Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Abkhazia's de facto president Raul Khajimba at the Kremlin in August. (photo: Kremlin)
As Russia and Abkhazia negotiate closer ties, the Abkhazian side is signaling that it is no Crimea and that it has no wish to be annexed into its neighbor and patron.
A draft of a proposed "Treaty on Alliance and Integration" between the two parties was released in October and caused a substantial outcry in Abkhazia, where many objected to what they said was in effect a sacrifice of their sovereignty to Moscow. Abkhazia won de facto independence in the early 1990s after a war with Georgia, and although Russia today is essentially Abkhazia's only ally and protector, Abkhazians remain ambivalent about Russia's heavy hand in their affairs.
Last week, Abkhazia released its own proposal for the agreement. It makes some substantial changes, starting with the name: it replaces "Integration" with "Strategic Partnership." And it gives Abkhazia more control over the joint armed forces and "unified defense space" that the agreement envisages.
The new public draft comes after Abkhazian officials acknowledged that the proposal -- like nearly all agreements between Russia and Abkhazia -- was drafted by Russia and signed by Abkhazia. But government officials in Sukhumi say they're not working that way any more. At an October 17 public meeting on the agreement, covered by local newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda (not online, via BBC Monitoring) Deputy Foreign Minister Irakli Khintba said:
With the arrival of November, the serfs trickle home from Turkmenistan’s cotton fields. But a culture of state employees being forced to labor in menial jobs continues throughout the year, says an annual monitoring report. As they wait for the fields to bloom again with “white gold,” low-skilled municipal workers such as janitors and security guards are obliged to do free housekeeping for Turkmen bureaucrats, and to travel to faraway cities to participate in cleanups for the state, the report alleges.
Turkmenistan’s Central Asian neighbor Uzbekistan is usually the focus of international flak for mobilizing its citizens – notably students – to harvest cotton each fall. But totalitarian Turkmenistan, which produces more cotton per person than Uzbekistan, is just as keen on exploiting its bloated public sector for field hands, according to the October 14 briefing, published by Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), a service run by Turkmen exiles who partner with Amnesty International and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Drawing on domestic accounts, the second annual report provides an important insight into Turkmenistan’s labor market. It pays particular attention to Turkmenistan’s low-paid state employees who have limited means to defend their rights in a country where de facto unemployment is high and cowed government workers can be replaced easily.
A scandal over alleged contract-rigging by Georgia’s defense ministry has become the country’s main political intrigue, with some observers increasingly worried that prosecutors could begin circling around popular Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. Some question how bona-fide the reasons for this investigation may actually be, however.
Prosecutors allege that the former head of the defense ministry’s procurement department and four current officials fixed the ministry’s call for bids to award a lucrative contract to major communications company Silknet. They maintain that the ministry agreed to an above-market offer for the bid, thereby defrauding the state of 4.1 million lari or $2.34 million.
Deputy Defense Minister Aleksi Batiashvili, named as a “close relative” of Silknet’s financial director, has been called in for questioning as a witness in the case. He has claimed that he had nothing to do with the tender, which Silknet says occurred before his appointment.
The arrests occurred on October 28, while Alasania was in Germany on an official trip. Fresh back, he immediately spoke up for the detainees. “I am confident of the complete innocence of my employees, as, obviously, I was following the procurements and I know that everything was done in full compliance with the law,” Alasania said on November 1.
That knowledge, though, has prompted a few to wonder whether the prosecutors’ interest will next turn to Alasania himself.
As Uzbekistan continues the annual cotton harvest that is largely responsible for the Aral Sea’s demise, officials in Tashkent are boasting that a recent donor conference raised close to $3 billion to help save the endangered lake, once the world’s fourth-largest.
Verifying Uzbek government claims is never easy, and conference attendees are not hurrying to confirm or break down the impressive figure. But an event for the Aral Sea did take place in Urgench, a city not far from the Aral’s receding shoreline, on October 27 and 28. Addressing the conference via pre-recorded video, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon demanded better international coordination to “mitigate environmental catastrophe” reported uz24.uz, an Uzbek outlet. According to the independent Uznews.net, the conference was organized by the authoritarian state in conjunction with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, a regional club, which critics say has done almost nothing since it was set up in 1993.
NASA satellite photos released in late August show that even a partial replenishment of the water-starved Aral is unlikely: The lake’s eastern tranche has completely dried up for the first time in history.
In terms of statistics, unless they are the rosy government sort, Tajikistan often appears to be on the edge of an abyss. But somehow the poorest country to emerge from the Soviet Union chugs on.
So a grim World Bank report out this week probably does not indicate imminent collapse. But it is unnerving to see that almost every macroeconomic indicator suggests trouble ahead. And Tajikistan’s latest predicament coincides with a push from Moscow to join Russia’s new Eurasian Economic Union.
Tajikistan’s economic dependence on Russia is, as economists have long warned, a liability—and not only because it gives Moscow enormous influence. “The possible spillover effect from the Russian slowdown onto the Tajikistan economy is estimated to be one of the largest in the [Europe and Central Asia] region: a 1 percentage point reduction in the growth of Russia’s GDP would reduce growth in Tajikistan by the same amount,” says the October 27 report, “Tajikistan: Moderated Growth, Heightened Risk.”
For starters, over a million Tajiks, or about one-half of working-age Tajik men, labor in Russia, usually in menial jobs. Their transfers are worth about half of Tajikistan’s GNP, making it the most remittance-dependent country in the world.
But as the Kremlin sacrifices Russia’s economy for its Ukraine policy, which has caused a new low in relations with the West, the resulting downturn is hurting the ruble and Tajikistan’s economy at large. An ailing ruble buys fewer dollars to send home.
In the story, published on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, Galajian listed 60 individuals allegedly engaged in what he termed gay propaganda. He included links to their Facebook profiles and called for their total ostracization. He also urged employers and schools to cut off any contact with these individuals. State employers, he added, “should fire them under any convenient pretext," one English translation of the Armenian text reads.
When Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK), an LGBT-rights group, and 16 individuals from the blacklist sued Galajian, his newspaper responded with articles laced with homophobic slurs, which described the plaintiffs as "fag defenders" and grant-guzzlers; the latter an ex-Soviet pejorative for international donor-sponsored civil society groups.
The tug-of-war started publicly this summer when the New-York-City-based Human Rights Watch, which is not an EITI member, called for the group to end Azerbaijan’s membership over its harsh treatment of civil-society activists, journalists and opposition members.
Others agreed it was time to put Azerbaijan under the lens. “If people can attend every EITI meeting but have their bank accounts frozen for being critical - or can get hounded by authorities for asking questions publicly about oil or mining deals once they step outside those meetings - then that is not an enabling environment.” said alternate EITI board member Brendan O’Donnell from Global Witness, a natural-resources-corruption watchdog, in an October-16 statement.
After a check-up visit in Baku in late September, EITI management announced that “The situation facing civil society in Azerbaijan is clearly problematic.”
France has formally ended its military presence in Tajikistan after 13 years of operations supporting French troops in Afghanistan.
At a ceremony October 28, the French flag was lowered at the Dushanbe airport, where since 2001 the French military had operated since 2001. The small base (actually a part of the Dushanbe's civilian international airport) hosted around 200 French troops at a time, working on supply and logistics for their compatriots in Afghanistan. From 2005 to 2007 it also hosted French fighter jets used for operations in Afghanistan. Over its lifespan it facilitated the transit of about 89,000 soldiers and carried out 11,000 airlift missions, according to the French Ministry of Defense.
The withdrawl is of course connected with the completion of the international combat mission in Afghanistan, which formally ends at the end of this year. As of October 6, France only had 90 soldiers remaining in Afghanistan, down from 4,000 in 2009.
The large majority of French troops actually left last year, and what was left was just a small skeleton crew working on resurfacing the runways, which was part of the deal by which the Tajikistan government agreed to allow the French presence.
Turkmenistan marked Independence Day this week. While parts of the gas-rich country were experiencing gas shortages, there was no shortage of pomp and prosperity on display in Ashgabat on October 27. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was in attendance and some of the choreography – like an Akhal-Teke horse, his favorite breed, drawn out of Kalashnikovs – must have been especially pleasing to the horse-mad leader.
A photographer in Ashgabat sent EurasiaNet.org these images, which are used with permission.
Azerbaijan has chipped in a million dollars to the United Nations' Ebola response effort in what appears to be the latest installment in the ongoing campaign to promote Baku’s credentials as a responsible member of the international community.
As this donation underlines, the time when Azerbaijan was a war-ravaged, post-Soviet country relying on foreign aid is long gone. In recent years, whether schools for Georgia or restoration jobs for France, it has been steadily building up its donor activities.Oil and gas wealth helped changed everything, from the skyline of the capital, Baku, to the country’s military supplies and economic credentials abroad.
But one thing that has not changed, critics claim, are the Soviet, totalitarian ways, and, according to a growing choir of human-rights watchdogs, it is getting worse.
Critics of President Ilham Aliyev's government — at least those who remain at large — believe that Azerbaijan’s handouts for international development and charity serve primarily to blanket over international criticism of its dismal democracy record.
The government, of course, even as it hires one American PR guru, Liz Mair, to make its case in Washington, rejects the notion that it has any such need.