In its cautious, arduous attempts to make up with Russia, Georgia brought to the negotiation table its key natural resources: wine, mineral water and folk dancing. But the ongoing cultural and business rapprochement, which Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili hopes will usher in a diplomatic reconciliation, is pitting pragmatic Georgians against patriotic Georgians in an increasingly bitter fight.
After nearly seven years of abstinence from Georgian alcohol, Russia on March 6 essentially allowed wine and mineral water from its southern neighbor back on its national dinner table. The decision came after Russia’s federal wine-tasters spent many hours in Georgia, scrupulously sampling the wine to make sure the NATO-aspiring country’s alcohol didn’t taste anti-Russian.
Concurrently, one prominent Georgian cultural act took place in Russia. But the performers face stone-pelting at home for what some call selling-out to the oppressor, as many Georgians are not buying the art-and-business-are-above-politics argument.
A series of Moscow performances by the Erisioni ensemble may be a success in Russia, but is a flop in Georgia. The collective of folk dancers, musicians and singers has become the target of vitriolic attacks online and in the media.
Azerbaijan was an important stopover point for secret detainees of the Central Intelligence Agency in the US war on terror, claims a new report that offers the first comprehensive look into human rights abuses under the US practice of secret detentions and extraordinary renditions of terror suspects.
Reminiscent of a global spy conspiracy novel, the report, "Globalizing Torture," details how, post-9/11, the US relied on countries around the world to "kick the [expletive] out of" various terror suspects wanted by the CIA.
Azerbaijan and Georgia were among 54 countries that cooperated with these operations, according to the report, which was compiled by the New-York-City-based Open Society Foundation's Open Justice Initiative. [EurasiaNet.org is financed under the separate auspices of the Foundation's Central Eurasia Project.]
“Aircraft linked to the CIA landed in Azerbaijan 76 times between the end of 2001 and the end of 2005,” the report reads. “The Azerbaijani capital, Baku, is reported to have been used as a common ‘staging point’ for extraordinary rendition operations, meaning that planes and crews would often meet and prepare there.”
Azerbaijani officials allegedly did some detaining of their own; namely, a Saudi man, Ahmed Muhammad Haza al-Darbi, who allegedly was arrested in Azerbaijan in 2002 and handed over to the CIA, which then transferred him to the formerly US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where he was kept for two weeks, and subjected to various forms of abuse.
Before Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili took office in 2004, Georgia, the most eager US partner in the Caucasus, also allegedly captured and handed over to the CIA several terror suspects, apparently linked to Chechen rebel training in the Pankisi Gorge.
A bottle of wine could become Georgia’s peace ambassador to Russia, as key talks are underway in Moscow on lifting a ban on Georgia’s alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and on removing the post-2008-war chill between the two neighbors.
Georgian wine is likely to return to Russian tables by the end of the spring, Georgian wine officials and winemakers said on February 4, after meeting in Moscow with Russia’s executive butler, Gennady Onishchenko.
Moscow has made it very clear that the 2006 ban was motivated by politics, rather than the supposed quality concerns. Now, ahead of the meeting with the Georgian wine delegation, Onishchenko, the food safety chief, said that politics is the “only barrier” to lifting the embargo.
Lifting the wine ban could serve as an aperitif for resolution of other issues between Tbilisi and Moscow, and has implications for the wider region. As another ice-breaker, Georgia’s new government said it might restore a railway link through breakaway Abkhazia to Russia, a proposal that led to eager nods from neighboring Armenia, Moscow’s main business and defense partner in the region.
But the recent overtures to Moscow have not made all and sundry happy in Georgia. While farmers and companies stand to benefit from lifting the ban, there is a tidal pull against seeking closer ties with Moscow from a large part of the Georgian intelligentsia.
(The claim appears to rest primarily on a documentary by the pro-Kremlin TV station NTV that explored the alleged Givi question. )
And now they want Georgia's new government -- political opponents of Givi and Misha both -- to help them with their investigation.
The request comes on the eve of a face-to-face meeting between Russian diplomats and Zurab Abashidze, a former Georgian ambassador to Moscow who has become Tbilisi's new point man for trying to get Russia to meet Georgia halfway.
Accusing domestic political opponents of being in cahoots with an enemy state is a classic device in the former Soviet Union's political playbook. Georgia and Russia are especially keen on pulling out that card.
The deadly hostage-taking crisis near Georgia’s border with Russia has been announced as largely over, but the battle between Georgian forces and the unwanted visitors from the North Caucasus may have left Tbilisi with another enemy within the Russian Federation.
It's not always easy to figure out who’s fighting whom in the Caucasus and for what reasons; especially when official reports are inconclusive and leave ample room for speculation.
It is still unclear what drew a purported group of Islamist militants to cross into Georgia from the Russian republic of Daghestan and take several picnickers hostage. The ensuing clash claimed three Georgian military lives and left 11 “armed” and “bearded” attackers dead.
Blaming each other for terrorist activities in the Caucasus may be par for the course for Tbilisi and Moscow, but this time they seem to be up against a common enemy. Tbilisi has thus far refrained from pointing the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but one group of Islamist rebels has threatened retaliation.
“You will acquire another enemy, who will exact a ruthless revenge,” wrote a Daghestani chapter of the Caucasus Emirate, a militant group that seeks to establish Islamic rule throughout the North Caucasus.
Accusing Tbilisi of a provocation with its report of hostage-taking, the group claimed their mujahideen brethren had no intention to attack anyone in Georgia, but “if they wanted to, they could do it easily, Insha’Allah.”
There is clearly a serious armed crisis near Georgia's border with the Russian republic of Daghestan, but it is not fully clear what exactly the crisis is all about. Georgian officials speak cautiously of a hostage-taking situation; 14 are reported dead. Hearsay and conspiracy theories fill in the gaps.
All morning, Georgian TV and online media rolled footage of military trucks carrying troops, an emergency government meeting chaired by Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili (and featuring Defense Minister Dimitri Shashkin, Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia and Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili), and shots of scared residents of Lapankuri, the village home of some of the hostages. Security was tightened around military hospitals and officials kept talking about an ongoing pursuit of an unspecified armed group that purportedly had crossed into Georgia from Daghestan.
In short, it all went from a teaser to a thriller, when just enough action is shown not to reveal the plot.
Later in the afternoon, Georgian police posted videos showing two men from villages in the area who said they were taken hostage by about 15 “heavily armed” and “bearded” men; a description that, within the region, suggests a connection to fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus. Later, at about 4pm, the interior ministry said that three members of Georgia's special forces and 11 attackers had died in the standoff. Most of the Georgian hostages have been released, while another six hostage-takers have been surrounded by Georgian troops, the ministry said.
They may be divided by a war and an almost epic feud, but in a trend worthy of a classic Russian novel, Russians are by far Georgians' favorite foreigners to marry.
Of some 2,000 cross-border marriages in Georgia so far in 2012, almost 900 were between Georgians and Russians, according to Georgian Civil Registry data shared with EurasiaNet.org.
In most cases (roughly 500), a Georgian is the groom and a Russian is the bride.
Surprised? You might well be.
Georgia’s 2008 diplomatic break-up with Russia went like a nasty, dish-throwing divorce that left emotional (and physical) scars, plus unresolved property disputes. To hear Tbilisi tell it, the Kremlin has since turned into a creepy stalker that just can’t let go.
In particular, of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some 20 percent of Georgia's internationally recognized territory, where thousands of Russian troops are still stationed.
A recent poll indicated that some 73 percent of Georgians think that Russia poses a danger to their country.
But, apparently, those considerations take a backseat when love comes a-calling.
Granted, a running joke in Georgia holds that many men miss the days when they could fly to Moscow on the cheap in pursuit of Russian women, and, no doubt, that line will be trotted out again to explain this marriage trend.
Yet this looks like more than a passing infatuation -- last year, Georgian-Russian unions accounted for almost 50 percent of the 1,362 marriages between Georgians and foreign nationals.
After Russians, Georgian men give priority to Armenian and Ukrainian women, while Georgian women go for Turkish and Greek men.
Little is known about what brings Rummy to George W. Bush’s beacon of regional democracy; perhaps because local media are too busy covering the government's seizure of property belonging to a cable television company accused of bribing voters for Ivanishvili. What we know is that Rumsfeld met Georgian Defense Minister Bacho Akhalia, who thanked him for his contribution to deepening US-Georgia military ties.
The two past and present defense bosses chatted about Georgia’s plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the ongoing military reforms in the country. Rumsfeld will stay in town for a week; perhaps he is working on a chapter for a new installment of memoirs?
Georgia’s hopes to join NATO, reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and
other running foreign policy matters were the key moments of US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s June 4-5 drop-in on Georgia,
but her visit had implications for domestic political struggles as
With Georgia's parliamentary elections set for October, all of the
country’s main political players hope for some public display of
Washington’s support. Before Clinton swung by, opposition tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had hoped to steal her away a bit from the warm embrace of her host (and his arch-rival) Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for an intimate tête-à-tête. But it was not to be.
Clinton chose to get the lowdown on Georgian politics from a less up-close-and-personal sit-down with NGOs and a group meeting with opposition leaders. Ivanishvili was represented at the meeting by allies in his Georgian Dream coalition and the chairperson of the group, Manana Kobakhidze.
He had earlier indicated that he does not want to share his Clinton time with leaders of political minority groups who are not part of the Georgian Dream and whom he describes as a "fake opposition."
Azerbaijan made the trip to the May 20-21 Euro-Atlantic defense pow-wow in Chicago, and Georgia all but rode a rocket there. But Armenia stayed home.
And not because -- to borrow the dating excuse of an earlier generation of Americans -- it needed to wash its hair.
Armenia is Russia’s economic and military protégé in the Caucasus, and some Armenian wonks believe that President Serzh Sargsyan was a no-show in Chicago as a courtesy move to the Kremlin.
But Yerevan says that the real turn-off for Sargsyan was the gathering’s reiteration of the alliance’s commitment to the territorial integrity of nations. In plain words and as far as Armenia is concerned, this means it should let Azerbaijan take back Sargsyan's native land of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh.
“We remain committed in our support of the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Republic of Moldova,” the 28-member bloc said. The declaration does not mention the right of self-determination which Armenia advocates in the Karabakh conflict resolution talks. The right to self-determination and the right to territorial integrity -- contradictory though at times they may seem -- are both principles that guide the internationally-mediated discussions.