For years, Georgia has been notorious for its widespread use of pirated software. But now officials in Tbilisi are vowing to address the issue, pledging in a memorandum signed with software giant Microsoft to use only properly licensed products.
“It is no secret that Georgia for years relied on unauthorized software. We can say that Georgia had the highest rate of counterfeit software usage in the world,” Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said during the March 5 signing ceremony.
Georgia was cited as the largest user of bootlegged software in a 2009 study that covered 115 nations. A 2014 study showed that the country had made little progress in stemming the problem, with roughly 90 percent of the software installed by computer users not being properly licensed.
Some observers contend that the widespread reliance on pirated software makes Georgia vulnerable to cyber-attacks. During the country’s 2008 war with Russia, Georgia suffered from massive cyber sabotage at the hands of Russian hackers.
US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland, who attended the signing ceremony, said the agreement sends a powerful message that “Georgia wants to do business in the right way, in accordance with the rule of law, respecting intellectual property,” the Interpressnews newswire reported.
Tajikistan’s strongman President Emomali Rahmon has silenced the opposition at home without much of a fight. Abroad, his administration is employing help of Interpol – the avowedly non-political international police organization – to stifle dissident voices.
Acting on an Interpol all-points-bulletin, a so-called red notice, the Finnish authorities detained 31-year-old Sulaimon Davlatov on February 20. A long-time resident of St Petersburg, Russia, Davlatov was travelling to Lithuania when he was seized. The Tajik authorities accuse Davlatov of being a member of the outlawed Group 24 – and, without publicly presenting evidence, of sending citizens to fight in Syria.
Currently, the Interpol website lists 127 red notices for Tajik citizens. Their alleged crimes range from robbery and drug trafficking to terrorism.
Critics say the Interpol system is open to manipulation by authoritarians determined to track down their political rivals. The Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation wrote in a February 24 report:
NATO warships deploy to the Black Sea. (photo: NATO)
A six-ship NATO naval group is conducting joint exercises in the Black Sea, and the Russian military is taking advantage of the event to carry out war games of a sort.
The NATO group is led by an American admiral aboard the USS Vicksburg, and also includes warships from Canada, Germany, Italy, Romania, and Turkey. The training "will include simulated anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises, as well as simulated small boat attacks and basic ship handling manoeuvres," according to a release from NATO.
An anonymous source in the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, Crimea, told agency RIA Novosti that they are following the deployment and using it as an opportunity to practice testing the NATO forces' anti-aircraft systems. The probing is being carried out by Su-30 fighters and Su-24 bombers, the source said:
"Our pilots are mainly monitoring the direction of the NATO ships and monitoring the tasks that they are carrying out on their visit to the sea," the source said. "In addition, the ships' crews are no doubt conducting exercises with our planes to practice an air attack, which gives our pilots the opportunity to gain experience maneuvering and conducting aerial surveillance both in and outside of the range of the anti-aircraft systems."
The leader of Russia-backed South Ossetia worries that Georgian doctors are undermining the breakaway entity’s health.
During a cabinet session of the de-facto South Ossetian government held March 2, Leonid Tibilov, the president of the self-proclaimed republic, expressed concern about the number of South Ossetian residents traveling to Georgia to seek medical treatment.
South Ossetia, along with the autonomous region of Abkhazia, broke free of Tbilisi’s rule in the early 1990s. In the aftermath of its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia recognized the independence of both entities, which remain heavily dependent on Kremlin subsidies.
Despite decades of political enmity, many South Ossetians prefer Georgian health services to what they can obtain at home, and they find Georgian healthcare to be cheaper than what can be found in Russia. Many are attracted by Georgia’s universal insurance program, which covers residents of the separatist regions. Official policy in Tbilisi holds that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still part of Georgia.
South Ossetian authorities permit residents to make trips across the breakaway lines only in cases of a healthcare emergency, but, as Tibilov observed a year ago, a growing number of South Ossetians are opting for regular treatment in Georgian clinics. Georgian officials said that the number reached 400 last year, reported Ekho Kavkaza news service. The fraternization makes South Ossetian leaders uncomfortable.
You can find donkeys at Bishkek’s theme parks painted to look like zebras. A Kyrgyz proverb has it that travelling on one to the jailoo, or mountain pasture, is a sign of social lowliness.
In a country that reveres – and eats – the horse, the humble donkey is a poor substitute, destined to spend its days poked and prodded by rural boys dreaming of stallions.
For this reason, allegations that a farm outside Bishkek is doing a spritely trade flogging donkey meat to eateries in Kyrgyzstan’s capital have caused mass consternation and soul searching. The parliament’s committee on agrarian policy threatened on March 2 that the government had until March 15 to deliver justice for Kyrgyz meat lovers, or face a vote of no confidence.
Investigators promptly opened a criminal case against the farm, which denies wrongdoing, on March 3.
The scandal began brewing on February 24 when journalists from state television followed up on the complaints of locals and visited a farm in Sololuk District, not far from Bishkek. Gruesome photos soon emerged online of piles of severed donkey heads and other donkey parts at the farm’s less-than-sterile-appearing slaughterhouse.
Selling donkey meat is not a crime in Kyrgyzstan, but the journalists claimed – without offering proof – that the animals were bound for Bishkek’s restaurants, where their cuts would masquerade as beef and lamb.
The Taysoygan training grounds, which Russia currently leases from Kazakhstan, in a screenshot from a report on Astana TV.
Kazakhstan has reached an agreement with Russia to take over most of a Russian military training facility in far western Kazakhstan. The deal represents the latest step in Kazakhstan's efforts to regain control over the many Soviet-legacy military and other strategic facilities that Russia still operates in the country.
Under the agreement, Russia will hand over about 90 percent of the Taysoygan testing facility near Atyrau, Senator Sarsenbay Engsegenov told Astana TV. President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the Ministry of Defense to work out the details of the agreement, which should be ratified by parliament by the end of March, Engsegenov said. There hasn't yet been any comment from the Russian side.
The Taysoygan facility is currently used for Russian testing of pilots and aircraft, but in the Soviet era it was used for nuclear testing (it was reportedly subject to 24 nuclear explosions in the 1960s and 70s), and today residents still talk about the environmental impact of that: there have been calves born with five legs or one eye, children with a variety of developmental disabilities, and adults tend to have short lifespans.
Call it Azerbaijan's interpretation of traditional Caucasian hospitality. Its citizens may be facing a bad currency-crunch, brought on by devaluation and depressed oil prices, but that’s not gonna stop this South Caucasus country from footing the bill for travel and accommodation for the “more than 6,000” athletes competing in this June’s European Olympic Games in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.
But the European Olympic Committee, which is running the Baku games, claims that covering athletes’ costs is standard for Olympic-host countries.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s government does, however, have a thing for “spectacular shows.” In 2012, almost $80 million was spent on Eurovision, a continental pop music extravaganza. Baku plans to foot a $8 billion bill for the European Olympic Games, even though its manat can buy 33.5 percent less per dollar now and fears persist that the nation’s hydrocarbon-supported revenues may halve this year.
The party of Tajikistan’s strongman president, Emomali Rakhmon, has swept aside all opposition in a parliamentary vote that international observes say fell far short of democratic standards.
Since independnece, two mildly critical parties each held two seats in the largely rubber-stamp 63-seat Assembly of Representatives: the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and the Communist Party. Though both had little power, their presence gave the body a democratic veneer. On March 1, neither met the 5 percent threshold needed to claim seats in parliament.
Instead, Rakhmon's ruling People’s Democratic Party increased its majority from 55 to 57 seats, local media reported. The remaining seven seats will be split among the Agrarian Party, the Party of Economic Reforms, and the Socialist Party, all of which have close links to Rakhmon’s regime.
The Communist leader called the poll a "farce," but said there was no point in challenging the results.
The Central Electoral Commission declared the vote valid, claiming that over 87 percent of the four-million-strong electorate had turned out at 3,209 polling stations around the country.
Tajikistan has never held a vote deemed free or fair by independent observers, and this one was no different.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Iranian envoy Ali Akbar Velayati in January. (photo: Kremlin)
Iran may be admitted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization this summer if it makes progress in resolving disputes over its nuclear program, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has said.
It already seems clear that India and Pakistan, who have both long sought SCO membership, will be admitted at the organization's summit this July in Ufa, Russia. Iran -- which also has been trying for years to enter the SCO -- has been hampered by the fact that it is under international sanctions related to its nuclear program.
But when a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, visited Moscow in late January, he reportedly gained the Kremlin's approval for SCO membership.
"Velayati’s Moscow trip might signal that some kind of a significant change in relations is about to take place. Iran’s Mehr News reported that in Moscow, Velayati was able to secure Putin’s approval for Iran to 'upgrade its status' in the SCO," noted regional analyst Alex Vatanka. "As an observer state in SCO, Iran has since 2005 unsuccessfully sought to obtain full membership in the organization, but perhaps the Russians are about to entertain the idea of Tehran joining the alliance. Along these lines, the state-run Iranian media have been busy hyping the prospects of an SCO membership for Iran."
Three-and-a-half tons of mimosas allegedly now are crossing each day from separatist Abkhazia into Russia, Russian news outlets allege. The tiny, subtropical region is hoping to make a roaring trade out of its resplendent yellow blossoms ahead of the March 8 International Women’s Day, a combination of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in the post-Soviet world.
As it blossoms early, mimosa, or acacia dealbata, makes a prime gift for the big day. Mother Nature has helped out as well. A moderate winter led to early blossoms this year on Abkhazia’s Black Sea coast, Russian media claim.
Yet contraband is also on the increase. Some smugglers are trying to hide Abkhazia’s mimosas in their car trunks, Russian customs officials complained, Vesti.ru reported, citing TASS.
A standard mimosa bouquet sells for 100 rubles, or $1.60, in Sochi, the largest Russian city near Abkhazia, according to one outlet.
But, soon, those mimosas may not rank as contraband. Russian President Vladimir Putin, ever land-hungry, would like to eliminate Russia’s de-facto border with flowering Abkhazia, which Moscow recognises as an independent country from Georgia.