Georgian officials are sounding upbeat notes over a decision by NATO that seems to accelerate efforts to bring Tbilisi into the alliance. From Tbilisi’s perspective, NATO offered Georgia a package of measures at a September 4-5 summit in the United Kingdom that could potentially make the country's full membership a reality in the not-too-distant future.
"Today we agreed on a substantive package of measures for Georgia that will help it advance in its preparations towards NATO membership," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted on September 5.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that the package included a commitment to create a training center for NATO members and allies in Georgia.
Georgia has long sought membership in both NATO and the European Union. While wanting to encourage Georgia’s membership bid, NATO has tread cautiously on the issue out of an apparent concern not to rile Russia. Georgia and Russia fought a five-day war in 2008, and portions of Georgian territory remain occupied by Russian armed forces. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are prompting NATO to re-evaluate its relations with the Kremlin.
Though satisfied with the steps taken by NATO at its UK summit, Georgian officials voiced an intention to press for a formal membership invitation at the Atlantic alliance’s next gathering in 2015. "We hope that the next summit is going to be an expansion summit where Georgia will be granted membership," Alasania said at the Atlantic Council's Future Leaders' Meeting.
As president, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on September 2-3 paid his first foreign visit (not counting a trip to Turkish-controlled Cyprus) to Azerbaijan to talk about things the two countries share: a friendship, a feud with Armenia and pipelines.
"We are very glad that you came home to Azerbaijan, your homeland, in less than a week after your inauguration," declared Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev by way of greeting to his new counterpart, though old ally. Erdoğan, for his part, wanted to emphasise that the mi-casa-es-su-casa relationship that characterized his nine-year run as prime minister will continue strong. "We are two countries, one nation," he underlined.
And what keeps an alliance together better than a mutual enemy? Both presidents condemned Armenia's occupation of breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent Azerbaijani lands. Aliyev vowed to spare no effort to counter the "lies about the Armenian genocide," the Ottoman-era massacre of ethnic Armenians that Turkey claims was collateral damage of World War I.
Some observers believe that the Karabakh conflict is an even bigger obstacle to the normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia than the genocide row. Baku carries enough cultural and financial influence over Ankara to thwart any attempts at reconciliation. The Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey energy corridor is too important to Ankara to let anything threaten the route.
In the latest episode of the cat-and-mouse game between Georgia's current authorities and its former president, Mikheil (Misha) Saakashvili allegedly nearly escaped arrest in Greece.
The Georgian government may not be aware of it, but its attempts to catch the ex-president increasingly resemble Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Though Saakashvili and his entourage ardently deny it, Georgian officials claim that border guards at the Greek vacation island of Samos on September 1 briefly detained a yacht carrying the ex-president and “other Georgian citizens.”
Georgian prosecutors asserted that they had alerted the Greek police about the menace approaching their shores, but the Greek authorities released Saakashvili for lack of an international arrest warrant. Georgian Ambassador to Greece Davit Bakradze claimed that the boat arrived from Turkey, and was detained for four hours. Also on board allegedly was Saakashvili's friend, the former governor of Georgia's seaside region of Achara, Levan Varshalomidze.
Georgia’s general prosecutor’s office said it has yet to convince Interpol to place the former Georgian president on the organization's international search list.
In September 3 comments to Rustavi2, Saakashvili angrily denied that he had been detained in Greece for any length of time.
Saakashvili's longtime aide and ex-National Security Council chief, Giga Bokeria, accused Georgia's ambassador and the ruling Georgian-Dream coalition of spreading petty rumors.
Georgian fruit-and-vegetable exports now enjoy conditional, duty-free access to the European Union, one of the world’s largest markets. But to cash in, Georgia faces the daunting challenge of overhauling its subsistence-based agricultural sector.
Russia's Vladimir Putin has issued an ukaz on authorizing an agreement to accept Armenia into the Eurasian Union, a planned back-in-the-USSR bloc, but this may or may not make Armenia's membership actually happen.
Armenia's membership in the Russian- championed Eurasian Union, and its already active element, the Customs Union, has long smacked of a Nordic epic song, with multiple characters and events putting the spokes in Armenia's wheel. Customs-Union members Belarus and Kazakhstan are Armenia skeptics, and generally less keen about the Kremlin's everyone-with-a-Soviet-past-is-welcome policy.
Putin's September 1 order, though, includes unnamed, "minor" changes to the terms of Armenia's membership. It is unclear if this refers to concessions on the Armenian-championed breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Kazakhstan, with an eye to Turkic ally, Azerbaijan, which claims Karabakh as its own, strongly opposes Armenia's attempts to bring breakaway Karabakh into the Customs Union..
Recent statements by both Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, though moderated by courtesies, suggest a muffled disagreement between Moscow and Astana. Some believe that Russia's stance on Armenia and its campaign in Ukraine have contributed to the reported chill.
Nazarbayev said that he would quit the Eurasian Union if the terms of membership are changed or if the membership poses threat to Kazakhstan's independent statehood. Putin issued a reminder that Kazakhstan "had never had statehood" before Nazarbayev.
Widely criticized in Armenia and watched with cautious hope by the Caucasus peace-wishers, the visit, so far, has amounted to no more than a walk-on role.
The inauguration in Ankara was mainly noted for the absence of Western leaders and outcries by the Turkish opposition in response to Erdoğan’s perceived authoritarian drift. Against this backdrop, Nalbandian’s visit offered a bit of positive relief. It came after almost 100 years of feuding over Ottoman Turkey’s annihilation of ethnic Armenians and republican Turkey’s subsequent denial that the actions amounted to genocide.
For Erdoğan, the presence of a token Armenian could help him add some favorable spin to his international reputation, badly damaged by a crackdown on free voices and alleged corruption, among other ills.
First, Russians are told that they will have to alter their eating habits thanks to a non-importation ukaz issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin covering Western food products. Now they are catching grief in a Black Sea resort for the way they look.
A video of the capture of an Armenian man who died in Azerbaijani captivity last week is fuelling anger in Armenia over claims that Azerbaijani forces tortured an unarmed Armenian villager to death. As so much in this brutal conflict, it comes with controversy from the other side, too. Footage showing a middle-aged Azerbaijani man in handcuffs being carted off by forces in disputed Nagorno Karabakh is raising hackles in Azerbaijan.
Armenia claims that 31-year-old Karen Petrosian was only a harmless villager who wandered into enemy-territory, while Azerbaijan claims he was an enemy-combatant. Amateur online video shows Petrosian talking to residents of the Azerbaijani border village Agbulaq. One woman from the village, who allegedly first sighted the man, told RFE/RL that Petrosian showed up unarmed and asked for tea.
Additional footage shows the villagers scuffling with Azerbaijani soldiers over Petrosian. RFE/RL reported that the villagers wanted credit for capturing the Armenian.
The Putin-Aliyev-Sargsyan meeting in Sochi was held against the backdrop of the fiercest fighting in years over the remote, mountainous area. That sense of heightened conflict extended to the summit. Before attending the wrestling match, the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents had a bout of words between themselves. The two accused one another of ignoring UN Security Council resolutions on Karabakh.
That left it to Putin to step in with calls for wisdom and temperance. “[T]here is no bigger tragedy than the deaths of people,” observed the Russian leader.
Perhaps he was speaking from experience, if not from a sense of irony. The international community has widely blamed Moscow for encouraging the fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists that already has led to the deaths of hundreds, including the downing of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17.
With police cordons and security everywhere, Tbilisi’s Locomotive Stadium looked like the venue of an international summit on the night of August 7. In fact, it was a soccer game of modest significance between Azerbaijan’s Neftchi and Georgia’s Chikhura, a team from the small provincial town of Sachkhere that recently rose to prominence thanks as much to its wins as to its rowdy fans’ hostility toward Georgia’s Muslim neighbors.
At a previous, goalless game in Baku on August 1 between these same two teams, Chikhura’s fans rolled out a large map of Georgia with bits of Azerbaijani land depicted as Georgian territories. The map and the catcalls provoked a mass brawl between Georgian and Azerbaijani fans.
Worse things have happened on soccer fields, but in this region, where all countries believe that their neighbors owe them a piece of land and ethnic conflict is often just a brawl away, the authorities hurried to prevent a possible escalation. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili denounced the violence as a “provocation,” while President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pledged by phone that such unpleasantness will not derail the two countries’ friendship.
Earlier, on July 24, another incident occurred in Tbilisi when Chikhura played another qualifying match for UEFA’s Europe League against Turkey’s Buraspor. Purportedly the same group of fans made a Nazi salute and sported Nazi symbols during the match, while one Chikhura player made a crude gesture at Turkish fans. At a post-game press conference, Georgian and Turkish sports journalists came to blows.