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Following its recognition of Abkhazia’s independence in 2008, Russia significantly tightened its grip on the territory in 2009. In June, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) ended its 16-year mission in Abkhazia after an extension was vetoed by Moscow. During an August visit, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin pledged funding to reinforce the Abkhaz border and establish a military base in the territory. Abkhazia later announced that it would transfer control of strategic assets to Russia, prompting protests by the Abkhaz opposition. In September, Venezuela became the third country, after Russia and Nicaragua, to recognize the territory’s independence; Nauru followed suit in December. Also that month, Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh easily won reelection.
Bagapsh won reelection as president of Abkhazia in December, capturing more than 59 percent of the vote in the first round amid 73 percent turnout. Khadjimba placed a distant second with just 15 percent. All five candidates reportedly endorsed Russia’s preeminent role in the territory.
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. Most of the ethnic Georgians who remain in Abkhazia are also unable to vote in local polls, as they lack Abkhaz passports. None of the elections have been recognized internationally.