It is a sad day for world food security. Russia’s national food-taster, the ever-bustling Gennadiy Onishchenko, is stepping down as head of the country's federal food-safety inspectorate, Rospotrebnadzor.
During his vibrant, low-carb tenure, Onishchenko ushered in an era of food-fights with Russia’s nettlesome neighbors. He put the Russians on a Georgian and Moldovan wine-free diet, outlawed Belorusian and Lithuanian dairy products, deported Ukrainian confectionary items, including its famous Kyiv cake, and dished out many other controversial bans.
“I have many enemies because of the nature of my job,” Onishchenko used to say.
Every time Moscow’s neighbors got too carried away making eyes at the EU or the US, or otherwise annoying the Kremlin, Onishchenko would throw himself over Russia to protect it from potential alimentary hazards.
One of his major battles was the war on Georgian wine and mineral water – a key cause and cure, respectively, of many a post-Soviet hangover.
The quality of Georgian beverages apparently improved, at least to Onishechenko’s taste, after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Russia-bashing government lost legislative control over Georgia in October 2012. Onishchenko has been allowing Georgian drinks back into Russia sip by sip since.
A colossal, bronze Jesus Christ, cast in Armenia, has appeared in war-ravaged Syria “to save the world.”
Soaring higher than Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue stands 39 meters tall in the mountaintop, Byzantine-era Cherubim Monastery, lording it over the city of Saidnaya, 27 kilometers north of Damascus, Armenian news outlets reported. Some Russian outlets said that the statue is one meter shorter than its Brazilian counterpart.
From its vantage point above the sea, the statue overlooks an historic pilgrimage route from Istanbul to Jerusalem. The statue, created by Armenian sculptor Artush Papoian, was installed on October 14, when Orthodox Christians celebrate a commemoration of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is a chief draw for the monastery.
But the statue was not born of recent events in Syria. While Syria's ethnic Armenian population has been fleeing the country in droves -- including to Armenia itself, which has built a "New Aleppo" to accommodate the arrivals -- the project has been in the works since 2005, Russia's Komsomol'skaya Pravda reports.
After nearly a decade in office in Georgia, the once-all-powerful President Mikheil Saakashvili is on his way out. His replacement, to be elected on October 27, will enjoy only a fraction of the presidential authority that the incumbent presently wields, thanks to recently adopted constitutional amendments.
Ending a political career is apparently the latest thing in Georgia. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanshvili wants to quit; President Mikheil Saakashvili has to quit; lead presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili says he may quit.
Under election law, a runoff occurs if the top candidate does not secure more than 50 percent of the vote. But to Ivanishvili,not known for his love of criticism, less-than-60-percent of the vote for his presidential protegé would be a sign that Georgian society did not appreciate the so-called tireless work he and his Georgian Dream team have been doing for the last year in office.
If the public doubts him, which Ivanishvili does not think is possible after everything he has done, then he will pack up and leave, and Margvelashvili should do the same, he concluded.
What he perceives as the price for such a move is one which might raise questions about the extent to which Ivanishvili understands Georgia’s current system of government.
With Margvelashvili and Ivanishvili gone, he reasoned, the opposition United National Movement candidate Davit Bakradze will become president, and Saakashvili will reinvent himself as prime minister.
Meant as a warning to voters, that scenario, though, is completely impossible. Georgia’s prime minister is chosen based on which party holds the majority in parliament. For the next three years, that’s Ivanishvili’s own Georgian Dream coalition.
In what is making for a tale worthy of a John-le-Carré-thriller, de-facto officials in the breakaway region of Abkhazia have unearthed the bodies of a missing Russian businessman and his girlfriend, murdered in what they claim is a slaying linked to the fatal shooting of a Russian diplomat and his wife in Sokhumi last month.
Local police found the bodies of gravel manufacturer Sergei Klemantovich and his girlfriend, Oksana Skaredneva, in a well in the village of Adzyubzha (or Akhaldaba in Georgian) in the southern, predominantly ethnic Georgian district of Gali after arresting four suspects for their murder, the de-facto official Abkhaz news agency Apsnypress reported on October 13.
The pair had been missing since September 2012. Some Russian outlets have suggested that Klemantovich became a victim of local turf wars.
Almost exactly a year after the duo's disappearance, the Russian diplomat allegedly looking into their whereabouts, Russia’s vice-counsel to Abkhazia, Dmitry Vishernyev, was shot dead in a September 9 attack by an unknown gunman in Sokhumi. The diplomat’s wife, Olga, later died from her wounds in a local hospital.
Abkhazia’s de-facto prosecutors have reasoned that Vishernev's investigation could have led to the couple's slaying. Details have not yet been forthcoming.
Less than two weeks before the October 27 Georgian presidential elections, Georgia's defense minister during its 2008 war with Russia, Davit Kezerashvili, has been detained in France and faces likely extradition to Tbilisi on criminal charges.
The ex-defense minister, a former head of the financial police, was
charged under an umbrella clause of the criminal code that applies to public officials who
accept hefty bribes, organize customs violations that result in sizable
losses for the state, commit large-scale money-laundering or use an
organized group for misappropriation or embezzlement of funds.
Kezerashvili earlier was accused of facilitating the smuggling of
millions of dollars' worth of ethyl spirit for local alcohol production.
He also has been cited as a supposed key player in an alleged scheme to
wrest the pro-opposition private broadcasting company Imedi away from its legal owners and place it under government-friendly control.
Kezerashvili, who was 29 when the Georgian army was routed by Russian
troops, left Georgia after Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and his
Georgian Dream came to office in October 2012. His whereabouts had been
The Armenian capital is throwing a birthday party today. Yerevan has turned 2,975 years-old, but, like any millenarian, would have you believe that “the old girl,” as one news outlet put it, is still looking good.
The city, which is believed to have more gray hair than Rome and is regarded Babylon’s peer, is not hiding her age. She is celebrating it with a song and dance. And a spot of windsurfing.
She's been through it all, after all: a difficult childhood marked by complicated relations with abusive neighbors; riotous teen years spent mingling with Persians, Turks and other so-called shady characters; a mid-life crisis under Tsarist and, then, Soviet rule, and, finally, a late bloom in her 2,900s, but not without some criticism of her face-lifts.
"Numerous cafés and restaurants have been built instead of trees and bushes, often clashing with the surrounding planned environment," complained one United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report. "The most important concept of the city’s plan – viewpoints of the natural environment – has been lost," and the "environmental situation has drastically declined."
In Azerbaijan, getting election results before an election is apparently one of the many perks of having a smart phone. A mobile app offered by the country’s election authorities was meant to allow users to track the voting process, but, instead, it apparently posted final-results data -- even before the October 9 election day -- that showed incumbent President Ilham Aliyev soaring above all other candidates.
Looks like the supposed technical glitch, which gave Aliyev 72.76 percent of the vote, now has been corrected, but screenshots of the original version are making the rounds online. Meydan TV, an eager government critic, was the first news outlet to break the story, presenting it as blatant evidence of election-rigging.
Some, however, have suggested human error.
The app's purported developer, Vusal Isayev, the manager of digital marketing agency Happy Baku, argued on Facebook that the original application was a test version and contained data from the 2008 election, won by Aliyev, just like the election before it.
Critics find such reasoning far-fetched since the app contained the names of current candidates. Jamil Hasanli, the main opposition candidate, received 7.4 percent of the vote; a piece of data not likely to encourage opposition-sympathizers to give the Central Election Commission the benefit of the doubt.
Azerbaijan has hit the obligatory day of silence before its October 9 presidential vote, but attempts to silence free media -- or any government critic, for that matter -- have marked the entire campaign period.
But perhaps that's not a surprising record for one of the world's top jailers of journalists. Whatever your medium -- video, audio, print or online -- the Azerbaijani government these days seems to have a reprimand or punishment in mind to match any critical message.
Let's start with video. If Jon Stewart lived and worked in Azerbaijan, he would most probably be serving a prison sentence now for possession of bombs, drugs, or for stirring up unrest. Doing video spoofs on presidential candidates may be popular in the US, but in Azerbaijan it gets people in trouble with law enforcement.
Blogger Mehman Huseynov found that out last week when he was "invited for a talk" with police after uploading a little parody on YouTube. The video, a clip from the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster "300," based on the Battle of Thermopylae, features an exchange between Spartan King Leonidas and a messenger of the Persian king, Xerxes, but with the voices of main opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli and rival Hafiz Hajiyev, head of the Modern Musavat Party.
The opposition claims that the government-praising Hajiev (and others among the remaining eight candidates) only joined the race to give President Ilham Aliyev (the implied King Xerxes) the illusion of a competitive election.
This was the news that the country’s economy stewards were excited to share last week, not long after Armenia launched its first Eurobond. But for anyone looking to verify the government’s claims, good luck in defining poverty.
Armenian officials specified that they were referring to definitions by international aid groups, which have an entire lexicon of kinder synonyms for poverty, such as “transitional,” “developing” and “less-developed,” and a list of acronyms (GDPs, GNIs, CPIs, HDIs) to measure development.
Finance Minister David Sarkisian referred to "international standards" when he said that Armenia has left the poor countries’ club -- graduating from the low-income league to the medium-income league; or, rather, the “lower middle-income” category, as the World Bank puts it.
But the descriptions, just like weather forecasts, may not fully capture the real feel on the ground. Looking at the largely hand-to-mouth life in rural parts of Armenia, the nature of the country’s economy, in which cash from labor-migrants and Diaspora abroad still plays a large role, the Armenian ministers’ announcement may come across as an overstatement.