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Latest update : 2016-09-30

Video: Abkhazia, the country that (almost) doesn't exist

To the outside world, it’s a country that does not exist. Or almost. Although Abkhazia seceded from Georgia and declared independence almost a quarter of a century ago, only a handful of countries recognise its existence, among them its powerful neighbour Russia. Our reporters returned to this small Caucasus republic, once nicknamed the "Pearl of the Black Sea", seeking international recognition.

At the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, Abkhazia is a small territory of 240,000 inhabitants wedged between Georgia and Russia. At the time of the Soviet Union, it was an autonomous republic within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1992, Abkhazia declared independence, at the cost of a war lasting over a year against the Georgian rulers. The conflict claimed the lives of over 15,000 people and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Georgians. A trauma still remembered today.

Sixteen years later, in August 2008, when Georgia and Russia went to war for five days, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia, as well as South Ossetia, another breakaway republic of Georgia just a few thousand kilometres away. Tbilisi denounced a "blatant annexation" of its territory. This Russian recognition was quickly accompanied by a strengthening of Russia’s military presence and increased investment, including through the signature in 2014 of an "alliance and strategic partnership".

In the shadow of Moscow

Although the recognition of Abkhazia by Russia gives it a form of protection and economic development, it has more than anything made the small republic dependent on the Russian giant. Today, the Abkhazian state is recognized only by three other countries apart from Russia: Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru, a micro-state in the Pacific ... For the rest of the world, it is part of Georgia.

Our reporters visited this small piece of land with a subtropical climate and lush nature, once nicknamed the "Pearl of the Black Sea" and a favourite holiday destination of the Soviet intelligentsia. They met war veterans, politicians, businessmen and Russian tourists, and looked at how this tiny self-declared republic that lives in the shadow of Moscow is trying to evolve and assert its identity.

By Ilione SCHULTZ , Pierre LASCAR

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