Fifteen kilometers from Sochi, the seaside resort in the south of Russia, the Psou River marks the border with Abkhazia, a self-proclaimed republic on the shores of the Black Sea, not recognized by the international community. At the border crossing, the sellers of tangerines and hazelnuts are jostling to sell their goods on the Russian side. For the Abkhaz population (300,000 people) holding Russian Federation passports, this crossing point is the only contact with the rest of the world.
Once an integral part of Georgia, Abkhazia emerged in 1992 after a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people. The war ended with the ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population, driven out after the victory of the Abkhazians supported militarily by Moscow. Since then, the republic has been living in an in-between, trapped between its dreams of independence and its subjugation to Russia.
Because the big neighbor to the North is not content with distributing passports; he provides the ruble, pays for pensions, restored the Moscow-Sukhumi railway. Russian businessmen – reputed to be close to the mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov – have recently started buying hotels, villas and old holiday resorts. During the Tsarist and then Soviet times, the Abkhaz coastline has always been the favorite vacation spot for the elite. Stalin had no less than five villas there. In 2007, 1.5 million Russian tourists came to visit. Gagra and Pitsunda, the cities of northern Abkhazia, are now almost suburbs of Sochi.