“People with guns and in masks barged in, destroying the doors, furniture …and tried to take me away by force,” said Jioyeva describing to Russian Reporter how riot police (OMON) allegedly stormed her office on February 9, the eve of her planned inauguration as de-facto president of the tiny, breakaway region.
“One grabbed me by the hands; others by the feet. They picked me up and dragged me like an old watermelon,” she told the website. Those in her office who tried to resist the OMON were beaten with rifle butts; some were arrested, she alleged. “I started to feel bad, from the humiliation… from everything that I saw, from the screams. I lost consciousness,” she said.
The South Caucasus appears to be finding itself in a risky front-row seat for the ongoing international campaign against Iran's nuclear ambitions and, in turn, outrage at Israel for its role in the struggle.
On February 13, a bomb was found under the car of a Georgian employee of the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi. Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson Shota Utiashvili told EurasiaNet.org that he could not specify if the foiled bomb attack was targeted against the Israeli embassy premises, but noted that the car "was located near the embassy." Police defused the explosive without incident.
In a separate incident today, the wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured in a car bomb explosion in New Delhi.
South Ossetian de-facto opposition leader Alla Jioyeva, who planned to hold a presidential inauguration ceremony today, has been hospitalized in critical condition after receiving a summons for questioning by prosecutors about an alleged attempt to seize power in the breakaway region.
Tensions remain high, with news reports about what exactly happened to Jioyeva -- and even whether or not she is still conscious -- largely a he-said-she-said affair.
Jioyeva's spokesperson, Violetta Dasayeva, told Ekho Moskvy radio that 100 armed riot police stormed Jioyeva's headquarters late on February 9, "destroyed" it, and struck the 61-year-old opposition leader on the back with a rifle butt, knocking her to the floor. Dasayeva, who said she was an eyewitness, claimed the police were intent on killing Jioyeva.
The territory's de-facto provisional government, which has run South Ossetia after two failed attempts to elect a de-facto president, denies that any violence was used against Jioyeva. Doctors from the Tskhinvali hospital also report no sign of any trauma; the official line is that Jioyeva suffered a stroke.
The opposition leader's health "deteriorated," de-facto officials say, after investigators presented her with a summons on the evening of February 9 for questioning by prosecutors about an alleged attempt to seize power -- an apparent reference to supporters' attempt to enter the de-facto Central Election Commission late last year to protest the annulment of de-facto run-off election results that indicated Jioyeva's victory at the polls in November 2011.
The Kremlin has warned breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia to beware of Georgians bearing gifts of travel documents. As part of its post-2008-war reintegration strategy, Tbilisi offered the separatists citizenship-blind identification documents. But Moscow says that those who take these papers will unwittingly become Georgians.
The so-called neutral travel documents do not carry Georgia's national symbols and do not specify the citizenship of their holders. But Moscow found a catch. “The ‘neutral passports’ are not neutral at all,” the Russian foreign ministry declared on February 8. “Georgia is indicated in the country code, while the issuing authority is the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
Both breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for their part, say that they are not interested in any IDs printed by Tbilisi-- and whether or not any EU members promise to recognize them.
But, contrary to Russian fears or Georgian hopes, the documents are hardly an effective mechanism to lure the breakaways back into the Georgian fold.
Life in the Caucasus can often mean having the skills of a quick-change artist. Many Georgians themselves often hold both Russian and Georgian passports to make travel between the two estranged countries easier.
Warnings of possible bloodshed are coming from the politically discombobulated territory of South Ossetia as opposition leader Alla Jioyeva gets ready to inaugurate herself on February 10 as the region’s de-facto president and ignore plans to hold a repeat (de-facto) presidential election.
Describing Caucasians as "a hot-headed people," ex de-facto Defense Minister Anatoly Barankevich, a Jioyeva ally, warned that the inauguration “could lead to a civil war," an event "that will affect the entire Caucasus and even Russia," Kavkazsky Uzel reports.
But, so far, Jioyeva, who has the ice-cold determination to become South Ossetia's de-facto leader, in keeping with the apparent results of a 2011 run-off (de-facto) election, is not to be swayed. She says that the inauguration will take place with or without the interim de-facto government’s support. The de-facto government , for its part, wants to hold a third run-off presidential election on March 25.
The only international effort to defuse the tensions has come from Moscow, which recognizes the territory as a state independent from Georgia, but, with two competing centers of power now in South Ossetia, it's hard to argue that Russia's self-promoted skills as a crisis manager have amounted to much.
With performers from all over Europe getting ready to descend on Baku in May to compete for the best pop act of the year at Eurovision, conservative, tightly managed Azerbaijan is confronting a host of its cultural and political demons.
Money is not an issue here. The hydrocarbon-rich country is splurging big bucks to dazzle viewers with a show worthy of Eurovision, an annual exercise in glitz and disco beats. But the contest will bring along demographics that are not particularly popular in Baku -- journalists, Armenians and gays.
Since the contest is known to have a strong gay fan base, some thought it is a perfect occasion to hold a gay pride march. The proposal immediately sparked an angry response. Opponents demanded that Baku keep its streets straight with a “Say No to Gay Pride in Baku” Facebook page, where the merits and demerits of homosexuality are being hotly debated.
Interestingly enough, the head of one organization that deals with LGBT issues in Azerbaijan is also not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a gay pride march. “Neither our community, nor [the] majority of representatives of sexual minorities are ready for it,” commented Kamran Rzayev, chairperson of the Gender and Development non-profit group, told News.az.
Though the Nabucco pipeline project did have a promising libretto, some energy analysts believe it may never see its name in lights. On the lookout for lower-priced production values, some pipeline stakeholders increasingly seem inclined to replace the energy opera with an operetta.
In a January 31 column for Turkey's Hürriyet Daily News, Barcin Yinanç argued that the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), to stretch from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, is the new and "abridged" Nabucco.
“Abridged...indeed is the right term since while Nabucco was supposed to carry 31 billion cubic meters [of natural gas], the amount that will be carried to Europe [via TANAP] is limited to six billion cubic meters,” wrote Yinanç.
A political accord between Baku and Ankara about the pipeline, which will rely on existing Turkish infrastructure, seems to give it another edge over Nabucco, some say.
By comparison, Nabucco's main promoter, the EU, has been slow in securing non-Azerbaijani sources for the costly project. The effort to get gassy Turkmenistan on board has seen little palpable success, and Moscow is doing its best to obstruct the Europeans from carving a detour past Russia to reach Central Asia’s energy riches.
There may generally be something creepy about political youth groups, but a youth cult for Russia’s aspiring eternal leader, Vladimir Putin, sounds twice as eerie. And we are not even talking about something in Russia, but south of the Caucasus mountain range -- in Russia’s ally, Armenia.
The first Putin pack is the brainchild of an outfit called the International Center of Young Armenians and a youth arm of the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. It plans to talk all things Putin at its gatherings, show Putin films, read Putin books, promote Putin thoughts (about Armenia and otherwise) and, basically, instill love for the Russian prime minister and comeback presidential candidate among young Armenians.
Georgia’s feuding Mr. President and Mr. Billionaire went to Washington on January 30 -- one in person and the other in writing -- to compete for the good graces of Barack Obama's administration.
Obama essentially heard two songs from the Georgians -- “Got What You Need” from President Mikheil Saakashvili and “Take a Chance on Me” from opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili may have gotten the face time with Obama, but Ivanishvili tried to mitigate whatever political scores the Oval Office meeting may give Saakashvili. In op-eds published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Forbes List billionaire asked Obama to pressure Saakashvili to make Georgia's upcoming parliamentary elections air and competitive.
“We urge the leaders of the USA… to apply all available assets to secure free and fair ballot for our citizens at the October 2012 election,” reads the op-ed.
Saakashvili, in the meantime, emerged from his White House meeting satisfied, telling the BBC it had "elevated" the two countries' ties "to [a] new level," and thanking Obama for Washington's continued commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, eventual NATO membership, and for the prospect of signing a free trade agreement.
There are growing signs, though, that the battle for Georgia’s political future will play out inside the beltway as much as back in Tbilisi. Much of the Saakashvili administration’s success is attributed to their lobbying dexterity and ties in Washington. Ivanishvili seems bent on going mano-a-mano with Misha in this field.