An exiled Azerbaijani dissident has embarked on a battle with President Ilham Aliyev’s government from the safety of his US residence. Perhaps realizing that posting angry posts on his blog is not enough to shake the unshakeable Iliyev’s government, ex-Parliamentary Speaker Rasul Guliyev, who had a headline-grabbing walk-on role during Azerbaijan's 2005 parliamentary elections, launched a resistance movement in the US. He even YouTubed an appeal that calls on fellow Azerbaijanis to join him in his plans for a revolution à la tunisienne.
He named the 2013 presidential elections as the key battle in this war; a vote which most likely will keep Aliyev in power, unless the moon crashes into the earth in the meantime.
In a standard tactic for Caucasian opposition causes, Guliyev wants to launch a television and radio station to provide an outlet for anti-Aliyev voices. He quite optimistically is trying to convince the US Congress to help start a broadcasting operation for the expatriate Azerbaijanis.
Some assessments have compared Guliyev’s demarche with Georgia’s tycoon-turned-opposition-leader Bidzina Ivanishvili. But in terms of pocket depth, Guliyev does not compare to billionaire Ivanishvili, and Azerbaijan is far more tightly controlled than neighboring Georgia.
Kokoity, who is accused of trying to install a Kremlin-favored candidate as his replacement and to steal Jioyeva's purported election victory, said on December 11 that he was stepping down to avoid bloodshed. The resignation, preceded by the dismissal of several key officials in Kokoity’s administration, came as part of a deal with the Jioyeva team, brokered by Russia.
Earlier on, Jioyeva, claiming foul play by Kokoity, had threatened to proceed with the protests. The change of pace reportedly did not sit well with all her supporters, Ekho Kavkaza reported.
But the embattled region is not quite out of the woods yet. Jioyeva has demanded that her supporters be included in the interim de-facto government now led by de-facto Prime Minister Vadim Brovtsev.
With all revolution-chasers focused on Russia's post-election turmoil, the prospects of a mini-revolution in the neighboring breakaway region of South Ossetia, a Russian protectorate, have gotten little international spotlight. But the enclave that Moscow vowed to love and cherish as a sovereign state after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia is in trouble and things may still get ugly.
Faced with calls to step down, the de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, has looked around his cabinet for possible scapegoats and found some. On December 7, he fired several high-ranking officials, including the de facto minister of education and the mayor of the capital, Tskhinvali, as an apparent sop to the protesters. More heads will roll soon, he claimed.
The battle between tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili, though, still makes for the main storyline of the season. To catch you up on the latest, Ivanishvili the billionaire seems to have realized that being a cab-driver icon to some Georgians, and a welcome agent of political balance to others is not enough. So, he hired a Washington, DC-based lobbyist.
With the help of BGR Government Affairs, Ivanisvhvili will compete against Saakashvili for the good graces of US political and media circles. Aside from its ties with the US government past (George W. Bush and friends) and present, the Saakashvili administration has two US lobbying groups, Podesta Group and Orion Strategies, on its side.
Come December 10, protesters in the discombobulated Caucasus region of South Ossetia plan to inaugurate their leader, Alla Jioyeva, as the territory's new de facto president with or without the consent of the current de facto president, longtime strongman Eduard Kokoity.
The protesters insist they already have a president so both Kokoity and the pick for his successor, de facto Emergency Situations Minister Anatoliy Bibolev, as well as their backers in the Kremlin, need to get used to it.
Despite any disillusionment with Moscow, though, Jioyeva’s supporters still hope that the Kremlin will help the tiny region step back from civil unrest. To prove that the protests are not anti-Moscow, the Jioyeva camp called on demonstrators to back Russia's ruling United Russia party in its December 4 parliamentary elections. (Most South Ossetians hold Russian passports.)
Still, the demonstrators are trying to put their eggs in other baskets, too. On December 4, they also asked that the United Nations and European Parliament help avert a political crisis in South Ossetia that may destabilize the wider region.
South Ossetia’s de facto regime keeps saying that a “color revolution” is not going to play out in the troubled enclave over its disputed de facto presidential election results, but events continue to be pretty, well, colorful.
But Jioyeva says that South Ossetians chose differently. She and her supporters are now baffled about why the current authorities and Russia refuse to accept her. “Why don’t you love me, Russia?” Jioyeva mused, adding that she is a “Russian by passport and in my spirit.”
The intramural tensions escalated after South Ossetia's de facto authorities cancelled results from the November 27 runoff for the region's de facto presidential poll; results that gave opposition candidate Alla Jioyeva the lead over establishment candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite.
The outcome came as a serious humiliation for Moscow, which keeps South Ossetia under its political and military patronage, but failed to see its guy put in charge after two consecutive attempts.
Nevertheless, in times of trouble, South Ossetia can only turn to Moscow for help. The EU and US don’t see the region on the map and are telling it to go back to Georgia. Tbilisi demands that South Ossetia return to the Georgian fold and accept back the ethnic Georgian residents who fled during the 2008 war.
So, again it was Moscow that sent a representative to defuse tensions that are dangerous for locals and embarrassing for the Russians.
Jioyeva, though, emerged dissatisfied from today’s talks with Russian envoy Sergei Vinokurov. (Perhaps not surprisingly, given that the Kremlin had earlier supported the de facto Supreme Court's decision to throw out the runoff results and bar her from running again.) She said the talks will continue, but announced no plans to back off her claim to South Ossetia's de facto presidency.
Media takeovers happen every day, but rarely do they come with scenes straight out of an action thriller. But that's the drama now engulfing Maestro TV, Georgia's main anti-government television channel.
The group then locked themselves into Maestro's premises. Spotting the intrusion, the channel’s morning-shift reporters responded by locking themselves into the control room.
"Why?" you might ask. Keep asking. No one appears to know. (Including why Kitsmarishvili could not simply walk through the front door.)
A tense stand-off ensued. Hunkered down, Kitsmarishvili fired the station's executive producer/co-owner/founder Mamuka Ghlonti and other senior management. Ghlonti, in turn, rescinded Maestro's contract with Kitsmarishvili's managing firm.
And so the matter stands. The fence-hopping Kitsmarishvili and men refuse to let the company’s owners into their section of the station, and, over in the control room, Maestro reporters and Ghlonti are not letting Kitsmarishvili inside their camp, either. “We are keeping the doors locked,” Ghlonti told EurasiaNet.org. “He [Kitsmarishvili] is there with some 15 men, but he is not going to get in here.”
Amidst reports of gunfire, a homegrown controversy over breakaway South Ossetia's de facto presidential election on November 30 threatened to degenerate into violence.
To most of the outside world, the November 13 poll in South Ossetia was illegitimate to begin with, but it sparked a major power struggle. Alla Jioyeva, a onetime education minister, has claimed the presidency following a runoff that gave her over 56 percent of the vote.
But the Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, alleging funny business, wasn't buying it. Bibilov petitioned the region's de facto Supreme Court to throw out the results. On November 29, the court complied, with the de facto parliament setting a fresh election date in March 2012.
Jioyeva, however, went ahead and set up a "state council," and headed with her supporters (numbering in the high several hundreds, according to Russia's RIA Novosti) out into the streets of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, to protest the court's decision.
In response, the de facto government led by Eduard Kokoity accused Jioyeva of attempts to stage a "color revolution" -- an event portrayed within South Ossetia as the ultimate in dastardly deeds -- and threatened to take retaliatory measures. Apparently, those were limited to guards firing into the air as the Joiyeva crowd approached the de facto government headquarters, and tried to enter the region's de facto Central Election Commission.
Landlocked Armenia’s world is claustrophobic enough as it is, with borders closed to the left and right with neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan. Now, according to ex-Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, a fresh series of international sanctions against Iran threatens to shut Armenia’s third, southern border as well, and choke off a key trade route -- a development that “Armenia cannot afford,” he told Al Jazeera.
With some $300 million in bilateral trade turnover a year, Iran is Armenia's fourth largest trade partner. Tehran, eager for clout in the region, has been keen to take that partnership still further, but these plans could be jeopardized by Western efforts to starve the Iranian government into abandoning its nuclear ambitions, Oskanian reasoned.
“Clearly those [new] sanctions are going to bite Armenia” and “will be tantamount for Armenia to a third closed border,” Oskanian said. He noted that Yerevan will have no other choice but to respect its obligations to the West and enforce the sanctions. The European Union is the main outlet for Armenian goods and Armenia, its economy still trying to stagger out from under the effects of the international financial crisis, is a recipient of Western aid.
If the border with Iran effectively shuts down, that would leave Armenia with only a northern, land-based trade gate. This route lies across Georgia -- not exactly a bosom buddy, historically -- to Armenia’s biggest trade partner and ally, Russia. But Georgian-Russian tensions cast a pall on the reliability of this route.