Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli joined soldiers and their sons to rally for Tbilisi-born NBA player Zaza Pachulia to make it into the All-Stars..
All of Georgia is on a mission to get its most famous basketball player, Zaza Pachulia of the Dallas Mavericks, to play in the National Basketball Association's All-Stars Game. Rarely getting a chance to help nudge one of their own into international stardom, nearly everyone in Georgia, from the president to pensioners, has been tweeting and posting away “#NBAVOTE Zaza Pachulia,” which counts as a vote for the player’s bid for the February 14 event in Toronto.
Much to the surprise of some American basketball wonks, 31-year-old Pachulia now ranks #8 among fan favorites from the NBA’s Western Conference to take part in the All-Stars, an annual show-down between North American professional basketball teams' best players.
Armenia has come up with a formidable new defensive tactic. Plans are underway to teach Armenian military cadets traditional folk dancing as a way to raise morale and also preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The idea belongs to a recently established song-and-dance organization, led by seasoned choreographer and ethnographer Gagik Ginosian. “Military men must know Armenian military dances, in practice as in theory,” commented Ginosian, a co-founder of the National Academy for Song and Dance, to Sputnik Armenia. “This is going to be a kind of test for the soldier. Dancing brings a sense of unity, a team spirit,” he said.
To start, traditional military dances will be taught in the Vazgen Sargsyan State Military Academy, based in the capital, Yerevan, but later will be included in military schools nationwide. Ginosian says Armenia has as many as 15 types of military dances.
As elsewhere in the Caucasus, folk dancing remains popular in Armenia, and, when performed by Armenian military men, looks like this.
But Armenia’s longtime enemy, Azerbaijan, was not impressed by its neighbor’s dance-plans, with some sarcastically scoffing that Azerbaijanis are now going to be shivering in their bones. “Perhaps it is going to be like Aram Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ or a mix of dance and kung fu?” bristled one Azerbaijani news outlet.
It's official. Georgia and Gazprom are going out. Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze, the former soccer star/pin-up staple, keeps getting spotted meeting Gazprom officials and he is running out of excuses for an entanglement that, some claim, threatens to upset the region's energy status quo, and possibly, its geopolitical layout.
Georgians mostly learn via foreign media about Kaladze’s trysts with the Russian gas monopolist in Milan, Brussels or Geneva. Each time the news breaks, the minister steps forth with claims that it was just some routine business meeting. Nothing to worry about.
But his line of reasoning has become sharply contradictory, stoking fears that Georgia is being seduced back into a dependency on Russian energy, which, in turn, critics say, could hamstring Georgia’s Western integration plans.
In his latest clarification, Kaladze said that his talks with Gazprom are about revising the terms for the transit of Russian gas through Georgia to Armenia. Instead of taking 10 percent of the gas (some 200 million cubic meters) as a transit fee, Tbilisi wants to get paid in cash, Kaladze said on January 11. The deal, if reached, will last for a year, the minister said, which, to his mind, means that the doomsday scenarios “painted by the so-called experts are nothing but delirious and wrong."
Citing police sources, the pro-government news site APA claimed that “more than 60” people had been detained, and 50 subsequently released. An exact tally was not immediately available. The government itself has not released an official statement.
Scores of arrests appear to have been made in Nardaran, located about 30 kilometers northeast of the capital, Baku, since a raid last November that left at least six dead. Among others, the head of the town’s council of elders, Natig Karimov, was detained last week on charges of treason and espionage. Local spiritual leader Taleh Bagirzade was arrested in November.
Authorities claim that the town’s residents harbored plans for an armed coup and colluded with an unnamed foreign power — believed to mean Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran -- against Azerbaijani security interests. Claims long have run rampant in Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shi'a country, that Iran’s Shi’ite government tries to influence or stir up trouble in Nardaran.
As Iran expressed an interest in monitoring the actions taken in Nardaran, Baku started to pull back from recent expressions of chumminess over potential joint energy-export projects.
As of December 4, there is one less Georgian and one more full-on Ukrainian out there. The indefatigable former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been stripped of his Georgian citizenship, but effectively keeps his job as Georgia’s long-distance opposition leader.
“They may take away my passport, but they can’t take away my being a Georgian,” Saakashvili said in a video posted on his Facebook page. Apparently speaking from Ukraine, where he serves as Odessa's regional governor, he claimed it was “Russian oligarch” Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former prime minister and founder of Georgia's ruling Georgian Dream coalition, who ordered his “incompetent, straw-grasping government” to cancel his passport, to prevent him from seeking elected office in Georgia.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has indicated that he signed the decree scrapping his predecessor's Georgian citizenship in response to Saakashvili's May decision to become a Ukrainian citizen. Dual citizenship is not allowed under Georgian law, but the rule is not uniformly applied.
Pounded with threats and sanctions from Russia, Turkey on December 4 went to its Turkic cousin Azerbaijan to get some much-needed love and economic reassurance. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu received not only an ardent, mi-casa-es-su-casa welcome in Baku, but also promises of more business and energy supplies just as Russia is trying to starve Turkey of both of those things.
Sitting next to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the Turkish prime minister melted into a lengthy toast to kinship between Azerbaijan and Turkey; one country that fate divided in two, he said. Azerbaijan is Turkey’s “soul,” “spiritual homeland,” and Turkey’s ministers are Azerbaijan’s ministers, in Davutoğlu's telling.
For Azerbaijan, which relies on heavily on Turkey for energy transit projects and efforts to reclaimed breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, this means, in theory, that Turkey’s problems are Azerbaijan’s problems. “Turkish-Azerbaijani unity and politics have a stabilizing effect on the region,” said Azerbaijan’s Aliyev.
Yet, mindful of Moscow, Azerbaijan's Soviet-era overlord and still the region's traditional mover-and-shaker, Aliyev avoided calling Russia by name. After all, of late, Baku and the Kremlin have been making nice. Instead, Aliyev noted, diplomatically broadly, that “stability in the region has been regrettably disturbed, with new risks and threats taking shape.”
“We should be ready and we are ready for these challenges," he added, without elaboration.
Sandwiched between Turkey and Russia, and for centuries a battleground for the erstwhile empires, the South Caucasus is bracing for fallout from the geopolitical furor sparked by the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter jet.
Discussion of the draft comes right after a fatal police raid last week, when special troops were sent to “quell rebels” in the Baku suburb of Nardaran, home to a conservative Shi’a community. Two law-enforcement officers and four men tagged as alleged militants were killed. Police arrested a local spiritual leader, Taleh Bagirzade, and members of his Movement for Muslim Unity. They accused the group of plans to overthrow the government and establish a sharia state.
Given the government’s practice of running roughshod over critics, some question its motivations in the Nardaran raid. The town, EurasiaNet.org has reported, has generally been seen as “a different world” from the rest of Azerbaijan, with no national police allowed on its territory.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine all know the routine.
In the past, Russia swore off Ukrainian candy and dairy products as relations between the two countries worsened over Crimea, the war against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and Kyiv’s pro-Western inclinations. In 2013, it took particular aim at Roshen chocolate, the source of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s personal wealth.
Russia also has closed its borders for European cheese and other foodstuffs as a payback for Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. European cheddar cheese was once literally bulldozed off Russian tables.
For years, the Russian dinner table has told the story of Russia’s foreign policy.