With all revolution-chasers focused on Russia's post-election turmoil, the prospects of a mini-revolution in the neighboring breakaway region of South Ossetia, a Russian protectorate, have gotten little international spotlight. But the enclave that Moscow vowed to love and cherish as a sovereign state after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia is in trouble and things may still get ugly.
Faced with calls to step down, the de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, has looked around his cabinet for possible scapegoats and found some. On December 7, he fired several high-ranking officials, including the de facto minister of education and the mayor of the capital, Tskhinvali, as an apparent sop to the protesters. More heads will roll soon, he claimed.
Come December 10, protesters in the discombobulated Caucasus region of South Ossetia plan to inaugurate their leader, Alla Jioyeva, as the territory's new de facto president with or without the consent of the current de facto president, longtime strongman Eduard Kokoity.
The protesters insist they already have a president so both Kokoity and the pick for his successor, de facto Emergency Situations Minister Anatoliy Bibolev, as well as their backers in the Kremlin, need to get used to it.
Despite any disillusionment with Moscow, though, Jioyeva’s supporters still hope that the Kremlin will help the tiny region step back from civil unrest. To prove that the protests are not anti-Moscow, the Jioyeva camp called on demonstrators to back Russia's ruling United Russia party in its December 4 parliamentary elections. (Most South Ossetians hold Russian passports.)
Still, the demonstrators are trying to put their eggs in other baskets, too. On December 4, they also asked that the United Nations and European Parliament help avert a political crisis in South Ossetia that may destabilize the wider region.
South Ossetia’s de facto regime keeps saying that a “color revolution” is not going to play out in the troubled enclave over its disputed de facto presidential election results, but events continue to be pretty, well, colorful.
But Jioyeva says that South Ossetians chose differently. She and her supporters are now baffled about why the current authorities and Russia refuse to accept her. “Why don’t you love me, Russia?” Jioyeva mused, adding that she is a “Russian by passport and in my spirit.”
The intramural tensions escalated after South Ossetia's de facto authorities cancelled results from the November 27 runoff for the region's de facto presidential poll; results that gave opposition candidate Alla Jioyeva the lead over establishment candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite.
The outcome came as a serious humiliation for Moscow, which keeps South Ossetia under its political and military patronage, but failed to see its guy put in charge after two consecutive attempts.
Nevertheless, in times of trouble, South Ossetia can only turn to Moscow for help. The EU and US don’t see the region on the map and are telling it to go back to Georgia. Tbilisi demands that South Ossetia return to the Georgian fold and accept back the ethnic Georgian residents who fled during the 2008 war.
So, again it was Moscow that sent a representative to defuse tensions that are dangerous for locals and embarrassing for the Russians.
Jioyeva, though, emerged dissatisfied from today’s talks with Russian envoy Sergei Vinokurov. (Perhaps not surprisingly, given that the Kremlin had earlier supported the de facto Supreme Court's decision to throw out the runoff results and bar her from running again.) She said the talks will continue, but announced no plans to back off her claim to South Ossetia's de facto presidency.
Amidst reports of gunfire, a homegrown controversy over breakaway South Ossetia's de facto presidential election on November 30 threatened to degenerate into violence.
To most of the outside world, the November 13 poll in South Ossetia was illegitimate to begin with, but it sparked a major power struggle. Alla Jioyeva, a onetime education minister, has claimed the presidency following a runoff that gave her over 56 percent of the vote.
But the Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoliy Bibilov, alleging funny business, wasn't buying it. Bibilov petitioned the region's de facto Supreme Court to throw out the results. On November 29, the court complied, with the de facto parliament setting a fresh election date in March 2012.
Jioyeva, however, went ahead and set up a "state council," and headed with her supporters (numbering in the high several hundreds, according to Russia's RIA Novosti) out into the streets of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, to protest the court's decision.
In response, the de facto government led by Eduard Kokoity accused Jioyeva of attempts to stage a "color revolution" -- an event portrayed within South Ossetia as the ultimate in dastardly deeds -- and threatened to take retaliatory measures. Apparently, those were limited to guards firing into the air as the Joiyeva crowd approached the de facto government headquarters, and tried to enter the region's de facto Central Election Commission.
Just get in better democratic and military shape and you are almost there, guys, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization told ever-aspiring NATO member Georgia during a November 9-10 visit to Tbilisi. The country may have heard this line before, but, for many Georgians, it still sounds like music to their ears.
Parliamentary Speaker Davit Bakradze took it a notch higher, saying “boldly” (in the words of one Georgian news service) that Georgia is now “closer to NATO than ever.” He expressed hope that the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago would bring Georgia still closer to the military club.
And, to sweeten the pitch, Tbilisi pledged to beef up its military presence to NATO's Afghanistan campaign still further next year, with another battalion. At 937 personnel, it currently ranks as the second largest non-NATO contributor (after Australia at 1,550). Even after the loss of ten personnel, it looks like Georgia wants to top the charts.
But, as it pulls itself toward the alliance -- ever closer, ever closer -- Georgia remains mired in a conflict with Russia and two separatist regions that make NATO accession far from a paint-by-the-numbers project.
Forget about Russian military bases and separatist tensions. Georgia now faces a threat to its territorial integrity from some of the world's sharpest strategists. And they are already in breakaway Abkhazia. Soon, they will be smacking away at Tbilisi's claims to the territory with spotted tiles. These are, of course, domino players.
The Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi is about to become the epicenter of the world of domino. Over objections from Tbilisi, the world domino championship will be held in the seaside town from October 18-21. Abkhazia’s de facto leadership hopes the event, its largest sports shindig ever, will help place their territory on the world map as a sovereign country.
Bucking Washington’s take on Abkhazia, the president of the National Domino Federation USA, Manuel Oquendo, is already in Sukhumi to observe preparations for the tournament. The US domino grandmaster said that American players will arrive in Sokhumi next week despite Tbilisi’s opposition to holding the championship in Abkhazia, Kavkazsky Uzel news service reported.
One question might be from which direction they -- and the other 21 participating national domino teams -- plan on coming. Travel into Abkhazia via western Georgia is the route recognized under international law, but involves a one-kilometer trip across the Inguri River bridge in either a jam-packed, horse-drawn cart or on foot. And a preliminary chat with Georgian Interior Ministry representatives.
Travel via Russia may involve more comfortable transportation, but is deemed an illegal entry into Georgian territory.
Not exactly like flying into Las Vegas, where the championships were held last year.
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.
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.
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.