Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has given a high five to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for their support for Minsk amid growing European Union pressure for Belarus to clean up its human rights act. Both countries opposed a scathing declaration from the EU about harassment of political opposition and independent media in Belarus.
“They [the Europeans] thought that we would bang our heads against the door, that we would cry and beg… but no!,” Lukashenko said, after Belarus withdrew from a September 29-30 summit in Warsaw, where ties between the EU and its ex-Soviet neighbors were discussed,
Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia also stopped short of supporting the EU statement, but Georgia and Azerbaijan received special thanks as the most avid Belarus supporters.
But this support is caused by very pragmatic considerations. Georgia views Belarus as the weak link in ex-Soviet countries’ support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the face of Russian pressure to recognize breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Azerbaijan, a potential energy partner which also knows what it's like to be summoned to the international woodshed on human rights issues, obviously chose to avoid what could arguably be called a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
In a conclusive message to the world, Lukashenko said his enemies will not take Belarus away from him and that he will live a long life to spite all ill-wishers.
Eating a tie acquired a whole new significance in Georgia after President Mikheil Saakashvili was caught on camera nervously chewing on his tie during the 2008 war with Russia. And, now, if you ever hear a Georgian say “I'll eat my tie,” he (or she) may actually mean it. Some 500 "Reformist, Edible Ties," made from apple jam, were unveiled today at a presentation in Tbilisi.
“This could be a new Georgian brand,” declared Oleg Panfilov, a dissident Russian journalist who is one of the tie's creators and lives in Tbilisi.
Neatly packaged in plastic bags for five lari ($3.00) each, the ties carry a distinct political flavor. The image of Saakashvili gnawing on his tie became fodder for Russia’s propaganda machine, which tries to portray the Georgian president as mentally unstable. The September 14 presentation was meant to parry those attacks.
The ties come in a sweet flavor for "good people," according to event organizers, and in a sour flavor for, specifically, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Panfilov invited the Russian power pair to try the product so they could, in his words, also get a taste of the sweeping reforms enacted under Saakashvili. “Through this, we meant to deride the [Russian] propaganda,” Panfilov said.
It is unclear if commercial production of the candy ties is in the pipeline, but, at least for one day, Georgia can both have its tie and eat it, too.
Moscow prosecutors say that Georgia refused to cooperate with the Russian investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Now, who saw that coming?
The investigators' miffed spokesperson, one Vladimir Markin, said that Tbilisi, for some bizarre reason, would not help provide Moscow with proof of Georgia's alleged crimes during the two countries' 2008 war. “Despite repeated requests … the Georgian Ministry of Justice refused to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies on this criminal case,” said Markin on August 8, the conflict's third anniversary.
This is after Russian investigators, in Markin's telling, have done all the due diligence. They even found no proof of “any illegal actions on the territory of Georgia or South Ossetia” by the Russian military. Surprise, surprise.
But how closely Moscow's meticulous sleuths examined the wartime situation on the ground in South Ossetia remains unclear. Without assigning specific blame, a European Union-funded international investigation, which blamed Tbilisi for lighting the match that led to full-scale hostilities, concluded that ethnic cleansing of Georgians, rather than South Ossetians, was “practiced both during and after the August 2008 conflict.”
Georgia, for its part, took Russia to the International Court of Justice over Moscow's ethnic- cleansing charges, but the court ruled that the two sides have not exhausted the means among themselves for smoothing things over.
Long story short, everyone violated the law, some more than others, and need to “make good for it,” as the EU-financed report suggests. Somebody tell Markin.
Quite a macho act here by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. In a televised interview on Russia’s ties with Georgia, released on the eve of the third anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, he did everything short of blowing smoke off a gun.
Often seen as Moscow's good cop (with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the role of bad cop), Medvedev claimed that the 2008 conflict with Georgia was his war, not Putin’s. He also, per tradition, had some unflattering descriptive adjectives for his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Medvedev described the Georgian president as a “sticky” man, who stalked him at the pair’s last, pre-war meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, when the Russian president just wanted to enjoy a glass of wine. Medvedev said that Saakashvili repeatedly approached him about talks on breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He denied allegations that he had been trying to ignore Saakashvili and claimed he would have been happy to hold those talks.
But then, one fateful day, an American woman came to Tbilisi and Saakashvili had a change of heart. “He stopped writing, stopped calling, stopping getting in touch,” Medvedev reminisced, a tad bitterly. This woman’s visit served perhaps as an unintentional incentive for Georgia to choose a different course of action toward South Ossetia, he continued.
“[MTV Live Georgia] will feature several of the world's top musical acts and will be heavily promoted and broadcast around the world (with a concentration on Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Americas, Central Asia, and many more) to MTV's one billion plus dedicated viewers via its television stations, as well as Internet and cellular platforms,” reads a press release issued by Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri's office when the deal with MTV was made.
In pre-concert remarks to EurasiaNet.org, Maia Sidamonidze, chairwoman of Georgian National Tourism Agency, nonetheless termed the show "quite a good campaign" for attracting tourists to Georgia. "We always try to have a campaign that matches our capabilities," Sidamonidze said, indicating that a larger event "and more people" could have posed accommodation problems.
Concerts by musical sensations and, sometimes, has-beens have long been seen by Tbilisi as a way to boost Georgia's tourism industry, a potential economic lifeline. They also help the government argue that Georgia now is a place where visitors may run into celebrities like Sharon Stone or Sting rather than Russian tanks.
Perhaps the principle of Occam’s razor should have been applied to the original claims of a Russian-choreographed explosion in 2010 near the US embassy's parking lot in Tbilisi.
Initially, the claims were seen by many locals as another product of the Georgian government's active imagination. US diplomats at the time did little to correct that impression.
Now, nearly a year later, with Washington's alleged corroboration of the tale, the outside world is aflame with interest, leaving Tbilisi standing with its arms akimbo, saying "See, I told you so!" In fact, in case anybody forgot who first made the claim, pro-government Georgian TV news broadcasts are busy looping news reports from Western media that echo Tbilisi’s version of the incident.
Is Washington's finding merely a case of accepting Georgian intelligence for now, and leaving the in-depth questions for later? Hard to say, but The New York Times reports that an unnamed US official familiar with the case claims that intelligence from Georgia was not the only ground for the finding that Moscow lay behind the blast. The deduction, however, is not "rock-solid," the official added.
The official suggested that the attack may have been more of a hit-and-run poke at the Georgians, who just won’t let give up their claims to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and also keep shooing Russia away from the World Trade Organization.
After pleading guilty to charges of spying for Russia, three detained Georgian photographers were set free on July 22 in a startling denouement to a case that has scandalized Georgian media and made headlines worldwide. But their release and additional evidence made public by the prosecution promise to do little to quiet the furor around the case.
At a Tbilisi court hearing, the prosecution requested mitigated sentences for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's personal photographer, Irakli Gedenidze, Foreign Ministry photographer Giorgi Abdaladze and European Pressphoto Agency photographer Zurab Kurtsikidze. The court deferred the sentences and released the three men for cooperating with the investigation and admitting their guilt.
This came as a curve ball for local journalists and media activists, who have rallied steadily for the photographers’ release on bail.
The government maintained that Gedenidze and Abdaladze had used their access to government offices to obtain and transmit what it described as classified information -- travel schedules, meeting minutes and a blueprint of the presidential palace, among other documents -- via Kurtsikidze to Russian military intelligence officers.
The sight was apparently a bit too much for one embassy guard who threw a kick-and-punch fit when the topless protesters started demonstrating in front of the embassy, attracting a horde of male photographers in the process.
Holding fake cameras, the handful of women, members of Ukraine's FEMEN protest group, who routinely go au naturel to protest various ills, teetered around in underpants emblazoned with the word “press.” Their backs featured images of a crossed-out camera, a symbol used by many Georgian journalists to protest the photographers' arrest.
As a video clip of the incident made the rounds on Facebook, the embassy issued an apology for the guard's behavior to "those who attended the gathering, journalists and the Ukrainian people." The guard has since gotten the sack.
But the PR problems related to the photographers’ case do not end there.
While a large part of Georgian media rallied in his support, freelance photographer Giorgi Abdalaze, who worked for the Georgian foreign ministry and various news outlets, went on the record this weekend with a detailed account of his supposed cooperation with Russian secret services over the past several years.
In a videotaped statement released by prosecutors on July 18, Abdaladze, who earlier protested his innocence, recounted that he was recruited by the Russian secret services back in 2002, when, as a reporter for a Georgian newspaper, he went to cover a story in South Ossetia, and was detained by separatist South Ossetian militia. He claimed that the South Ossetians took him to Russian military officials, who blackmailed him into cooperation with Russian intelligence. “They put [down] photos of my brothers, and my mother and said that my family would be assassinated if I did not agree [to cooperate],” Abdaladze said.
Among his supposed assignments was shooting rallies allegedly organized by Russian secret services in Georgia. After starting work at parliament's press office in 2007, his intelligence handler also requested photos of "all meetings between the parliamentary chairperson [current opposition leader Nino Burjanadze] and visitors," he said.
The de facto government of the tiny, breakaway enclave of South Ossetia is taking on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which had to roll up its mission to Georgia in 2009 after member-state Russia refused to agree to extend the organization's mandate.
Amidst an international push to allow the OSCE into Georgia and breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the de facto authorities in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, say they plan to take the organization to an international court. Tskhinvali claims that the group not only failed to provide warnings about the brewing conflict that led to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, centered mostly in South Ossetia, but, also, that the OSCE’s regional office refused to provide shelter to South Ossetian children who were trying to escape the hostilities.
“We have the evidence proving that during the war in August 2008 the representatives of the OSCE mission in Tskhinvali did not let into their bunker children who were trying to take refuge there,” claimed de facto presidential aide Boris Chochiev, Tskhinvali's former chief envoy to talks with Tbilisi. “By keeping silent, this organization also helped Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia.”
In other words, the OSCE is not going back to South Ossetia anytime soon.