Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Georgian opposition leader pledges to prevent violence at protests

A Georgian opposition leader pledged on Tuesday to try to prevent mass disorder from breaking out during upcoming protests to demand President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation. A total of 14 Georgian opposition parties have said they will take part in the rallies, scheduled to begin on April 9. "Everything necessary must be done to avoid shooting or any other violence," Nino Burdzhanadze, who heads the opposition For a United Georgia party, said in an interview with the Russian business daily Kommersant. "But nothing can be ruled out, especially with such a government."

Burdzhanadze also said however that there was a chance that despite her efforts, violence could erupt at the protests. "This danger exists. But if you are afraid of wolves, you should keep out of the forest." When asked if the protests could lead to the start of civil war in the former Soviet republic, Burdzhanadze, who is also the parliamentary speaker, said, "I hope this will not happen, and I will do anything to prevent it."

"Civil war should be prevented, as well as any military scenario - the country will not be able to cope with it," she said. Saakashvili has seen his popularity steadily decline since last August's conflict with Russia, which was followed by Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, republics that had been de facto independent from Tbilisi since the early 1990s. Last November, around 10,000 protesters gathered on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, to demonstrate both against Saakashvili's rule and his decision to drag the country into a costly war that it had little chance of winning.

"The absolute majority dislikes Saakashvili," Burdzhanadze said. "While Saakashvili is in power, there is no guarantee that Georgia will not lose a few more regions." Several opposition activists, including 10 members of Burdzhanadze's party, were recently arrested on suspicion of illegally buying firearms ahead of the protests. Burdzhanadze however called the arrests "mudslinging" that the majority of people did not believe in.

She also said that the only negotiations she was willing to enter into with Saakashvili were "about the president's resignation." "Talks can only be held on how to make his resignation as painless as possible for the country," she added. A year prior to the anti-war protests, Georgia was rocked by opposition rallies for six days as protestors occupied central Tbilisi demanding Saakashvili's resignation over allegations of corruption and increasing authoritarianism. The Georgian leader responded by sending in riot police to crack down on protestors on November 7. Over 500 people were injured, according to the U.S. rights group, Human Rights Watch, as police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to break up the demonstrations.

Saakashvili subsequently called early elections for January 2008 and was reelected with 53% of the vote.


Georgian president vows to build strong, modern army

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has pledged to build new and stronger armed forces in the light of the recent military conflict with Russia.

Georgia's military suffered a major defeat in a five-day war with Russia in August last year after attempting to regain its breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgia reportedly lost up to 3,000 servicemen and police in the conflict although Tbilisi confirmed only about 70 deaths.

"This time we are going to build modern, significantly higher quality, significantly stronger armed forces, and no one should have any illusions about that," Saakashvili told reporters late on Monday after a meeting with Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Georgia signed in January a strategic partnership treaty with the United States, which has long provided economic and military support for Tbilisi, including training its troops.

Saakashvili said that previous U.S. training programs were limited to training peacekeepers, rather than prepared the Georgian military for full-scale military operations, and expressed hope that Washington would provide stronger support to Tbilisi in developing its military.
"After signing the treaty Georgia and the U.S. have entered a new stage of military and political cooperation," he said.

Georgia lost control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in bloody post-Soviet conflicts in the early 1990s. The two republics, bolstered by Russian peacekeepers, have had de facto independence since then, and have been a bone of contention between Georgia and Russia.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states on August 26, two weeks after the war with Georgia, triggered by Tbilisi's attack on South Ossetia.


Georgia-Russia:PACE President welcomes dialogue instituted between delegations of the two countries

At the close of a meeting of the Ad hoc Committee of the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Valencia (Spain) on March 30, its President, LluĂ­s Maria de Puig, welcomed the dialogue that had been instituted between the Georgian and Russian delegations.

"Today we have succeeded in bringing representatives of the Georgian and Russian delegations together round a table. To me, their participation is a sign that they are in favour of the principle of dialogue and believe that our Assembly can play a positive and constructive role in this respect," he said.

"Despite the substantive differences that persist between the two delegations, which were again set forth at the meeting, we discussed drawing up a road map and a list of priority issues acceptable to both delegations. In particular, we agreed that the well-being of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian communities should be at the heart of our discussions.

This means preventing their becoming isolated, taking confidence-building steps and tackling such issues as free access to these territories for NGOs, the distribution of humanitarian aid and assistance with reconstruction. We therefore decided to involve representatives of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian communities in our next meeting, which will take place in Strasbourg on the occasion of the spring Session from 27 to 30 April," added Mr de Puig.

"The meeting follows on from the so-called 'parliamentary diplomacy' efforts of PACE Any agreement - even on an initial detail - is a big step forward that makes it possible to create new opportunities and establish momentum in favour of dialogue," he concluded.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Olympius Inferno: Movie on war in South Ossetia hits Russian screen

Last August it was played out on the battlefields of South Ossetia - and now it will be played out on screen. Russia is releasing a film adaptation of last summer's dramatic events in the Caucasus. The events of last August in South Ossetia dominated world news, and now they've made it to the big screen for the first time.

The ‘Olympius Inferno' movie tells a story of a young scientist searching for a unique butterfly he hopes to film. Instead, he ends up shooting pictures of a very different kind - the first scenes of Georgia's military action against South Ossetia. He could have escaped and saved himself - but instead he tries to get the footage to the international media to let everyone know the truth.

"Some wise man said that the devil is the father of lies. So this movie is in fact about lies taking over the society and young people trying to fight it," says ‘Olympius Inferno' director Igor Voloshin.

The Georgian ‘blitzkrieg' lasted only five days but resulted in numerous casualties and serious political tension.

Just like the main character in ‘Olympius Inferno,' RT's cameraman Aleksandr Zhukov happened to be filming in the region at the time - only to find himself in the epicentre of a war-zone.

But he was shocked to see his pictures ending up in the western media and telling a story far from the truth.

"I didn't feel like my colleagues inside the war zone were lying to each other or to the viewers. But when I saw pictures which I shot when Tskhinval was bombed shown on CNN, posed as if Russia bombed the Georgian city of Gori, I knew, that was a lie," Aleksandr Zhukov says.
Young Russian film-star Polina Filonenko plays the main character's accomplice in the ‘Olympius Inferno'. She says she took on the role to help the truth be told.

"When the war started, my cousin came to my home in St. Petersburg from Germany and said - why did your country start the war? I said - no, we didn't. She looked to me as if I was lying. But later she and the whole Europe learned the truth. I talked to people in South Ossetia who suffered in that war and I know what really happened there," Polina explains.
Even before hitting the big screen, ‘Olympius Inferno' has been criticised and labeled as propaganda. But the movie's director is untroubled.

"I don't expect everyone to like this movie. But I know for sure what those people in South Ossetia who lost their homes and relatives will feel after watching it. This movie is for them," Igor Voloshin says.

It's a view Polina Filonenko shares as well. She believes that while the movie may not become a box-office blockbuster, it delivers a clear message - that humans must remain humans even in war.

'Olympius Inferno' may be the first movie about the war still felt today, but will certainly not be the last. Emir Kusturica - the famous Oscar-nominated Serbian director - is planning another one to come out later this year.


Georgia's Saakashvili warns opposition over unrest

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has called for dialogue with the opposition but warned it against trying to force his overthrow in anti-government protests next month.

The pro-Western president has come under increasing pressure since the former Soviet state's disastrous defeat by Russia in a five-day war last year. The opposition is demanding he resign.
Police last week arrested 10 men and said they had uncovered a plot to ignite unrest during opposition rallies due to begin on April 9.

"This is no time for radicalism, this is a time for dialogue," Saakashvili said late on Saturday. "Now is not the time for wrangling, but for unity."

For days, pro-government television stations have been airing secretly filmed police video of the suspects, alleged to have links to the opposition, buying automatic weapons and discussing plans to take on security forces in Tbilisi.

The opposition denies planning armed unrest, and has accused the authorities of a smear campaign.

Criticism of Saakashvili's record on democracy since coming to power in the peaceful 2003 "Rose Revolution" has deepened since Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia last August.

Tensions around South Ossetia remain high. A Georgian police officer was killed yesterday near the de facto border zone in what police said was a landmine blast.


Georgia: officer killed near South Ossetia

Georgian authorities say a mine explosion hit a police vehicle near the separatist region of South Ossetia killing one policeman and wounding four others.

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili says the blast occurred on Sunday morning near the village of Dvani.

South Ossetia was the flashpoint of the August war between Georgia and Russia. Georgian troops were driven out of South Ossetia, and another separatist province, Abkhazia.
Russia recognized both regions' independence and has placed large troop contingents there. Since then, sporadic violence has been reported in Georgian areas next to the provinces.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Sergei Shukno does not rule out Abkhazia and S.Ossetia's accession into Union State

South Ossetia and Abkhazia might join the Belarus-Russia Union State, Deputy State Secretary of the Union State Sergei Shukhno told reporters in Minsk on March 26.

According to him, the Union State Treaty provides for a possibility to admit new members. Yet, for the Caucasian republics to join the Union State, they need to be recognized by Belarus first.
"So far the Union State has not received official membership applications from the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Sergei Shukno said.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Russia prepares request for Georgia to extradite army deserter

Russia is preparing a request for Georgia to extradite a Russian soldier who fled his military unit in South Ossetia in January, but has not yet filed the order, a military investigator said on Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Alexander Sorochkin, head of the Military Investigation Department at Russia's Investigation Committee, said at a press conference on Thursday that an extradition order was being prepared for Jr. Sgt. Alexander Glukhov, who is facing charges for desertion.
"Russia has so far not demanded his [Glukhov's] extradition, but this is being looked into," Sorochkin said.

Glukhov left his unit in South Ossetia in late January and approached Georgian police, requesting asylum. He said his actions should not be seen as politically motivated, as he would have done the same had his army unit been deployed near any other foreign border.
Chief military prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said last week that Russia would send Georgia an extradition request for Glukhov in the near future. "We will ask for him to be returned to us," Fridinsky said.

Georgia said earlier that Glukhov had requested political asylum. Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Shota Utiashvili also said Tbilisi would not hand him over to Russia until consideration of his asylum request had been completed.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said Glukhov was seized by Georgian special services and forcibly taken to Tbilisi, where he was subjected to moral or physical pressure. However, Glukhov has denied being put under any pressure, saying he had fled because of intolerable conditions in his unit.

Under Russian law, desertion is punishable by up to seven years in prison, but a first-time offender who has deserted without his weapon, on his own, or with a serious reason for his action, may be exempted from punishment.


South Ossetia Accuses Georgia Of Shelling Village

The leadership of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has accused Tbilisi of launching repeated attacks against a border village, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.South Ossetia's Interior Ministry says Georgian military force have constantly fired on the village of Mugut, near the Georgian border.

According to the ministry, Georgian troops this week attacked Russian military strongholds in the village using gunfire and grenades.

No casualities were reported.A spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili, told RFE/RL that South Ossetia's claims are groundless.

Utiashvili noted that EU monitors have not reported any incidents.

Utiashvili also said South Ossetia's current and previous claims about Georgian attacks were made to "mislead the international community and create an informational background for the resumption of Russia's aggression against Georgia."


Russia claims proof Georgia used cluster weapons

Russian investigators say they have evidence that the Georgian military used cluster munitions against civilians in South Ossetia in August 2008. The Georgians earlier said they only targeted Russian troops.

The news of the evidence comes from the spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor's Office, Vladimir Markin. The ITAR TASS news agency reports that Markin said numerous fragments of rockets with cluster heads have been found in the Ossetian village of Pris after shelling by the Georgian forces.

Markin also said Georgia used heavy aviation bombs, as two 500-killogram bombs had been defused by Russian combat engineers. The official was summing up the committee's probe into alleged war crimes by the Georgian military in South Ossetia. He said all the materials of the investigation will be sent to international criminal prosecution bodies.

"We plan to file to international criminal agencies evidence to seek the prosecution of some of the Georgian leaders guilty of genocide and mass slaughter of Russian citizens and peace keepers in South Ossetia," Markin said.

Earlier, both Moscow and Tbilisi accused each other of using the controversial weapons during the conflict in August. The allegations were supported by independent investigators, including Human Rights Watch. Russia denied the use of cluster bombs. Deputy Head of General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsin, who briefed the media in the times of hostilities, said ‘there was not need' to do it. Georgia admitted it used cluster munitions, but said civilian objectives were never targeted.

The five-day war in South Ossetia started on August, 8, 2008, when Georgian troops launched an offensive against it's breakaway region. Russian peacekeepers stationed there were killed by an attack on their headquarters before Russia sent its troops and repelled the Georgians. South Ossetia was recognised as an independent nation by Russia following the EU-brokered peace settlement.

Cluster munitions are highly efficient against unprotected manpower. A cluster shell or bomb has up to several hundred individual elements, which are spread over a large area before exploding. However, some of them fail to trigger and can wound or kill people for years after if disturbed, posing great danger to the civilian population. The use of cluster weapons is also highly indiscriminate.

An international convention banning the use of cluster weapons was signed by over 90 countries in Oslo in 2008. Neither Russia nor Georgia was among them. Ossetians still fear 8 months laterClaudia Pukhaeva is no stranger to the sounds of battle. The 68-year-old woman has had her home destroyed by bombing twice.

In 2008, she says, Georgian troops, which in August 2008 were stationed several hundred metres away from her place, shelled her village and totaled her house for the second time.
"We were totally blind with fear. They wanted to destroy us, the little helpless Ossetia. My brother had a daughter. She was 20-years-old and into her third month of pregnancy. The Georgians killed her," Claudia recalls with sorrow.

There's no single building intact in the village now, and it is hard to overestimate the loss.
On the edge of Claudia's village, there still is one of the notorious Grad rocket shells, which completely leveled one house and severely damaged the other.

Since August 2008, more than 3,000 Ossetians have applied to the European Human Rights Court alleging Georgia violated their human rights. But those behind the killings are still on the loose.

Meanwhile, for the people in South Ossetia, life goes on, but there is an underlying fear that the horrific events of last August could easily be repeated. "Of course, it's horrible. Of course, we're afraid. Rumors have it today that the Georgians are preparing for another war," says Claudia's neighbor Zamira Gigolaeva. Zamira admits they often hear sounds of gunfire and explosions at nights.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Black and White War

Suggesting that the Russian Military Action in Georgia Last Year Was not a Glorious Military Success Does Not Imply Support for Mikheil Saakashvili

Even though some eight months have passed since Russia’s war with Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August of last year, both parties are still feeling its consequences, and remain very sensitive to interpretations of these events that appear in the media. While the Russians continue blaming the Georgians’ aggression (and even made a movie about it), the Georgians insist that they have fallen victim a bully. Anyone who believes the truth to be somewhere in between is said to belong to the enemy camp.

Russian viewers will be treated to the first film about the South Ossetia war on the weekend, “Olympus Inferno,” which promises from the trailer and the director’s comments to be a high-octane action movie that shows that Georgia started last year’s war.

From watching the trailer, my first thought isn’t geopolitical, it’s “why on earth did they bother to cast someone in the role of an American biologist who speaks English, only to dub him back into Russian?” One of the lead protagonists of Olympus Inferno is an American scientist who happens to be in South Ossetia researching a rare species of butterfly. If Russians really can’t bear to read a subtitle, then I don’t know why they didn’t just have him speak Russian with a dodgy accent. If Hollywood needs a Nazi, they tend to use someone speaking English with a German (or British) accent – surely this is a better option than casting someone to speak English and then dubbing them back.

Anyway, now that that important point is out of the way, the political message of the film is obviously going to be quite important too. The repercussions of last summer’s war are still being felt in both Russia and Georgia. The Russian media have been carrying reports that Russian draftee soldiers were not paid for their time serving in South Ossetia. Meanwhile, protests coming up on April 9 in Georgia are clearly going to be very dangerous for Mikheil Saakashvili’s government, and some highly suspicious arrests of the opposition have been going on in recent days that might seem more suited to neighbouring countries like Azerbaijan.

The problem with the war, even now, is that attitudes toward it are so polarised. Probably nothing has done more to convince many Russians that the Western media are anti-Russian; meanwhile the one-sidedness of Russia Today or other Russian channels on the conflict leaves me feeling queasy.

But contrary to what many Russians seem to think, suggesting that Russia may not have covered itself in glory in South Ossetia doesn’t imply support for Saakashvili. I’ve always been a bit of a sceptic of Saakashvili, and it’s true that a lot of the Western reporting on Georgia before last summer was rather naive and tended to take all the noble words the Georgian president said about democracy and neo-imperialism at face value, while ignoring some of the less savoury aspects of his regime. But I think that since the war, the Western media – or the printed media at least – have struck a reasonable balance, reporting on the atrocities that were carried out by Ossetians under the eyes of Russian troops, covering various pieces of evidence that suggest that Russia was looking to provoke a conflict all along, while at the same time accepting that Georgia was responsible for sparking the war and waking up about the real nature of Saakashvili’s regime.

Yet still I hear from irritated Russians that the Western media got the war “wrong” – portraying Russia as neo-imperialist invaders. The idea seems to be that all reporting should be fitted into a George Bush style dichotomy of with-us-or-against-us. If Russia is criticized, this somehow implies Saakashvili loving. At the same time, Russians are so pleased that Saakashvili turned out to be everything they had warned the West about in the first place that there is no space for introspection about how their own army fought.

So while the Russians go ahead with the propaganda film (and the episode in the trailer where a wild-eyed Georgian soldier is running with a cocked pistol and screaming madly suggests it will certainly be propaganda), and the Georgians continue to cry about their scary imperialist neighbour and claim that last year’s war was a brave defensive response to invasion of their territory, sensible outside observers will surely continue to ignore both dodgy versions of events. As so often in international relations, the truth is surely that both sides behaved appallingly. Last year’s war was rather like an obnoxious little kid picking a fight with the school bully and getting crushed. That the bully had been behaving badly before doesn’t make the kid any less obnoxious, and vice versa.


Thought experiment #1

I've copypasted this abstract from here. Interesting point of veiw to my mind.

"My friend Peter Voskamp sent me this thought experiment:
I was reading something today about the Russian incursion into Georgia last August and it got me to thinking: remember the almost universal outrage aimed at those murderous Russians, blamed for their disproportionate reaction in Georgia-- their over-the-top use of force.... Why, the Americans should've replied militarily...

Yes, the Russians did these things. But Georgia shelled-- SHELLED with heavy artillery! -- the capital of South Ossetia, killing heaven knows how many. And the Russians moved in, and were excoriated for their response.Now, compare that with Gaza, where overgrown bottle rockets are shot over the border like propelled Molotov cocktails. Lucky to hit or kill anyone (and this is not to say that it should absolutely not continue.....), but those Palestinians, they had it coming. They had to be taught a lesson. No comparison, you see; fraught with complexities..."

Georgian opposition members held

Georgian police have arrested several members of an opposition party for allegedly trying to purchase illegal weapons, the authorities say. The interior ministry released footage of those arrested allegedly discussing how to buy several rifles and pistols.

Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze said nine members had been detained but that the arrests were on false pretences. Ms Burjanadze, who is planning to lead an anti-government protest next month, is a former ally of the president.

She formed the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party in November, criticising President Mikhail Saakashvili's "increasing authoritarianism" and "bad decision making" - in particular, his decision to go to war with Russia in August over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

'Campaign of terror'

A spokesman for the Georgian interior ministry confirmed that 10 people had been arrested on suspicion of trying to buy large supplies of automatic weapons, including some "not very high-ranking" members of the opposition party. It also released what it said was secretly-filmed video evidence showing some of those people discussing how to buy rifles and pistols.
Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said: "We don't claim this to be a political conspiracy.

"The only thing we know is that there are people who have expressed interest in buying weapons and have bought weapons." Ms Burjanadze strongly denied that anyone from her party was involved in buying or storing weapons and said that the government was mounting "a campaign of terror against her".

"We are familiar with such video evidence and how it is made up," she told a news conference.
The BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi says it is unclear from the government videos whether anyone arrested was planning to use the guns in anti-government activity, and the interior ministry spokesman said he did not want to politicise the arrests.

But they come just weeks before a planned opposition-led demonstration and against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter feud between the two sides, our correspondent says.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saakashvili under Pressure from EU Probe

An EU enquiry investigating the events of last summer's conflict between Russia and Georgia is shining an unfavorable light on Mikheil Saakashvili. A secret document may prove that the Georgian president had planned a war of aggression in South Ossetia.

Mamuka Kurashvili, the commander of the Georgian peacekeeping forces that had been stationed in South Ossetia before last summer's war, is no expert on the fine points of international law. But when the stout general, wearing a uniform festooned with medals, appeared before the television cameras of his native Georgia on Aug. 7, 2008, he proved to be surprisingly well-versed in the legal justification for the attack on the province, which had declared its independence from Georgia in the early 1990s.
Georgia, Kurashvili told the press, had decided "to reestablish constitutional order in the entire region." The general's words came at the beginning of a five-day war between Russia and Georgia, which quickly escalated into the most dangerous confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War. The conflict suddenly demonstrated to Europeans that an armed conflict with Russia on their own continent was no longer inconceivable.

Thanks to the determined crisis management efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the European Union managed to broker a speedy cease-fire. Nevertheless, Europeans still lack a long-term strategy for the explosive region, a deficit that prompted the Council of the European Union to launch an enquiry into the conflict. Since December, diplomats, military officials, historians and experts in international law have been examining the factors that may have contributed to the war. Their efforts have paid off.

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, the television appearance by General Kurashvili plays a key role in the investigation. His remarks indicate that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was not repelling "Russian aggression," as he continues to claim to this day, but was planning a war of aggression.

This is because Kurashvili may have been quoting directly from Order No. 2 from Aug. 7, a Georgian document that could shed light on the question of who started the war. When the commission questioned the Russian deputy head of the general staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, in Moscow, he quoted from the very same Georgian order. According to Nogovitsyn, the document also contained the phrase "reestablishment of constitutional order." If the order, which Russian intelligence intercepted, is authentic, it would prove that Saakashvili lied.

The Georgian government still refuses to show the controversial decree to the commission. Officials in Tbilisi argue that they cannot do this because the document is a state secret.
The EU investigators are particularly interested in the political leadership's possibly treacherous choice of words. "Most of South Ossetia's territory is liberated," Saakashvili, who is a trained lawyer, announced at 12:20 p.m. on Aug. 8, blaming "separatist rebels" -- South Ossetian militias -- for the fighting.

But four days after the war began, when the Russian military had already driven the Georgian army out of South Ossetia and was only 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, Saakashvili made the surprise claim that he had learned at 10 p.m. on Aug. 7 that the Russians planned to send 150 tanks through the Roki tunnel, which connects South Ossetia and North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.

At that point, he claimed, he had "no other choice." Suddenly it was no longer a question of liberation, but of self-defense.

In fact, the Georgian leadership, as Western observers noticed, had already amassed 12,000 troops and 75 tanks on the border with South Ossetia on the morning of Aug. 7. In a decree ordering a general mobilization, which was not published until Aug. 9, Saakashvili noted that the Russian troops had advanced through the Roki tunnel on Aug. 8, which was after the Georgian attack.

The commission, which questioned senior military officers and politicians in Moscow and then Tbilisi in recent weeks, is closely examining such contradictions. But the EU representatives also received their fair share of ambiguous answers from Russian military officials and their allies in South Ossetia.

For example, the EU investigators sharply condemn the Russian military for not having prevented South Ossetians from burning down Georgian villages in their territory and driving out the inhabitants.

The commission's report, which is expected to be submitted in early summer, will also likely criticize Russia for having provided South Ossetians with Russian passports for years. International law experts see this as meddling in Georgia's internal affairs. Nevertheless, the EU investigations seems to be more of a problem for Tbilisi than for Moscow.

The stance taken by Temur Yakobashvili, Georgia's "minister for reintegration" of the breakaway province, shows just how nervous the Georgian president and his supporters are about the independent commission's findings. Yakobashvili, a Saakashvili confidant, has criticized the commission and its experts, who he claims are funded by Russian energy giant Gazprom -- a charge the commission strongly rejects.

Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, who was the UN secretary-general's special representative for Georgia and Abkhazia from 2002 to 2006, heads the commission. Her deputy is Uwe Schramm, a former German ambassador to Georgia. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is an adviser to the commission.

The EU representatives' investigations are already seen as politically sensitive in Tbilisi today, long before their official publication, because more and more former allies of Saakashvili are now blaming the authoritarian president for the war and calling for his resignation.

Irakli Alasania, the Georgian ambassador to the UN during the war in the Caucasus, has become the spokesman of the opposition. Alasania is respected as a serious politician by the Obama administration. Saakashvili's adversaries include a former prime minister, a former foreign minister, a former defense minister and the former speaker of the parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze, who, together with Saakashvili, led the country's "Rose Revolution" in 2003.
Now Saakashvili's former comrades-in-arms want to mobilize the people once again. In a repeat of the events of six years ago, they want to stage a demonstration on Tbilisi's main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue, calling for the ouster of the current president. For the Georgian opposition, the painstaking investigations of the EU enquiry come at a very opportune time.

Uwe Klussmann, Der Spiegel

OSCE head meets with Georgian leaders

The tensions in Georgia have prompted calls for a consensus on the continued presence of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the country.Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, OSCE chairperson-in-office, met with government officials in Georgia on Monday to address the current situation in the country following a conflict with Russia in August over the Abkhazia and South Ossetia separatist regions, the OSCE reported.

Bakoyannis said following meetings with Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and the country's foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, that despite the extension of the OSCE monitoring operation in Georgia until the end of June, an extended consensus is needed to achieve long-term stability.
Discussions on stability operations in Georgia are progressing among the OSCE, the European Union and the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Bakoyannis said. She said the tense situation on the ground in Georgia along the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia requires international attention and an OSCE presence.

"There is no doubt the OSCE's work to promote stability in the region is crucial," Bakoyannis said in a statement.

"The Greek chairmanship is intensively negotiating in an attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution for a continued OSCE presence in Georgia."


Opposition activists arrested in Georgia

Georgia's Interior Ministry has confirmed the arrests of several opposition activists, and accused them of illegally buying firearms.

Nino Burdzhanadze, who heads the opposition For a United Georgia party, said on Monday that 10 of the party's activists had been arrested. She accused President Mikhail Saakashvili of arranging the arrests to intimidate the opposition, and said weapons had been planted in the activists' homes.

Later on Monday the Interior Ministry denied that the arrests carried out on Sunday evening were political, and released video footage that it said showed the suspects buying weapons.
"Representatives of certain parties have made very harsh statements. We have therefore decided to provide the public with some of the materials proving the criminal activities of the arrested individuals," Shota Utiashvili, head of the Interior Ministry's analytical department, told reporters.

The footage shows men conducting detailed discussions on firearms purchases, including prices and types of ammunition. In one recording, a man mentions the AKS-74U Kalashnikov assault rifle, noting its effectiveness in urban conditions.

Burdzhanadze said the arrests marked the start of a "punitive campaign" by the government against the opposition, ahead of the mass protest planned for April 9 to demand Saakashvili's resignation.

The president has seen his popularity steadily decline since last August's conflict with Russia, which was followed by Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, republics that had been de facto independent from Tbilisi since the early 1990s.


Lukashenko meets with Abkhazian leader

Alyaksandr Lukashenko met with Sergei Bagapsh, leader of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, in Russia`s Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi on March 23. The talks focused on ways of developing trade, economic and cultural cooperation, the Belarusian leader's press office said.
"The president of Russia and I have already discussed the problems that exist here, in this region, from an economic viewpoint and concern Belarus," Mr. Lukashenko was quoted as saying at the meeting. "There`re many issues to be discussed, above all, economic ones. There is always more work to be done after independence is acquired. We`ll be glad if more problems that exist in the region will be solved with the help of Belarus."

Mr. Bagapsh, in his part, thanked Mr. Lukashenko for the opportunity to meet with him. "We`re ready for close cooperation with Belarus in the economic sphere," he was quoted as saying. Last year Abkhazia imported tractors and loading equipment from Belarus, and this year Abkhazia is interested in purchasing a large number of vehicles manufactured by the Minsk Automobile Factory, he noted, BelaPAN said.

"We`re ready to buy a shipment worth one billion Russian rubles," he said. "We can afford this today. We`ll work with Belarus. This is convenient for us and the quality of the [Belarusian-made] equipment is high."

Messrs. Lukashenko and Bagapsh also exchanged opinions about cooperation in higher education and measures to strengthen the two countries` ties in the area of tourism, including children`s respite holidays, the press office said. While talking to reporters in Brussels on March 16, Javier Solana, the European Union`s high representative for the common foreign and security policy, said that the non-recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions is important for the Belarus-EU relationship.

"As you know, we do not recognize them, and we are not going to change our position," Dr. Solana said. "We would like everybody who has relationship with us to have the same position."
Belarus' House of Representatives was expected to consider recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and another breakaway province of Georgia, South Ossetia, at its forthcoming spring session, but this issue has not yet been placed on the agenda of the session. According to Syarhey Maskevich, chairman of the House's International Affairs Committee, the issue may be postponed to the fall session.


Monday, March 23, 2009

EU commission: Saakashvili triggered the war in South Ossetia

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was the initiator of the military aggression against South Ossetia. Such a conclusion was made by the European Commission which had been investigating the reasons of the war in the republic. The reason for such a conclusion was the secret order issued by Mikhail Saakashvili.
Strangely enough, the open statement made by Mamuka Kurashvili, a brigadier general of the Georgian army and the chief of a staff of peacekeeping operations in Georgia's conflict zones in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on August 7, did not cause any worries. The European Commission paid attention to a TV interview, in which the Georgian general declared that the Georgian leaders had made the decision "to rebuild the constitutional order in South Ossetia."
The war in South Ossetia began on August 8, 2008. The amusing fact is that subsequently Kurashvili justified his statement by saying that he had had a contusion.

However, the secret document published by German magazine Spiegel on Sunday was much more weighty evidence for the EU investigation. According to Spiegel, Kurashvili's statement is literally contained in N2 order issued by the Georgian commanders-in-chief dated of August 7.
The document was intercepted by Russian secret services and delivered to the European commission.

The following are recent statements about the Georgian President made by Nino Burdzhanadze, the former Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili "by his actions and policy has ruined his political career and destroyed the country," Georgian ex-parliament speaker who quit in opposition Nino Burdzhanadze said in an interview published by the Tbilisi-based Rezonansi news paper on Monday. Burdzhanadze noted: "The sooner Saakashvili resigns the better both for him and for Georgia."

The 45-year-old Burdzhanadze is regarded here as one of the real candidates for the post of Georgian president in the event of Saakashvili's resignation. From November 2001 to May 2008 she was the speaker of the country's parliament. Then she established the opposition party "Democratic Movement-United Georgia." Burdzhanadze is one of the organisers of a mass protest action demanding Saakashvili's resignation. The rally is planned to be held on April 9.


Medvedev Approves Treaties to Protect Abkhaz, S.Ossetian Borders

Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev, gave his go-ahead to signing of two separate treaties with Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia on March 20, the Kremlin said.

Treaties on "joint measures for protection of the state borders," which has yet to be signed, are separate from the ones on military cooperation that Moscow plans to sign with the both of the regions. Agreements on military cooperation will envisage a long-term stationing of the Russian military bases in the breakaway regions.


Georgia used mercenaries: Russia

Mr Alexander Bastrikin, head of the investigative committee with the Russian prosecutor's general office has claimed that he has evidence that Georgia hired American, Ukrainian, Turkish and Czech mercenaries in the August conflict in South Ossetia.
"Today we have got irrefutable evidence that combatants of Ukrainian nationalist organisation UNA-UNSO were involved in these events", he said.

This fact is confirmed with private belongings, photo pictures, field uniform, note books of the combatants as well as the routine order dated June 27, 2008, issued by the Georgian ministry of interior settling small-arms on the commander of the UNA-UNSO unit.

Besides, Mr Bastrikin said that he cannot rule out the possibility of establishment of a special international court similar to The Hague tribunal to prosecute the persons who committed crimes against the people of South Ossetia.

"Probably after the investigation is accomplished, we will speak about establishment of a special court on the events in South Ossetia", he added. The investigation of the events in South Ossetia will be extended until April 2009, thereafter the materials will be handed over to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation.

"After the investigation the materials will be handed over to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation, which will submit them to the world community", said the investigative committee head.


Russian foreign minister accuses EU of putting pressure on Belarus over Georgia's breakaway regions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday accused the European Union of exercising pressure on Minsk over the recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions. The minister was speaking at the annual Brussels Forum in the Belgian capital, which was attended by prominent politicians and experts.

"When my good friend Karel Schwarzenberg publicly says that if Belarus recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia it could forget about Eastern Partnership, is it blackmail or is it democracy at work?" AFP quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg warned in February that if Minsk recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, its participation in the European Union's Eastern Partnership program would be unlikely.

The leaders of the European Union member states, at a March 20 summit in Brussels, endorsed the program that is aimed at strengthening the EU's ties with six ex-Soviet states, which, apart from Belarus, include Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Moldova.

The program is to be launched at a summit in Prague on May 7. The European Union has not yet made up its mind on whether to invite Alyaksandr Lukashenko to the summit.

Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 following Georgia's attack on South Ossetia to regain control of the breakaway region and Russia's subsequent military intervention. Nicaragua has been the only country to follow Russia's lead in recognizing the independence of the two republics.

Belarus' House of Representatives is expected to consider recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on April 2, when the first plenary meeting of its spring session is to be held. The House received a recognition appeal from the parliament of South Ossetia on December 1 and a similar appeal from the legislature of Abkhazia a little earlier.

Mr. Lukashenko has said on many occasions that he has left this matter to the discretion of the parliament.

Russia setting up military bases in Abkhazia, South Ossetia

The commander of Russia's ground forces, Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev, confirmed on March 20 that Russia is setting up military bases in the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Boldyrev indicated that the so-called 4th and 7th military bases, situated in South Ossetia and Abkhazia respectively, would be ready to host tactical exercises by the end of 2009, the Itar-Tass news agency reported March 20.

Abkhazia's de facto defense chief Murab Kishmaria on March 20 announced that joint military exercises could take place by the end of the year, involving Russian troops, along with member of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian defense forces. The holding of such exercises would depend on the signing of relevant security agreements with the separatist entities.

Eduard Kokoiti, the South Ossetia leader, indicated that his separatist territory was prepared to give Russia a 99-year lease for its base. Abkhaz officials said the lease covering the Russian base there would have a term of 49 years, according to a report distributed by the Dni.ru news website.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Russia stands firm on sovereignty of Abkhazia, South Ossetia

Russia will not back away from its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to begin a dialogue on relations with Georgia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Davaid Bakradze, a spokesman for the Georgian parliament, said on Thursday that Tbilisi was ready to begin a dialogue with Moscow, but only starting from the principle of Georgia's territorial integrity, meaning Russia should reverse its decision to recognize the two former Georgian republics.

"This is a new element in the approach, but it must not be on the condition of territorial integrity. There is no way back. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been recognized by Russia as independent states and they should be treated equally. Other approaches are unacceptable," spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

At a meeting with Georgian students, Bakradze said it was possible to solve all problems with Abkhazians and South Ossetians only if they "are part of Georgia."

Georgia severed diplomatic ties with Russia in late last August after Moscow recognized the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The move followed a five-day war with Georgia, which began when Tbilisi attacked South Ossetia on August 8, 2008, in a bid to bring it back under central control.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia have had de-facto independence since they broke away from Georgia after the bloody post-Soviet conflicts in the early 1990s.

European Union is ready to communicate and work with Abkhazia on specific issues

The European Union does not recognise Abkhazia as an independent state, but is ready to communicate with it and work on specific issues: in the sphere of healthcare, cooperation with civil society, giving young people an opportunity to join the European programme of student exchange for education, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby said at a meeting with Abkhazian Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab.

During three years the European Commission financed programmes for support of small businesses, agriculture and energy in the Gali and Ochamchira districts of the republic. According to EU officials, today the possibility for their continuation exists. The European Union is ready to provide 4 million euros in aid to Abkhazia, Semneby added.

Alexander Ankvab said for his part that the "non-recognition of Abkhazia by the European Union in no way hinders the development of the Abkhazian state." It does not mean that "we will not be developing and that you will not be able to participate in this process," he said. "We are ready to consider specific proposals. It we speak about economic programmes they must be specific and targeted. If we take healthcare here there are questions which you can help us settle," the Abkhazian prime minister added.

Ankvab cited an example of fruitful cooperation with the Russian Federation in the rehabilitation of the Gali, Ochamchira and Tkuarchali districts. According to him, "last year alone, over 2 billion US dollars were allotted for these districts." "Despite the financial crisis, in 2009 the sum of Russian investment programmes in the social sphere accounted for 833 million roubles, let alone private businesses that are successfully working in Abkhazia," Ankvab stated.

According to Peter Semneby's mission statement posted on the European Commission's website, the latest enlargement of the EU has brought the South Caucasus neighbourhood even closer to the EU. The new proximity of this neighbourhood along with the region's geographic location between the Black Sea and the Caspian, between Russia, Turkey and Iran, and as a link between Europe and Asia makes the South Caucasus a key strategic region for the EU.

Following the outbreak of open hostilities between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the EU took immediate steps to secure a ceasefire, stabilise the situation and facilitate political talks between the parties. This engagement demonstrates just how important the EU considers the region to be.

As EUSR for the South Caucasus, I work to further the EU's agenda in the countries of the region - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - as well as to contribute to the development of a comprehensive EU policy for the South Caucasus. Much of this work is undertaken jointly with the European Commission, in particular in support of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan for the three countries.

"My mandate includes assisting the three countries in carrying out political and economic reforms, notably in the fields of rule of law, democratisation, human rights and good governance. I work closely with the Commission in this endeavour," the statement says.
"The EU has been heavily involved in working to resolve the long-standing conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Following the outbreak of an armed conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the EU appointed an EUSR for the Crisis in Georgia and deployed an EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM). I work in tandem with the EUSR for the Crisis in Georgia and provide local political guidance to the EUMM. Even after the war, I will continue to support the implementation of the confidence-building measures that have been agreed jointly with the Commission and myself. This work aims to contribute to the efforts for the peaceful settlement of the conflicts," Semneby stated.

"A key consideration for the EU in Georgia remains the continuation of democratic reforms, in particular in the area of the rule of law. As the elections in Georgia have not resolved political differences within society, I am actively engaged in promoting constructive political dialogue between the government and opposition - a prerequisite for long-lasting political stability in Georgia. I am also involved in promoting the development of free and independent media," Semneby noted.

The EUSR structure includes the EU Border Support Team, which has been developing a border management strategy and implementation plan for Georgia and is building the capacity of Georgian border guards. The work of the BST has proved successful in moving Georgia towards best European practices and standards for integrated border management, according to the official.

"In Armenia, I promote the ongoing democratisation process, the rule of law and media freedom in order to facilitate the reforms necessary for making Armenia a vibrant and functioning democracy," he noted.

According to Semneby, "I also facilitate contacts between officials and civil society in Armenia and Turkey with a view to addressing outstanding issues and providing the basis for the re-establishment of relations. Improved bilateral relations between the two countries would contribute to the overall stability and prosperity of the South Caucasus."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Russia to continue support for Abkhazia, S. Ossetia

Russia is set to continue financial support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2010-2011 in the framework of a three-year budget, Deputy Finance Minister Anton Siluanov stated today. He did not specify the exact amount of funds to be allotted in 2010-2011, however, noting simply that it would by no means be smaller than in 2009.

This year, RUB 2.36bn and RUB 2.8bn (approx. USD 67.74m and USD 80.37m) will be allotted to the budgets of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively. Furthermore, Siluanov noted, Russia is pondering loans to the two republics to finance profit making projects.

As reported earlier, the Finance Ministries of the three states signed intergovernmental agreements today that stipulate for financial aid to be provided to Abkhazia and South Ossetia to speed up their social and economic development and balance their budgets.


First local FM radio - Volna FM - began broadcasts in South Ossetia

First local FM radio - Volna FM, began broadcasts in South Ossetia on Tuesday.
The new radio intends to broadcast news and entertaining programs. Daily news programs covering day-by-day developments in South Ossetia will be given priority in the Volna FM broadcasting schedule.

There had been no radio in South Ossetia since the August, 2008 war.

Local broadcasts continuing three-four hours per day have been made by state teleradio company Ir (Ossetia) that broadcasts to almost the entire territory of South Ossetia.

Thanks to the federal program of technical re-equipment of federal television South Ossetia can receive a signal from the Vladikavkaz Broadcasting Center and broadcast programs by First federal TV Channel, Vesti (news) Channel, NTV and Kultura (culture) Channel.


Russian action movie on Georgia war coming soon

A Russian action film inspired by last year's Georgia war and shot in the same style as the Bourne trilogy will be broadcast soon on Russia's top television channel, a spokeswoman for the station said on Wednesday. The trailer for "Olympus Inferno," the latest Russian interpretation of last August's events, shows its two young heroes ducking gunfire, explosions, and a raging Georgian officer firing his pistol.

The film is set to highlight the debate between Moscow and Tbilisi about who started the five-day war over the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s. Diplomatic ties between the countries remain cut.

The film, which will be shown on March 29, is "something like the Bourne films," said a spokeswoman for Channel One, referring to the Hollywood action movies starring Matt Damon.
The fictional account tells of a U.S.-based entomologist and a female Russian journalist who unintentionally capture evidence that Georgia started the conflict using a special camera night lens as they attempt to film rare night butterflies.

The two face obstacles as they try to get through the frontlines of advancing Georgian forces and back to South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali with proof of who started the war.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92.

Russia responded with a counter-strike that drove the Georgian army out of South Ossetia.
Moscow's troops pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks. The West condemned Russia for a "disproportionate response" to Georgia's actions.


The entire production was shot over the winter months in Georgia's second breakaway region of Abkhazia, because its temperate climate resembled South Ossetia in summertime.
Director Igor Voloshin said it should be seen simply as an action film about two young people who get caught up in the war.

"Debates begin ... 'bad Russian or bad Georgians', but it's just a film. You should look at it as a film, as a work of art, which is what I made," Voloshin told Reuters.

"People love buying films like Apocalypse Now, masterpieces about war in Vietnam. Hollywood masterpieces and nobody remembers that the heroes of these films invaded Vietnam and burnt it with napalm -- for some reason that is forgotten."

But he said the historical record shows clearly who was to blame for last summer's war: "If you look at the facts of the conflict, about who started it, it was Georgia."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

OSCE mission work in Georgia is crucial: OSCE chairperson

In this time of crisis, the OSCE mission's work in Georgia is crucial, OSCE press release quoted OSCE chairperson Dora Bakoyannis as saying.

"In this time of crisis, the Mission's work to promote stability in the region is more crucial than ever," Greek Foreign Minister Bakoyannis said at the end of the EU and OSCE Troika meeting in Brussels on March 16.

""It is unfortunate that the OSCE Mission to Georgia finds itself in a process of discontinuation because of a lack of consensus on an extension of its mandate," she said. "Greek Chairmanship is intensively negotiating in an attempt to find consensus for a continued OSCE presence in Georgia."

As many as 20 military observers from the OSCE monitor situation in the Caucasus in Georgian regions which border on South Ossetia. OSCE mission mandate in Georgia expired in January. The mission is going to leave the country soon. Russia did not agree to extend mandate of the OSCE mission in Georgia at the OSCE Permanent Council meeting on Dec. 22, 2008 supposing that current mandate of the Georgian mission include Abkhazian and South Ossetian components and therefore its should be reviewed.

The Chairperson also welcomed progress achieved so far in the Geneva discussions on Georgia - which are co-chaired by the OSCE, the EU and the United Nations - and said she hoped those talks would continue to yield results.

The Geneva talks which brought together representatives from OSCE, EU and the United Nations aims to eliminate consequences of the Georgia-Russia conflict.

A military clash took place in South Ossetia in August 2008 as Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia. Russia backed separatist regions and established diplomatic relations with them.


Russia charges "deserter", Georgia won't extradite

A Russian soldier who upset Moscow by leaving his unit and turning up in Georgia has been charged with desertion, Russian prosecutors said on Tuesday, while Tbilisi said it had no plans to extradite the fugitive.

"The Military Investigative Directorate has launched this criminal case," said a spokesman for the Russian Military Prosecutor's office. "Desertion is punished by up to seven years in jail."
Sergeant Alexander Glukhov disappeared in January from his unit in breakaway South Ossetia and said he wanted asylum in Georgia, angering Moscow and handling a public relations coup to the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.

Georgia and Russia fought a war last August over South Ossetia, a breakaway pro-Russian province of Georgia. Tbilisi's forces tried to retake it, unleashing a massive counter-attack by Russian troops.

Russia now demands Glukhov should be extradited by Georgia, but Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili ruled this out. "Georgia will not discuss extraditing Glukhov to Russia until the issue of granting him political asylum in Georgia has been decided," Utiashvili said.

Dressed in jeans and trainers and eating a "Big Mac" hamburger, Glukhov told Reuters at a McDonald's outlet in Tbilisi in January that he had fled his military unit because conditions with Russian forces in South Ossetia were unbearable.

Russia's defence ministry had originally maintained that Glukhov was captured by Georgian forces and kept in Tbilisi against his will. It later appealed to him to return to Russia, saying he was a disciplined soldier, no legal action would be taken against him and he would be sent to continue service in another unit.

The defence ministry brought Glukhov's mother to South Ossetia, but the soldier declined to meet her in an area lying close to Russian military positions.


Abkhazia, S Ossetia to receive Russian aid

Russia has agreed to send about $148 million to two breakaway of provinces of Georgia, a day after South Ossetia decried belated promises.

The money will go directly to the two region's budgets under the agreement signed on Tuesday in Moscow, AFP reported Tuesday citing RIA-Novosti news agency.

Moscow will give 2.36 billion rubles (68 million dollars, 52 million euros) to Abkhazia and 2.8 billion rubles to South Ossetia (80 million dollars, 62 million euros).

Following a war with ex-soviet neighbor Georgia over Tbilisi aggression on South Ossetia, Moscow recognized the regions as independent, a move followed by only one other nation, Nicaragua.

The Kremlin said both separatist regions had a right to declare independence, noting the immediate EU and the US' support of Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

On Monday, a top South Ossetian official complained that Russia was not honoring its pledge to send help the country following a brief but devastating war with Georgia in August last year.
Irina Gagloyeva, chief spokeswoman for the South Ossetian administration, told Reuters news agency that the country was in dire need of assistance for reconstruction plans.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Restoring Works Suspended due to Absence of financing

In South Ossetia restoring works on are suspended - the reason - absence of financing. 1, 5 billion roubles allocated by republic Russia have been spent, and funding from Moscow is stopped - ‘news.ru' reports.

"No recovery work is being conducted due to absence of financing today. ‘- The chairman of the State committee on realization of projects of restoration of South Ossetia Zurab Kabisov said and added - ‘Before New Year we have paid only advance payment of 30 % to all contractors. Further objects were not financed. Contractors have already spent advance payment and now they to run into debt of banks ".

According to the statement of Kabisov the resuming of restoring work depends on financing and remarked that Ministry of Finance and Regional Development of the Russian Federation is to meet the decision regarding this.

The prime minister of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin allocated for restoration of South Ossetia 10 Billion roubles - this figure has been fixed at the disposal of the governmental decree №1129-r from August, 11th, 2008. However now Moscow refuses to transfer uncontrolled remained 8, 5 billion and suggests creating special federal management at Ministry of Regional Development of the Russian Federation.

Management creation corresponds to experience of restoration of the Chechen Republic. However, Tskhinvali protests against such a system of money controlling and reminds to Moscow that differing from Chechen Republic South Ossetia is an independent State and claims that only inter-states relation should be between Moscow and Tskhinvali.

Georgian protesters demand Saakashvili resign

About 7,000 Georgians rallied in the capital Friday to demand the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The demonstration was a warm-up for a day of protest on April 9 planned by opposition groups who blame Saakashvili for the disastrous war with Russia last August and for failing to insulate Georgia against the deepening economic crisis.

One of Georgia's best known singers, Georgy Gachechiladze, performed protest songs he said he had last sung under Eduard Shevardnadze, who was brought down by the 2003 "Rose Revolution" that brought Saakashvili to power.

"These songs I sang when Shevardnadze ruled Georgia. I would never have believed these songs could be sung today," said Gachechiladze, singing from a mocked-up prison cell on stage.
The brother of an opposition leader who ran against Saakashvili in the 2008 elections, he has vowed he will not leave his cell until Saakashvili leaves office.
Many wore carnival masks and took photographs as they marched from the concert to the Georgian parliament.

"Misha (Saakashvili) must leave because unemployment is rising and the economic situation is getting worse," said Tamta Kotrikadze, a 52-year-old unemployed woman.
Opposition groups say Saakashvili made a serious mistake when he launched an assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia last year.

Russia responded with a counter-offensive of tanks and troops which quickly drove Georgian forces back. It then recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent states.


UN Says Georgian Refugees Stuck in Limbo

Tens of thousands of Georgians who fled last year's war with Russia in breakaway South Ossetia will probably not be able to go home unless a political solution to the conflict is found, a United Nations official said Friday.

Walter Kaelin, the UN secretary-general's representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said those who could not return to their homes for the foreseeable future were entitled to safety, housing and livelihood.

"I am concerned that tens of thousands remain displaced and will probably not return to their homes in the Tskhinvali region, South Ossetia and adjacent areas unless solutions to the underlying conflict can be found," Kaelin told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He said humanitarian access to the area had been "politicized by both sides," a problem that prevented him from visiting South Ossetia during a trip to Georgia in October.

Goran Lennmarker, a European special envoy for Georgia, said last month that there had been "de facto ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia.

Russia invaded Georgia last August to thwart an attempt by Tbilisi to re-establish control over South Ossetia.


Friday, March 13, 2009

PACE will visit South Ossetia on March 13

Chairman of the Commission Council of European Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Migration, Refugees and Population Korean Yonker will arrive in Tskhinval on 13 -14 March. The South Ossetia Ombudsman David Sanakoev confirmed his intentions of discussing the problems of refugees redemption with Ms. Yonker.

Problems of refugees are really huge. The quantity of refugees reaches the point of several thousands. And there are not only refugees, who lost their houses in a five-day-war, but also those, who suffered in 1991-92 military conflict. Most of them live in North Ossetia. Experts admit that before speaking about refugees returning to South Ossetia, special social and material condition should be provided.

South Ossetian Government is preparing a special program of providing a complex solution of refugees problems. The Ministry of health and social development will provide a structured plan of actions soon.

During the negotiations with the EU representatives Mr. Sanakoev will bring up the questions of captured and lost citizens of South Ossetia. For example, the lost South Ossetian citizens Soltan Pliev, Alan Hugaev and Alan Hachirov were recently found in one of the Georgian prisons. And earlier the Georgian authorities claimed they know nothing about these people, including the Geneva negotiations.

Mr. Sanakoev hopes the Commissioner for Human Rights of Europe Tomas Hammarberg will participate in the process of prisoners’ release. The information about the imprisoned citizens was given to Mr. Hammarberg.

Yuriy Golov, Alexey Leonov, Ossetia-war.com

Risks of going to school in South Ossetia

Many schools in South Ossetia bore the brunt of Georgia's attack last year and are still in poor condition. Some of them are hazardous to occupy, but children have no other option. With the population of about a thousand there is only one school in the South Ossetian village of Khetagurovo.

Built around a hundred years ago, the school was partly destroyed by Georgian shelling in August 2008. With plastic sheeting on the windows it's still cold. Even the wood burning stove doesn't help.

Part of the building where the library used to be is now a pile of rubble.
The school is still open, however. The damaged part has been separated from the rest of the building to prevent any disaster, but anyone can still get in from the courtyard.

It's very difficult to keep the children away from the debris. It's no surprise - for them it's the most interesting, yet the most dangerous playground they've seen. There is always a teacher watching them.

"Working here is dangerous. The building is in an emergency commission. I like working at school, but not in one like this. Children are the greatest treasure and I worry about them," says teacher Nelly Margieva.

The education minister of the republic Anatoly Kusraev has commented: "Our internal commission has ruled that the part of the building where the children are is safe, but an official investigation is necessary," he said.

Another school in the center of South Ossetian capital Tskhinval - the only one in the whole republic with central heating - looks brand new, but it's not. It was quickly rebuilt last August to be ready by September 1 - the beginning of the academic year.

"When kids run around the floor shutters and tiles come off," teacher Liana Gobozova complains.
There are about 70 schools in South Ossetia. Three of them are closed. Others are partly destroyed and have to take more children than they can accommodate. Local officials are working on the reconstruction plan, but it's hard to say if the war scars will ever be completely healed.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is expected to discuss the situation in South Ossetia at its spring session.

On Friday, Corien Jonker from the PACE committee for migration, refugees and population is coming to the country's capital Tskhinval for an inspection.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

NATO Resumes Full-Fledged Relations with Russia After Nine-Month Suspension

The ministers of foreign affairs of NATO's 26 countries held an informal meeting on March 5 in Brussels, following the defense ministers' meeting in Cracow on February 19 and 20 (see EDM, February 23, 24). Both preparatory to NATO's April 3 and 4 summit. The Brussels meeting decided to resume full official relations with Russia, effective soon after the summit. NATO had largely suspended political relations and fully suspended military ones in the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia in August 2008. That event challenged the post-1991 international order and continues to reverberate strongly in Europe and Eurasia, although its implications are not being fully addressed.

The alliance had ruled out "business as usual with Russia" (as the stock phrase went) in August 2008 until Russia abided by the French-brokered armistice in Georgia, withdrew its forces from internationally recognized Georgian territories, and returned to the "status quo ante." Since then, however, Russia has introduced thousands of additional troops into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is building a network of military bases there, has recognized the "independence" of the two territories, carried out ethnic cleansing of Georgians, and bars United Nations, OSCE, and European Union observers from entering the occupied areas (unless these organizations first recognize the two territories' "independence").


South Ossetia to allow Russian bases for 99 years: report

Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia said Wednesday it was prepared to allow Russian forces to use its territory for military bases for up to 99 years, the Interfax news agency reported.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said his government had decided "to concede territory to install Russian border guard bases in the republic for 99 years," Interfax reported.
"Territory for the creation of military bases will be conceded, I think, for the same time period," he added.

Kokoity expressed hope that agreements on Russian bases will be signed "as quickly as possible" so they could then be ratified by the breakaway region's parliament.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili meanwhile said Wednesday that Georgia was reorganising its military strategy to focus more on national defence.

"Previously the Georgian armed forces were trained within the framework of international cooperation for peacekeeping purposes... now the Georgian army will be trained to ensure peace in Georgia, so that no one will try again to start a war," he told soldiers in remarks shown live on Rustavi-2 television.

Georgian Defence Minister David Sikharulidze told AFP Friday that the country is planning to revamp its military to boost defence capabilities in order to better defend the country from invasion.

Georgia and Russia remain deeply at odds after a brief war between the two countries over South Ossetia last August.

Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia in response to a Georgian military attempt to retake the Moscow-backed rebel region.

Russian forces occupied swathes of territory and bombed targets across Georgia before mostly withdrawing to within South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia. Abkhaz separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh told Interfax earlier this month that the province would soon sign an agreement allowing Russia to station a base there for 49 years.

Russia's plans to keep thousands of troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have angered Tbilisi and its Western allies, who say it violates the ceasefire that ended the war.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

S Ossetia says Georgia masses up armour on border, Georgia denies

Georgia is massing up armoured fighting vehicles near the village of Grom, Tskhinval district of South Ossetia, a high-ranking official said.

The South Ossetian president's ombudsman David Sanakoyev said on Saturday he had been contacted by people living in the village on the Georgian border who were worried by the presence of the Georgian military on its outskirts.

"I immediately contacted the commanders of the units guarding the state border of South Ossetia in this area and they confirmed this information," the official said.

Sanakoyev also said that he had informed the European Union Observer Mission in Georgia. "One of its representatives, Mathias van Locheisen, promised to look into it and take all necessary measures in order to prevent tensions in the border-lying settlements," he said.
However the heads of the Georgian Interior Ministry's Information and Analytical department, Shota Utiashvili, denied this information and described it as "disinformation".


PACE official to visit S.Ossetia on March 13-14

The chair of the PACE committee on migration, refugees and population, Corien Jonker, is due to arrive in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on March 13-14, the organization said on its website.
Jonker will arrive "as part of the follow up to Resolution 1648 on the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia and is due to meet with South Ossetia's authorities and ombudsman David Sanakoyev," the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe's statement said.
The official is to travel to the Tskhinvali region and to Akhalgori, a town near the South Ossetian border with Georgia. She is also scheduled to meet with the representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Russia recognized the former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on August 26, 2008, two weeks after the end of a five-day war with Georgia. Fighting began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in a bid to bring it back under central control.

In January, PACE condemned Moscow's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and called for Russia to withdraw its recognition of the two republics.
PACE lawmakers are to discuss the situation surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia in April.


Georgia's disco Putin put-down kicked out of Eurovision

Georgia's entry in the Eurovision song contest, a not-too-sly jab at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has been booted out of the competition because of its lyrics.
We Don't Wanna' Put In is a disco-funk song that seems to poke fun at the Russian leader.
The contest is being held in Moscow this May, less than a year after Russia and Georgia went to war over the region of South Ossetia.

Officials say it's against the competition's rules to have political content in the entries.
According to the rules of the event, no "lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the Eurovision song contest."

The song's title is a play on the politician's name and has the chorus: "We don't wanna put in, the negative move, it's killin' the groove."

The Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union, which runs the competition, said Georgia can either rewrite the lyrics of its entry or enter another song by March 16 or it would not be allowed to take part.

The song was chosen by a public vote and jury and was supposed to be performed by female trio 3G, along with male vocalist Stephane.

In fact, Georgia had initially said it would not take part in Eurovision due to political objections, but the decision was reversed in December.

Russia won the right to host the annual event after winning last year's competition.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rebuilding comes slowly in South Ossetian capital

Six months after Russia and Georgia fought a war over South Ossetia, the enclave's capital city is still a mass of fresh scars.

Many people in Tskhinvali are shivering through the winter behind windows made of plastic sheeting. Piles of broken glass and trash - in one case, the charred turret of a Georgian tank - sit along central boulevards, as they did in August. Stray dogs, their owners long gone, nose around the streets for food.

There are reminders of the euphoria that swept this valley last summer, when Russia acknowledged South Ossetia's 18-year separatist struggle by recognizing it as a sovereign nation. Graffiti proclaims "Ossetia thanks its defenders" and "Great Russia," and citizens say they are extraordinarily grateful to be free of Georgian governance.

But it has been a hard winter, and reconstruction is moving slowly. The South Ossetian president, Eduard Kokoity, said the process had been delayed by price gouging and shoddy workmanship by unscrupulous contractors in the first round of reconstruction, and he promised that the pace would pick up this spring. Residents, many of whom scrounged materials and patched up their homes themselves, are beginning to wonder when the promised aid will reach them.

"We have no running water at home," said Maria Pliyeva, 25, a reporter for 21st Century, a newspaper in Tskhinvali. "It's not just an inconvenience. It's embarrassing to speak about a government of a country which is seeking recognition when you have no running water."
The halting reconstruction underlines the challenge facing South Ossetia, a rural patch of land whose prewar population was 70,000, even as Russia has elevated it into a national symbol. When Georgia began an assault on the separatist capital on Aug. 7, Russia sent columns of armor to protect its allies.

Russians saw the attack on Tskhinvali, which they call by its Ossetian name, Tskhinval, as a watershed moment, and aid pledges flooded in. Trucks bearing donations were backed up on Tskhinvali's streets, and billboards in Moscow promised "Tskhinval, we are with you!"
But nearly two decades of bitter conflict with Georgia have left the enclave with only two factories that produce building materials. (One makes asphalt and the other the clear plastic to cover broken windows, an aide to Kokoity said.) South Ossetia can no longer count on supplies from Georgia, as residents learned when deliveries of natural gas halted for the coldest months.
Meanwhile, the narrow highway that links the enclave to Russia is plagued by avalanches and is impassable for much of the winter. Even in good weather, shipments coming from the north are vulnerable to theft and diversion. Charles King, an expert on the region, said South Ossetia long served as a "gigantic magnet for contraband" passing between Russia and Georgia, economically dependent on informal taxes levied on shipments.

"If someone is trying to send physical aid to South Ossetia, it's very likely that it's going to go missing," said King, author of "The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus."
Whatever the reasons, progress has been slow. A report released in December by Russia's federal auditing agency found that of about $55 million in priority aid pledged by Russia, only about $15 million had been delivered and only $1.4 million spent. It also found that of 111 structures scheduled for renovation by the end of 2008, eight had been completed and 38 had not yet been touched.

The same month, a former South Ossetian defense minister who is a political rival of Kokoity's, Anatoly Barankevich, told the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that local officials had diverted 3,200 tons of cement and nearly 19,000 square meters, or 200,000 square feet, of glass intended to repair citizens' homes. Kokoity denied the report, telling the newspaper that "certain pro-Georgian forces are trying to discredit South Ossetia in the eyes of Russia and Russians."

The delays have become a headache for Kokoity, who was met with roars of adulation last summer when Moscow formally recognized his government. Meeting with foreign journalists in Tskhinvali, he said the process had been slowed by dishonest subcontractors chosen after the war by Russia's Ministry of Regional Development. Authorities say they have spent only $42 million of the roughly $280 million in pledged Russian money and that the pace will speed up now that a more effective system of financial controls is in place.

"We are responsible to every citizen of the Russian Federation to ensure that this money is used in a full manner," Kokoity said. "Better let it stay in the Ministry of Finance than let sleazy people get their hands on it."

Zurab Kabisov, president of South Ossetia's reconstruction committee, said the central obstacle was the arduous process of shipping in materials from Russia - a problem that Georgia did not have, he noted.

"Since 1989, we have basically lived in isolation," Kabisov said. "The more developed country, which - excuse me - started this war, they can quickly build. It's not as if we had a glass factory and a cement factory working."

There is, to be sure, some visible progress in Tskhinvali. The Interior Ministry has been renovated, a school on Moscow Street has been freshly painted lime green, and in recent weeks red and blue tile roofs have been appearing in ever greater numbers. Residents say they are hopeful, and realistic, about what it will take to rebuild South Ossetia.

But the privations of winter have weighed heavily, said Varvara Pakhomenko, an analyst for Demos, a Russian nongovernmental organization that studies social problems, who visited South Ossetia in February.

"They are asking, 'What has actually changed as a result of our independence?"' Pakhomenko said. "There was, in fact, a real euphoria after the war, a strong one. But now it's passing."
In the city's old Jewish Quarter, which was rocked by Grad rockets during the Georgian assault Aug. 7, homeowners sounded resigned when asked about aid. Galina Naniyeva, 39, said she had asked officials for 11,000 rubles, or about $300, but was turned down. "They give everything away to their friends and relatives," she said.

Nora Kobesova, 67, said she "didn't get a thing," though it had not affected her opinion of Kokoity. "We love him, we respect him," she said. "But he has many bad subordinates."
Paata Elbakiyev and Nanuli Tsekilashvili, who live on narrow Vladikavkaz Street, spent the winter in a shelter they built themselves, with one wall made out of a bright red canvas advertisement for electronic equipment. Elbakiyev said he had applied for compensation - his house was hit directly by a Georgian rocket - but that he was refused because "they told me the whole area would be leveled." (Kabisovsaid there were no such plans.)

Racking their brains for any aid they had received since the war, Elbakiyev and Tsekilashvili came up with these examples: a load of groceries, two cushions and a blanket. They had heard about the thousands of houses that the Georgian government built last fall for ethnic Georgians who had fled the villages north of Tskhinvali.

"Is it true?" Elbakiyev asked, with an unmistakable trace of envy.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Israel still arming Georgia

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity says Georgia has started to boost its military might, importing weapons from Israel and France.

According to Kokoity, the import of Israeli arms began after the last August war between the country and Russia, RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday.

In a move to advance its military capability, the country recently bought 8 warships from Israel, he added.

Kokoity also said that Georgia had signed contracts with France to equip the country's air force with espionage and electronic warfare systems such as anti-aircraft system and mid-range mobile radars.

The South Ossetian President added that Israel has not stopped sending arms to Georgia despite Russia's protest.

Both the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili and Reintegration Minister, Temur Yakobashvili had earlier dismissed reports that Israel had not frozen its arms sale to the country. "I haven't heard anything about that ... and the Israeli weapons have proved very effective," said Saakashvili.

Tbilisi launched an attack on South Ossetia last August in order to retake its control over the region, which broke away in early 1990s.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Head of EU inquiry mission meets Abkhaz leader

Abkhazia hopes that the EU inquiry mission looking into the Georgian-Ossetian conflict in August last year, will study the viewpoints of all participants in the August events and make a fair assessment.

"Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not attack anyone, so we, most of all, are interested in a fair assessment of the events that took place in August," Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh said at a meeting with the head of the EU mission, [Swiss diplomat] Heidi Tagliavini, in Sukhumi on Monday [2 March].

He said the EU mission would be provided with everything necessary for it to do its job.
Bagapsh said that prior to Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia, the Abkhaz side had on numerous times warned international organizations and foreign diplomats about its [Georgia's] preparations for war.

"Further evidence of Tbilisi's aggressive plans was Georgia's refusal to sign an agreement on the non-use of force and, ahead of the armed conflict, the fact that it used unmanned drones to perform reconnaissance. Nevertheless, our appeals were ignored by international organizations mediating the settlement of Georgian-Abkhaz relations," Bagapsh said.

He said that "given the dangerous situation that has taken shape, Abkhazia had to ask Russia to increase its military contingent".

For her part, Tagliavini said that the main goal of the international mission was to work with the sides to establish facts that caused the conflict situation in the South Caucasus.
She added that members of the international mission had already visited Moscow and Tbilisi and hoped to visit Tskhinvali this week "in order to introduce experts who will be working there". "We will also present our questions to all the sides," the head of the enquiry mission said.
"We should present our report to the European Union by the end of July and we hope that all sides will help us and cooperate with us," Tagliavini said.