Georgia's billionaire/politician Bidzina Ivanishvili has given his first press conference in which he expanded on his views on defense and foreign policy, which have been the matter of some speculation since he entered the political arena.
He reiterated, but in stronger terms, his previous assessment that it was Georgia, not Russia, who started the war over South Ossetia. From Civil.ge's report:
Citing Tagliavini report, Ivanishvili said that it was Georgia, which had triggered off the August war with Russia. He said that President Saakashvili responded to shelling of Georgian villages in the conflict zone in August, 2008 with “absolute recklessness by shelling Tskhinvali.”
He also cited a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) and said that both the resolution, supported by the Georgian delegation, and Tagliavini report were saying that Georgia started the war. He was apparently refereeing to the PACE’s October, 2008 resolution, which at the time was at the time became an issue for debates in the Georgian politics.
“Everyone in the world knows everything very well. [The Georgian authorities] are trying to mislead the Georgian population; Saakashvili’s [version] is: Russia’s started the war and we have won it… We should learn to face the truth,” he said.
I'll be very curious to see how that goes over in Georgia.
However, if Georgia's Western allies are wondering whether he would continue Tbilisi's strong partnership with them, Ivanishvili said he would maintain Georgia's troop presence in Afghanistan, but was evasive on the question of NATO membership:
Russia's Duma has passed, and President Dmitry Medvedev has ratified, an agreement allowing the Russian military to maintain bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for 49 years, with automatic 15-year extensions after that.
The agreements refer to the 7th Military Base in Abkhazia, and the 4th in South Ossetia, which have evolved from the peacekeeping bases that Russia maintained before the 2008 war with Georgia. (For a details about the bases, a thorough, if slightly old, accounting was published in Russia in Global Affairs.) The bases host a total of about 7,000 troops, split evenly between the two breakaway territories.
A Russian analyst says in Izvestia that the agreements are mainly necessary for legal purposes:
Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, said the agreements’ ratification will make things a great deal easier for the Russian military.
“They are currently living in a legal grey zone, although they are not complaining because their bases are located in resort areas,” Karaganov said.
He said the agreements on these Russian bases will cement the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and make peaceful reunification impossible.
“Russia should be consistent in its actions. It has recognized these republics’ independence, now Russia must safeguard it,” Karaganov said.
South Ossetia is largely known to the outside world as a wrestling mat for Georgia and Russia, but little attention is paid to the breakaway region’s internal politics, which increasingly appear to be a mare’s nest of intrigue.
With the race heating up for the region's de facto presidential election on November 13, South Ossetia's miniature, 34-seat legislature on October 5 got busy and got rid of its speaker, Stanislav Kochiyev, who earlier had blocked attempts to extend the presidential term of de facto leader Eduard Kokoity.
Kochiyev, who ran against Kokoity in South Ossetia's 2006 presidential election, has described himself as one of the few guardians of constitutional discipline in a bare-knuckle race for power. "This was done to deny me the possibility of not permitting falsifications in the elections," Kochiyev, a Communist Party member, claimed in reference to his removal as parliamentary speaker.
Kokoity insists he will not run for a third term, but that insistence has done little to make for a snoozy election campaign. His supporters have gone out of their way to push for a constitutional change that would keep him in office for another five years. A group of thuggish Kokoity admirers even invaded the parliamentary building in June after the region’s de facto supreme court struck down the proposed amendments.
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.