Terrorism and a personal vendetta are being explored as possible motives in the killing of a Russian Embassy official in the separatist enclave of Abkhazia.
A gunman reportedly opened fire September 9 on Russian Vice Consul Dmitry Vishernev and his wife Olga as they got into their car in Sukhumi, the capital of Russian protectorate of Abkhazia, to head to work. The 36-year-old diplomat died on the spot, while his wife was hospitalized and remains in a serious condition. Authorities have mobilized a massive manhunt for the suspect, but so far no individuals have been taken into custody.
The attack coincided with the fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Sukhumi. That fact prompted Russian Ambassador Semyon Grigoryev to suggest the murder was an act of terror meant to sabotage the friendship between Russia and its small Caucasus protégé. “Lots of people are not happy with deepening of Russian-Abkhaz relations and the fact that Abkhazia became a security shield of a kind for the [2014 Sochi] Olympic Games,” Grigoryev was quoted as saying by Abkhazia’s state news service, Apsnypress.
Abkhaz separatists broke free of Georgia following an armed conflict in the early 1990s. Soon after Russia crushed Georgian forces during their brief war in 2008, the Kremlin, along with a handful of client states, recognized the independence of Abkhazia and Georgia’s other separatist entity, South Ossetia. Russia maintains a strong military presence in Abkhazia to deter a possible Georgian attempt to reestablish its administrative authority over the territory.
While Abkhaz authorities and Russia’s Foreign Ministry have played up a terrorism motive, local news outlets have presented alternative scenarios. One such scenario suggests that a property dispute could have led to the killing. Vishernev was involved in the process of redistributing property left behind by hundreds of thousands of Georgians who were forced out of the region in early 1990s. Russians and Abkhaz have been wrangling over the property ever since, and the process has also generated anger among internally displaced Georgians. Two years ago, Moscow and Sukhumi established a joint commission to resolve property disputes. Vishernev was a member of that commission.