Friday, February 27, 2009

Russia proposes NATO talks on Georgia to ease ties

Russia is ready to discuss its war in Georgia to help unblock ties with NATO but alliance nations are divided over resuming formal talks and no de-freeze is likely before April, diplomats said Thursday.

The war in early August brought NATO-Russia tensions to a head, especially Moscow's decision to recognise the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and its plans to base troops there.

"We are proposing a special session of the NATO-Russia Council on the Caucasus," Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told AFP, a day after he made the proposal to alliance ambassadors in Brussels.
"The only condition is that this meeting happen in the presence of a representative of the Russian chiefs of staff, so we can explain our view of the events that led to the conflict with Georgia in August," he said.

Rogozin said the meeting could also focus on "our project to install bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia," the breakaway Georgian regions which Russia has recognised, to widespread western condemnation.

Official high-level talks between NATO and Russia have been frozen since Moscow sent its troops into Georgia last August, but resumed informally in December.
A NATO spokeswoman declined to say whether the alliance, whose foreign ministers will discuss the issue in Brussels on March 5 with new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton present, would accept the proposal.

"We speak about Georgia at all our meetings. The allies expressed (Wednesday) their concern about the bases that Moscow wants to install" in the breakaway Georgian regions, she said.
According to diplomats, several nations want to resume formal meetings of the so-called NATO-Russia Council, which meets routinely among ambassadors, but also at ministerial and head of state and government level.

France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Spain maintain that the sanction against Russia is counter-productive and have called for a resumption of official ties for months. Britain came around to that position at the end of last year.

One diplomat said that NATO "must ask what it has to win by isolating itself", when the European Union -- which has 21 members in common with the alliance -- relaunched partnership talks with Moscow in November.

Were NATO to decide next week to unblock ties, Clinton could use that momentum on March 6 in Geneva, where she is set to hold talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
But several eastern European countries -- notably the Czech Republic -- and Canada, which has a big Georgian community, refuse any early return to normal relations.

In preparing to set up bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they believe, Russia has crossed an important red line.

"Because of the Russian bases, the allies are not going to be able to re-engage and launch the dialogue this time around," another diplomat said.
"They would prefer to wait until the summit," in Strasbourg, northern France and the neighbouring German city of Kehl on April 2-3, he said.
Much will depend, as usual at NATO, on the position of the United States, the biggest and most powerful of the allies.

"It seems that the United States wants to send positive messages to everyone, to Russia as well as Ukraine and Georgia," which are both trying to join NATO, an alliance official said.

Russia rejects 'double standards' in U.S. rights report

Moscow has rejected a critical U.S. State Department report on human rights as "double standards," the foreign ministry said Thursday. "We were not surprised to see the arsenal of simple approaches that have been used before and are aimed at forming a consistent negative attitude toward Russia as a chief rights violator," the ministry said in a statement.

"It is no secret that the United States use double standards in human rights sphere, depending on how loyal this or that state is to Washington's foreign policies and methods in defending democracy and human rights," the statement read. Russia condemned "using documents of some international non-governmental organisations whose political bias and financing source are well known," as well as "odious appraisal of Russia's effort to defend its citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia."

The U.S. criticized Russia's "disproportionate force" in a "military invasion" of neighboring Georgia last year in support of pro-Russian separatists fighting Georgian troops.
U.S. criticism "did not hold any water, especially considering known facts of U.S. violation of international law while "promoting democratic values" in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq," the ministry said.

"In view of the new U.S. administration's remarks on readiness to hold a mutually respectful and constructive dialogue with other states, we would like to hope that Washington will adjust its attitude in preparing such reports," the ministry added. In an annual report on human rights worldwide, Washington said that Russia's 2008 election of President Dmitry Medvedev was "not free and not fair" due to media bias and "abuse of administrative resources."

The report highlighted brutal security operations in the troubled North Caucasus region, as well as state corruption and attacks on journalists, and singled out torture allegedly conducted under Chechnya's Kremlin-installed leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The reports on ex-Soviet countries were part of a major annual State Department survey of human rights around the world, including both foes and countries closely allied to the United States.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Russia hoping to thaw relations with NATO

Russia's envoy to NATO said on Wednesday Moscow could formally relaunch ties with the alliance in March and invited NATO's head to a regional meeting set to focus on the situation in Afghanistan. NATO froze relations last August in protest against Russia's intervention in Georgia but Moscow and the alliance's key member, the United States, have sent out conciliatory messages since U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration last month.

"We have presented the principles on which we consider it possible to build our future cooperation," Moscow's representative at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, told Itar-Tass news agency in an interview.
He was speaking after holding an informal meeting with NATO ambassadors earlier on Wednesday.

"If these principles are accepted at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on March 5, it will be a mutual decision. Building new ties, we will do everything to avoid situations that led to the freezing of the NATO-Russia Council."

He told RIA news agency he would hold a one-on-one meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer in Brussels on Thursday to "synchronize watches," but gave no further detail.

Rogozin said the NATO's head had been invited to a ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Moscow on March 27 which would focus on Afghanistan.
The SCO unites China, Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero confirmed the invitation, saying "the secretary-general is looking into it."

Washington, facing the closure of a key military air base in Kyrgyzstan, is looking for ways to diversify land supply routes for U.S. and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is a huge headache for NATO," Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy radio. "The railway transit of non-military cargo, that is due to run across Russia as well, is still not working, while losses among Afghanistan's civilian population and NATO troops are rising."

The Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which share borders with Afghanistan have allowed non-military cargo to pass there by land across their territory. Russia and Kazakhstan are also part of the route.

Despite efforts to heal their rifts, NATO and Russia remain at odds over the Georgia war and the alliance's expansion east. Russia says it sent tanks and troops into breakaway South Ossetia after Tbilisi tried to retake the pro-Moscow region by force. NATO condemned Russia's actions during its five-day war with Georgia as disproportionate.

The alliance has also angered Russia by reaffirming a pledge that ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine would one day join NATO.

Let's Try Talking

Major powers favor reconciliation over confrontation at the 45th Munich Security Conference The annual Munich Security Conference opened on February 6. Although the conference was informal, it still became a focus of the international community-not only because three major powers, the United States, Russia and the European Union (EU), had serious differences on several issues in 2008, but also because it was the first major international event for the new U.S. administration under President Barack Obama. GATHERING IN MUNICH: Participating countries display a rare flexibility in their positions at the 45th Munich Security Conference held in Germany on February 6-8 (XINHUA/AFP) The Obama administration treated the conference as a stage on which to present its new diplomatic theory and global strategy, sending a strong delegation headed by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Biden's speech at the conference had an unprecedented tone of humility from a U.S. leader. He told the audience that the United States was going to engage, listen and consult. "America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America," he said.

The top theme at the conference was U.S.-Russian relations. During the past eight years of the Bush administration, the U.S.-Russian relations had fallen to a low point.
At the conference, Biden sent a positive message to Russia. "It's time, to paraphrase President Obama, to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together." Biden pointed out that Moscow and Washington share many interests, for example, in maintaining stability in Afghanistan and reining in nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Russia quickly echoed these sentiments. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia welcomed the U.S. Government's expressed desire to amend their bilateral ties, and is ready to cooperate with the United States in every field. In a meeting on February 8, Biden told Ivanov that Washington would revaluate its missile defense plans and exchange views with Russia as well as the EU countries.

The "reset" message reflected the Obama administration's new diplomatic theory, which is quite different from that of his predecessor. It at least shows that the United States will not stubbornly maintain its unilateral policies anymore.

But Biden also made it clear that Obama has no intention of compromising the country's strategic interests. "We will not agree with Russia on everything," he said. "For example, the United States will not, will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances." These comments struck at Russia's core interests. Thus the ice between Washington and Moscow will not thaw easily.

The second focus of the conference was Afghanistan, where Obama recently authorized the deployment of an additional 17,000 American troops in an effort to reverse the deteriorating situation there. The United States used the conference as an opportunity to persuade NATO members to play more important roles in Afghanistan and take more responsibility. Biden said new U.S. policy in Afghanistan must seek support from related parties, and the policy should be a full strategy in which all sides jointly shoulder responsibility.

NATO members reacted in different ways. Britain was favorable, while Germany was reluctant. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said NATO could not rely on military measures alone to guarantee the success of its peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan. He called for close cooperation between Europe and the United States to strengthen civil reconstruction there. In the meantime, Afghanistan did not applaud NATO's plan to increase troop levels. Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned NATO troops in Afghanistan for contributing to a high civilian casualty rate-more than 2,000 in 2008, a 40 percent increase year on year-and called on the international community to help Afghanistan train its army and police force.
The third theme of the conference was Iran's nuclear ambitions. "We will be willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice," Biden said in his speech. "Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives." Iran had also sent representatives to the conference, where remarks by Iran and the United States appeared less critical of each other and more cautiously conciliatory. Both sides expressed their wish to negotiate without preconditions. Direct contact is becoming more likely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Georgia: OSCE Stalemated On Future of Georgian Mission

Despite a recent agreement on extending the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s unarmed military monitoring contingent to Georgia, efforts to save the OSCE’s mission to the region from closure have so far brought no results.

Talking to EurasiaNet on the sidelines of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s annual winter meeting in Vienna, a top Russian diplomat said negotiations on the fate of the OSCE mission to Georgia were at a standstill.

“[Last year], our partners -- especially our western partners -- and the Finnish chairmanship [of the OSCE] refused to enter into a dialogue with us. The same is happening now. Our partners do not want to talk to us,” Russia’s Ambassador to the OSCE Anvar Azimov said on February 20. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

While refraining from blaming any particular side, one OSCE official who asked not to be identified confirmed to EurasiaNet that talks were stalled.

Ever since its creation in 1992, the mandate of the OSCE mission to Georgia and its South Ossetian branch had been routinely extended at the end of each calendar year. But the short war that pitted Russia against Georgia over South Ossetia last August upset the traditional consensus that had existed over that issue among OSCE participating states.

As the December 31 deadline for renewing the mission’s mandate was approaching, Russia -- which unilaterally recognized South Ossetia’s independence after the war -- insisted that OSCE field operations in Georgia and its breakaway republic be split from each other and given separate mandates “to reflect the new realities on the ground.” A large majority of OSCE participating states then opposed Moscow’s stance. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

On December 22, Finland’s Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said efforts to find a compromise had failed and announced that that the OSCE mission to Georgia would be closing imminently. He implicitly blamed Russia for the collapse of the talks.

When taking over the OSCE chairmanship from Finland on January 1, Greece declared its intention to revive consultations among participating states with a view to preventing the termination of the mission which, as of today, remains in a state of “technical closure.” [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In a bid to break the deadlock, Athens has proposed to maintain two mutually independent missions in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, and set up a new, Vienna-headquartered structure to oversee the work of the 28 military monitoring officers (MMO) the OSCE has on the ground.

Moscow initially seemed to support Athens’ proposal. But it eventually rejected the draft, thus prompting Greece to produce a revised version, which Georgia amended heavily. While saying that the Greek proposal is providing a good basis for negotiations, Georgia has warned against any arrangement that could be seen as legitimizing South Ossetia’s self-proclaimed independence.

OSCE officials privately say they find Georgia's position difficult to understand and as ambiguous as Russia's. “We’re sometimes getting the impression that the Georgians have already written the OSCE off and that they’re hiding behind the Russians in the hope that Moscow will take the blame for the collapse of the talks,” one Western diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Azimov told EurasiaNet that Moscow had presented the Greek chairmanship with an alternative plan, which he described as follows: “In our proposal we say that we are for an OSCE field presence in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali and that the monitoring components should be part of these missions.”

OSCE officials say that if the Russians do actually insist that the two projected offices share responsibility over the MMOs, they would nonetheless accept that monitoring operations be supervised from Vienna, and that a link between the two missions is maintained under certain procedural conditions.

Disputing Western claims that Russia is obstructing the talks, Azimov accused Greece and other OSCE participating states of hindering the consultations. “I perfectly understand that Russia will eventually be blamed. [But] I blame our Western partners and the Greek chairmanship who do not want to work constructively with us,” he said, adding that, in his view, Greece “should work more actively with South Ossetian authorities” on the mandate issue.

Greece’s ambassador to the OSCE, Mara Marinaki, dismissed Azimov’s allegation. “It is a well-known fact that the Greek chairmanship intends to continue its active engagement as an honest broker, aiming at a principled compromise acceptable to all parties,” she wrote in a brief statement sent to EurasiaNet through the OSCE press office.

Sources privy to the consultations note that relations between Russia and the current OSCE chairmanship are strained. Tension increased in mid-February when the Greeks, yielding to Georgian pressure, skipped an informal meeting that Azimov had arranged in Vienna with Boris Chochiyev, South Ossetia’s chief negotiator at the Geneva talks.

Azimov claims Russia is flexible. “We’re telling [our partners]: if there is a problem with [the tentative mission to] Tskhinvali, let’s just put Tskhinvali aside for the moment and work on the mandate of the OSCE in Georgia so that we can preserve the monitoring operations,” he says.
Russia and the other 55 OSCE participating states on February 12 agreed to extend until late June the mandate of the 20 MMOs the organization deployed in areas adjacent to South Ossetia after the August military conflict.

The decision does not apply to the eight unarmed military monitors who were in South Ossetia before the war and whose mandate expired on December 31, along with that of the OSCE mission to Georgia. Those eight observers were evacuated to Tbilisi during the conflict and South Ossetia objects to their return, unless a fully-fledged OSCE mission to Tskhinvali is set up.
Azimov warned that Russia might veto further extension of the monitors’ mandate if the mission issue is not settled by June 30: “If our concerns remain unheeded, if we don’t work out the modalities and functions of the work of OSCE observers -- including in Georgia . . . then I do not rule out that we might take a firm stance and terminate the OSCE presence in Georgia as a whole,” he said.

Sokhumi Slams EU’s Belarus Warning

Sergey Shamba, the foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, said the Czech Foreign Minister’s warning against Belarus not to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia was regarded by Sokhumi as EU’s “biased” position, which was undermining Geneva talks in which EU acts as mediator.
Speaking after meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, which discussed Eastern Partnership initiative, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds EU presidency, said: “It is natural that Belarus [has] a sovereign parliament and the parliament of Belarus has its own decision [to make],” he said. "If they recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia it would create a very, very difficult situation for Belarus because Belarus would be out of the European consensus.”

Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported on February 24 quoting Shamba, that the statement was “a direct pressure exerted by EU on sovereign Belarus.”

“The recognition issue represents internal affair of a state and this was a basic guiding principle of EU-member states in respect of Kosovo recognition,” Shamba said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Former UN ambassador blames Saakashvili

Last summer's conflict in South Ossetia was caused by the hasty and irresponsible policies of Georgia’s government, says its former ambassador to the United Nations Irakly Alasania.Alasania, who recently resigned and joined an opposition party, was speaking on Georgian TV. “Georgian authorities didn’t analyze the situation in full, they didn’t have an idea of what was actually happening in the region,” he said.

According to the former UN ambassador, President Mikhail Saakashvili didn’t have the authority to start a military operation.“In that situation talks were the only outcome, not the steps that authorities took, which led to such tragic consequences. The actions that were taken were hasty and counter-productive – for instance, the military rhetoric President Saakashvili resorted to,” he noted.After Georgia invaded South Ossetia, Russia was forced to step in. Hundreds of civilians were killed by Georgian troops in the Ossetian capital Tskhinval. After the war Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Georgia’s other breakaway republic of Abkhazia as independent states.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Russia, Georgia agree plan to avoid new clashes

Russia and Georgia have agreed on a mechanism to try to prevent any flareups around the breakaway South Ossetia region from turning into full-scale clashes, international mediators said on Wednesday.

The mediators hailed the accord as an important step forward in efforts to reduce tensions in the area, which sparked a brief but devastating war between the two last August, but diplomats warned that it needed to be tested on the ground.

"We think this is an important step to security and stability," European Union special representative for the issue Pierre Morel told a news conference, while United Nations mediator Johan Verbeke hailed "a significant first agreement."

However, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried struck a note of caution, while agreeing the development in the fourth round of mediated talks between the two countries in Geneva since October, was "positive and practical."

"Putting it into effect will depend on goodwill on the ground on both sides," he told the news conference. The United States, which regards Georgia an ally in the volatile Caucasus region, attends the talks as an interested party.

In a formal statement, the three mediators, who also include a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the talks had produced by consensus "proposals for joint incident prevention and response mechanisms."
It said the mechanisms would allow for regular contacts "between structures responsible for security and public order in areas of tension and relevant international organizations."


The cautious wording covered both Russian and Georgian forces as well as police and other forces of South Ossetia, and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, which have declared independence and gained Russian recognition but are still regarded by Georgia as part of its territory.

The aim of establishing the mechanisms, details of which were not immediately released, was to "ensure a timely and adequate response to the security situation," including incidents and their investigation, the statement said.

Security forces of all parties would meet each week, more if necessary, and the first gathering would be held soon, it added.

Georgia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Bakeria told a separate news conference that the move was "a step in the right direction," but insisted it should be followed by talks on full Russian withdrawal from "occupied Georgian territories."

There was no formal comment from Russian officials attending the talks. But continuing sharp differences separating the Georgians from the Russians were reflected in parallel talks over the past two days on humanitarian issues and refugees in the region.

Diplomats said the South Ossetians, citing security, had declined to accept the return of Georgians to homes in the region from which they had been driven by militias during and after last August's fighting, or to allow humanitarian convoys.

The Russians had also declined to set a date for the next round of talks, the diplomats said.
Morel said there had been agreement that the next round, when it takes place, would consider security arrangements such as the non-use of force and international presence in the region.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anger Festers as South Ossetians Accuse Europe of Failing Them

Europeans might be stunned to learn of the outrage of many in South Ossetia at the presence of EU ceasefire monitors -- part of an EU-brokered peace pact between Georgia and Russia that ended the war in August last yearMemories of war in this tiny patch of farm country sitting in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains are old and filled with violence.

But the raw anger among some South Ossetians, huddled amid the freezing, roofless ruins left by the recent war in this separatist province, is being redirected towards a new antagonist. South Ossetians are resentful towards the European Union and have expressed anger at the EU's support of Georgia and the presence of EU observers in the region.

Some contempt is also saved for a separate mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has patrolled the region since 1992. Like European peacekeepers, OSCE personnel have also been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.

Villager: War tearing us apart

Hysterical shouts greeted a small group of foreign journalists who tumbled out of a Russian-organized bus tour to the tightly-guarded region last week. Residents shuffled up, fists raised, from their seats where the spring sun had dried the pock-marked mud in front of the village store. There had been mortar shelling here, as evidenced by the mud holes.

"We are against Europe and the OSCE. How many people have to be killed, every summer, for them to see the truth?" Svetalana Bukhayeva hotly pressed journalists. She had mistaken them for representatives of the two European missions.

"What Georgia says is served up on a plate, but nobody listens to us. We don't understand. We have seen nothing good from life the last 20 years but war and bombardment.

"Life stops with war," she lamented, saying only three children have been born in the village of Khetagurvoa since South Ossetia threw off Tbilisi's rule in a war of succession in the early 1990s.

Kokoity: Monitors will never enter South Ossetia

The Kremlin-backed South Ossetian leadership last week accused Georgia of firing two RPG-7 shells at the separatist's provincial capital Tskhinvali and accused EU observers on the Georgian side of the ceasefire line with turning a blind eye to an alleged military buildup there.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said as much at a press conference Friday in Tskhinvali, where local and Russian media snapped pictures of him sitting in front of Russian and South Ossetian flags. "Where are the European observers looking?" he fumed.

Asked in an interview with German news agency DPA under what conditions he would allow EU and OSCE monitors access to South Ossetia, Kokoity replied: "They will never work here.

"Never, because those organizations long ago compromised themselves. In the face of Georgian aggression they did nothing to save woman, children and the elderly.

"We don't trust these organizations. They have taken no responsibility. More than anything they fulfill the function of border markers," Kokoity said.

EU presence 'preventing' fresh conflict

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) says it has found no evidence of Georgian troop concentrations near the border with South Ossetia, nor of preparations for military action.
"Because of the South Ossetian claims we were able to carry out an investigation and concluded that there was no build up in Georgian forces," EUMM spokesman Steve Bird told DPA on Monday.

"We are an independent organization with a mandate, as we see it, to monitor the whole of the country (Georgia). We would welcome (a request for) an investigation into the claims in South Ossetia to see exactly what happened, if they allowed us," he said.

This issue will likely be one of several points of high contention in the third round of Russia-Georgia negotiations in Geneva on Feb. 17-18. Western governments say the presence of Tbilisi-based EU and OSCE monitors in and around South Ossetia could help prevent new hostilities.
The US and Europe have not recognized the independence of South Ossetia, nor that of another breakaway region called Abkhazia. Both were considered autonomous regions of Georgia under the Soviet Union and until the recent August war.

Frozen statehood

Moscow, meanwhile, wants to split the monitoring missions to reflect its recognition of South Ossetian statehood -- a South Ossetian and Russian goal for the last 17 years -- after quashing Georgia's bid to retake the separatist territory.

Half a year after the conflict, the fresh anger here is underlined by a disappointed realization that, despite recognition by Russia, the state looks destined to remain locked into a strange de facto status quo, shakily dependent on Moscow's aide.

Not a single house in Khetaguraova, on the outskirts Tskhinvali, looks to have survived unscathed from the recent conflict. Blue-painted slogans stood bright against the rusted fences and black-charred walls. One said, "Thank you Russia," while another read, "Ossetia thanks its protectors."

Larisa Tatayeva, a 39-year-old nurse, pointed through a shattered window pane at the village store to where she ran to hide when the Georgian attack began: "I had so much shrapnel in my skin it took hours to pick out in the light of the cellar.

"We had a lot of hope in Europe, but now we watch television and see they are only for Georgia," she said, nervously fiddling with the blond tips of her hair now brown half-way to the roots. "Russia saved us. We have hope in Russia and not anyone else."

Georgia to pay for water from S. Ossetia from April 1

The South Ossetian government made a decision that consumers should pay for fresh and irrigation water supplied to Georgia from South Ossetia from April 1 at its meeting chaired by South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity on Tuesday.

"Inform the Georgian side about this. And we need to carry out relevant financial work in order to set the price for using water," Kokoity said.

"If the Georgian side refuses, we will stop supplying water to the Georgian territory," the president said.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New round of talks on S. Ossetia, Abkhazia to begin in Geneva

A new round of talks on security and stability in and around the former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is set to begin in Geneva on Tuesday.

The two-day talks are expected to be attended by representatives of the two republics, Georgia, the EU, the OSCE, the UN, Russia and the United States. Both republics were recognized as independent states by Russia on August 26, 2008.

Grigory Karasin, a deputy Russian foreign minister and the head of the Russian delegation at the talks, said he expected a positive outcome from the Geneva meeting.

"We are set for a positive outcome. It is high time for Tbilisi and other world capitals to take a close look at the situation and understand that everyone needs stability and everyone needs to develop onward relations both with Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Karasin earlier told journalists.
Russia recognized the two republics as independent states two weeks after the end of a five-day war with Georgia last August, which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in a bid to bring it back under central control. Nicaragua has so far been the only other country to recognize the republics.

Shootings and abductions have been reported along the de facto border between Georgia and South Ossetia since after the armed conflict, with both sides blaming each other for continuing violence.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia split from Georgia amid bloody post-Soviet conflicts. The majority of residents of both republics have had Russian citizenship for many years.

Russia says unaware of plans for S.Ossetia-Georgia border fence

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it had no information on the construction of a fence along South Ossetia's border with Georgia.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry expressed concerns on Monday over what it said were plans, also reported in some media, on the part of South Ossetia to build a fence along its border with Georgia with Russia's assistance.

"The Russian Foreign Ministry does not have information on the construction of a special fence along South Ossetia's border with Georgia. At the same time, the authorities of the sovereign state of South Ossetia have the right to erect infrastructure on its border with adjacent states for national security reasons," the ministry said on its website.

The ministry also said Russia was planning to sign an agreement on border control with South Ossetia soon.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another Georgian rebel republic, Abkhazia, as independent on August 26, two weeks after the end of the Russian conflict with Georgia sparked by Tbilisi's attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Abkhazia seeks renewal of security talks with Georgia

The former Georgian republic of Abkhazia is seeking to restart regular security meetings on issues concerning its Gali District with representatives from Tbilisi, the republic's foreign minister said on Monday.

The practice of regular meetings between Georgia and Abkhazia with the participation of Russian peacekeepers and UN observers stopped in 2006 as relations between the two sides deteriorated.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1866 on February 13 extending the mandate for its UN observer mission in Georgia and Abkhazia "for a new period terminating on June 15, 2009." The resolution is aimed at giving more time to Russia and Georgia to resolve security and humanitarian issues as part of the Geneva talks.

"We believe that it is necessary to renew this mechanism taking into account the changes that have occurred," the Abkhazian foreign minister, Sergei Shamba said. "These meetings could include a fifth party with the participation of an EU representative."

The issue of restarting the security meetings is due to be raised at the next round of talks in Geneva on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another former Georgian republic, Shamba said.
Representatives from Georgia, the U.S., Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, as well as delegations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU and UN will take part in the talks in Geneva.

The Geneva talks began last October, following a five-day war between Tbilisi and Moscow over South Ossetia, however, the first round ended in failure when Georgia refused to sit at the table with representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia also believed that it was useless to hold the meeting without representatives from the two former Georgian republics.
The second and third rounds in November and December also failed to produce any results either.

The holding of international discussions on regulating the Caucuses region is within the framework of a plan adopted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which they signed after the conflict.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states following the conflict with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control over the republic. Many people living in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Russian passport holders.
Russia's move was condemned by the United States and Europe. Nicaragua has so far been the only other country to follow Russia in recognizing the former Georgian republics.

OSCE military observers granted extra time in Georgia

On Thursday the twenty OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) military observers stationed in Georgia were granted extra time for their work.Originally they were scheduled to leave the country next Wednesday, but now their mandate has been extended until the end of June."Greece, the country that is in charge of the OSCE chairmanship in 2009, has done a lot of work to extend the OSCE mandate in Georgia. This has to be seen as some kind of concession on Russia's part", says Terhi Hakala, Head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia.

By the end of June the entire OSCE mandate in Georgia will come to an end.The twenty military observers are just one part of the organisation's agenda in Georgia. The observers patrol in pairs daily along the border of Georgia and South Ossetia.In the area they discuss with both civilians and the authorities and report their findings to the OSCE.In Georgia, the OSCE has also dealt with issues relating to the economy, human rights, and the environment. Currently the organisation has a 250-strong crew in the country. They all have to leave by the agreed deadline."Activities will be gradually shut down during the spring. We are still just formulating the plans on how to dismantle the mandate", Hakala continues.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in mid-January that Russia has nothing against the OSCE continuing its work in Georgia.In August of last year a war broke out between Georgia and Russia as the culmination of a dispute over the region of South Ossetia, which had separated from Georgia.Finland held the OSCE chairmanship last year, and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb was heavily involved in the negotations to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict.

Europe Needs an Independent Approach to Russia

At the international security conference on February 7th 2009, Vice President Biden was calling for improved relations with Russia which is an encouraging sign, but he also stated that "the United States rejects the notion that NATO's gain is Russia's loss, or that Russia's strength is NATO's weakness. American imperial expansion at the expense of Russia's security is the fundamental of the conflict, so if United States is content with the current path of NATO then this might just be another PR stunt bearing in mind that words mean little in geopolitics. Europe can by separating their voice and policy from United States, and coming up with a independent approach to Russia make sure that this is not a strategic temporary peace treaty, but a fundamental change in policy.

Georgia's attack on South Ossetia in August 2008 had a greater geopolitical significance, the war could have been prevented if Europe would have made a break from America's Russian policy and formed an independent policy towards Russia based on a common security system and consistent rules of international law.

As soon as Russia intervened in the Georgian assault on the civilian population in South Ossetia, the Western media reports differentiated strongly from the facts on the ground. The story was of an aggressive and authoritative Russia that attacked and invaded a small peace-loving democracy, Georgia, whose only crime was to want freedom, democracy and a close relationship with the West. Russia, motivated by a desire to re-establish its power and influence in previous Soviet space was a threat to the whole region and perhaps the world as she was on a mission to fight democracy and freedom. Armed with petro-dollars and nuclear weapons Russia would through invasion reclaim their lost empire and once again be fared and respected as a superpower. The West instantly exited the vague and failing "war on terror", and entered Cold War 2, where the United States as the champion of freedom and democracy would rally up an alliance and build a front against this threat.

This absurd presentation of the conflict did not only fail to place the conflict into a larger context, but it did also not explain United States role in this war and why America would be willing to risk an all-out war against Russia, except for the selfless dedication to defend "a small struggling democracy" that most Americans would probably not be able to find on a map. Somehow this manufactured story which was pushed by the US government prevailed in the Western media, not surprisingly seeing that Russia is probably the most demonised country in the world and still carries a strong "enemy label" in the Western world. However, when the intervention came to a quick end, it became clear that Russia was not planning to either occupy Georgia or implement a forced regime change. The events presented by the "free and unbiased" western media proved to be false and when the truth surfaced about how Georgia started the war and America's involvement, the media lost interest quickly.

With a lack of facts supporting their claims, the media and politicians instead kept drawing comparisons to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and other Soviet conflicts which had no relevance and even the Czech President rejected this comparison. Russia was downgraded from the aggressor to simply using "disproportionate force" as Condoleeza Rice put it. In Russia the irony was definitely not lost with the United States lecturing about "disproportionate force", but the West was still condemning Russia and were surprised by the actions taken. Russia had however been warning of this collision course for years, but with few Western nations listening to Russia's security concerns, such a conflict was unavoidable and should certainly not have been a surprise.

When Russia dissolved the Soviet Union they believed that it would end the Cold War and open an opportunity for partnership and integration with the West to support real world peace based on international law which was preached so enthusiastically in the West. As NATO, a defensive alliance, would no longer require defence from the Soviet Union it should have been dismantled as well to reduce the threat against Russia and rather build a common security system. Regrettably it soon became clear that the Cold War was not over for United States, and the promise not to expand NATO to the east was almost immediately broken. The perception in Russia is that taking their guard down had been exploited and an opportunity for unity and sustainable peace had been lost in favour of US domination. In regards to the first NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, Gorbachev wrote in March 1999: "The issue is not just whether Czechs, Hungarians and Poles join NATO. The problem is more serious: the rejection of the strategy for a new, common European system agreed to by myself and all the Western leaders when we ended the Cold War, I feel betrayed by the West. The opportunity we seized on behalf of peace has been lost. The whole idea of a new world order has been completely abandoned.'"
NATO effectively converted form a defensive alliance and found its new purpose in the world as an aggressive extension of US military power used to pursue a permanent hegemony. After breaking up Yugoslavia, attacking Serbia and the occupation of Kosovo to create obedient client states, it became obvious how corrupt international institutions were given that NATO and United States were not able to be held responsible in the World Court for their war crimes against Yugoslavia under the pre-text of humanitarian intervention. Despite ignoring Russian objections to the illegal war, Putin still spoke warmly about their American partners in 2002, but Russia later took a huge shift in policy and the relationship went cold. In United States this inconsistency is explained by Russia being over-confident due to the newly acquired petro-dollar power, becoming more authoritative and moving away from the international community. Russia however, had realised that being a part of the "international community" means simply to obey the American Empire, international law and its institutions is not relevant except when serving US interests.

NATO apparently had an even greater appetite with obvious American intentions to expand even further towards Russia's borders and completing the encirclement of Russia. The next step in NATO's expansion was the US staged Rose Revolution in Georgia in (2003), the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and the failed colour coded revolutions/coups in Belarus and Uzbekistan. This imperial expansion was done in the name of democracy as United States interfered in their elections through so called "democratic NGOs", the American "Freedom House" with close ties to the CIA being one of them. United States had their candidates placed in government and the political climate rapidly became anti-Russian as US influence got a hold on their countries.

US presence in Georgia was designed to give United States dominant influence in the Caucasus and over the vast amount of energy resources located there. The American coup in Ukraine was a blow to Russian trade, security and influence in a country with an enormous ethnic Russian minority and thereby isolating Russia, limiting the power and drawing a new iron curtain which cuts Russia away from Europe. According to Stratfor, the secession of Ukraine does not only weaken Russia, but also "without Ukraine, Russia's political, economic and military survivability are called into question". Ukraine with a divided population, the eastern half close to Russia and the western half close to Europe, should have maintained a balance and be a bridge between Europe and Russia, this is not in America's interest which converted this bridge into a wall and prevents interdependence and mutual influence between Europe and Russia.
United States prides itself on their struggle to "help" Ukraine join NATO despite Russian attempt to prevent it, but Washington choose to ignore the fact that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians do not want to be a part of NATO, which is viewed by many as an aggressive military alliance used as a weapon against Russia to expand US influence in the region. As the new US leadership in Georgia and Ukraine have no democratic fundamentals, one should question whether United States uses its power to increase democracy or uses democracy to increase its power. Democracy, freedom, terrorism, human rights and proliferation are all important issues for the stability of the world, but most evidence would support the allegation that it is exploited by United States to pursue its own geopolitical goals. The latest attempt by United States to form a "League of Democracies" which would reduce the significance of the UN is also aimed at dividing the world in two, those who do as United States say, and those who do not comply. Europe has to some extent rejected this new definition of democracy (that it is not enough to have an election, but one must vote for the "right" candidate) and Europe consequently avoided a new polarisation of the world.

Obama's foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in "The Grand Chessboard" that "the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia" and "America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained." The sustainability of American world dominance is therefore at stake, so "It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges capable of dominating Eurasia and thus of also challenging America."

In September 2002 this strategy was made official when the National Security Strategy announced that "our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
For Russia to prosper and become powerful and influential is therefore a threat alone to United States because the emergence of Russia as a regional power reduces US global dominance. Closer relationship, further integration and more trust with Russia is in Europe's interest, but mutual dependency also increases Russia's influence in Europe, which is at the expense of US influence. Russia has rejected America's demand for the world to stop seeing the UN and international law as the centre of international relations and rather change to one based on identification and compliance with Washington's vision.

Russian influence and integration in Europe, their power in the Caucasus, cooperation with China, trade with Middle Eastern countries and Latin America is a nightmare for Washington, just as China's entry to Africa and South America because it represent emerging powers loosing dependency and challenging US supremacy. The US propaganda over the dangers of European dependency on Russian energy is another America reaction from loosing control over the empire. Gazprom has already accused Washington of pulling the strings in the gas crisis that was caused by Ukraine's failure to transfer gas to Europe. The accusation was based on the strategic partnership deal that was signed between US and Ukraine a month before, which included the delivery of gas, this was described it as "pretty strange" since Ukraine "didn't produce gas". The US presence in Middle East and control over the energy resources was meant to give "veto power" over Europe and Asia, this potential power is also reduced as Russia can offer "non-colonial" source of energy. The strategy to isolate and contain to get a defeated and obedient Russia is in strong conflict with Europe's interest, which should be to integrate for mutual benefits. Brzezinski's view of Europe as a "launching pad" for US influence eastwards was apparently meant only to work as a one way street.

What the Western press fail to report is the extent of control Washington has over Georgia and Ukraine. Georgia's army is heavily US funded and since 2002 Georgia's military budget has gone up more than 40 times from US$18 million in 2002 to US$780 million in 2008. The funding and training of the Georgian army happened while Saakashvili was pledging to "take back" South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the assault on South Ossetia's civilian population happened only weeks after a joint military exercise between US and Georgia in Georgia. Considering United States dedication to bring Georgia into NATO, it is very unlikely that with such a an influence over Georgia that President Saakashvili would have launched such an aggressive attack on South Ossetia without a "green light" given from Washington. Georgia and United States apparently believed that no country would stand up against Washington and that NATO would support Georgia if Russia intervened. This assumption ignored that Russia who is in danger of being completely cut off from their neighbours had not many options left but to make a stand by defending themselves as they have been pushed into a corner, with possibly the survival of the Russian state as stake in the final stages of the encirclement of Russia.

Even though South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been ruled independently since the Soviet Union broke up, it was still very important for United States to see those seemingly unimportant territories come under Georgian control. First, to qualify for NATO membership a country can not have any border disputes unsettled. Second, Washington must show Europe that another aggressive expansion of NATO at the expense of Russia's security is feasible and Russia can be contained and objections managed. Third, with the area "cleared" of Russian peacekeepers and the Russian presence removed by a Georgian offensive, the US army could enter and dominate the Caucasus and the energy resources located there. With Azerbaijan aware that United States control the region the Baku pipeline would be under US control.

Another US project in the encirclement of Russia which brings polarisation, conflict and war to Europe is the missile "defence" system that will be placed in Czech Republic and Poland. Such a system does not only let United States spy deep within Russian territory, but it can also neutralise Russia's nuclear deterrence and thus get first-strike capabilities so that Russia will have to surrender unconditionally and submit to the American demands. Democracy is yet again ignored as about 70% of Czechs do not want a US missile shield in their country, and prior to the war about 80% of Poles were against having US missiles places in their country as well. Washington insists that the missile shield is meant for Iran, but has dismissed Russia's offer to build it in Azerbaijan. Hence, United States is willing to provoke Russia with possible nuclear war, apparently to protect America from Iran which does not have nuclear weapons, missiles to carry them that far or even the technology to produce them. After a year of negotiation with Poland, due to their high demands for allowing United States to place missiles in their country, United States suddenly accepted the Polish terms during the Georgian war which should have been the last nail in the coffin of Washington's credibility.

Russia have already threatened to place nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad in response to this American aggression and as United States attempt to launch its new cold war it is becoming obvious that in this new cold war the battlefield is Europe. Europe had the luxury of being able to follow America's geopolitical strategy during the 90's at the expense of Russia's security as Russia were to weak to defend itself. The war in Georgia was a clear message to the West that this time had come to an end, Russia is back and further encirclement of Russia will not be permitted. As long as Europe does not break free of Washington and follow an independent approach to Russia, the existing policies and institutions will continue on collision course with Russia's basic need of security and sovereignty.

At the Munich security policy conference in 2006, Putin rejected the unipolar world by describing it as a system with "one single centre of power, one single centre of force and one single master", and that this led to "greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law" and went on further to warn the lack of sustainability as "this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within".

Russia has previously been invaded by both Napoleon and Hitler, and defeated both. The situation today with American and NATO forces building up along their borders bear a painful similarity, Putin commented that "NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?". These warnings were dismissed by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as "disappointing and not helpful", and the media covered it as an increasingly authoritative Russia that needed to let off some steam due to the frustration over its diminished world status.

In Russia however, NATO is perceived to be the biggest threat and Russia has no intention of keep behaving like a defeated Wehrmacht. The demand to be treated as an equal partner is not a desire to divide the world between US and Russia, but rather to create a multipolar world without containment and isolation where international law is in focus and not only US interests. If United States really wanted Russia to join the West then there must be room for them where Russian progress is not a threat to United States, and the policies of humiliation, intimidation and containment could cease.

After the war in Georgia, Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia despite the strong condemnation from the West. Because the West had had ignored Russian objections for the illegal independence for Kosovo, the hypocritical criticism again echoed the current world order of "one set of rules for United States and another set of rules for the rest". Russia made little effort to pursue recognition through traditional institutions, which show how little faith Russia has in the current US dominated world order where Russia could never win through playing by America's rules.

Hard power is sadly the only currency that is respected in the West, and not until Russia placed force behind their words did the West listen to Russian demand for security and fair treatment. The necessity of using force to be heard is dangerous and Medvedev stresses the need to change the current world order where international law and institutions are disregarded for American intimidation to secure a sustainable unipolar world.

Medvedev laid out a doctrine to clarify Russia's intentions so that their future actions would not take anyone by surprise again. The five principles of the Medvedev doctrine recognise international law as the fundamental of international relations and rejecting the current unipolar world. Furthermore, Russia do not need or want any confrontation with other countries, but will protect their citizens "wherever they may be" and business communities abroad. By responding to any aggression Russia are giving a clear confirmation that Russia will not permit to have their influence, trade and international relations cut off and to be isolated. In a country like Ukraine there is a huge ethnic Russian minority and a majority in Crimea, the main country as a trading partner is Russia and most of their modern history has been connected as Ukraine has in the last 200 years either been a part of Russia or the Soviet Union. Russia's promise to preserve and further develop friendly ties with countries of special historical relationship is a final warning that Russia will not allow stabilising and productive bonds be broken by a US coup, installing a hostile regime, expand NATO, set up US military bases or any other means of "containing" and encircling Russia.

Medvedev's solution is a call for a common security system to bring Russia closer to Europe and thereby avoid their interest and security to be on a permanent collision course. By achieving this NATO's gain is not Russia's loss, and Russia's strength is not NATO's weakness, Vice President Biden statement would thereby become a reality instead of a mere PR stunt. However, achieving this would reduce the power of NATO which is a blow to US hegemony, and there is no evidence that United States intends to step down from the throne in the favour of international law and stability.

The current financial crisis is a chance to do what should have been done in the early 90's, to reform the world order. As Putin put it, "the entire economic growth system, where one regional centre prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional centre manufactures inexpensive goods and saves money printed by other governments, has suffered a major setback". Due to America's massive trade deficit, the dollar is loosing its status as the reserve currency which will put an end to the funding of American empire. When United States realise that their unipolar empire is unsustainable, it is important that Europe see the consequences of the US policies. The rejection of a partnership with Russia is pushing Russia to seek partnership with China, Iran and others. Rejection of Russia's demand for security is forcing Moscow to achieve this through "their own NATO", CSTO and SCO. If the West will continue to threaten and treat Russia as an enemy, Russia will obtain several "bargaining chips" to defend their interest, such as nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad, military presence in South America, reduced cooperation in Afghanistan and influence over Western adversaries. In the Middle East, United States has in 2008 alone continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, bombed Pakistan and Syria, and given "green light" for Israel's war crimes. For protection against American aggression, Syria and Libya has offered naval bases to Russia as the Russian presence is a deterrent. Iran is receiving most of their weapons and nuclear cooperation from Russia and United States will have their military base in Kyrgyzstan shut down on Russia's order, thus Russia will have enough influence in the region which is required to be respected by the West. While threatening to neutralise Russia's nuclear deterrence, Russia are developing better missiles and responding to counter the threat. Even though United States won the media war in Georgia, Russia will surely also develop their media influence to compete with the American propaganda machine.

Americas attempt to take control of Ukraine has already brought de-stability and disaster for the country, Russia's close historical ties with Ukraine the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea will make it impossible to convert it into a truly functional anti-Russian client state for America. Europe has through NATO and support of the American hegemony lost much of its moral high ground, but has an opportunity to restore this by responding positively to the peaceful multipolar Medvedev doctrine and abandon the alternative of an American global dictatorship. United States have been successful in dividing Europe when building a front against Russia because Poland's and the Baltic's historical mistrust to Russia was exploited and UK will also follow as they get their post-imperial claim to power as the American "anchor" in Europe.
In order to get a strong and united EU, Europe should do the opposite, to promote democracy in the Baltic's by giving the same human rights such as citizenship and voting rights to all the Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia and thereby re-building mutual respect and trust. Germany and France should remember what happened when they opposed the American empire by objecting to an invasion of Iraq and Washington responded by the ridiculous attempt to divide Europe into an old- and new Europe. "Old Europe" was the countries that listened to the overwhelming majority of their population being against the war and thereby respected democracy and international law, and "new Europe" was the countries that ignored the overwhelming majority of their population that was against the war and rather took their orders from Washington.

There has been progress in Europe, confirmed by France and Germany's reluctance to embark on a new Cold War with United States against Russia, and Italy even suggested bringing Russia into the EU. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has pursued a real partnership and integration with Europe. Despite what is portrayed through the propaganda in the Western media, Medvedev and Putin still want a partnership with the West, only not on the hegemonic terms. Europe cannot afford to let United States be the spokesperson for "the West" and the window of opportunities is now closing as Russia can not sacrifice more of their security. A positive response to Medvedev's proposed common security system is the best policy in response to the emerging multipolar world and Europe's relation with Russia.

Sergey Lavrov "Saakashvili destroys Georgian territorial integrity with his own hands"

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili destroyed Georgia's territorial integrity himself, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview published by the Sunday issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel.

"Georgia treated chauvinistically the two indigenous peoples attached to it in the Soviet period. President Mikhail Saakashvili destroyed the Georgian territorial integrity with his order to bomb a peaceful city in South Ossetia. That was a crime against his own people, as violence was used against the ones Saakashvili called ‘Georgian citizens'," he said.
In the opinion of Lavrov, the South Ossetia and Abkhazia situation is similar with the Kosovo situation only on the surface.

"Kosovo also had a war, a long and cruel war, which, in our opinion, totally disagreed with international laws. The war was stopped in 1999 with UN Security Council resolution 1244 honored by Serbia. In contrast to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there was no pressure on Kosovo Albanians and no one attacked them. There was no reason for declaring independence of Kosovo," Lavrov said.

Asked whether Russia was surprised with the world reluctance to recognize independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Lavrov said, "The geopolitical effect was not material to us. It was important though to protect people, who had been targets of provocative and terrorist acts for the previous 20 years."

Russia had no other way but recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as soon as Georgia refused to discuss their possible status and said that the war was not over, Lavrov said. NATO and the UN Security Council "refused to tackle the problem and the West said that Georgia would be armed again," the minister said. "Then we realized that we were able to ensure survival of South Ossetia and Abkhazia only with their recognition as independent states."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Evgeniy Poddubniy, ‘Tv-Center' channel reporter

August 2008. 3 days of War. 100 days after.

Told by journalists, who were in South Ossetia.


No right for life

It became clear in the morning of August 8, that the Georgian generals and government began the war not with their Ossetian colleagues, but with the civilians of South Ossetia. The night firing of Tskhinval left no doubts in this statement. Nobody could imagine such war is possible in the modern world. To fire the sleeping city and the people who were sleeping, from "GRADs", only because the president of Georgia cheated when he said there will be negotiations instead of the war. This is the cruelty that can't be justified. It's a crime. Long before the first shot, the Georgian government deprived Ossetian people of their right for life.

No right for death

Another event that influenced the confrontation course, happened on August 8. The Georgian tanks were already in the streets of the city. The defense of Tskhinval was getting weaker. The soldiers didn't have even cartridges for their rifles. The lack of information about the Russia reaction to the Georgian aggression was negatively influencing on the military courage and the mood of civilians. The tanks came close to the ‘SSPM' headquarters, they were firing directly at the houses, at the Republican hospital. The journalists were hiding in the bathhouse located on the territory of Russian peacekeepers headquarters. A lot of people were preparing themselves to die, no one believed in the ‘happy end'. But then the secretary of South Ossetia Security Council general Anatoly Barankevich arrived to the disposition of the ‘blue helmets'. He was followed by several dozens of soldiers.

No right for help

On the August 9 we broke through to the Republican hospital. The photos we took there, became the main evidence of the humanitarian catastrophe in Tskhinval. I was worried about my friend Sergey Tskhovrebov - he's a surgeon and I knew ‘if he stayed alive - he would be in the hospital'. Sergey met us at the first floor of the hospital. The doctors made a morgue on one of the rooms and were putting corpses there. I told Sergey that his wife Anya was alive. He was hugging for at least 10 minutes. All the injured were in the basements as well as the people of the neighborhood. I saw for the first time that the tanks were firing at the hospital. I still can't understand how could a Georgian soldier ‘pull a trigger'.

No right for future

One nurse came to us and said that we should take several photos in her house not far from the hospital. In several minutes we entered her house. A man met us. He took us to his bedroom not saying a word. He took off the blanket from the bed -his dead wife and daughter were lying there. He carried the burned bodies into the house.

- How should I live now? - he was asking quietly, a father and a husband, who lost everything that worth living. We were keeping silence.

No right for truth

On August 9 we were watching Georgian TV-channels. There was nothing truthful in the reports we saw. On the screen Georgian ‘GRADs' were firing Tskhinval, but the voice-over was ensuring it were Russian systems of the volley fire which were razing Gori to the ground. Our friends and colleagues which were in Moscow told that the Western Medias were showing all the same. We wished the CNN or BBC reporters were in Tskhinval during the War. I think in this case they just wouldn't be able to lie.

I was in Vladikavkaz on August 15. I met my friends, I told them what I saw. We were happy we stayed alive and we were satisfied with our work done. But none of us could smile or feel happy. We couldn't forget the man who lost his wife and daughter, a girl who was calming her mother, people who were burying their relatives in the gardens and yards between the shellings, and the words of the Georgian president, that made the city sleep quietly. We can't forget it all even now.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

No Way to Treat Our Friends

Two professors in the Harriman Institute faculty in Columbia’s School of International Affairs, Prof. Alexander Cooley of Barnard College and Prof. Lincoln Mitchell of SIPA, recently published an article in The Washington Quarterly, “No Way to Treat Our Friends,” on the need to depersonalize and restructure U.S.-Georgian relations.

The two write:

Two unequivocal, but ultimately flawed, principles guided recent U.S. policy towards Georgia. First, the United States supported the Saakashvili government, rather than promoting broader Georgian democratic development. Second, the United States backed reuniting Georgia’s territorial integrity, rather than acting as an honest broker to resolve the frozen conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The strong personalized ties that developed between Washington and Tbilisi prevented the United States from using its power and influence to credibly restrain the Saakashvili government from adopting a military solution. U.S. reluctance to encourage Georgia to consider alternative sovereign formulas to resolve the frozen conflicts further emboldened Georgian hardliners. Over time, the Georgian regime’s domestic policies and priorities themselves became official U.S. policies and goals, leading to an unhealthy capture of U.S. foreign policy by Tbilisi.

Personalized relations mean love?

Vladimir Putin signed a direction about establishment of Russian embassies in Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a direction about establishment of embassies of Russian Federation in Republic of Abkhazia and Republic of South Ossetia in 2009.

According to the Kremlin press office, supply expenditures of embassies are carried out beginning 2009 at the expenses of federal budget, foreseen for relevant year under the subsection "International relations and international cooperation", which classifies the budgetary supply services for the diplomatic apparatus of Russia.

European expert: Differences will become less important if both Serbia and Kosovo make progress with regards to their EU membership

"In spite the fact, that there is a lot of common ground within the EU but there are still some differences regarding the ultimate political status of Kosovo", said Dennis Sammut, LINKS Executive Director in an interview with a REGNUM correspondent on February, 11.

"These differences will become less important in the future if both Serbia and Kosovo make progress with regards to their EU membership", -stressed the expert. Sammut underlined, that the European Union is a community of sovereign states. There is a common European foreign and security policy, but within that policy there is scope for different countries to exercise their different positions. "Don't forget that whilst many EU countries are members of NATO, some like Ireland, Sweden, Austria and others are neutral", - said he.

According to the expert, from the experience of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, from the experience of North Cyprus and of Kosovo some lessons need to be learnt about how the international system operates and whether the models of the past fit the challenges of the future. "Within the wider discussion on European Security that I am sure will be taking place over the next decade these issues will figure prominently", - assumed Sammut.

It is worth mentioning, as REGNUM informed earlier, four EU member states- Greece, Spain, Slovakia and Romania refused to accept a resolution, calling upon the recognition of Kosovo, which was adopted by European Parliament on February, 5.

France wants UN mission extended in Georgia

France yesterday circulated a draft resolution calling for extending the mandate of the UN mission in Georgia until next June, with diplomats predicting adoption before the end of the week.

The text, which was fine-tuned in closed-door consultations, does not mention Georgia by name nor does it refer to the UN mission by its official name UNOMIG (United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia).

The draft, a copy of which was read by AFP, would extend the mandate of UN observers, which expires Sunday, "for a new period terminating on June 15, 2009."

It would express the council's intention to "outline the elements of a future UN presence in the region by June 15, 2009," taking into account recommendations by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Geneva discussions on the issue and developments on the ground.

Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, the 15-member council chair this month, told reporters that he was "very confident that adoption (of the draft) will be taking place before the end of the week" as it had been endorsed by major players, including veto-wielding member Russia.

The text does refer to Security Council Resolution 1808 passed last April that reaffirms the commitment of all UN member states to "the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders." Russia recognised the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states following a brief war with Georgia last August, but the move was met with international condemnation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Georgia: Another Top Doplomat Leaves Saakashvili Team

A wind of revolt is blowing among Georgian diplomats. Two months after the defection of Irakli Alasania, Tbilisi's envoy to the United Nations, it's now the turn of Viktor Dolidze, the Georgian ambassador to Austria and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
On February 4, the 35-year-old diplomat revealed that he was resigning. In an interview he gave EurasiaNet before returning to Tbilisi, Dolidze said that he is no longer in tune with the Saakashvili administration and that he is considering defecting to the opposition. "I cannot go against my principles; I cannot continue working under the leadership of a president and a government I do not believe in," he said.

He added that he will "most likely" join the team of his "childhood friend" Alasania, whom many in Georgia see as a potential candidate in the country's next presidential election.
Alasania resigned in early December, blaming the Georgian government for letting itself "get dragged" into the August war with Russia. He has called for early presidential elections and announced plans to form his own "political team" and cooperate with Saakashvili's main opponents. Yet, he has not said whether he would himself run for president in an early election.
Dolidze says he favors both early presidential and legislative polls. "Presidential elections should take place before parliament is renewed because with the current administration there would be no guarantee with regard to the transparency of a parliamentary ballot," he told EurasiaNet.
Dolidze first came to question the government's actions in November 2007, when police forces violently cracked down on opposition-led street protests and Saakashvili decreed a state of emergency. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But unlike Levan Mikeladze -- Georgia's envoy to Geneva, who resigned as a mark of protest -- Dolidze suppressed his feelings and continued to fulfill his diplomatic duties. "The situation in South Ossetia convinced me I had to remain at my post," he says.

Dolidze became further disillusioned with Saakashvili after the January 2008 presidential election, which he says brought no democratic changes.

The real turning point, however, came with the August war. "Although I have no doubt that Russia was the aggressor, I am pretty sure our government could have avoided these developments," Dolidze says. In his view, the biggest mistake the Saakashvili administration made was to refuse dialogue with the separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia while making a pretense of openness, he said.

In May 2008, Saakashvili mandated Alasania to hold talks with the Abkhaz separatist leadership in Sukhumi. The secretive consultations reportedly ended up with the two sides tentatively agreeing on a plan under which the separatist administration would have helped more ethnic Georgians displaced by the 1992-1993 war resettle to the Gali district, in return for the withdrawal of Georgian police forces from the Upper Kodori Gorge and Tbilisi's written pledge to not use force against Abkhazia. However, Dolidze contends that Saakashvili rejected the plan.
Further talks took place in Sweden in June 2008, but ended inconclusively. "Signing [Alasania's] plan would have spared Georgia many of the setbacks it endured in August," Abkhazia's Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba commented recently.

In parallel, Tbilisi continued to press for changes in the South Ossetian peace negotiation format. It threatened to withdraw from the OSCE-sponsored Joint Control Commission (JCC) -- the quadrilateral body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the 1992 Georgian-South Ossetian ceasefire agreement and building confidence measures in the conflict zone -- unless the European Union and the pro-Georgian Provisional Administration of South Ossetia became involved in the settlement process. Georgia's demands officially aimed at countering the overwhelming influence it said Russia had on the JCC. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Although Tbilisi withdrew from all OSCE-sponsored conflict settlement mechanisms only after the August war, the JCC remained paralyzed for many months prior to the conflict. "The JCC was the only existing platform for dialogue and we should have used it," Dolidze argues.
The Georgian diplomat is equally critical of the attitude of his government during and after the conflict. "I don't see any desire on their part to really take care of those 120,000 additional IDPs the war has created," he says. Nor does he see any willingness to resume dialogue with the separatists, or modernize Georgia's institutions in line with recommendations issued by the OSCE, the EU, and NATO.

"We mustn't give up; we must continue to develop our country in line with democratic values. Then, things will become easier in other fields," Dolidze says.

In comments reminiscent of Alasania's, he says Georgia's conflict-resolution policy should rest on the following few principles. Firstly, international recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should not go beyond that of Russia and Nicaragua. Second, Tbilisi should pursue a "less aggressive," "result-oriented policy" based on direct talks with the separatists. Third, it should press for further internationalization of the conflict settlement processes and resume dialogue with Moscow. Finally, international monitors should be allowed into Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- something Russia opposes.

On other issues, however, Dolidze is less inclined to compromise. In particular, he believes Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives should not be admitted as fully-fledged parties to the Geneva talks on Georgia, saying the existing format -- under which separatist envoys are confined to working groups without official recognition -- is "very good."

Dolidze further argues that he sees no need for Georgia to seal non-aggression pacts with its separatist republics. "We've signed so many such documents in the past with Abkhazia that a new one is not necessary. Besides, the Sarkozy-Medvedev plan already includes a provision on the non-use of force," he says in reference to the August 12 ceasefire agreement brokered by the French and Russian presidents.

Shamba recently described Alasania as someone with whom the Abkhaz government could have "a constructive dialogue." However, he said that after the August war Georgia must forget about establishing confederative relations with Abkhazia and that all it could hope for is a normalization of ties with an "independent" neighbor.

Editor's Note: Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in developments related to the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Moscow suggests NATO recognize S. Ossetia, Abkhazia

NATO countries must recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia's independence before allowing Georgia to join the alliance, Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said during a Moscow-Brussels video conference. He added, however, that as far as is known, NATO did not intend to recognize the republics in the near future.

Speaking of Ukraine, Rogozin pointed out that it only had very remote prospects for entering the alliance. After analyzing the political situation in Ukraine - a constant drama with conflicts between all branches of power - NATO concluded that it was not yet the time to admit the country. As for the NATO Membership Action Plan, it may only be offered to Ukraine in 15 to 20 or 25 years, and no earlier, Rogozin stated.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

EU War Inquiry Mission's Experts

EU-sponsored inquiry mission into the August war, which currently visits Tbilisi, apart of its chairperson, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini and her two deputies consists of five military and legal experts.

Gen. Gilles Galet from France; Gen. Christophe Keckeis, the Chief of the Swiss Armed Forces in 2004-2007; Otto Luchterhandt from Germany, who is a professor at Hamburg University's Institute for East European Law; Anne Peters also from Germany - she is a professor of Public International Law at the University of Basel.

The group also includes Col. Christopher Langton, who has served in the British Army for 32 years. He has an experience of working in Georgia in the capacity of Deputy Chief of UN Observer Mission (UNOMIG).

In August, 2008 Col. Langton wrote an article on the Georgia-Russia war under the headline "Georgia's dream is shattered, but it only has itself to blame" in which he said: "None of the actors in this drama can claim to be right. Georgia acted disproportionately and unnecessarily and is now worse off than it was before... Russia invaded the territory of a sovereign state and used disproportionate and sometimes indiscriminate force - particularly air power."
Tagliavini's deputies are Uwe Schramm, a former German ambassador in Tbilisi and Marian Staszewski, a Polish diplomat with an experience of working in Georgia while serving in UNOMIG.

The group held series of meeting in Tbilisi on February 9, including with Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze, and State Minister for Reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili.

"We have received a first version of list of questions, which the commission has at this initial stage. We had our opinion what issues should be added to these questions and we have reiterated our full readiness for cooperation," Temur Iakobashvili told journalists after the meeting. "We have nothing to hide; we believe in our truth."

He also said that the mission planned to visit breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well.

South Ossetia says Georgian shells hit capital

The breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia alleged on Monday that two unexploded Georgian shells landed in its capital Tskhinvali, but Tbilisi dismissed the claim as nonsense.
Both sides have regularly accused each other of firing across the de facto border since the Moscow-backed region decisively broke from Georgian control in a war last August, but accusations of shell fire is rare.

"At 5:10 a.m. (2:10 a.m. British time) two shells... fired from the Georgian village of Nikozi broke up near the kindergarten on Dzhioyev Prospect" in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian government said in a statement on its website (

"There were no casualties," the statement said. "The remains of the unexploded shells were found by Defence Ministry sappers."

Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili denied any attack had occurred. "This is nonsense. No such thing happened," he told Reuters.

Russia drove Georgian forces from South Ossetia in August, repelling a Georgian assault to retake the pro-Russian region which threw off Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.
Moscow has since recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, secured by thousands of Russian troops.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How art is healing South Ossetia

A Russian organisation that helps people with disabilities develop their art skills has opened a centre in South Ossetia. Here, children who lived through the hardships of last summer's war can find a safe - and creative - outlet for their feelings.

Dima Barsov can hardly move. Since early childhood he has been almost totally paralyzed, and now only part of his right arm works. Two years ago Dima discovered a skill for drawing icons. He says religion is something that keeps him alive.

"Faith is the basis for many things, and icons are reflections of what's in our souls," Barsov says. Dima is one of 300 members of the InvaStudio - a Krasnodar-based non-governmental organisation that aims to help young people with disabilities by teaching them arts and crafts. Those behind the project say the work also helps to heal children who have suffered emotional trauma.

Recently, a new branch of the centre opened in South Ossetia, and the kids of Tskhinvalthe are producing their first drawings. The often show Georgian tanks on the city's streets with Russian soldiers coming to the rescue.

Most works hanging in the hallways of the InvaStudio reflect the inner worlds of their creators. Some look funny and playful. Others, like the icons that Nastya paints, are very serious.
The icons made by these children received an official blessing from the late Russian Patriarch Alexy II.

Lyudmila Rysukhina is the chairman of the InvaStudio. She says when new students arrive in class, they change in many ways, find new friends, and do something that gives new meaning to their lives.

"Every person with a disability has got to have hope, and when he starts painting icons, he usually creates miracles," Rysukhina says.

Besides Russian Orthodox icons, Dima Barsov's works include copies of famous drawings. His latest are versions of the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Although this young Russian artist and many of his friends at the InvaStudio may never be able to fully enjoy the beauty of the outside world, they do their best to share with other people the light they have within.

De facto ethnic cleansing in S Ossetia, envoy says

A European special envoy on Georgia claims there has been "de facto ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia since Russian forces repulsed Georgia's attempt to wrest back the rebel region last year.
It was an unusually blunt reference to reported violence in South Ossetia by an envoy from the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, coinciding with OSCE efforts to stave off the closure of its monitoring mission in Georgia.

"(In South Ossetia), there is now a situation where you have had de facto ethnic cleansing, where refugees have their homes and wish to go back," said Goran Lennmarker, Georgia envoy foruses by both sides, including possible war crimes, targeting civilian areas during their conflict last August.

Both sides have denied any such wrongdoing. Lennmarker spoke ahead of a Feb 10-12 visit to Georgia. He does not represent the OSCE's policy-making executive, the Permanent Council, whose officials have not characterised South Ossetian violence as ethnic cleansing because the body, which includes Russia, operates on consensus.

But an OSCE diplomat said Lennmarker's comment might not be helpful in the effort of Europe's biggest multilateral security and rights body to save its monitoring mandate in Georgia.
Russia vetoed a mandate extension at the end of 2008 to press its demand for a separate South Ossetia mission instead of renewing the one encompassing all of Georgia.

Western countries rejected that, fearing it would amount to acknowledging pro-Russian South Ossetia is a sovereign state. Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognised its "independence."
Two weeks ago, Russia welcomed new proposals from current OSCE council chairman Greece to resolve the row. Details of the proposal were withheld, and negotiations are continuing. Monitors are winding down the mission pending the outcome.

Western states say OSCE monitors patrolling Georgia's conflict zone with South Ossetia can provide early warning of any new flare-up in hostilities, and investigate allegations of persecution of ethnic Georgians.

But monitors, both from the OSCE and a larger EU observer mission operating along the de facto boundary, have been blocked from entering South Ossetia since the brief August war.
Military observers from the Vienna-based OSCE have been based in Georgia since 1992.

Sergey Ivanov: "Russia's decision to create military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not be reviewed"

Russia's decision to create military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not be reviewed, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said today in Munich.

"Russia's decisions to recognize the independence of those two states and create small military bases there to prevent a new attempt of the use of military force by Georgia will not be reviewed," Ivanov said after his talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at a security conference in Munich.