian power structures officials drugs were smuggled in the Pankisi Gorge from Tbilisi. As for the arms trade, I have only vague idea about its transit route. But I know that the Kalashnikov machine guns used in Balkaria in October 2005 had been smuggled there from Abkhazia. However, I cannot prove it with documents,” Areshidze says.
If the government obtains facts proving the involvement of Abkhazian separatist authorities and Russian peacekeepers in trafficking and drug and arms smuggling, it will be a serious argument for the international community to increase pressure on the separatist regime and its supporting Russia. However, even if such proofs are obtained it will be very difficult for Tbilisi to receive a positive answer on its claims for international anti-criminal operation in Abkhazia.
This can be done only if the incontrollable Abkhazia poses serious security threat to the West. For example, in the early 1990s small party of nuclear materials were transited from Abkhazia to Central Asia. Today the threat of using Abkhazia for transiting nuclear materials is indeed present,” Mamuka Areshidze states.
Zaza Jgharkava

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