The Russian military has carried out its most extensive surprise inspections of units' readiness in 20 years, and the base of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan was singled out as one of the poorest performers. From a report in Vedemosti (via RIA Novosti):
The first surprise inspection in 20 years took place on February 17-20 and included the Central and Southern Military Districts, the Airborne Force and the Military-Transport Aviation Command. Airborne and Army officers were deemed sluggish in transmitting combat-alert signals. Many young officers and soldiers apparently don’t drive well, and can’t shoot much better. Several malfunctioning airplanes and helicopters remained grounded.
In the exercise, units were given a surprise order to carry out tasks like deploying themselves to another base. In the case of the 201st in Tajikistan, they apparently didn't even get the message.
A duty officer at the 201st military base (located in Tajikistan, on the outskirts of Dushanbe) missed the alarm signal, which led to the delayed departure of personnel. Commander of the base, Colonel Sergey Ryumshin explained the incident by the fact that the lines of communication, which the Russian soldiers use, belong to the local authorities, and they use outdated equipment which frequently is out of service.
Anyone who's dealt with Central Asian communications technology can certainly sympathize. But is the only way for Moscow to communicate with its base in Tajikistan through local lines? Perhaps Russia will use part of its $200 million aid package to Tajikistan for some new phone equipment.
In the latest twist in Georgia's ongoing, high-stakes political drama, a Tbilisi court on February 25 rejected the central government's demand for the resignation of Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, one of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's closest allies, following criminal charges on misuse of budgetary funds.
Pending an April 10 hearing on the charges of alleged embezzlement/misappropriation of funds and money-laundering,Ugulava, Georgia's first elected mayor, was not required to post bail
and will be left free. The prosecution had requested that bail be set at one million laris
(over $600,000), Ugulava's suspension from office and a ban on travel
“I simply don’t have a million lari to pay,” declared Ugulava, to jeers from Georgian Dream members, who long have accused the 37-year-old mayor of skimming off millions from the city budget.
The judge found no grounds for any of the proposed measures against Ugulava; a ruling that a packed courtroom and supporters outside cheered as a clear victory.
Former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, whom prosecutors named as the middle man in an alleged government attempt involving Ugulava to take over the private TV station Imedi, was sentenced to pre-trial detention in-absentia. His whereabouts are not known.
President Saakashvili strongly defended Ugalava and, again, slammed the ongoing prosecutions of his loyalists as an attempt by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to destroy the opposition, represented by Saakashvili's United National Movement.
Father Tigran Mkhitaryan, who hails from the Georgian city of Akhalkalaki, holds a mass baptism for about 40 people on Feb. 12 in the village of Kartsakhi, located a few kilometers away from the Georgian-Turkish border and populated mostly by ethnic Armenians.
Roughly 200 families live in Kartsakhi, where the 18th-Century church lacks its own priest. Therefore residents use any opportunity to attend religious ceremonies during the rare visits by a city priest.
Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.
While the 37-year-old mayor, one of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s closest allies, has denied any wrongdoing, the February 23 indictment is another political blow to the president, and puts another yawning crack into efforts by the country’s divided national government to coexist peacefully.
The Georgian Ministry of Finance’s Investigative Service alleges that Ugulava was involved in a convoluted real estate transaction that cost “the budget” 10 million lari (approximately $6 million) in a bid to place a private national broadcaster, Imedi, which had been critical of Saakashvili, under de-facto government control. Though they have not detailed their reasoning, investigators have termed the alleged misuse of funds “money laundering.”
The case centers around the city’s sale and subsequent repurchase of a four-hectare plot of land in a popular Tbilisi neighborhood, Rike, that was aggressively promoted for development during Saakashvili's United National Movement's years in power.
Supporters of Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian are gathering this evening in central Yerevan for what Hovannisian called a "celebration of victory", but more questions than answers exist about the claim.
The official returns for the February 18 vote placed the American-born Heritage Party leader far behind incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, but Hovannisian claims this is a result of his votes being stolen. Sargsyan failed to convince his challenger otherwise during a tête-à-tête yesterday in the presidential residence, and Hovannisian emerged from the talks insisting that he would press on.
“My dear compatriots . . . we are defending our Constitution, our rights,” he declared to protesters in Liberty Square. “This is not about the fight between Raffi and Serzh, but about the future of the Republic of Armenia and its citizens.”
Mindful of the ten deaths that followed the last time there was a presidential election fight, both sides appear to be approaching the conflict with some degree of caution.
The presidential administration released a little video teaser of the closed meeting between the two men. “You look kind of sad,” Sargsyan told Hovannisian with a disarming smile -- an observation which his rival denied, also with a smile.
Apart from legislative occasions, a chokha also can be worn when washing a car.
Georgian lawmakers might soon need to upgrade their wardrobes if a new legislative fashion bill gets through parliament. The legislation, currently under discussion, will allow representatives to get decked out in traditional outfits for ordinary sessions of the national assembly.
The Conservative Party, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream alliance, and one with a taste for wearing traditional attire to parliament's opening sessions, initiated the sartorial bill in a bid to "popularize" traditional Georgian culture, but many of the rest of the representatives were left scratching their heads.
The centerpiece for Georgian men's traditional dress is the chokha, a waist-hugging longish wool coat complete with bandoliers and daggers. The ladies of the legislature might need to put on headdresses, attached to long, gauzy veils, to match their full-length dresses, possibly worn over stiff petticoats or crinolines.
Many Georgian men eagerly don chokhas for weddings and other social functions, but women tend to be less inclined to adopt their ancestors' clothing.
Sporting such attire within Georgia's spaceship-style parliament could make for an unusual visual contrast, to say the least. Georgian Dream parliamentarian Levan Berdzenishvili, no fan of chokhas, expressed skepticism about women MPs milling around the legislature with chikhti-kopis on their heads.
Following the adoption of Turkmenistan's first-ever media law earlier this year, Ashgabat appears to be inching toward the liberalization of its restrictive media market. But are the changes worth more than the paper they’re printed on?
Russia's Regnum news agency reports that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – who likes to be called “The Protector” – has withdrawn his protection from most of the country's newspapers, which he used to own single-handedly. That’s because the new media law, which the president signed on January 4, bans the “monopolization of the media.”
Turkmenistan has long languished at the bottom of global media freedom rankings, so observers like Reporters Without Borders, the watchdog, feel a legal ban on media censorship means little.
Berdymukhamedov isn’t going too far. The country's Russian-language mouthpieces, “Turkmenistan” and “Neutral Turkmenistan,” may have acquired a new owner – The Cabinet of Ministers – but the president heads the Cabinet. “Nesil” (Young Generation) will now be published by the Magtymguly youth organization, “Watan” (Homeland) by a trade union, and “Mugallymlar Gazeti” (Teacher's Newspaper) by the Ministry of Education. Of course, these bodies are all loyal to the president, who wields absolute authority. And in case any journalist gets too many crazy ideas, all appointments at all media outlets are done by presidential decree, says Regnum.
A much-anticipated World Bank study is expected to rule later this year on the feasibility of building the world’s tallest hydroelectric dam, Rogun, in Tajikistan. This week, the Bank has given a sneak peak at its findings, and the moderately encouraging remarks are likely to divide archrivals Tajikistan and downstream Uzbekistan further along traditional lines.
Dushanbe says Tajikistan needs the Soviet-designed project to ensure its energy independence. For President Emomali Rakhmon, Rogun is more than an investment in his country’s future: It’s central to Tajikistan’s identity and his legacy.
Downstream on the Amu Darya, Tashkent is aggressively opposed to the project, saying it will hurt Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector and poses an unnecessary risk in a seismically active region. Over the last few years, Tashkent has done just about everything it can to make life hell for Tajikistan and stop the project – closing borders randomly, preventing transit of goods and people to the region’s most isolated country, and cutting off gas supplies during the coldest months. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has even warned of war.
So supportive comments from the World Bank’s regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, are no doubt welcome in Dushanbe.
“[O]n the key issues of dam and public safety, including analysis of possible earthquakes,” Jha says, “[t]he interim findings from the presentations, reports and feedback from the Panels of Experts are that the dam type under consideration and stability of the slopes appear to be acceptable.”
The slow start for NATO's logistics hub in Russia may be due to cost and fears of Russian meddling, according to a senior NATO-member diplomat, speaking to The Moscow Times. While France just signed an agreement with Kazakhstan to use a facility at Shymkent to facilitate withdrawal, "no alliance member has announced that it will use [Ulyanovsk] for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan," The Times writes. "The only cargo that has been sent through Ulyanovsk so far is a number of containers for the British contingent that were sent from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan to Britain in December. That shipment has been described as a 'trial' by both NATO and Russian officials."
A NATO-country diplomat speaking to the Times reporter offered some intriguing explanations for that state of affairs.
A senior diplomat from a NATO country told the panel that the route was considered too expensive. Experts from his defense ministry have calculated that shipping a container from Afghanistan through Ulyanovsk costs 50,000 euros, while sending it via the Termez airbase in Uzbekistan costs only 30,000 euros, the diplomat told The Moscow Times, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
But Yury Gorlach, a deputy director in the Foreign Ministry's European department, argued that Ulyanovsk was worth the extra cost because it was safer. "When you send valuable cargo from Afghanistan, Ulyanovsk is an option," he said.
The senior NATO member diplomat suggested that alliance countries are reluctant not just because of financial reasons. "They do not like the idea that Russian intelligence can take a close look at what they send back from Afghanistan," he said.
A special police unit from Tajikistan's Ministry of Internal Affairs during counter-terrorism training.
A program by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to provide human rights training to police in Uzbekistan has sparked controversy, with local activists arguing that such training is at best useless and would simply be window dressing.
The training, funded by the government of Germany, will train 50 police in the Kashkadarya, Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan regions. According to an OSCE press release:
Participants in the training courses will study basic principles of human rights and the international system of human rights protection. They will also discuss case studies on the role of law enforcement agencies in ensuring rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.
Well, who could object to that? It turns out, human rights activists in Uzbekistan, according to a report on UzNews.net.
Human rights activists in Tashkent are convinced that these training courses serve no useful purpose and what the OSCE and the German government are doing is simply the imitation of training.
Human rights activist Tatyana Dovlatova believes that the Uzbek police “could not care less about international law”. “All these courses of the OSCE are just idle talk,” she said....
Another human rights activist, Shuhrat Rustamov, said that training courses for the Uzbek police would turn into a mere “talking shop”.
“This event is only for appearance sake,” he said.