Georgia's military has abolished mandatory military service, becoming the first post-Soviet state (outside of the Baltics) to manage to do so.
Georgia has talked about getting rid of the draft for years, and Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli on Monday announced that it was finally happening. “The Georgian Armed Forces do not need a service member brought in on the compulsory basis,” Khidasheli said, according to Civil.ge.
Most states would like to get rid of conscription for obvious reasons -- people don't like it, and soldiers who are forced to be there are not the best soldiers. The trick is to have enough money to pay a high enough salary to soldiers to want to join of their own volition. Khidasheli did not mention any budget ramifications of the move, but she argued that service in the armed forces is “prestigious” and there is a “high demand” for joining the army voluntarily.
The move faced criticism even from many of Khidasheli's allies. The country's president, prime minister, and chair of the parliamentary committee on defense all said she should have consulted with them. “Such decisions – no matter right or wrong and whether we agree or disagree – should not be taken by a single official; instead it should be discussed by the government session and the National Security Council,” President Giorgi Margvelashvili told journalists on Monday. However, he stopped short of suggesting that he would contest the decision.
The fallout from the May 19 murder of Giga Otkhozoria has put to the test Tbilisi’s policy of piecemeal reconciliation with Abkhazia and its separatist twin, South Ossetia, and their overlord, Russia.
Georgian public anger over Otkhozoria’s slaying has been directed mainly at Russia, seen as the one calling the shots in both of the breakaways. Russian troops are stationed along both Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s administrative borders with Georgian-controlled territory.
That view of Russia’s role may not jive with that of Abkhazia’s separatist government, but, for now, Tbilisi is sticking with it.
Internet connections have been down in large parts of Turkmenistan following a reported fatal explosion at an oil refinery in the western city of Turkmenbashi.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan cited unnamed sources in a report on June 25 as saying that the blast occurred at fuel reservoir and may have killed seven people.
ANT linked the reported explosion with possible poor maintenance work on the fuel tank ventilation system.
On the day of the claimed explosion, ANT reported the internet being cut off in several places in the Balkan region, where Turkmenbashi is situated. Mobile users elsewhere in the country could not be reached on June 27, suggesting that the government has put an information blackout in place.
Chronicles of Turkmenistan, another foreign-based news and advocacy website, reported that some online messaging services have become unavailable. The Line messaging app has been performing poorly since June 26, but issues with Skype seems to have predated the reported blast by a couple of weeks.
“It is not clear if the connection problems are related to technical faults or if the block on messaging services has been implemented purposely to control the flow of information in the country,” the website said.
Information blackouts are standard procedure in Turkmenistan and state media has made no references to any incident in Turkmenbashi.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev, meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. (photo: kremlin.ru)
Last month, Azerbaijan appeared to have made a significant concession in its struggle to regain its lost territory of Nagorno Karabakh: it agreed to expand the international mission monitoring the conflict. But Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, newly returned from Moscow where he discussed the plan with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, is now walking back that promise.
Armenia, as well as the United States, had long pushed for strengthening the monitoring mission, run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, because the understaffed, underresourced mission is unable to determine who is to blame for the increasingly common ceasefire violations. Azerbaijan, however, had previously argued that increasing monitoring would only serve to solidify a status quo it saw as illegitimate: an Armenian occupation of its land.
It wasn't clear why Azerbaijan had agreed to the concession, but an OSCE statement after last month's meeting in Vienna said the two sides agreed to implement an "investigative mechanism." It wasn't specified what that mechanism would be, but Armenians and other have pushed for devices that could record the origin of gunshots.
The heads of state of the SCO member states at their 2016 summit in Tashkent. (photo: president.uz)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit concluded with few concrete results and plenty of reminders that the group's members have different visions for where the would-be non-Western bloc should be heading.
At the SCO's 15th anniversary summit in Tashkent, there were plenty of vague declarations about the desirability of greater economic cooperation and stepping up the fight against terrorism, but no new initiatives as to how that might be achieved.
The concrete results of the summit were so meager that Russian President Vladimir Putin was reduced to touting the new SCO Youth Card, "which would offer students discounts on travel, accommodation, and visits to museums and other cultural and historical sites in the member countries."
The much-discussed accession of India and Pakistan as full members of the SCO progressed with the signing of a memorandum of obligation. "We hope that our partners will complete these steps as soon as possible, in time for our next meeting in Kazakhstan," Putin said in his speech. Putin also pushed for Iranian membership: "We think that now that the Iranian nuclear issue has been settled and the UN sanctions lifted, there are no obstacles in the way of a positive assessment of Tehran’s membership application."
Brexit is seen as a win for Russia over the European Union in countries wedged between the two powers. The British decision to leave the EU may be primarily a European affair, but its repercussions have rippled into the EU’s so-called Eastern Neighborhood, a longtime sparring ground for Brussels and Moscow.
“Great, now there is plenty of room for us,” many joked in Georgia, a longtime aspirant for EU membership and signatory of a 2014 Association Agreement with the bloc. For all the online giggling about the “United Yet Breakaway Kingdom” and how Georgia should sneak into the EU unnoticed while the door is still open, the South Caucasus country knows that the “out vote” was a blow to its EU hopes.
“The European Union… will be in a state of shock for some time and will not have time for others,” commented Georgian political scientist Ghia Nodia, a former education minister, to Netgazeti.ge. “In Georgia, unlike Britain, but much like other continental countries, a Eurosceptic primarily stands for pro-Russian.”
“The biggest loser is the EU, as a project,” while Russia is the biggest winner, he added.
Sensing the risk, Georgian officials on June 24 were publicly silent on the Brexit topic, until Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili released a diplomatic statement late in the afternoon that “This vote will not change the fact that the European Union is [one of] the most important and powerful regional political and economic unions in the world, and its strength will continue to grow."
A British court has begun reviewing a civil case involving the youngest son of Kyrgyzstan’s most recently deposed president, who stands accused of attempting to murder a British businessman during his time at the helm of the country’s economy.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s widely loathed progeny, Maxim Bakiyev, is being sued by Sean Daley, who was representing the interests of the London-listed Oxus Gold company that held the license for the country’s second largest gold mine in 2006 when he was shot by gunmen he claims were acting under Maxim's orders.
Unsurprisingly, Bakiyev Jr, who Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid referred to alternately as “Bakiyez,” in a piece on proceedings that began June 23, did not show up at the case’s first hearing.
Daley claims to have suffered permanent damage from the shooting in Kyrgyzstan, where he was an established member of the expatriate community and had a local wife, and notes that one of the bullets fired by unknown hitmen is still lodged in his liver.
But achieving victory in court will likely require Daley’s legal team to convince a British judge that a Kyrgyz court ruling that sentenced Bakiyev to life for the same crime in 2014 is not politicized, as Maxim's legal team has predictably claimed.
Oxus Gold was strong-armed out of its title to Jerooy, which has since been a hotbed of legal battles and political rancour, in the same year as the shooting took place.
Bakiyev — accused in Kyrgyzstan of everything from mass money-laundering to fomenting deadly unrest after his father’s ouster — has reportedly settled into a plush suburban lifestyle in Surrey, one of the counties that fringe London, and a house worth over $5 million.
South Ossetia will keep its army, its de facto president has said, apparently ending a contentious discussion about dissolving the territory's armed forces and subsuming them into the Russian military.
However, South Ossetia's armed forces will remain heavily dependent on their Russian patrons, who are funding a rearmament program that will make Tskhinvali's military the equal of Russian units, de facto president Leonid Tibilov said in an interview with Russian news agency Sputnik.
"The process of arms and equipment modernization of the Republic of South Ossetia will be launched to reach the level of the Russian Defense Ministry's 58th Army," Tibilov said. He added that the Russian military presence in the territory will not be increased: "Regarding an increase in the number of [Russian] military, I can say that the current contingent is capable of solving the tasks, therefore the issue of an expansion… is not on the agenda," he said.
The future of South Ossetia's armed forces emerged as a controversy earlier this year after the de facto defense minister accused some members of parliament of conniving to dissolve the armed forces. The issue of the military is one of the sharpest in the negotiations between Moscow and Tskhinvali over the level of autonomy that the territory will retain.
South Ossetia broke away from Georgia as the Soviet Union was collapsing, and has been propped up by arms and money from Moscow since then. Georgia attempted an ill-fated attack to get the territory back in 2008, and Russia responded by formally recognizing the territory's independence (though very few other countries followed Moscow's lead).
Authorities in Uzbekistan have arrested the acting general director of part US-owned carmaker GM Uzbekistan on suspicion of embezzlement, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service has reported.
Ozodlik cited an unnamed source on June 23 as saying that Rustam Rajabov is suspected of appropriating large amounts of money through “an illegal scheme during the export of cars to Russia.”
The company’s previous general director, Tohirjon Jalilov, was detained in late April over what was rumored at the time to be suspicions of a scheme to resell Ravon models intended for export on the local market. Since the vehicles sell for higher prices in Uzbekistan than in Russia, where the GM Uzbekistan exports much of its goods, it is believed the management were pocketing the difference.
Rajabov was appointed acting general director on May 10.
A Tashkent-based reporter familiar with the details of the case told EurasiaNet.org that investigators say they traced 10,900 vehicles intended for export being stored in the city of Shymkent, just across the border in Kazakhstan. The thinking is that the cars were to be brought back into Uzbekistan.
“The preliminary assessment of damages in $285 million,” the reporter told EurasiaNet.org.
GM Uzbekistan’s Ravon Gentra model retails for $6,500 in Russia and Kazakhstan, but costs $12,500 to buy in Uzbekistan, where demand is high and waiting lists to buy cars long. Another popular model, the Ravon Cobalt, costs $6,000 abroad and $12,000 on the domestic market.
GM Uzbekistan, a company with a 25,000-strong staff and an annual turnover estimated at around $4 billion, consists of a joint venture between Uzbekistan's UzAvtosanoat (75 percent) and US giant General Motors (25 percent).
Parliament in Kazakhstan has slapped a veto on the contentious land law that caused a surge of protests and one of the broadest shows of public discontent since independence.
The vote in parliament essentially formalizes a moratorium on the law imposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 2.
Senate’s hasty two-reading approval of the veto on June 23 seemed to take even some lawmakers by surprise.
“The (veto) law enters into force and now what does your ministry suggest should be next on the agenda, what are we to work on next?” Senate deputy Byrganym Aitimova asked plaintively of the deputy agriculture minister. “Since 1990, we have made six changes to the land code. In the land commission created on the orders of the president, of which you are a member, we are hearing absolutely contradictory proposals. What position does your department take and what direction should we be working in as concerns the proposed draft bill (on land reform).”
Deputy agriculture minister Yerlan Nysanbayev had to admit that no consensus had emerged and that he himself had no position on the issue.
The Senator’s haplessness provides a helpful insight into how the parliamentary system works in Kazakhstan, where deputies serve the function not of holding the government to its responsibilities, but of simply applying the legitimating veneer of a rubber stamp.
Amendments to the land law approved by the same Senate in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan.