Joseph Stalin's monument now lies in an abandoned lot outside of Gori, his hometown in Georgia.
The city council in Joseph Stalin’s Georgian hometown of Gori struck down on October 2 a motion to restore the Soviet dictator’s monument in the town square. The fierce debate left unclear the fate of the grand, six-meter statue that just refuses to be consigned to the ash heap of history.
Gori’s Stalinists have made stubborn attempts to bring their icon’s statue back to the town center, but central government officials have resisted these efforts, which they view as an embarrassment to the country’s goals of Western integration.
Today’s debate on the topic at Gori’s city council erupted into a shouting match between Stalin supporters and opponents.
The Stalinists argue that Joseph Visarionovich is Gori’s (and Georgia’s) most famous son and the major tourist attraction in gritty Gori, a town some 40 kilometers west of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Visitors indeed flock to the Stalin Museum which features a massive collection of Stalin memorabilia, including his death mask and a tiny shack where the comrade-in-chief, then known as Soso, the Georgian diminutive for his first name, spent his early years.
The reported route of Russian military flights to Syria. (photo: twitter, @cencio4)
New flight-tracking data suggests that Russia is sending military equipment to Syria over the Caspian Sea, taking a lengthy detour to bypass the entire Caucasus isthmus. The circuitous route suggests that Moscow has failed to gain overflight permission from either Georgia or Azerbaijan in its new top foreign policy priority, the intervention in Syria.
The new data was reported by the blog The Aviationist citing the open-source flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. It suggests that Russia sent six Su-34 bomber aircraft to Syria via a route southward to the North Caucasus, veering to the east just north of Grozny and crossing into the airspace over the Caspian Sea north of Makhachkala. It then crosses the Caspian taking a route roughly parallel to the coastline of Azerbaijan, about 50 miles away. It then enters Iranian airspace roughly 50 miles south of the Azerbaijani border, the continues through Iraq before reaching Syria.
The United States had been trying to get countries in between Russia and Syria to block their airspace to Russian military flights, and succeeded in the case of Bulgaria, while Greece confirmed that they had gotten a similar request. If the U.S. has made any such requests to the Caucasus countries it hasn't been announced. Turkey, a firm opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- whom the Russian intervention seeks to prop up -- doesn't allow the flights of its own accord.
Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli and General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, meet in Tbilisi on September 7. (photo: MoD Georgia)
The United States is practicing how quickly it can deploy its military to Georgia in order to respond to "Russian aggression," Georgia's defense minister has said.
General Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, visited Tbilisi and spoke September 7 at a conference, "Georgia: Europe’s New Geopolitical Landscape: Security, Economic Opportunity, Freedom and Human Dignity for the Frontline States." Hodges also met with Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli and senior Georgian military officials.
"There were a lot of interesting nuances when he discussed joint Georgian-American exercises," Khidasheli said after the meeting. "In particular, one of the objectives of these exercises will be to see how quickly the US military vehicles and soldiers will arrive in Georgia in case of aggression – something that the General stated publicly.”
"For me, as Defence Minister, General Ben Hodges’ speech was very interesting. He made some interesting points, especially when talking about Russia,” she continued. "He very clearly and directly said that Russia had been busy with aggression for 20 years. I think when an American General says such phrases, it means a lot.”
However, it's not clear exactly what Hodges' words were. The press office of U.S. Army Europe, asked by The Bug Pit to clarify Hodges's remarks, provided a transcript of his answers to reporters' questions at the conference, but they contained nothing about U.S. forces responding to Russian aggression in Georgia.
According to a report on the website civil.ge, Hodges's remarks were somewhat vaguer:
Georgian media have depicted the August 30 clash as a Free Willy-style drama. But counter to these reports, the activists claim they had no intention to release the facility's inhabitants into the open sea. Although Batumi's top attraction is located a quick walk from the beach, carrying to the water bottlenose dolphins that weigh, on average, 300 kilos might have proven problematic.
The Georgian Federation for Animal Protection claimed that its members, with a backup of Russian and Turkish animal rights activists, instead tried to unfurl banners that read “A dolphinarium is a prison!" and were physically assaulted by guards and dolphin handlers.
The dolphinarium’s administration says the opposite — the activists intruded on the premises and attacked the staff using pepper spray. Both sides uploaded videos in an attempt to prove their versions of the story.
An Su-25 aircraft under repair at Tbilaviastroy. Might the company soon be producing new, completely non-Russian versions of the plane? (photo: Delta)
Georgia is developing a version of the Su-25 ground attack aircraft that replaces all the Russian-origin parts with European or Israeli substitutes.
The effort is being undertaken by the state defense company Tbilaviastroy, which under Soviet times was the center of Su-25 production and now carries out repair and renovations of the aircraft.
Hostile relations between Tbilisi and Moscow obviously hamstrung Georgia's work on the Su-25, which relied heavily on Russian-produced parts and subsystems. And the situation got especially bad after the 2008 war between the two countries: "the plant had simply no other way out after approximately 2008, when Moscow imposed a total ban on exports of any products to Georgia of a military or dual use," said Irakli Aladashvili, a reporter for Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra.
Georgia had tried various routes out of this situation, such as proposing joint production with Azerbaijan and cooperating with Israel. But now, Aladashvili reports, citing company director Nodar Beridze, Tbilaviastroy is going all the way and creating a version of the Su-25 without any Russian parts whatsoever. The new aircraft would be called the Ge-31, or "Bora."
The Bora's fuselage and wings would be manufactured in Georgia, while engines, electronic systems, and so on will be procured in France, Italy, and the UK, according to Beridze. The Su-25 is still a popular aircraft around the world, so it could potentially have a large export market.
Two months after horror-movie scenes of zoo animals wandering around Tbilisi made international headlines, the Georgian capital’s zoo has announced plans to reopen in September.
The zoo will return to a section of its old territory that managed to escape destruction when a flash flood hit on June 13-14 and killed most of the facility's animals. In the words of Zoo Director Zurab Gurielidze to PalitraTV, “[W]e still have some interesting animals left.”
The zoo’s population still includes lemurs, deers, peacocks and Begi the hippo, who famously sauntered past a nearby Swatch store after the flood wiped out his enclosure. Begi now urgently needs a new home. “In winter, this animal must have an indoor pool filled with warm water,” Gurielidze said in an earlier interview with Liberali Magazine. No other Georgian zoo can accommodate Begi and the only way out is to build a new pool. Same goes for the crocodiles, which are now crashing at the penguins’ place.
Work has been underway to clear out the mud and debris, but the zoo is still largely a gloomy scene of ruined cages and destroyed carousels. Fortunately, though, an exceptionally hot summer has enfeebled the neighboring Vera creek, which, swollen by torrential rain, ravaged the zoo and its area on the nightmarish night of June 13-14, killing 19 humans and scores of animals.
Ukrainian air force chief Major General Sergei Drozdov meets Georgia Chief of General Staff Vakhtang Kapanadze in Tbilisi. (photo: Georgia MoD)
Ukraine's new air force chief is on a visit to Tbilisi to learn from his Georgian counterparts' experience fighting with Russia, and to discuss future military cooperation between the two countries.
"The Georgian side will share [with] us [their] experience of 2008," said Major General Sergei Drozdov, appointed last month to head Ukraine's air force, in a statement issued by Georgia's Ministry of Defense. Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008 over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. "Unfortunately, we have similar circumstances in the Ukraine. But with joint forces and cooperation we will overcome all obstacles and achieve success." The statement noted that air defense would be one of the priorities.
Not just operational cooperation, but military business ties appeared to be on the agenda. “One of the main goals of the visit of the Ukrainian delegation is to familiarize with the Georgia’s military-industrial complex and potential in order to plan joint projects for the future. This will give us possibility to improve Georgian and Ukrainian Armed Forces and their defence capabilities”, said Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, Georgia's chief of General Staff, after meeting Drozdov.
Ukraine has supplied Georgia with the bulk of its air defense systems: according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the only air defense purchases Georgia made from 2000-2014 were from Ukraine, which included Sa-8 ("Osa") and Sa-11 ("Buk") systems.
The Didgori armored personnel carrier, produced by Georgia's state-run defense manufacturer Delta. (photo: Delta)
Georgia's defense minister has publicly criticized the country's state-owned arms manufacturer, saying it needs closer oversight and calling into question the purpose of its highest-profile product, a domestically produced armored personnel carrier.
The strong statement suggests a change in state policy toward the company, known as the Delta State Military Scientific-Technical Center. The development of a domestic defense industry was a big priority of the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement Party. And while the Georgian Dream coalition, which ultimately supplanted the UNM, at first campaigned against Delta as a vanity project and a waste of government resources. But GD ended up changing tack when it took power and continued to promote the center, which is now developing a variety of weaponry, mainly armored vehicles.
But now it appears that the Georgian Dream government may again be rethinking Delta. "It's obvious that something isn't right here. We started discussions with the prime minister on this issue, and we're going to resolve it quickly," Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli said in an interview with Georgian television station Rustavi 2 (and available in Russian translation here). "There are unacceptable delays going on at Delta, production is not being delivered on time, and it has several unclear relationships with various private companies. In my opinion the center, as a government-funded company, needs to be oriented toward profit. So its 100 percent financing by the state budget is incomprehensible."
Always with an eye out for international investment, Georgia had a national cringe moment last week when one lawmaker confused the acronym for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with a crude Russian word for sex, telling a startled parliament that he “could never screw around” ["could never do the EBRD"] since he is “a faithful husband.”
Fifty-eight-year-old Soso Jachvliani, a Georgian film-star-turned-legislator, decided to make a clean breast of it in response to accusations that his majoritarian Georgian Dream bloc is nostalgic for the Soviet era, when some Georgian men traveled on cheap flights to Moscow for informal sex tours. The parliamentary opposition, the United National Movement Party, routinely accuses the Georgian Dream of flirting with Russia, and Mr. Jachvliani took it quite literally.
“I have never been to prostitutes,” he declared on July 22 to the assembly. “It was demeaning for me to pay 10 rubles [apparently, the Soviet-era prostitute rate]. I have handled those matters without the 10-ruble thing.”
“For your information,” Jachvliani went on, warming to the subject, “if there was any pretty lady in the Soviet cinema, I have had a relationship with all of them without paying those 10 rubles.”
In vain did Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Manana Kobakidze, a fellow member of the Georgian Dream bloc, try to stop this stream of consciousness. “Batono [Mr.] Soso, I beg you, this is parliament,” she began.
Romanian and Georgian soldiers practice clearing a room during NATO exercises in Georgia. (photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
NATO militaries wrapped up joint exercises in Georgia this week, as the alliance tries to strengthen its position in the Caucasus as a counterweight to Russia, and Tbilisi tries to leverage NATO's newly sharpened confrontation with Russia to achieve its long-held goal of membership in the alliance.
The exercise, Agile Spirit, involved about 250 soldiers from Bulgaria, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania. It was the first NATO exercise held at the Vaziani base outside Tbilisi as a result of the decision, made at last year's NATO summit in Wales, to open a training base in Georgia. (Exercises named Agile Spirit have been held in Georgia in the past, but those were bilateral U.S.-Georgia exercises; those now have a new name. Noble Partner.)
The exercises took place in an atmosphere of heightened tension between Russia and Georgia; while the exercises were going on the former moved the border a bit in a possible attempt to provoke the latter or at least to visibly throw its weight around.