Just days after reportedly recognizing the independence of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- news that still awaits official confirmation -- the South Pacific island of Tuvalu has struck up diplomatic relations with Russia. Given that Moscow has made it its job to chaperone the two runaway regions on their quest for international recognition, it is all too tempting to connect the dots.
On September 25, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sat down with Tuvalu's prime minister, Willy Telavi, to bond over their shared interests in fishing and trade, and talk diplomatic ties. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, traditionally a venue for the consummation of new alliances.
Russian officials did not say much about the Tuvalu tête-à-tête, but Georgian wonks have already started surmising how much the new friendship will cost Moscow.
Tuvalu could definitely use some help in one realm -- rising sea levels in the Pacific, which threaten to wash the 26-square-kilometer island clean away, Prime Minister Telavi told the UN.
The island probably wouldn’t be missed much in Tbilisi, which earlier had made a gift of medicine to tiny Tuvalu in a bid to discourage it from following the wayward behavior of nearby Nauru, which recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence in 2009.
Size clearly does not matter for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their quest for international acceptance of their de-facto independence from Georgia. Tuvalu, the world’s second-smallest island nation, reportedly has become the latest convert to join the Abkhazia and South Ossetia fan club by recognizing the two disputed territories as separate states, the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments announced today.
Tuvalu government officials could not be reached for confirmation of the reports, which have been disseminated primarily by Russian media.
In case you forgot, the world’s smallest island country, Nauru, which shares an ocean and (apparently) views on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Tuvalu, recognized the two breakaway Caucasus regions back in 2009. Geographically speaking, the islands combined are many mega-times smaller than the controversial combo of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but as UN members, they bring votes into the equation.
Speaking of the UN, if the reports are confirmed, officials in Tbilisi may well feel like they were just slapped in the face. Last year, Georgia, not a regular international aid donor, gave Tuvalu $12,000-worth of medicine after Tuvalu backed a UN resolution that called for the return of displaced ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia.
Some observers within Georgia, though, were quick to ascribe Tuvalu’s apparent change of mind to Russia, the main and deep-pocketed champion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition as independent states.
With the holiday season over, the Tamada is back with news from exotic destinations. Nicaragua and South Ossetia are now busy trying to prove that a 12,000-kilometer distance and many other differences need not stand in the way of a perhaps random, but still beautiful friendship.
Separatist South Ossetia's de facto ambassador to Nicaragua and Venezuela, Narim Kozayev, dropped by to see Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on September 6, just over a month after the tiny Caucasus enclave established its embassy to Nicaragua "with a residence" in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Yes, you read that right. Put it down to budget discipline or a desire by Tskhinvali to keep a close tab on things, but, apparently, Kozayev will not have far to travel to take up his mission to Nicaragua.
But if the address of the embassy's residence struck Ortega as odd, he didn't let on. Accepting the de facto ambassador’s credentials, Ortega said that Nicaragua and South Ossetia had clicked right off and found that rare political chemistry that may help two misfits gain acceptance in the international community.
“We are small peoples, but we have a deep sense of identity,” Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news service quoted Ortega as saying. “We are in a battle for self-determination, sovereignty and independence. This battle is our common denominator.”
But the bigger common denominator Ortega chose to omit is Russia, which is believed to have motivated longtime ally Nicaragua (plus Venezuela and Nauru) to recognize South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia.
So far, South Ossetia maintains de facto embassies in Moscow and the fellow post-Soviet breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Transnistria.
South Ossetia's president has invited the legendary warriors of the Russian steppe, the Cossacks, to settle in the breakaway Georgian republic. According to PIK TV, Eduard Kokoity told a youth forum last week that he wants to rent out land to the Cossacks for 99 years:
According to Kokoity, the project foresees renting out land plots to the Cossacks in order to have settlements in empty districts and develop agriculture and defense structures. Moreover, he hopes to attract “additional investment and begin to restore the republic’s economy,” Kokoity said.
And naturally, the Cossacks would be expected to help protect South Ossetia from Georgia, added Elbrus Sattsaev, political analyst at South Ossetia State University:
"The Cossacks can quickly adapt to the current South Ossetian conditions. They have extensive experience of managing. They can become an example for people who have put his arms, who are passive. And besides, the Cossacks could exercise protection: South Ossetia needs protection because Georgia does not sign an agreement on nonuse of force"
(Incidentally, Sattsaev adds that the issue shouldn't be discussed until after South Ossetia's presidential elections in November, implicitly criticizing Kokoity's statement, a fairly rare case of open political dissent there.)
In other Cossack news, Time reports on a youth camp for Cossacks in Crimea, which included participants from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I suspect, though, that Georgia won't be too concerned about the Cossacks' military power, if this priceless photo of their armored personnel carrier is anything to go by.
Tbilisi’s Hotel Abkhazia may look a far cry from its lush, subtropical namesake. But for the former hotel’s tenants – Georgians displaced from breakaway South Ossetia during the early-1990s separatist war – it was, until their eviction this week, second only to home.
While Georgia’s top officials, with most of Tbilisi’s elite in tow, enjoy the glitzy song and dance shows at Batumi’s booming seaside resorts, a sorry scene has played out back in the capital. Despite emotional pleas, police herded the internally displaced people, including elderly women and children, out from the rundown former hotel on August 15. Some 270 families were ejected as the government made good on a promise to remove IDPs from makeshift collective centers around the city.
The IDPs from “Abkhazia” were offered alternative housing in Rustavi, an erstwhile Soviet industrial town southeast of the capital, or compensation of $10,000 – too little to buy an apartment even in Tbilisi’s suburbs. Many fear they will have trouble integrating again and finding jobs.
The Georgian government has faced criticism from both local and international rights groups for displacing its displaced. This month, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on the forced evictions, “Uprooted Again,” which found Georgia had broken its international human rights obligations.
“Evictions failed to satisfy international standards relating to adequate consultation, notice, access to legal remedies and the offer of adequate alternative accommodation to all those evicted,” said the Amnesty report.
Today marks the three-year anniversary of the end of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, and this week we've seen all sorts of retrospectives looking back at what it means (a particularly good one is Julia Ioffe's in The New Yorker). One casualty of the war that has been little discussed, however, is the U.S.'s credibility in the former Soviet Union. An exception is a good piece in the most recent issue of the academic journal Central Asian Survey (subscription required), The war in Georgia and the Western response, by British scholar Mike Bowker.
[A]t a time of growing tension between Georgia and Russia, the Bush administration gave unequivocal backing to President Saakashvili. Instead of cooling passions in Tbilisi, Washington stoked them. As Saakashvili prepared for war, the US trained Georgian troops, provided military equipment, conducted military exercises on Georgian territory and lobbied hard for Georgia to become a member of NATO. Although Washington always emphasized its opposition to the use of force, Bush did not retract his support when his will was apparently defied. On the contrary, Washington continued to support Saakashvili after the assault on Tskhinvali. Indeed, Dick Cheney declared a few days after the war had started that ‘Russian aggression must not go unanswered’...
That's the provocative question that Anton Lavrov asks in the most recent issue of Moscow Defense Brief, and the answer is basically, don't do half-measures.
The events in Libya, which NATO has had to get involved in since early 2011, are reminiscent of another recent conflict, the Five Day War between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. Leaving aside the complex legal issues, it seems that Russia and the NATO allies have had to face similar tasks during these two conflicts. But their approaches have been very different – as have the results.
The most obvious parallels can be drawn between the events in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the city of Misrata in Libya. Both of these rebel-controlled cities were besieged by “government” forces which used artillery, MRL [multiple-launch rocket] systems, heavy armor and aviation. Misrata is linked to the outside world by a single vulnerable port road, Tskhinvali by a tunnel and a narrow mountain road. Shelling and fighting in the streets led to many casualties among civilians, forcing thousands to flee and triggering a humanitarian crisis. In Libya, as in Georgia, there was also a separate theater of combat action, which did not attract much attention. In Libya it was a large rebel-held area from Ajdabiya to Tobruk, with a much greater concentration of rebel forces than in Misrata. In Georgia, that area was Abkhazia.
The separatists in Abkhazia and Ossetia had received military support from extremely powerful outside forces, just as the Libyan rebels have. But the rapid success achieved by Russian troops in Georgia contrasts sharply with the protracted and floundering NATO operation in Libya.
Imagine an identification document with no citizenship -- no country and no religion, too, as the late John Lennon would say. Georgia on July 1 voted to issue such “status-neutral” papers for the residents of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This is not because Tbilisi had a sudden fit of cosmopolitanism and does not believe in national borders anymore. Quite the opposite. The government hopes that the IDs and their attached benefits will help nudge residents of the two separatist regions back into the Georgian fold.
Holders of the IDs “will be entitled to the same civil rights and social benefits” available to all Georgian citizens, as well as the ability to travel abroad, according to the Georgian government's Action Plan for Engagement. Most residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia now can only travel abroad with Russian passports.
Officially, Tbilisi maintains that the de facto governments of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are passive offshoots of Moscow. The ID proposal is seen as an attempt to bypass those power structures and reach out to the territories' residents themselves.
Mission impossible? Nearly 20 years have passed since both territories effectively parted ways with Tbilisi, and, with recognition from four countries (Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru) now under their belts, said power structures see little reason for anyone to carry around a Georgia-issued ID card with them.
The alleged bomb from an Abkhazia-originated Russian terror plot.
Georgia's Interior Ministry says it stopped a terror plot, hatched by Russian security forces in South Ossetia, to set off a bomb in Tbilisi's NATO liaison office. According to their account, it doesn't seem that NATO was a target per se, but that the suspect, one Badri Gogiashvili, was told to bomb whatever international building he could find:
According to the testimony of Gogiashvili, he was ordered by Aleksei Sokolov, deputy head of Russian FSB Border Troops stationed in Akhalgori, Vladimer Pukhaev, head of Akhalgori Militia Division, and Vova Kibilov, employee of Akhalgori Militia, to find the buildings in Tbilisi with flags of either European Union, United States, or any international organization. From the data collected by Badri Gogiashvili, the mentioned persons chose the building where NATO Liaison Office is located. They ordered Badri Gogiashvili to detonate the bomb near the NATO Liaison Office Gogiashvili was promised USD 2000 for this terrorist act.
South Ossetian officials, meanwhile, deny the claim and say that the alleged ringleader Pukhaev doesn't even exist. Vyacheslav Sedov, head of the South Ossetian government press service, says the allegations are an attempt to involve NATO in the ongoing conflict between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali:
Georgia's government believes it's never too early to teach the youth about the importance of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, and has been opening up "NATO Corners" in schools across the country. The corners are "mini-libraries" that include "informational materials on NATO, Georgia’s relations with NATO and other international organizations, papers on international politics, etc." There are even NATO-themed comic books, and a cartoon, “Ani and Rati’s Wonderful Journey to NATO." (Sadly, YouTube does not appear to have the cartoon.) The centers are sponsored by various NATO member embassies.
But Georgia apparently has gone one step too far with its latest NATO Corner, in a school in Ergneti, on the de facto border with South Ossetia, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a stern statement:
“The choice of the settlement of Ergneti for carrying out the propaganda action was not accidental obviously, after all this is the venue for regular meetings within the framework of the mechanism on incidents prevention and response on the South Ossetian-Georgian border which Russian border guards and representatives of the EU Observer Mission also participate in.
“The Georgian side’s intention is clear - to try to get the North-Atlantic Alliance involved this or that way in settling the much talked-about “problems of territorial integrity of Georgia”. At that, as a matter of fact, for some reasons they forget to inquire about the opinion of neighboring states – the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia”, Russian MFA Spokesman adds.