SUKHUMI, Georgia (Reuters) - The vice president of Abkhazia, Alexander Ankvab, won the presidential race in the breakaway Georgian region on Saturday, a victory that is likely to keep the territory in Russia’s sphere of influence.
Friday’s polls, which Tbilisi says were illegitimate, were called after President Sergei Bagapsh died in May.
According to the Central Election Commission, Ankvab won 54.86 percent of the votes. The runners-up were Prime Minister Sergei Shamba and former KGB agent Raul Khadzhimba, the most vociferous critic of Abkhazia’s growing dependence on Russia.
“Russia is our strategic ally, we treasure these relations and intend to further develop them,” Ankvab said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated him on the win, while Moscow’s Foreign Ministry said the elections were a “success.”
Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The West was officially ignoring Friday’s election, but continues to monitor Abkhazia closely because of its potential to create friction between Georgia and Russia in the South Caucasus, a transit route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea.
NATO said on Saturday it did not recognise the elections, and reiterated its support for the sovereignty of Georgia.
“The holding of such elections does not contribute to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said via its chairman-in-office, Lithuania Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, that only negotiated settlement of the conflict could provide legitimacy to any elections in Abkhazia.
In an emailed statement he said “stakeholders” involved had to do more to achieve the solution, also hinting at Russia.
“Ultimately,... the stakeholders must demonstrate the political will to achieve results in addressing regional security,” Azubalis added.
Analysts had expected Ankvab, a former Soviet apparatchik and Moscow businessman, to win the election in the region of 200,000 on the Black Sea coast.
Moscow recognised the statehood of Abkhazia and another Georgian rebel territory, South Ossetia, after a brief war in August 2008, when Russian forces thwarted Tbilisi’s military attack on South Ossetia and pushed deep into Georgia.
Venezuela, Nicaragua and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru followed suit in recognising Abkhazia, but the rest of the world considers both territories part of pro-Western Georgia.
Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Ben Deighton in Brussels and Nerijus Adomaitis in Vilnius