Giorgi Janelidze, a self-described experienced fighter, was with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Kyiv volunteer grouping, when his position near the southeastern city of Mariupol came under fire from Russian-backed separatist forces, Georgian media report.
Scores of Georgians have been fighting in Ukraine to help quell Russian-aided separatism. Many Georgians take Ukraine’s struggle as their own and view Russian President Vladimir Putin as a common enemy. There is a Georgian Legion, a volunteer platoon made up entirely of Georgian nationals, most of them veterans of Tbilisi’s 1992-1994 war with separatist Abkhazia.
Shortly before his death, the 30-something Janelidze, apparently already suffering from a head-wound, and another Georgian fighter recorded a video-greeting for a Georgian friend being treated for his wounds in Kyiv.
The continued departure of young men for jihad in Syria is raising alarm in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley, a Sunni Muslim area that allegedly has seen scores of men leave for the war over the past few years.
Parents from Pankisi have asked for the government’s help to stop the trend. A photo that shows two Pankisi high-schoolers armed and posing before the Islamic State flag in a jihadist training camp has added to the sense of urgency. Police had been searching for the duo since April 2, when they vanished after being seen entering the public school they attended.
Now, attention has begun to focus on Georgian border officers as well. One of the two, 16-year-old Muslim Kushtanashvili, allegedly used his father’s passport to slip through the Georgian-Turkish border. (Georgian citizens can enter Turkey visa-free.)
Angry members of Pankisi’s council of elders have demanded that the government take greater responsibility for blocking such departures at the border. The interior ministry has started an investigation.
“It is a tragedy for an entire nation, when kids are taken to war straight from their school desks,” said Meka Khangoshvili, a Pankisi activist and adviser for the Georgian Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, in an interview with the Kakheti Information Center. She called on the government to step up efforts to integrate the secluded area into Georgian society.
At the same time, according to local media, parents blame individuals they term Wahhabis, who reportedly deny involvement, for the boys’ departure to Syria, and also Abu Omar al-Shishani (born Tarkhan Batirashvili), a Pankisi-born commander with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Exasperation also appears targeted at the young jihadists themselves.
Georgia's defense minister has said that negotiations to acquire air defense systems remain underway, contrary to claims from his predecessor that Russia scuttled attempts to buy such weaponry from the West.
Last week, ex-defense minister Irakli Alasania held a press conference to air allegations that, in deference to Russia, the government sabotaged his efforts to acquire air defense systems from France. The political fallout continued this week, doing nothing to clear up the political controversy but shedding some more light on what is by all accounts one of Georgia's most critical military priorities.
"Over the past 22 years, air defence has been our 'Achilles' heel,'" Alasania said in a TV interview, reported BBC Monitoring. "Therefore, when I came to the [Defence] Ministry, the first thing I did together with our military men was to determine air defence as our top priority. This was a system of exclusively defensive character, and I openly spoke about it in my plans."
Irakli Aladashvili, Georgia's leading defense journalist, noted that Alasania said that the air defense system he had negotatied with France would be able to shoot down any kind of Russian aircraft, as well as Iskander ballistic missiles (which were reportedly used for the first time against Georgia in 2008). Aladashvili concludes:
A series of brazen homicides, including of a police officer this weekend, are sowing worries about a resurgence of crime in Georgia. So far, the Georgian government has played down the problem and accuses the opposition of alarmism. But the fact that the murders occurred in broad daylight, and that police, so far, have failed to bring the killers to justice are prompting concerns that Georgia’s much-praised police is losing its grip.
Although his identity is well known, the man accused of killing two police officers since January remains on the loose. The suspect, Shalva Abuladze, is a convicted criminal released amidst the amnesties initiated by the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.
The latest shooting of which he is accused took place on April 5 in a Tbilisi suburb during a document-check. One policeman was killed and the other badly wounded. Abuladze was tracked down by police the next day, but again allegedly opened fire and managed to escape.
Relatives of the two killed policemen have laid blame on the amnesties, which released hundreds of prisoners allegedly convicted and incarcerated on insufficient evidence. The releases have been proving as controversial as the mass incarcerations by the previous Georgian government, under ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Georgia's former defense minister has claimed that his firing last year was the result of dispute with other officials, led by former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, over signing an agreement to acquire air defense systems from France. But the prime minister, and France's ambassador to Tbilisi, have denied the claims.
The dispute has reignited the political crisis that blew up last year, when Defense Minister Irakli Alasania -- one of the country's most popular political figures and probably the most pro-Western official then in the government -- was unexpectedly fired. And it again raises allegations that Russia might be exerting pressure on Tbilisi behind the scenes, especially in the sensitive sphere of arms procurements from the West.
Alasania made the claim last week, and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili responded by calling the allegations "immoral" and said that such speculation is "not the business of a real man." The defense ministry also denied that any such agreement with France had been made.
Alasania then said that, since the agreement he signed was valid until the end of March, he would wait until April, when the alleged agreement expired, to provide all the details. And he made good on his promise at a press conference on April 3.
In a state-of-the-nation address snubbed by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and his cabinet, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili on March 31 called for a more participatory democracy, and cautioned against any one group trying to lay exclusive claim to the country’s political processes.
“Improving democracy is a constant process. There never will be a time when we can say ‘Stop working on it,’” Margvelashvili said.
But the cabinet and the prime minister weren’t there to hear it. Gharibashvili, the president’s regular sparring partner, earlier had explained their absence by an alleged desire to avoid “pomp.”
Georgia’s constitution does not require the prime minister and cabinet to attend the speech, but the empty seats once again underscored a sharp, ongoing rivalry between the head of state and the head of government.
Constitutional reform in 2010 largely reduced the Georgian president’s role to a guardian of the constitution, but still left him with some key functions, such as that of commander-in-chief and the power to strike down parliamentary bills and cabinet nominations. The president is a directly elected official, unlike the parliament-appointed prime minister.
Yet critics, including opposition groups, charge that the Georgian Dream coalition and its chairperson, Gharibashvili, construe separating powers between the prime minister and president as trying to prevent the president, who no longer bears the blessing of Georgian-Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, from taking part in government.
Screenshot of a Georgia Ministry of Defense video report on the sendoff of Georgian peacekeepers serving in the EU mission in the Central African Republic.
Georgian troops have returned home from the completed European Union peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, the country's first substantial troop deployment to Africa and to an EU military mission.
The EU mission formally ended on March 15, and the Georgian soldiers were sent home with a ceremony at the airport at Bangui, where they had been based. "During the mission, the Georgian contingent was tasked with providing security in the operational area," the Georgian Ministry of Defense said in a press release. "They carried out infantry and motorized patrolling within their area of responsibility. The Georgian peacekeeping unit accomplished the mission successfully and came back home without casualties."
Georgia was the second-largest troop contributor (behind France) to the 750-soldier EU force, and regional analyst Thierry Tardy said that the mission was, at least by the standards of its limited mandate, a success. "When measured against its restricted mandate, EUFOR RCA has been a successful mission" and "has contributed to the stabilisation of the situation in its area of deployment," Tardy wrote, while noting that "even if the general security situation has improved in the area of deployment, large-scale human rights violations have taken place in Bangui, violent groups have not been disarmed, and many trouble spots remain."
For Georgia, as with its deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, the goal was to show Europe that it was a reliable partner.
Forget the stereotypes about sun, wine and song. The Caucasus is a sad place and, in this region, Georgia is the saddest of all, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Georgia may persistently rank as the most democratic and liberal country within the South Caucasus, but it also ranks among the world's top ten countries with "the lowest positive emotions," the poll found.
In fact, the thousand Georgians surveyed in June-July 2014 came across as just a little happier than residents of the world’s most melancholy place, Sudan -- a score of 55 versus 47 on Gallup's "Positive Experience Index." And no happier than those of Afghanistan (also 55).
The survey, though, turned another local stereotype on its head, too. With a score of 59, the region’s smallest country, Armenia, was rated as the happiest — or, rather, the least unhappy -- after answering questions like “Did you feel well-rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”
Azerbaijan, the largest and richest of the Caucasus three, finished only a notch higher than Georgia, with a score of 56.
Information on how the country-scores were computed, and on the geographic, gender and age-breakdown of the respondents was not immediately available. The Georgia survey had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
Some Georgians have ascribed the results to a post-traumatic-stress-disorder-like malaise caused by the wars and economic misery they've suffered after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Think the Georgian government is hard up for cash? If anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International is correct, you might want to think again.
In a recent statement, the group claimed that officials failed to spend a whopping 150 million lari (roughly $68 million) budgeted for 2014 expenditures. *
It alleged that the finance ministry had attempted to conceal the scale of the underspending by listing 80 million lari (about $36 million) as a sub-item in the government’s Treasury Single Account (defined by the IMF as “a unified structure of government bank accounts”) to make sure it was not reflected in the country’s annual financial statement.
As a result, the group continued, inaccurate budget-deficit calculations were shown to the public, potential investors and international organizations.
Critics claim that the underspending, the second year in a row, shows that government departments did not keep projects on schedule or even get started with them.
“This is a new paradox that the government has money, but cannot spend it,” drily remarked Roman Gotsiridze, a head of the Central Bank under former President Mikheil Saakashvili, local media reported.
Since regaining independence in 1991, Georgia generally has had the opposite problem, he added.
Recent reports that Russian military vehicles were appearing in Georgia have raised complaints in neighboring Azerbaijan that Tbilisi is “betraying” Baku by allowing the Russian military to ship military supplies into Armenia via its territory or airspace.
The story of the Russian vehicles in Georgia is almost certainly a tempest in a teapot – after footage surfaced of Russian-made ZIL 131 military trucks on Georgian streets, various theories quickly emerged. Georgia's opposition claimed the trucks were evidence that the current government was in cahoots with Moscow, while some suggested they may be on the way to Armenia, where Russia both has its own large military base and provides substantial military aid to the armed forces there. But it didn't take long for another, more banal explanation to come out: the vehicles were decommissioned in Russia and are being sold on the commercial market.
There's no indication that the Russian trucks were in fact destined for Armenia, but the question of how Russia supplies its base in Armenia, as well as delivers military aid there, has long been a secretive and contentious one. Armenia is separated from Russia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, which are hostile to Armenia, and Georgia, which is hostile to Russia. Georgia nevertheless did allow overflights of Russian military shipments to Armenia until 2011, when it publicly annulled the agreement with Russia allowing for that transit. The status of that transit is now unclear, though there have been various unconfirmed reports that it was reinstated even while former president Mikheil Saakashvili was in power.