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In March 2008, Russia withdrew from a 1996 treaty imposing sanctions on Abkhazia, and later substantially increased the number of Russian peacekeepers in the territory. While Georgian troops were occupied with a Russian invasion in August, Abkhaz forces captured the strategic Kodori Gorge, which had been under Georgian control. A French-brokered ceasefire between Georgia and Russia allowed the presence of additional Russian troops. However, in a move that was widely criticized internationally, Russia unilaterally recognized the territory’s independence on August 26. Nicaragua was the only country to follow suit by year’s end.
Annexed by Russia in 1864, Abkhazia became an autonomous republic within Soviet Georgia in 1930. After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia declared its independence from Georgia in 1992, igniting a war that lasted nearly 14 months. In September 1993, Abkhaz forces, with covert assistance from Russia, seized control of the city of Sukhumi, ultimately defeating the Georgian army and winning de facto independence for the republic. As a result of the conflict, more than 200,000 residents, mostly ethnic Georgians, fled Abkhazia, and casualty figures were estimated in the thousands. An internationally brokered ceasefire was signed in Moscow in 1994, but the territory’s final status remained unresolved.
Residents of Abkhazia can elect government officials, but the more than 200,000 Georgians who fled the region during the war in the early 1990s cannot vote in the elections held by the separatist government. None of the polls have been recognized internationally.