The United States would give Georgia a big boost in aid to help it "resist Russian aggression" under a budget proposal announced this week by the White House. But Washington is deemphasizing military aid to Georgia, and a huge increase in Pentagon funding for a greater U.S. military presence around Russia's borders dedicates relatively little to Tbilisi.
The U.S. plans to give Georgia $63 million in general Economic Support Fund money in fiscal year 2017, up from $38 million this year, according to State Department budget documents. That money "will support Georgia’s democratization, economic development, Euro-Atlantic integration, and resistance to Russian aggression" and will be "targeted towards enhancing energy security and economic opportunities for populations susceptible to Russian influence."
But that aid is mainly for civilian programs, and American military aid to Georgia is set to decrease under this proposal. Aid to Georgia marked as Foreign Military Financing, intended for military equipment, will decrease from $30 million this year to $20 million in fiscal year 2017. Next year's funding is intended "to advance Georgia’s development of forces capable of enhancing security, countering Russian aggression, and contributing to coalition operations. This will include support in areas such as upgrades to Georgia’s rotary wing air transport capabilities, advisory and defense reform, and modernization of Georgia’s military institutions."
Police in Tajikistan have reportedly arrested Salafist leader Muhammadi Rahmatullo in what appears on first sight to be an extension of the extensive crackdown against the country’s devout Muslims.
Some aspects of Rahmatullo’s activities, however, hint at a slightly less straightforward story.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on February 11 that Rahmatullo, who is better known as Mullah Muhammadi, faces three charges, including one for allegedly inciting religious tensions.
Not much is known about Rahmatullo.
In January 2015, local media cited his relatives as saying that he had been detained by police, but the Interior Ministry later denied the report.
Some time later, weekly newspaper Faraj published an article under Rahmatullo’s byline in which the writer condemned the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which has since been banned and designated a terrorist organization.
In the piece, Rahmatullo claimed that the IRPT was financed by “foreign governments” and argued that Tajikistan had no need for such parties.
He further stated that the IRPT was to blame for the devastating civil war of the 1990s and said the party had links to Iran. He suggested that the IRPT should be disbanded.
Despite being a member of a group also designated as an extremist organization, Rahmatullo had his piece published in several other publications, including ones owned by the government, as well as on the site of the ruling National Democratic Party of Tajikistan.
Another Salafist, Eshoni Sirojiddin, was also enlisted to smear the IRPT. Sirojiddin was jailed in 2009 along with his son, but was later released in an amnesty. He is still believed to be out of prison.
A cargo train carrying a test shipment along the recently completed China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway is bearing in on its final destination in a landmark event for Eurasian trade.
State media in Turkmenistan reported that the train, which departed from the Chinese city of Yiwu, just south of Shanghai, at the end of January covered 7,908 kilometers over nine days, and crossed the border into Iran on February 10.
The entire railroad extends around 10,000 kilometers and requires two weeks to cover, which is estimated to be around twice as fast as the sea route.
“The cargo, loaded with all kinds of consumer goods, traversed the Turkmen section in 28 hours, instead of two days, as had been expected. This significant reduction in travel time translates into substantial savings on transportation costs and makes the route more cost-effective,” state news agency TDH reported.
The overall route could, as its proponents argue, radically increase the efficiency in the transportation of goods from China’s eastern seaboard to markets in the Persian Gulf.
A final link in the mammoth railroad was put into place in December 2014 when the presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran officially inaugurated a 930-kilometer line running from Ozen in western Kazakhstan through Turkmenistan to Gorgan in northwestern Iran. That sped up cargo transit between the countries by cutting 600 kilometers off the journey on the previously existing route from Beyneu in western Kazakhstan to Mashhad in northern Iran.
As Moscow tests for Turkey’s weaknesses in the fight over the downed SU-24 fighter plane, Russia’s communists have gone on a mission to revoke a treaty that their Soviet forefathers signed with Ankara. Heads are turning in the South Caucasus, which was essentially sliced and diced into its modern-day shape by the treaty and another 1921 Soviet-Turkish accord.
The document under debate, the 1921 Treaty of Moscow, drew a line between the Turkish Republic and the Soviet Union, and also set the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia without the consent of the three newly Bolshevik-occupied nations. The partitioning was further cinched by the Treaty of Kars, signed by the then Soviet republics’ Bolshevik-installed authorities.
The idea of revoking the treaty, pitched to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, comes amidst an unscheduled military exercise in Russia’s Southern Military District, which borders on the South Caucasus. Russian military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky commented to gazeta.ru that the exercises are meant as “a little signal” to Turkey. “[B]ecause we’re headed toward war with them, very quickly and certainly,” he predicted.
In remarks to the Azerbaijani news service APA, however, the Russian Communist Party’s deputy chairperson, Valery Rashkin, pooh-pooh’d the notion that Moscow withdrawing its signature from the 1921 Treaty of Moscow could lead to war with Turkey. “[O]n the contrary, we will begin the negotiation process.”
United States intelligence believes that Georgia could reverse its strategic orientation toward the West under Russian pressure, the country's top intelligence official has said.
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to Congress on Tuesday, offering the U.S. intelligence community's annual "Worldwide Threat Assessment." The short section dealing with the Caucasus and Central Asia offers some interesting insights into how American government spooks and analysts see developments in the region. Perhaps the most intriguing statement is that on Georgia, which suggests that Georgia may be rethinking its Euro-Atlantic orientation, in part due to Russian efforts:
Even as Georgia progresses with reforms, Georgian politics will almost certainly be volatile as political competition increases. Economic challenges are also likely to become a key political vulnerability for the government before the 2016 elections. Rising frustration among Georgia’s elites and the public with the slow pace of Western integration and increasingly effective Russian propaganda raise the prospect that Tbilisi might slow or suspend efforts toward greater Euro-Atlantic integration. Tensions with Russia will remain high, and we assess that Moscow will raise the pressure on Tbilisi to abandon closer EU and NATO ties.
Developments put into motion this week are setting the stage for Tajikistan’s irreversible transformation into an autocracy where all power is concentrated in the hands of the president.
On May 22, the country is to hold a referendum to approve amendments to the Constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to run for office indefinitely. Since elections are but a mere formality, the change will in effect allow Rahmon to become a president-for-life.
The existing Constitution limits the president to a two-term limit, but Rahmon is being exempted under the newly enshrined Leader of the Nation title.
Asia-Plus news website reported that the referendum date will be confirmed in parliament on February 10. The legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, while the other deputies all belong to pocket opposition parties.
A few other provisions are envisioned. Amendments to Article 28 of the Constitution, which regulates the creation of political parties, will bar the formation of parties on a religious or atheist basis. That could potentially presage not just the return in a different form of a party built from the ashes of the banned Islamic Renaissane Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), but even the toothless Communist Party, which has two seats in the lower house of parliament.
The role of parties is in any case to be devalued in accordance with a change to Article 1 of the Constitution, which will, once the referendum is approved, designate Tajikistan as a presidential system, according to a draft seen by EurasiaNet.org.
A new report evaluates how international organizations that are active in Eurasia – including the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Interpol – are fulfilling their commitments to promote human rights and political pluralism.
The report – titled Institutionally Blind? International Organisations and Human Rights Abuses in the Former Soviet Union – features 11 essays by regional experts who examine how specific international organizations have performed in the nearly quarter century since the collapse of communism. It voices alarm that authoritarian-minded leaderships in some Eurasian states, including Russia and Azerbaijan, have managed to largely neutralize the rights-promotion components of many European bodies. It also asserts that European Union policy has shifted away from “values promotion,” and now places more emphasis on economic opportunities and regional security.
“International institutions responsible for defending human rights in the former Soviet Union are under sustained attack not only from their dubious regimes but also from a number of Western politicians turning a blind eye to abuses. These human right watchdogs are being undermined, underfunded and underappreciated,” Adam Hug, the report’s editor, said in a written statement.
In a first for the Caucasus, a Georgian man has filed a lawsuit for the legalization of same-sex marriages in Georgia, a conservative, predominantly Orthodox Christian country. With his suit, civil-rights lawyer Giorgi Tatishvili disputes the constitutionality of a civil law that defines marriage as a union between man and a woman.
Georgia’s vastly influential Orthodox Church requested on February 7 that Tatishvili be placed under police protection as his safety is at risk. Nearly three years ago, a mob led by priests violently scattered an anti-homophobia rally in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and the violence damaged the Church’s reputation.
Its governing body, the Patriarchy, distanced itself from the violence then and has now spoken out against what it described as likely attacks against Tatisvhili.
“Although we find his initiative, let alone the passing of a [same-sex marriage] law, condemnable and completely unacceptable, acts of violence are also unacceptable,” the Patriarchy said in a statement. Tatishvili has not responded.
No date been set yet for the Constitutional Court to hear the case, but attitudes toward homosexuality are broadly negative in Georgia and throughout the Caucasus.
Well-known minority-rights activists have not embraced Tatishvili's petition, a case which they worry may result in public hostility toward and further marginalization of Georgia’s LGBT community. “In an environment where LGBT groups are virtually banished from the public space . . .it is all but science fiction to speak about gay marriage and request the Constitutional Court to weigh in on it,” Lasha Kavtaradze, spokesperson for the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, commented to EurasiaNet.org.
Days after being removed from his senior Cabinet post and his role as a key aide to Turkmenistan’s president, Palvan Taganov is reported to have been arrested.
Announcing the dismissal during the January 5 Cabinet meeting, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov listed multiple shortcomings by Taganov, including failure to contain corruption.
CA-News website went further on January 7, reporting that Taganov has been detained on unspecified charges.
Corruption has becoming a recurring public theme in Turkmenistan as authorities seek to explain away the increasingly apparent economic malaise gripping the country.
Taganov’s brief was evidently vast and he had access to the highest echelons of power paralleled by few others in Turkmenistan.
He was simultaneously appointed deputy prime minister and administrator of the presidential apparatus and Cabinet in September 2013. The following January, his role was slightly amended to put him in charge of trade and the state commodity and raw materials exchange.
Taganov was again named chief of the presidential administration in August 2015, replacing Shamuhammed Durdyliyev, who was moved over to deal energy, construction and utilities sectors. Durdyliyev’s primary brief has been to get the capital, Ashgabat, ready for the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017, which are being touted as a international showcase for the country.
Taganov's control extended over the foreign economic relations, the chamber of industry and trade, and the union of industrialists and entrepreneurs.
So Berdymukhamedov’s criticisms suggests maladministration across a wide array of offices.
Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has joined in with the chorus of gay-bashing sweeping the former Soviet Union by condemning same-sex relationships as a “vile phenomenon of Western culture.”
The tenor of the remarks should not come as altogether surprising since homosexual acts are illegal in Uzbekistan and are punishable by prison sentences of up to three years.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, reported on February 6 that Karimov made the comments during a council session of the people’s deputies of the Tashkent region.
“If a man lives with a man, or a woman with a women, I think that something there isn’t quite right, or some change has happened,” Karimov was quoted as saying.
It is unclear what motivated the president to make the comments.
Sexual minorities are among many social groups targeted for regular intimidation by authorities in Uzbekistan.
In a recent case, two police officers were fired after a video came to light showing them beating a transvestite in the Tashkent district of Chilanzar.
Ozodlik reported that the footage, which was circulated through the Telegram messaging program, shows the two police officers in civilian clothing bursting into a rented apartment and assaulting a young man dressed in women’s clothing and two of his male companions. The raid is said to have taken place following complaints from neighbors.
The incident reportedly occurred in August, but only gained exposure earlier this year.
Uzbekistan is the only country in the former Soviet Union where male homosexuality is illegal, but legislation has been implemented in Russia and is being considered in Kyrgyzstan that aims to further ostracize the LGBT communities there.