Turkmen Citizens No Longer Able to Renew Russian Visas in Abkhazia

Citizens of Turkmenistan staying in Russia have been heading en masse to Abkhazia in order to renew their visas, though some lost money to scammers there. From September 10, however, Turkmen citizens are no longer able to obtain visas at the Russian consulate in Abkhazia. This was revealed in a letter from the consulate to a Turkmen applicant, recommending that he travel to Ashgabat for his visa. There has been no public announcement about the restrictions.

Turkmen citizens awaiting visas at the Russian consulate in Sukhumi

Huge lines of Turkmen citizens would form outside the Russian consulate in Sukhumi. It was possible to enter the building without standing in line for a bribe of around 15,000 roubles ($153). Whoever didn’t have money had to stand out in the street for hours. Attempts would be made in the morning to draw up a list of those in line, but the list would usually be lost by lunchtime. Sometimes weary Turkmen got into fights and the police were called to the consulate.

Turkmen citizens traveled to Abkhazia via Sochi when their three-month Russian visas ran out in order to obtain new ones. It is much harder and more expensive for them to go home to Turkmenistan for a new visa. Turkmen citizens had to pay 4,000 roubles ($40) to enter Abkhazia and usually crossed the border by car. Sources say that Russian border guards weren’t polite towards the Turkmen.

Turkmen citizens wishing to apply for a Russian visa in Abkhazia

To re-enter Russia from Abkhazia Turkmen citizens require an invitation. Many people made a profit on this, issuing invitations for money. The migrants were sometimes cheated — their money would be taken but no documents provided. They would only find this out at the border when surnames were not in the database. 

These trips to Abkhazia were popular amongst Turkmen citizens because the citizens of other Central Asian countries, and CIS countries as a whole, do not need visas to enter Russia. It is the initiative of the Turkmen authorities to impose a total visa regime with all countries. Obtaining the documents to leave Turkmenistan is a complex process. Problems begin with receiving or extending a passport for foreign travel. The process takes months. Then a lot of time and money has to be spent on bribes in order to get a visa from the Russian embassy. Similar difficulties arise trying to leave for other countries. For example, most applications for visas to Turkey are now refused, although recently, until the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkmen citizens did not require a visa to enter Turkey. 

At the same time, foreigners who visit Abkhazia lose the right to enter Georgia, which does not recognize Abkhazia’s independence. And Georgia is one of the few countries in the world where Turkmen citizens can travel without a visa. True, in spring 2023 it was reported that Turkmen citizens were often being refused entry to Georgia without any reason being given (possibly because of Abkhaz stamps in their passports).