A lengthy court case on a controversial police crackdown has ended in a guilty verdict for ex-Georgian Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, once one of the most powerful figures of former President Mikheil Saakashvili's era.
A Kutaisi court on February 27 gave 45-year-old Merabishvili a prison sentence of just over four and a half years for allegedly having overstepped his power as interior minister during the brutal dispersal of an anti-government rally in Tbilisi on May 26, 2011. The tumult, in which two people were killed, plus scores injured and arrested, sparked a general outcry among Georgian society and served to harden opposition to Saakashvili.
This time, the debate was more localized.
Outside the courthouse in Tbilisi, a fight broke out between supporters and critics of Merabisvhili, who remains the secretary-general of Saakashvili's United National Movement. Police made arrests.
Fellow UNM members claimed that the judge gave in to pressure from the ruling Georgian Dream -- a claim not without its irony, given occasions in the past when the same was said of the UNM.
Ten days earlier, Merabishvili also was sentenced to nine years in prison on separate embezzlement and extortion charges. Even with time subtracted for the nine months he already has spent in jail in pre-trial detention, at this rate, the former power broker will be approaching the age of retirement before he gets out of prison.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has become another Georgian leader to go to Washington in search of US protection from Russia. This time around, Georgia hopes that the US can help make sure Russia does not try to pull a Ukraine in Georgia to prevent it from entering the European Union’s economic space.
“[The Sochi Olympic] Games are over, and we expect Russia to increase pressure on Georgia before signing the association agreement with the European Union,” Gharibashvili said after meeting President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden on February 25. “[W]e would highly appreciate the US administration, Congress, think-tanks…. [expressing] support [to] us through constant and proper messaging to Russia, upholding the European choices of Georgia,” Gharibashvili commented at a talk the same day at the Atlantic Council.
With Ukraine now a lost cause for the Customs Union, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has checked in with Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian to see how Armenia's plans to join the Customs Union are coming along.
For Russia, Armenia is a poor substitute for Ukraine, but still a victory in Moscow's efforts to assert its broader economic clout through the trade bloc.
Prime Minister Sarkisian seems to have seized on that status to lodge a request with Moscow to keep the investments coming and to underwrite some of the legal and institutional changes that Armenia needs to meet the upcoming trade club’s membership rules by 2015. Yerevan also needs resources to keep selling Armenians on the idea of pushing the country into what many claim will be an economic throwback to the USSR.
How far Kocharian could go with this is unclear. Memories of the 2008 bloodshed under his administration do not endear him uniformly to Armenian voters. But his choice of topic could add at least some fuel to the fire.
Controversial as he is back home, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to have found a receptive audience in Ukraine. There now have been two Misha sightings in Kyiv; the latest on February 23 when he popped up to congratulate Ukraine on giving the boot to President Viktor Yanukovich and his plans to keep Ukraine aligned with Russia.
“The Russian Empire has ended its existence right here, in this very place,” Saakashvili thundered in Ukrainian to a street gathering, outlets reported. That line might sound like old hat for Misha. But the revolution in Ukraine is a bit personal.
For one, it has offered him an opportunity to become relevant again. Tbilisi's measured response to the Ukrainian crisis has disappointed many Georgians, who strongly believe the struggle mirrors Georgia's own tug-of-war with Russia. (Particularly after the death of two Georgians -- for reasons under investigation -- during the protests.) Consequently, even some Misha critics have wished of late for "a Misha moment" of impassioned oratory in support of the Ukrainian protesters.
Leave it to Georgia's ex-president, a public speaker to the bone, to step up to the plate.
And in writing, too. In a recent piece for Politico, he shared his recipe for a successful revolution, and called on the US and Europe to help Ukraine create a working government and keep Moscow in check.
Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova has been branded in her homeland as being everything and anything -- a woman of loose morals, a spy, or, worse, an Armenian -- to change the subject from the signs of high-level wrongdoing she exposes. Her latest exposé has been followed by an accusation of leaking state secrets to a delegation of supposed US spies that Azerbaijan’s state-controlled media claims visited Baku to collect intelligence in broad daylight.
Azerbaijani prosecutors, though, did not evince much interest in the revelation of an alleged act of blackmail by the government. It is the exposure of such blackmail that seems to count as a transgression. After Ismayilova made public documents implicating security agencies in recruiting opposition party members as informers and agents provocateurs, the Ministry of National Security launched an investigation into the potential leakage of a state secret.
For Ismayilova, the summons came as a long-awaited confirmation of the authenticity of the documents, which suggested that the national security ministry used bribes and secret recordings of opposition members' private lives to infiltrate the opposition camp. “Since the prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the disclosure of state secrets, that means that this document is real,” she told the Russian service of the BBC.
Investigators, she said, have pressured her to disclose who provided her with the documents. Her refusal to comply may result in a six-month prison sentence.
A former British army captain, who was branded a Russian spy and drubbed out of Georgia in 2008, is back as deputy head of the European Union’s cease-fire monitoring operation. Former Georgian officials are also back with their accusations against Ryan Grist, the ex-deputy head of the Georgian mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Back in 2008, Grist caused quite a furor in Georgia when he vanished into wartime South Ossetia and, then, told the Western press that he questioned Tbilisi's claims that a pending Russian invasion had prompted its dispatch of troops into the territory. The OSCE mission to Georgia distanced itself from Grit’s words and, The Wall St. Journal reported, "forced him to resign." (The mission itself eventually closed, after Russia's objections to its presence in Georgia.)
The United National Movement (UNM), now an opposition party, condemned Grist’s appointment to the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), saying that "a reasonable suspicion" exists that he had worked with "the Russian secret services."
“We call on the Georgian government to use all means at its disposal to make sure Mr. Grist leaves not just the EU observation mission, but also Georgia,” the UNM’s Zurab Jafaridze told Tabula TV. The ruling Georgian Dream, which is far less enthusiastic about exposing alleged pro-Russian enemies of state, has not publicly responded to the call.
The première of Nymphomaniac, the much talked-about erotic epic by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, has been cancelled in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, after theater managers decided to dodge potential controversy.
The first part of von Trier’s five-hour opus of sex and angst was supposed to open in Yerevan on February 13, but the management of Cinema Star Dalma Garden Mall, part of a Russian chain, made a last-minute decision to cancel the show, Gazeta.ru reports.
Families make up the core of the Yerevan Cinema Star’s audience, managers said, and they may not want to keep up with the adventures of a liberated European woman, played by von Trier’s muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Hollywood stars like Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe and Christian Slater also make appearances in the film.
Granted this particular movie had jaws dropping in far less conservative places, but the Caucasus countries are especially uncomfortable with big sex on the big screen. Couples on a movie date often depart from a theater if a love scene becomes a little too racy.
Nymphomaniac is also not being shown in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan. In the entire neighborhood, only Russia has no qualms about showing the peccadilloes and psychological torments of Gainsbourg’s character.
In a throwaway remark made on the sidelines of the Sochi Olympics earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he is open to meeting Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili. Such an encounter, if it ever happens, would be the first top-level Russo-Georgian sit-down since the two countries' 2008 war.
Putin, who gave Georgian TV crews a wide smile and best wishes for the Georgian athletes in Sochi, only uttered the February 10 remark in passing after being asked by a Georgian reporter. “Yeah, why not if he wants to?” was his soundbite in reference to Margvelashvili before walking off to get back to the cares of the Olympics.
But it was enough for Tbilisi to conclude that it had been asked out and that it is time to start preparing for a rendez-vous with the country's Public Enemy Number One.
Georgian media has erupted into constant chitchat about what such an event could involve. President Margvelashvil appears to be busy scrutinizing Putin’s two-second line for hidden meaning, while Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, who was not mentioned by Putin, says he will take up the offer.
“As the head of the Georgian government, I am ready for a direct dialogue with the Russian leadership,” Gharibashvili told Imedi news channel. The comment was duly scooped up by Russia's state-run RIA Novosti as "signifying a thaw in bilateral ties."
A choir of other officials from the ruling Georgian Dream, however, keep saying they need to think through any such get-together first.
After years of close cooperation with Ankara, Baku has decided that it wants to help its big Turkic cousin make sure there is only one Atatürk ("Father of the Turks") out there. As it stands, Azerbaijan has 18 of them; several born within the past few years, according to the country's State Terminology Commission, Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported.
Commission Chairperson Sayaly Sadigova claimed that the decision to ban "unofficially" the use of Atatürk was made at Turkey's own request, the Russian daily said. The Turkish foreign ministry did not respond to requests from EurasiaNet.org to confirm the report.
But Azerbaijan’s linguistic authoritarianism does not end there. The name-regulators say parents also cannot call their baby Samovar even if they are convinced that the little darling totally looks like the Russian tea boiler. All such requests have been denied, Sadigova underlined to APA news agency. Perhaps fortunately for the children concerned.
For several years now, Azerbaijani citizens have needed government approval for their children's names, turning the onomastics commission into something of a national copy-editing service.
Apart from providing guidelines for translations, the commission has created an advisory system on proper names, categorizing them essentially as good, bad and funny.
For the world at large, the glitch at Sochi that grabbed the most headlines this weekend was the failure of one of the Olympic rings to light up properly. But it was a hitch with the map of Georgia that caught most eyes south of the Russian border, in Georgia itself.
When the map appeared on the arena floor during the Games' February 7 opening ceremony, a cloud obscured separatist Abkhazia from view. And not only was Abkhazia shrouded from view, but fellow breakaway territory South Ossetia hid behind both a cloud and the median dividing the map in two.
The map's representation of the two territories was widely perceived in Georgia as an attempt by Moscow to avoid an outburst of anger from Tbilisi, which has been pressured to boycott the Games, but without stepping away from Russia's controversial 2008 decision to recognize the two regions as independent states from Georgia.
Georgia argues that Russia violated the terms of the two states' 2008 cease-fire by moving troops into the two territories, and recognizing them both as independent states.
The de-facto heads of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia allegedly were on hand for the opening ceremony at Sochi.