The Abkhazian Armed Forces (AAF) is the acting military of the Georgian breakaway state, the Republic of Abkhazia, which is located south of the Caucasus Mountains, along the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The republic established a small paramilitary just before the start of the 1992-1993 Abkhazia-Georgia war. The paramilitary was formed by Abkazhia as the Georgian government’s move towards independence was perceived as a threat to Abkhazia’s status as an autonomous republic (1). In the modern day, the AAF is a well-equipped military force comprising about 5,000 active members and around 50,000 reservists deployed during war times (2).
To ensure their region’s autonomy, the AAF has amassed a state arsenal that includes a variety of Soviet-era armored vehicles, artillery, small arms, and aircrafts (3). Although Abkhazia declared itself a sovereign state in 1990, the government has had difficulty receiving international recognition (4). Despite receiving support from allied breakaway and secessionist republics such as Transnistria and South Ossetia, Abkhazia has not been recognized by any foreign government. Nevertheless, the republic received recognition from a small number of UN members in the late 2000s, one of which was the Russian Federation (5).
History & Foundations
Abkhazia was initially designated as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Abkhazia SSR), which was under the control of the broader Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (6). Due to the Abkhazia SSR losing a significant amount of political autonomy after integrating with the Georgian SSR in 1931, tensions slowly began to build between the two republics (7). These tensions continued to build up until Georgian politicians staged a coup in 1992, overthrowing the then-active government which was cooperating with Abkhazian officials (8). The new Georgian government readopted the 1921 Georgian constitution, leading Abkhazians to believe they would lose their sovereignty which was declared after civil unrest broke out in the late 1980s (9).
Tensions reached a peak in June 1992, when Abkhazian militants took control of Georgian government facilities in the coastal city of Sukhumi, and allegedly kidnapped a Georgian official (10). In response, Georgian military and police forces moved into the region to regain control in August of the same year. Georgian forces were confronted with light resistance during their attempts to enter Sukhumi. However, the Abkhazians’ lack of modern weaponry allowed Georgian forces to overwhelm the separatists, forcing those remaining to flee further west.
War crimes and atrocities committed against civilians by both sides during the skirmishes led to the conflict receiving large amounts of international attention (11). After Abkhazian militants successfully retreated to Guadata, they established alliances with ethnic paramilitaries in the Caucasus mountains and organized a more consolidated military force (12). On October 11, 1992, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba, signed a decree establishing the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. This date is officially considered as the founding date of the AAF (13).
Objectives & Ideology
The AAF was founded to ensure Abkhazian autonomy in the Abkhaz ancestral territory of Northwestern Georgia and provide armed security for the Republic of Abkhazia. Motivated by ethnic disputes which date back to the Middle Ages, a widespread anti-Georgian sentiment is present amongst the Abkhaz people (14). This general resentment between the two ethnicities led to many atrocities being committed by both sides during the war, ranging from the executions of POWs, to attempted genocides against civilian populations (15).
Military & Political Ability
Currently, the AAF has adopted the Swiss-style military structure. This means that the AAF holds a relatively small number of around 5,000 full-time soldiers to act as a national guard force. Nonetheless, a more significant number of 40,000 to 50,000 reservists would be deployed during times of war (16). Due to the AAF’s access to soviet era armaments such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, and high-caliber artillery guns, much of their doctrine seen in use during the battles of Sukhumi revolved around besieging the city with checkpoints and indiscriminate artillery barrages (17). Before the AAF established itself as a professional military with international backers, most of its attacks consisted of guerilla-style assaults on large concentrations of Georgian forces, such as convoys (18). Due to their relative under-armament during their initial stages, pre-AAF militants would use homemade explosives and petrol bombs to conduct these attacks (19).
Approach to Resistance
Despite years of diplomacy dating back to the 1920s, the AAF’s armed resistance has proven to be a much more significant approach to reaching Abkhazia’s goal of autonomy from Georgia. Initially starting as a civilian-led revolt against government officials, the AAF quickly had to adapt to combat military forces (which they perceived to be a threat to their self-proclaimed sovereignty). As the conflict with Georgia has died down since the late 2000s, the AAF has taken a completely defensive approach, instead relying on politicians to increase the republic’s international influence and stability.
International Relations & Alliances
The AAF would not be in its current position without support from international backers. One of the most influential is the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucuses. This militarized political organization provided training and weapons to the Abkhaz militants after being forced out of Sukhumi (20). While never officially involved in the conflict, Russian forces were deployed in Abkhazia during the war, and it is claimed that Russia supplied most of the weapons that the AAF received (21). Since Abkhazia is not the only secessionist republic in Georgia, they share mutual support with their fellow breakaway nation South Ossetia.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - “The Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict in Focus.” Conciliation Resources. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://www.c-r.org/programme/caucasus/georgian-abkhaz-conflict-focus.
(3) - Florquin, Nicolas, and Spyros Demetriou. “Dangerous Supply: Small Arms and Conflict in the Republic of Georgia ...” https://www.researchgate.net/. Oxford University Press, June 2003. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335336102_Dangerous_Supply_Small_Arms_and_Conflict_in_the_Republic_of_Georgia.
(4) - “Abkhazia.” Abkhazia – De Facto. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.defactoborders.org/places/abkhazia.
(5) - “Russia's Recognition of the Independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Columbia University Press, February 22, 2017. http://cup.columbia.edu/book/russias-recognition-of-the-independence-of-abkhazia-and-south-ossetia/9783838214146.
(6) - World, Abkhaz. “Contrary to the Will of the People: How the s[Oviet] s[Ocialist] r[Republic] of Abkhazia Became an Autonomy within Georgia.” Abkhaz World | History, Culture & Politics of Abkhazia, December 9, 2020. https://abkhazworld.com/aw/history/1869-how-the-s-s-r-abkhazia-became-an-autonomy-within-georgia.
(7) - Abkhazians. “Republic of Abkhazia.” REPUBLIC OF ABKHAZIA, August 31, 2022. https://abaza.org/en/republic-of-abkhazia.
(8) - Pike, John. “1992 Georgian Civil War.” Georgia 1992 Civil War. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/georgia-1992.htm.
(9) - “Constitution of Georgia.” Constitution of Georgia (adopted by the constituent assembliy. Web Archive. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20110523161919/http://www.rrc.ge/law/konstG_1921_02_21_e.htm?lawid=108&lng_3=en.
(10) - Petersen, Alexandros. “The 1992-93 Georgia Abkhazia War: A Forgotten Conflict.” The 1992-93 Georgia Abkhazia War: A Forgotten Conflict. | Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 15, 2008. https://www.csis.org/news/1992-93-georgia-abkhazia-war-forgotten-conflict.
(11) - “GEORGIA/ABKHAZIA: VIOLATIONS OF THE LAWS OF WAR AND RUSSIA'S ROLE IN THE CONFLICT.” Georgia2, March 1995. https://www.hrw.org/reports/1995/Georgia2.htm.
(12) - Chervonnaya, Svetlana. “Abkhazia-1992: Post-Communist Vendee.” Абхазия-1992: Посткоммунистическая вандея. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://abkhazeti.info/war/2006012625576883383764.php.
(13) - “The Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict in Focus.” Conciliation Resources. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://www.c-r.org/programme/caucasus/georgian-abkhaz-conflict-focus.
(14) - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Chronology for Abkhazians in Georgia.” Refworld, 2004. https://www.refworld.org/docid/469f388ca.html.
(15) - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict.” Refworld, March 1, 1995. https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8274.html.
(16) - “Problems of Unrecognized States in the Post-Soviet Space: South Caucasus.” Wayback Machine. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20070927022432/http://www.eawarn.ru/pub/About/WebSeminarMontenegroAgenda/petrosyan.htm.
(17) - Bohlen, Celestine. “Sukhumi Journal; War Makes a Ghastly Visit to a Black Sea Resort.” The New York Times. The New York Times, August 30, 1993. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/30/world/sukhumi-journal-war-makes-a-ghastly-visit-to-a-black-sea-resort.html.
(18) - “Georgia Seizes Sukhumi.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, August 18, 1992. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/georgia-seizes-sukhumi-1541134.html.
(19) - “Battle of Sukhumi (1992).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 12, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sukhumi_(1992)#cite_note-HRW-1995-1.
(20) - Matsaberidze, David. “The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and the Conflict over Abkhazia.” Docslib. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://docslib.org/doc/8597154/the-confederation-of-the-mountain-peoples-of-the-caucasus-and-the-conflict-over-abkhazia.
(21) - Červonnaja Svetlana Michajlovna. Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow. Glastonbury: Gothic Image, 1994.