Little is known about what brings Rummy to George W. Bush’s beacon of regional democracy; perhaps because local media are too busy covering the government's seizure of property belonging to a cable television company accused of bribing voters for Ivanishvili. What we know is that Rumsfeld met Georgian Defense Minister Bacho Akhalia, who thanked him for his contribution to deepening US-Georgia military ties.
The two past and present defense bosses chatted about Georgia’s plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the ongoing military reforms in the country. Rumsfeld will stay in town for a week; perhaps he is working on a chapter for a new installment of memoirs?
The new arrivals will be temporary -- the "permanent" troop presence at Gyumri, the northern Armenian site of Russia's 102nd Military Base, will stay at 5,000, according to Colonel Igor Gorbul, a spokesperson for Russia's Southern Military District, RIA Novosti reported -- and will receive a higher salary and undefined benefits to whet their interest in sticking around.
They'll arrive at a base that's been a bit on the bustling side of late. Russian jets have been busy drilling in Armenian airspace, and, in March, Moscow held war games in Gyumri. Earlier on, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization -- a Russian response to NATO -- said that the Moscow-led alliance will protect Armenia from enemy attacks. “If unfriendly actions are taken against Armenia, all member states will provide relevant assistance to Armenia,” pledged CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha.
Surveys show that Armenians tend to believe that the man has to be the principal moneymaker in a family. But looks like the country's presidential family is bucking that trend. Judging by official income disclosures, President Serzh Sargsyan lives, financially speaking, in the shadow of his richer wife, Rita.
While the president was scrimping together a modest annual income in drams of some $34,900 (salary plus accruals on loans) in 2011, Rita Sargsyan was busy making the dram equivalent of $41,000, reported the investigative news service Hetq. Perhaps because of his modest revenue, the Armenian president did not do any large-scale shopping or investment in 2011, if we go by his income declaration.
In neighboring Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to be the breadwinner in his family. President Saakashvili’s annual salary in laris is just $1,000 higher than that of his Armenian counterpart, while his wife, Sandra Roelofs, has not disclosed any earned wages for 2011. Saakashvili owns more property than his wife, but the his and her bank accounts seem to be about the same size in that family. As of May 16, 2012, the president reported about $85,000 in his bank accounts (in dollars, euros and laris), while the first lady has above $86,000 worth of euros and laris.
Residents of Baku, a handsome city awash in petrodollars, have been given something new to worry about by earthquake forecasters from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.
While buildings in the Azerbaijani capital are soaring ever upwards, seismic tension down below is building ever deeper, and could cause a devastating earthquake, MIT scientists announced in a June 14 statement.
Ten years of GPS tracking of seismic shifts suggest that fault lines near Baku may snap under the strain of a face-off between the North Eurasian and South Arabian plates, they found. That means that the city could share the fate of Azerbaijan's former capital of Shemakha, leveled by a quake in 1859.
“It is an extremely vulnerable area in terms of density of the people, the density of oil infrastructure, and potential environmental impact regionally; not just Azerbaijan,” commented principal research scientist Robert Reillinger to MITnews.
The good news is that the MIT people are not sure about it. Similar observations did little to predict the 2011 Japan earthquake and fickle mother earth is still largely beyond predictions.
If it is any reassurance, Azerbaijani scientists rejected the forecasts of their colleagues in Massachusetts and noted that Baku's Soviet-era buildings can withstand six or seven-magnitude tremors -- a finding that didn't hold during the city's 2000 earthquake (7 on the Richter scale).
After subjecting the country to months of candy deprivation, Nestlé reportedly is making a crunchy comeback in oil-rich, chocolate-poor Azerbaijan.
British Petroleum is pumping chocolaty crude out of Azerbaijan and, according to local media, Nestlé will soon restart pumping chocolate into the country.
The world’s largest food company suspended all food supplies to the Caspian Sea country during (atrociously enough) this year's confectionery-intense New Year festivities.
The Swiss manufacturer at the time cited unspecified “supply problems.” Local sources were quick to link Nestlé’s démarche with the company’s alleged problems with Azerbaijani customs officials, who are routinely accused of skimming a little off the top of any product crossing the border.
“If Armenia wants its soldiers to stop dying, it should withdraw from Azerbaijani territories,” Amidst a recent, deadly pickup in ceasefire violations, ending the two countries' 24-year conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory is as simple as that for Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
The bloodshed, coinciding with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's June 4-6 visit to the South Caucasus, has set off a fresh flurry of expressions of concern from world leaders.
“The cycle of violence must stop,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore at a joint news conference in Baku with his Azerbaijani counterpart. Gilmore, chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which oversees negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, called on both sides to remove snipers from the line of contact and set up a mechanism for investigating the conflict zone incidents.
Mammadyarov said that frontline snipers will have no targets if Yerevan pulls back its forces. He also expressed Baku’s conditional support for incident-investigation mechanism. “But this will work only if Armenian forces withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” he said. “If the mechanism is put to work now, it would mean consolidating the status quo, which is unacceptable.”
Political money is the most precarious kind of money in the Caucasus these days. Whether they spend or earn, opposition figures are finding that state auditors and security services have suddenly developed an active interest in keeping them au courant with campaign-finance regulations
Shortly after speculation picked up that Armenia’s second-largest party, Prosperous Armenia, a former government coalition member, may go into opposition against the ruling Republican Party of Armenia ahead of next February's presidential elections, a money-laundering investigation was launched against senior Prosperous Armenia member Vartan Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998 to 2008.
“Money, laundering, Oskanian… are words that just don’t go together,” fumed Oskanian, who described the probe as political retaliation.
Government officials, in turn, instructed the angry ex-cabinet-minister not to jump to conclusions. Do not immediately allege “a political subtext,” Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was quoted by RFE/RL as saying. “We are only clearing up some circumstances.”
And the circumstances are that a Yerevan think-tank founded by Oskanian, Civilitas, allegedly received a $2-million donation from two US companies, Polymer Materials and Huntsman International. Armenia’s National Security Service claimed that Oskanian failed to disclose the donation to the tax authorities and that there are suspicions of legalizing a large amount of money obtained by criminal means.
The billionaire trackers at Forbes Magazine may need to subtract some $91.03 million from Bidzina Ivanishvili’s estimated $6.4 billion fortune, after a court in Tbilisi whacked the anti-government crusading tycoon with two hefty fines.
On June 11, Ivanishvili, busy preparing for a battle royale with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government in October's parliamentary election, was found guilty of bribing voters. The TV antennas and bus rides state auditors claim the group distributed for free to voters will cost Ivanishvili 126.22 million lari (roughly $77.30 million) and 22.42 million lari (roughly $13.73 million), respectively, unless his lawyers succeed in their plans to appeal the verdict.
The Tbilisi City Court ruled that Ivanishvili underwrote the distribution of satellite dishes to thousands of Georgian households via Global TV, a cable network that is majority-owned by his brother, Alexander. Global TV is the only Georgian cable network that carries a television channel recently launched by Ivanishvili.
The court also found that two of the tycoon's companies provided cheap transportation to members of the Georgian Dream. Both cases, unearthed by the State Audit Service, charged with enforcement of campaign-finance regulations, amount to illegal donations, the court ruled.
In case you were worrying, rest assured that Caucasus celebrity Matthew Bryza, the never-confirmed former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, has, according to Azerbaijani media, "found a new job." Or, as one news outlet from Azerbaijani enemy Armenia, put it: "The Azerbaijanis found a job for Bryza.”
Bryza, a household name for everyone in (or with an interest in) the Caucasus, left Baku in 2011 after the US Senate, with active prodding from Armenian Diaspora lobbyists, failed to uphold his appointment as US ambassador to Azerbaijan.
In opposing Bryza's appointment to Baku, Diaspora lobbyists took strong issue with what they claimed was his bias in Azerbaijan's favor -- a charge he hotly denied. Bryza, as a deputy advisor to the president and secretary of state on Caspian-Basin energy policy and, later, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, played a key role in pushing forward an Azerbaijan-Europe energy corridor that bypasses Russia.
To many anti-Bryza-ites, the Turcas Petrol board post will only appear confirmation that the career diplomat truly was one of Baku's best buddies.
Moscow is never happy to see a US secretary of state lounging about in what it considers to be its backyard; in other words, Georgia. Routine expressions of support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, democratic and NATO aspirations are one thing. But don't get talkin' about those "provocative" identification papers for residents of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The documents are meant to provide an international travel option to residents of the two regions -- their independence from Georgia still largely unrecognized -- without specifying their citizenship status. They also, though, are intended to encourage separatist Abkhaz and South Ossetians to come back to Tbilisi's still-waiting embrace.
Granted, the Abkhaz and South Ossetians are not exactly lining up for the Georgian-made documents and a hefty dose of skepticism persists about the prospects for reconciliation-through-IDs. But, still, securing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s public support for the documents was one tangible bonus for Tbilisi from her June 4-5 visit to Georgia.
Nonetheless, despite the IDs' less-than-certain chances for success, Moscow’s thin-skinned reactions suggested that the documents' existence do at least exert a certain psychological influence on the Kremlin.
Moscow, the chief lobbyist for international acceptance of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence, had been quite happy for years to provide both regions with Russian passports for international travel -- even while, before 2008, still recognizing them as part of Georgia.