The Russian annexation of two major Georgian kingdoms between 1801 and 1810 facilitated the empire’s expansion far into the Caucasus region. During the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812, in 1810, a Russian force took hold of Suhum-kale and installed their protégé Sefer Bey (Georgi), who agreed to incorporate Abkhazia as a vassal principality within the Russian empire, as a prince. Initially, the Russian control hardly extended beyond Suhum-kale and the Bzyb area, with the rest of the region chiefly dominated by the pro-Turkish Muslim nobility.
In a series of conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and the North Caucasian tribes, the Russians acquired possession of the whole Abkhazia in a piecemeal fashion between 1829 and 1842, but their power was not firmly established until 1864, when they managed to abolish the local princely authority. The last prince of Abkhazia, Michael Shervashidze (Chachba), was exiled to Russia where he soon died. The two ensuing Abkhaz revolts in 1866 and 1877, the former precipitated by the heavy taxation and the latter incited by the landing of the Turkish troops, resulted in the next significant change in the region’s demographics. As a result of harsh government reaction allegedly 60% of the Muslim Abkhaz population, although contemporary census reports were not very trustworthy — became Muhajirs, and emigrated to the Ottoman possessions between 1866 and 1878. In 1881, the number of the Abkhaz in the Russian Empire was estimated at only 20,000. Furthermore, a great deal of the population was forcibly displaced to Turkey (Muhajirs) and in 1877 the population of Ablhazia was 78 000, whereas at the end of the same year there were only 46 000 left.
Large areas of the region were left uninhabited and many Armenians, Georgians, Russians and others subsequently migrated to Abkhazia, resettling much of the vacated territory. According to Georgian historians Georgian tribes (Mingrelians and Svans) had populated Abkhazia since the time of the Colchis kingdom. According to the census carried out in 1897 Abkhaz constituted 60-65% of the Sukhumi district's population (about 100,000; Sukhum district occupied almost the same territory as present'day Abkhazia in 1897), the majority of the rest being Georgian. However the Encyclopædia Britannica reported in 1911 that in the Sukhumi district (population at the time 43,000; it did not cover all the territory of present-day Abkhazia in 1911 as some of it had been transferred to Kuban governorate) two-thirds of the population were Mingrelian Georgians and one-third were Abkhaz. After the Russian takeover large numbers of Abkhazians fled to the Ottoman Empire in the period 1864-1878. Those Abkhaz, who did not convert to Christianity, and who remained in Abkhazia were declared by the Russian government a "refugee population" and deprived of the right to settle in the coastal areas.
Map of Sukhumi district (Abkhazia), 1890sMeanwhile, in 1870, bound peasants, including slaves, were liberated in Abkhazia as a part of the Russian serfdom reforms. This reform triggered the moderate development of capitalism in the region. Tobacco, tea and subtropical crops became more widely grown. Industries (coal, timber) began to develop. Health resorts started to be built. A small town of Gagra, acquired by a German prince Peter of Oldenburg, a member of the Russian royal family, turned to a resort of particular tourist interest early in the 1900s.
In the Russian revolution of 1905, most Abkhaz remained largely loyal to the Russian rule, while Georgians tended to oppose it. As a reward for their allegiance, tsar Nicholas II officially forgave the Abkhaz for their opposition in the 19th century and removed their status of a "guilty people" in 1907. This split along political divisions led to the rise of mistrust and tensions between the Georgian and Abkhaz communities which would further deepen in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917.