Thursday, April 30, 2009

NATO, Russia resume formal political talks, differences remain

NATO and Russia resumed formal political talks on Wednesday with a meeting of the ambassadors of the 28 allies and Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin after a freeze for eight months. NATO said there were positive signs from the Russian side, particularly on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. But Russia blasted the alliance for its planned military exercises in Georgia, which Russia briefly invaded in August 2008. The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meeting at ambassadorial level was the first formal one since August 2008 when NATO angrily suspended all high-level political contacts with Russia following the Russia-Georgia military conflict in the Caucasus.

"The meeting opened with a shared view that the NATO-Russia Council meeting was a very welcome one, that the time has come to take the next step," said NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero. "There was positive expectation of the future work of the NATO-Russia Council."
She said the council discussed ways to "make the most of the NRC," without going into details. The parties also discussed the upcoming NRC at ministerial level, which will be held in the second half of May, she said. Romero said there are positive signs on compromise between NATO and Russia on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. "Where there seems to be new energy is the CFE issue. There seems to be a positive spirit of compromise, including in the framework of the NRC," she said.

But Rogozin was more cautious. He told reporters after the meeting that serious discussions would be held elsewhere, most probably in Geneva, rather than in the NRC. "Let us just not run into that too early. We have not just yet started that discussion." Russia suspended its obligations under the CFE treaty in 2007, citing the fact that none of the NATO countries had ratified it. NATO has since tried to bring Moscow back to the treaty, which limits the quantity of tanks and other conventional weapons in Europe. NATO has said the CFE treaty was a corner stone for European security.

The council also touched upon Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's proposals for a new European security architecture. The majority of the countries in the NRC held that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would be the appropriate forum for discussion, although they did not rule out discussions within the NRC, said Romero.

Rogozin said, however, that this issue should also be discussed in the NRC because "the NRC is first of all concerned with hard security issues." Wednesday's NRC meeting comes at a time of uneasy relations between NATO and Russia over the alliance's military exercises in Georgia between May 6 and June 1.

Romero said the parties discussed the issue and that their positions did not change. Rogozin, however, lashed out at NATO, labelling the exercises as "totally out of place." He said he was not convinced by NATO allies' explanation that the exercises pose no threat to Russia's security.

"I insist that these exercises are totally out of place," he told reporters after the meeting. "Any muscle flexing along our borders is not acceptable at all." He noted that the exercises will be held against the background of parliamentary elections in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, the first such poll after Russia's recognition of independence of the region. "I cannot name it other than political blackmailing."

Rogozin said Russia is also worried by statements from high-ranking U.S. officials that the NATO exercises are meant to support Georgia's territorial integrity. He blamed NATO for its "political blindness" that refuses to recognize Russia's national interests. "In a sense, NATO reminds me of a blind rhinoceros."

NATO has said the two series of exercises were planned in January 2008, long before the August 2008 Russia-Georgia military conflict over South Ossetia. But Rogozin argued on Wednesday that the fact that they were planned long ago does not mean that they could not be postponed or even cancelled altogether. He said the exercises would mean that NATO is ready to do business as usual with Georgia after the conflict, but at the same time is pursuing a policy of no business as usual with Russia, referring to the freeze of political contacts. "At least this was some sort of interruption that we couldn't get an answer to," said Rogozin.

NATO has said Russia, as a Program for Peace partner of the alliance, was actually invited to the exercises but Moscow turned down the invitation. NATO said it would welcome Russian observers to the games to clear up misunderstanding. But Moscow has rejected the offer. Russia also called off a meeting with NATO chiefs of defense scheduled for May 7. Before the NRC meeting on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he was looking forward to the meeting. But that does not mean NATO and Russia would suddenly agree on everything.

"There are a number of issues where we should seriously work together. But we should not shy away from difficult issues where we fundamentally disagree," he told reporters after a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in the morning. "The NATO-Russia Council is not a fair weather body." De Hoop Scheffer said the two sides should work together in weapons non-proliferation, Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. But they still have fundamental differences over issues such as the territorial integrity of Georgia and the CFE treaty.

Abkhazia-Georgia border continues to be flashpoint of violence

Russia has helped Georgia's former breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia make their borders more secure, but even with the new measures, people in the two regions say they still don't feel safe on home soil.

A checkpoint in the Abkhazian town of Gali on the border with Georgia came under fire several weeks ago. Abkhazian border patrolmen blame Georgian militants for the shelling. They say the group illegally crossed the border at night and launched a sneak attack.

"In the morning they walked around and found RPG shells at the bus stop nearby," recalls Radik Agrba, deputy commander at the ‘Ingur' checkpoint.

Abkhazia declared independence from mainland Georgia in the early nineties. For more than 15 years it remained a frozen conflict zone. In 2008, after Georgia launched a military campaign against Tskhinval, Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, signing treaties on diplomatic and military cooperation.

Following separate terrorist attacks in the capital Sukhum last year, Abkhazian officials ordered the border with Georgia to be blocked, blaming Tbilisi for organizing them.

The situation at the checkpoint in Gali remains tense, but locals say it is possible to get into Georgia - but not for sight-seeing. Despite recent incidents the border remains open for those traveling for humanitarian reasons, such as family events and medical emergencies. Many locals have relatives abroad, so they have to cross this bridge every once in a while.

The Gali district is the only territory of Abkhazia where ethnic Georgians are a majority. Over 60,000 refugees returned to the region in recent years.

Local resident Avtandil Ezugbaya is the headmaster of the school in Gali. His wife Liya recently gave birth to their son Luca. The family hopes to share the good news with their relatives in mainland Georgia.

"After the war the ties were broken, but not all ties. He's still in touch with his relatives, but he wants to see them more often. Politics are politics, but he'd like to restore all human ties," says Avtandil Ezugbaya.

Officials in Gali say they would be glad to make the border more open for civilians and harder for criminals to cross, but it cannot be done without Russia's help. A deal to allow both sides to modernise their checkpoints is a long-awaited agreement, says Ruslan Kishmaria, a presidential envoy to the Gali district.

"There were attacks every day and the district needed this treaty like air and water. And they've been waiting for the treaty for a very long time," says Ruslan Kishmaria.
It is expected that Russia will provide training for Abkhazian officers and the latest technology for the checkpoints. And that in turn, may help minimize the terrorist threat, making life in Gali safer and more peaceful.

Russia Today

Russia to help SOssetia, Abkhazia protect borders

Russia will help South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect their borders against a feared new Georgian attack that Tbilisi may be heartened to launch after a NATO exercise next month.

On Thursday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his counterparts from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Eduard Kokoity and Sergei Bagapsh, will sign an agreement on joint efforts to protect state borders. Additional agreements will be signed by the security services of the three countries.

Russia recognized independence of the two former Georgian provinces following the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia in August.

"Due to the remaining revanchist intentions of Tbilisi and its course towards remilitarization, as well as aggressive and provocative conduct on the borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia the holding in Georgia of a NATO exercise on May 6 - June 1 -- no matter what they say about its planned and routine character - cannot be assessed other than moral encouragement of the recent aggressor and a provocative gesture against Russia," a Kremlin official said.

The agreements envisage that Russia will provide assistance to South Ossetia and Abkhazia in training border guards and developing national border services.

"The agreements become specifically vital in the context of the situation that emerged in TransCaucasia today. It is unstable and explosive," the Kremlin official said and explained that Georgian army with heavy hardware and police forces are concentrating close to the borders of the two republics.

Russia estimates some 2.5 Georgian men are staying close to the borders where they erected 50 stationary and mobile posts. "Artillery and armor are being moved to the border areas with South Ossetia," the official said adding the number of provocations has been on the rise of late.
He also said resolute ongoing calls of the Georgian opposition for the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili intensified political struggle in Georgia, which is "fraught with any possible provocations of the Saakashvili regime".

The official said the three presidents will also discuss Russian economic assistance to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2009 the Russian government plans to earmark to South Ossetia that was destroyed by massive Georgian shelling 8.5 billion rubles and additional three billion rubles from extra-budget funds.

Russia's Gazprom giant will complete in July the construction of a mountain gas pipeline that will pump fuel to South Ossetia directly from Russia bypassing Georgia that cut gas supplies to South Ossetia in winter. So far 30 out of 80 kilometers of the pipeline were built.

Russian companies plan to invest close to one billion rubles into Abkhazia and restore the highway linking Sukhum with Sochi, renovate a hospital in Sukhum and the New Afon Orthodox monastery, as well as energy utilities and residential quarters.

Georgia-Russia: 'dialogue is the only way forward'

The Assembly reviewed the action taken by Georgia and Russia on Resolution 1647 (2009) adopted by the PACE in January 2009.

"The information report submitted by the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee (Luc Van den Brande (Belgium, EPP/CD) and Mátyás Eörsi (Hungary, ALDE)) concluded that Georgia has not yet fully complied with all of the Assembly's demands. Russia, for its part, has failed to comply with most of the demands and might even be seen as moving further away from the minimum conditions for meaningful dialogue," PACE reported.

The report re-affirms that both countries must fully comply with the Assembly's demands set out in Resolutions 1633(2008) and 1647 (2009) ; in addition, it calls on both countries to implement without delay a series of steps to avoid a deterioration of the security situation and stability of the region, as well as to ensure that the minimum conditions for a meaningful dialogue between Russia and Georgia are met. The rapporteurs "continue to be convinced that the establishment of a genuine dialogue is the only way forward for the resolution of this conflict and the long-term stability in the region".

Konstantin Kosachev: "PACE makes errors in South Caucasus"

Chairman of the State Duma committee on international affairs Konstantin Kosachev said on Wednesday PACE insistence to politicize the situation related to South Ossetia and Georgia in its resolution on humanitarian issues was erroneous.

He also told Vesti TV channel PACE is taking no concrete action and is only observing the situation.

"There is no talk about the provision of any funds, about any projects, they simply state that the situation is difficult and we naturally agree with such an assessment," he said.

He welcomed PACE calls on conflicting parties to refrain from mounting tensions and resolve the problems of those people who have not yet returned to normal life.

"At the same time the Assembly continues to make mistakes," he said, adding "several political, politicized amendments were introduced in today' s resolution on humanitarian aspects of the situation."

Kosachev said PACE continues to call the border of Russia-recognized South Ossetia with Georgia as the administrative border like it was when Georgia and South Ossetia were in one state.

"Many believe that any other definition would mean an indirect recognition of the independence of South Ossetia, However, when they say ‘administrative border', there is a feeling that border may be anytime crossed by the Georgian armed or police forces," Kosachev said.

"As a result, the meaning of a border as a factor of protection of the people living in the zone of tensions weakens considerably. Alas, they do not understand it here and thus, directly or indirectly, promote deterioration and degradation of existing problems, rather than their solution," he added.

Earlier Kosachev told Tass PACE decision to discuss humanitarian rather than political issues of the conflict reflected a certain change in the position of the Assembly compared to the radical stance at the winter session.

"The most important thing today is to help people in the zone of conflict, protect their interests and security," he said and expressed hope that "sooner or later mutually acceptable definitions will be reached."

Kosachev recalled that Georgia and South Ossetia are holding consultations in Geneva promoted by the European Union and OSCE.

"The Council of Europe stays away from the process. That is a direct result of the mistakes, which the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe made in assessing the conflict in South Caucasus and its consequences," he said.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chechens living in Georgia request refugee status to return home

About 90 Chechens living in Georgia have requested refugee status since January to allow them to return to Chechnya, the head of the Russian republic's migration department said Tuesday.

"Our department has received about 90 applications from Georgian residents requesting visas and other documentation to return to Russia. These are mainly ethnic Chechens living in Georgia," Asu Dadurkayev said.

Dadurkayev cited the recent South Ossetia conflict as a reason for the increase in applications.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August 2008 after Tbilisi launched an offensive on its former republic of South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control.
"The applications are currently being considered in line with a federal refugee law and procedures," he said.

Dadurkayev said that over 3,000 people had returned to Chechnya from the neighboring North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia since the year start, adding that a total of 350,000 people had returned home since 1999 out of more than 500,000 that fled in the 1990s.
Last week saw a surge in attacks on Russian troops in Chechnya just two days after the Kremlin announced that its 10-year counter-terrorism operation in the troubled region had formally ended.

The attacks prompted Russia's Interior Ministry to announce on Friday that it was reintroducing anti-terrorism operations in three districts in southern Chechnya.

Russian federal troops launched the counter-terrorism operation in Chechnya in the fall of 1999 after a group of militants led by Shamil Basayev and Arab mercenary Khattab invaded neighboring Daghestan. Moscow conducted a separate campaign in Chechnya in 1994-1996.

Russia asks Georgia to return deserter

Russia's General Prosecutor Office has requested Georgia to extradite a Russian sergeant accused of desertion, RIA Novosti reports. Sgt Alexander Glukhov abandoned his military unit and crossed the Georgian border in January.

"We have information that Sgt Glukhov is on Georgian territory now. Therefore, the General Prosecutor Office decided to direct the request to Georgia's Main Prosecutor Office to extradite Sgt Glukhov for the purpose of bringing him to trial," spokesperson for the Russian office Marina Gridneva said on Tuesday.

Sergeant Alexander Glukhov disappeared in January from his unit in South Ossetia and asked for asylum in Georgia. Georgia and Russia fought a war last August over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breakaway pro-Russian provinces of Georgia. Tbilisi's forces tried to retake it, unleashing a massive counter-attack by Russian troops.

No justice in cellblock Georgia

Stepping outside of the Marriott Hotel in Tbilisi late at night on April 21, we encountered a 24-hour occupation of Rustaveli Avenue in front of the Georgian parliament building, reportedly four days old.

The street is occupied by at least 125 metal-framed boxes, dimensions approximately 6 feet wide by 6 feet high by 4 feet deep. Each box is covered with a plastic banner fabric labeled in large red English letters, "CELL," and a unique identifying number. Each cell is occupied by one or more people gathered together on wooden pallets, where they may spend the night.

Occupation of the public square is the latest attempt by citizenry opposed to the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been in power since January 25, 2004, and who won re-election in November 2008. Opposition meetings started last November in the wake of the devastating Russian invasion of Georgia last August.

The war was triggered when Saakashvili ordered a military attack on breakaway province of South Ossetia, populated by an ethnic minority that has had the support of Moscow since Georgia gained its independence with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. So when Georgian troops attacked South Ossetia, Russia seized the opportunity to reassert its imperial power and punish the U.S.-backed Saakashvili, who seeks to have Georgia join the NATO alliance.

Months before the Russian invasion, Saakashvili had undermined his support by using authoritarian tactics against his former allies, including police violence and a state crackdown on independent media. Since the war, the opposition has only grown.

Today, the spirit of the mixed-age crowd occupying Rustaveli Avenue is friendly, festive and peaceable, though people are eager for events to unfold. We interviewed four English-speaking Georgians: Vakkho, age 17; George, age 17; Archil, age 18; and Zura, age 18.

"The cells indicate all of Georgia is in a cell," said Archil. "We are living in prisons. These people are here and don't need to live with injustice. It's a protest of the government, not our country." The young men agreed the protests will remain until Saakashvili resigns. They said protesters have been beaten by police at night, in and around the cell structures.

Local newspapers proclaim international support for Saakashvili as he faces protests at home. On April 17, Georgia Today quoted Saakashvili as saying: "Our foreign minister and the U.S. secretary of state are meeting each other for already second time in a month. The U.S. has such relations with only very few countries."

Saakashvili noted, however, that his close relations with the U.S. dated to the Bush administration. Indeed, Tbilisi has a "George Bush Street." As Saakashvili said to Georgia Today: "I admire American ideas. I used to idealize America under Bush when ideas were above pragmatic politics."

George said the protests are nationwide, not just in Tbilisi. "More cells are being brought in," he said. "There will be 500."

According to George and his friends, the cells were originally an idea from Georgian pop star Giorgi Gachechiladze, known as Utsnobi (meaning "unknown" or "stranger"), the brother of opposition leader and 2008 presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze.

Gachechiladze reportedly lived in one of the cells for several months as a protest of Saakashvili's government in 2007. He was one of four activists who began a hunger strike to demand early parliamentary elections. He was also injured during the protests.

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Georgians seek to enjoy freedoms they know are available elsewhere in the world. "There is no justice," Archil said. "We want freedom of expression. People were beaten in the streets last night. We have two television stations that are government controlled."

A large banner on the protesters' main street stage features photos of five Georgians reportedly killed by security police during previous protests. As George said:

People can't speak or protest. People are beaten if they are not in groups. Many people--80 examples--were hurt in this week. They are beaten because they were sitting here, at night. The television did not show this. They (the reporters) were frightened. They can't report this because they are threatened.

The number of protesters in the street before parliament swelled at about 3 p.m. Wednesday, covering Rustaveli Avenue, as people gathered to hear speeches from the stage. As the speakers took their turns, men strung their cell frames with ropes to mimic prison cell bars.

Opinions about Saakashvili heightened when his government invaded South Ossetia in the summer of 2008, claiming it was a "breakaway province." Some speculated the Ossetia invasion was calculated to draw attention away from his sagging popular support.

In response to the Ossetia invasion, Russian troops entered Georgia (August 2008). Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told the Georgian Times on 13 April, "If I were Saakashvili, I would have resigned. He has no right to be the president of the country after making so many mistakes and shedding so many tears and so much blood."

George, the young protest supporter, said, "The opposition's face is the people. We want free elections. We don't want one leader. We are the leaders. We must have leaders as they do in Europe, where the leaders are the people, who are not kings."

Archil agreed. "We want parliamentary governance, with elections that don't create monarchs or kings, but a full parliament."

NATO to resume formal contacts with Russia

NATO and Russia are set to resume formal contacts following an eight-month freeze caused by last year's war between Russia and Georgia.

Diplomats say ambassadors from Russia and NATO's 28 member nations will discuss a possible meeting of foreign ministers next month. The talks are being held under the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.
Formal ties were suspended following the five-day Georgian war. NATO nations accused Moscow of using disproportionate force to eject Georgian forces that had occupied the capital of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Still, relations have improved significantly since then. NATO and Russia have cooperated closely in areas such as the war in Afghanistan and anti-piracy patrols off Somalia.

Saakavili's "Order No. 2" Georgian Plots?

At the bottom of the recent demonstrations that have packed the capital city of Tbilisi with tens of thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of Georgian President Mikheil Saakavili is an investigation by the European Union (EU) as to who started last summer's war between Georgia and Russia. According to a report in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, "A secret document may prove that the Georgian president had planned a war of aggression in South Ossetia."

The Russians charge that Georgian troops launched a surprise attack on South Ossetia last Aug. 7, while Saakavili claims that Georgia was merely defending itself from an invasion by 150 Russian tanks through the Roki Tunnel connecting South Ossetia with North Ossetia. The latter is part of Russia.

But an investigation by the EU has uncovered "Order No. 2" dated Aug. 7, that says that Georgia was not defending itself but acting to "reestablish constitutional order" in South Ossetia. The EU is closely examining an Aug. 7 television interview in which Georgian Gen. Mamuka Kurashjvili used just those words. President Saakavili announced Aug. 8 that "Most of South Ossetia's territory is liberated." He did not claim that Georgia was acting in "self-defense" until Aug. 11. By that time Russian troops had driven the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia and were within 31 miles of Tbilisi. The war lasted five days.

The general's remarks, reports Der Spiegel, "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."

The EU commission questioned the Russian deputy head of the general staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who said that the Russians had intercepted Order No. 2, and that it indeed contained the phrase about reestablishing constitutional order. "If the order, which Russian intelligence intercepted, is authentic, it would prove that Saakashvili lied," says Der Spiegel.
The investigation found that Georgia had massed 12,000 troops and 75 tanks on the South Ossetian border for the Aug. 7 attack. The Russians tanks did not transit the tunnel until Aug. 8. While the Commission is also critical of the Russians for meddling in South Ossetia and not preventing South Ossetians from destroying some Georgian villages, "the EU investigation seems to be more of a problem for Tbilisi than for Moscow," according to Der Spiegel.
The Georgians refuse to turn over Order No. 2 to the commission, claiming it is a state secret. And Georgian Minister Temur Yakobashvili charges that the investigation is being funded by Russian gas giant, Gazprom. The commissioners , who reject the charges, are Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, and former German ambassador to Georgia, Uwe Schramm. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer advises the commission.

"More and more former allies of Saakashvili are now blaming the authoritarian president for the war and calling for his resignation," says Der Spiegel. Indeed, Nino Burjanadze, who helped lead the revolution that put Saakashvili into office, and Irakli Alasania, former Georgian ambassador to the United Nations, are leading the opposition demonstrations.

So far, Saakashvili has not unleashed the police as he did in breaking up similar rallies in 2007, but he arrested 10 opposition members on the eve of the current demonstrations, accusing them of planning a violent overthrow of the government. The charge is based on a secret tape that records a man identified as a "coordinator" for Burjanadze's Democratic Movement-United Georgia Party saying that the former speaker is planning to provoke violence. Burjanadze denies knowing the so-called "coordinator" and says he has no position of authority in her organization.
Saakashvili, who came to power in 2003, says he has no intention of resigning and will finish out his term in 2013. But demonstrators say they will not disperse until he steps down and calls an early election.

The beleaguered president says he is willing to negotiate with the opposition, however most the people camped out in front of the Parliament say that the call for "talks" is a ploy. "He says things like this only for the U.S. and Europe," farmer Amiran Tsertskhladze told The New York Times, "but no one here believes he really wants dialogue."

Sobering thought for the week: Only the opposition of Germany and France kept the Bush Administration from adding Georgia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) back in 2007. While the Obama Administration is not currently pushing for Georgia to join the alliance, the country's membership is still on the agenda. Had Georgia been a NATO member during the Russia-Georgia War, it would have triggered Article 5 of the treaty requiring member states to come to Georgia's aid-and NATO might have been snookered into a war with Russia.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Russia criticizes NATO Georgia war games, urges boycott

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday criticized NATO exercises in Georgia next month as harmful and said other countries should join Russia in boycotting them.

NATO had invited Russia to send observers to the near month-long exercises that will involve 1,300 troops from NATO members and other countries.

"Of course, Russia will not be participating and advises other countries against doing so," Lavrov told a news conference. "We believe that these exercises, in the current environment, are harmful.

Diplomatic links between Tbilisi and Moscow were cut after last August's brief war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Moscow also opposes Georgia's efforts to win membership of the western military alliance.

NATO says the scenario for the exercises that run from May 6 to June 1, will be a crisis response operation and poses no security threat to Russia.

Russia has already protested against the exercises by calling off a planned meeting of senior military officials in Brussels early next month, although formal political talks at ambassadorial and ministerial level are still going ahead.

"Rather than hold exercises in Georgia, you need to make the current Georgian regime fulfill its obligations," Lavrov said, referring to an August ceasefire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Central Asia's Kazakhstan has ruled out participating in the exercises, saying its military forces will be too busy to join them.

The row has muddied separate efforts by Moscow and Washington to improve relations that soured in recent years, partially over NATO interest in admitting ex-Soviet states like Georgia and Ukraine as members.

Fixing ties with NATO is part of a broader Moscow effort to improve relations with the United States, which have reached their post-Cold War lows under the previous U.S. administration of George W. Bush.

Sokhumi, Moscow to Sign Border Agreement

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh will sign an agreement on cooperation in border protection on April 30, the Abkhaz news agency Apsnipress reported.

The Abkhaz delegation led by Bagapsh will arrive in Moscow on April 28.

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba said that the agreement would be one more step towards boosting the relations with Russia, which "actually is a guarantor of peace and stability in the region."

Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev, gave his go-ahead to signing of border cooperation treaties with Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia on March 20

Monday, April 27, 2009

Georgia protests continue, demand president quit

Protesters in Georgia are vowing to continue trying to interfere with the work of President Mikhail Saakashvili, whose resignation they are demanding.

About 2,000 protesters gathered Sunday outside parliament to continue demonstrations that began April 9. Opposition leaders told the crowd they will continue "the hunt for the president" _ efforts to prevent Saakashvili from traveling around the capital and holding meetings.

Demonstrators also gathered outside the presidential residence and the national television studios. An opposition leader, Georgy Khaindrava, told journalists "not to be propagandists for the criminal Saakashvili regime."

Opponents accuse Saakashvili of concentrating power in his own hands and mishandling last year's war with Russia.

Council of Europe to discuss Georgia - South Ossetia war

The Council of Europe (CE) is to review the report on presidential elections in Macedonia at the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly that begins Monday in Strasbourg.

Finnish President Tarja Halonnen and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapetaro are expected to make an address to participants of the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The main topics of discussion will include the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia, protection of human rights in emergency situations, the situation of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member-states, and action to combat gender-based violations of human rights.

On the first day of the session there will be a short celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

South Ossetia: life after war

South Ossetia is bouncing back, trying to restore destroyed homes, and healing its psychological wounds. However, many residents fear the current peace won't last long.

Seventy per cent of capital Tskhinval is still in ruins, following the war with Georgia. But, life is going on. Eight months since the war ended, this destruction still reminds the locals of Georgian aggression - and it is no surprise that even children here have only one subject to focus on.

12-year old Serezha Kachmazov, like many of his friends, stayed in a basement during the shelling. On hearing the sound, he burst out laughing.

"What was I supposed to do?" he said. "Cry? No, I am a man... I will not cry, because I am a man."

Olga Mikhailidi, his teacher, says it was a psychological reaction from the stress of the situation. He was laughing instead of crying, she says - and this behavior still happens with him. The teacher says children have become aggressive since the war.

"We were making a snowman in the winter, and I saw how children began to destroy it. That's how destructive energy comes out... It's all horrible and scary, of course," says the teacher.
Natalia Suprunova is the only practicing psychologist in South Ossetia. Her working place is in the tent, which she has to share with some other departments of the ministry she works in. Natalia talks about the residents' disorders she comes across daily.

"Memory loss, speech disorders... After the war they don't sleep well, have become very aggressive. Many of them have experienced things that others don't experience in their lifetime," Suprunova said.

Timur Tskhovrebov, a local resident, has shown the RT team the place where he hit a Georgian tank last August. He says his life was constantly in danger, and he is happy to be alive. His country was in a state of war with Georgia for twenty years, he says, and finally took the victory.
"If we had lost, I would have died. I paid a high price, and knowing that this was not in vain really helps me. I am still in euphoria, despite all the trouble," said the man.
People here continue to suffer from the aftermath of the war. Many of them keep their papers at hand, should they need to make a quick escape. The society is divided into two parts, the psychologists say: those who hope for peace and those who believe there will be a repeat of Georgian aggression. But one thing is for sure - the consequences will last a while, the doctors say.


Friday, April 24, 2009

RF, S Ossetia, Georgia agree to establish 24-hour hotline - RF general

Representatives of Russia, South Ossetia and Georgia have agreed to establish a 24-hour hotline.
They met in the Georgian village of Ergneti, near the border with South Ossetia, on Thursday for the first time after the events in the Caucasus last August.

"Officials have been appointed for this purpose," first deputy chief of Russia's General Staff Lieutenant-General Sergei Antonov told Itar-Tass.

In his words, the parties agreed "to meet twice a month as the need arises and in the state of emergency". "The next meeting is planning to be held in the Georgian village of Ergneti in the beginning of December. A responsible and non-easy work should be done and their effectiveness will depend on political will and high professionalism of all participants in the meeting," Antonov said.

According to the general, the results of the joint work will be thoroughly studied. Antonov said, "New recommendations will be needed to increase the effectiveness of the work on preventing any incidents." "Special attention will be riveted to objective information given after incidents. Lives of peoples depend on this work. We call on all participants in the meeting to resolve problems responsibly."

Antonov noted that Russia's position is to ease tension and restore trust between South Ossetia and Georgia. "It's such approach that was proposed by our colleagues during today's meeting - Russia, South Ossetia, Georgia, the EU and with the participation of OSCE representatives," he said.

"We seek to adequately react on the situation in the field of security, including joint briefings on a regular basis, ensure security of important facilities, counteract crimes, provide humanitarian aid and solve other problems that could strengthen stability and security, prevent incidents and react on them," Antonov said.

"The meeting is being held within the framework of the Geneva agreements on the normalisation of the situation in the area adjacent to the South Ossetian-Georgian border and on the improvement of closer contacts between Russia and the European Union in order to settle the situation in this zone," the Russian military explained.

"We consider an important political event the agreements reached at the Geneva consultations and designed to prevent and react on incidents. This is an important practical result that will facilitate stability and security in the region, i.e. in the border area - between South Ossetia and Georgia," he said.

South Ossetia's delegation is led by presidential deputy plenipotentiary representative for the post-conflict settlement Merab Chigoyev and Georgia is represented by head of the Interior Ministry's press department Shota Utiashvili, and the EU delegation is led by head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia Haber Hansjorg.

Russia, Georgia, S. Ossetia meet

Russia, Georgia and the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia agreed Thursday to set up a hotline to deal with emergencies.

Representatives of the three met for the first time since the Russian incursion into Georgia last summer, Itar-Tass reported. The meeting was held in the Georgian village of Ergneti near the South Ossetian border.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Antonov, the first deputy chief of the Russian general staff, said the delegates agreed to hold meetings as needed. The next scheduled meeting is set for early December, also in Ergneti.

"We seek to adequately react on the situation in the field of security, including joint briefings on a regular basis, ensure security of important facilities, counteract crimes, provide humanitarian aid and solve other problems that could strengthen stability and security, prevent incidents and react on them," Antonov said.

Russia intervened when the Georgian government tried to bring South Ossetia back under its control. Russia later recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries, although no other government has done so.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Russia, Georgia, Separatists To Start New Talks - EU Monitors

Security officials from Georgia, Russia and the rebel region of South Ossetia will start talks with international observers on Thursday aimed at preventing violent incidents, E.U. monitors said.
The planned talks on the border between Georgian- and South Ossetian-controled territory will be the first such meeting to be held on the ground since last summer's war between Russia and Georgia.

The meeting comes after the three sides agreed to hold regular talks on "incident prevention" during internationally mediated negotiations in Geneva in February.

"We're very pleased that the arrangements have been made to get all the parties together for the first time," said Steve Bird, a spokesman for the European Union mission observing a ceasefire that ended the war.

"The long-term goal is to have regular weekly meetings to discuss incidents and to try to build up security and stability in the region," he said.

The meeting will include senior officials from all sides and international monitors from the E.U. and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Bird said.

Eventually talks will be expanded to include the U.N. and representatives of another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, he said.

Sporadic violence has continued around South Ossetia since the E.U.-brokered ceasefire was signed in August, ending a brief conflict over the rebel region.

Russian forces poured into Georgia in August in response to a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, which broke free of Tbilisi's control in the early 1990s and had received extensive backing from Moscow for years.

Russian forces occupied swathes of territory and bombed targets across Georgia before mostly withdrawing to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow recognized as independent states.

A new round of talks aimed at preventing another war is to take place in Geneva on May 18-19.

Georgia opposition tries to revive street campaign

Tents in the streets paralysed traffic in central Tbilisi and hundreds of cars crawled in convoy to the Georgian capital on Wednesday to breathe fresh life into an opposition campaign to oust the president.

Several thousand people, car horns blaring, answered opposition calls to travel to Tbilisi in a bid to boost numbers as the street campaign against President Mikheil Saakashvili nears its third week.

Opposition leaders are demanding the 41-year-old leader step down over his record on democracy and last year's disastrous war with Russia.

But Saakashvili has refused, and the authorities -- wary of repeating a 2007 police crackdown against the latest mass rallies against the president -- are observing patience with the protesters despite traffic chaos in the capital.

Turnout has dwindled to just a few thousand from the peak of 60,000 when the campaign began on April 9. But opposition leaders deny the campaign is running out of steam.

Supporters have set up tents and improvised 'prison cells' down the central Rustaveli Avenue past parliament and other state buildings, forcing drivers to take to the backstreets.
The opposition promises to keep rallying and blocking streets until Saakashvili steps down, but analysts question the unity of the more than a dozen opposition leaders involved or their ability to draw enough people to force the president out.

"Much more people wanted to join us, but we decided that we would face difficulties with their accommodation in Tbilisi," Irakly Melashvili, opposition National Forum leader, said of the effort to draw supporters from outside the capital.

Critics accuse Saakashvili of monopolising power and exerting pressure on the judiciary and media since coming to power on the back of the 2003 "Rose Revolution".

Last year's five-day war with Russia, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia, emboldened critics who say Saakashvili -- perceived by some Georgians as brash and impulsive -- has made too many mistakes to stay in power until 2013.

But analysts say his ruling United National Movement retains wide support and his position appears strong, despite the defection of some top allies and several cabinet reshuffles.
They say the government is biding its time until more moderate opposition leaders lose patience with the street campaign and enter talks with the government.

Russia's Protest Against Nato Military Training In Georgia Is Element Of "exchange" In Moscow-washington Dialogue: Experts

Experts say Russia's protests against NATO military training in Georgia is another element of "exchange" in a dialogue between West and Moscow.

"Moscow increases number of negotiating positions with the U.S. as agenda of mutual relations are being formed actively. Sides seek subjects for exchange," Russian expert on security Mikhail Remizov said.

It is planned to hold NATO military training in Georgia, which is striving for the alliance, in early May. NATO planned to involve 1,300 military men from 19 countries to the training and hold them at 20 kilometers east of Tbilisi to improve coordination amongst the alliance members and its partners.

Russia proposed NATO to cancel or postpone military training in Georgia. Russia considers the military training to be provocation in a period of anti-president demonstrations.

"I asked the NATO Secretary General [...] to postpone or fully cancel the training," Russian Special Envoy to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin told Reuter and added that Russia is against of NATO training near its borders.

However alliance representatives are not going to cancel military training.

NATO will not refuse to hold military exercises in Georgia in early May, despite Russia's address to cancel or postpone it, NATO Press Secretary Simone De Manso said.

"The exercises have been planned for a long time and it will go ahead as planned," De Manso told Trend News in a telephone conversation from Brussels.

Analysts say Russia's protest against alliance's military training in Georgia is a ground for exchanges with the U.S.

Military training can play a role of trump card in West-Moscow talks, British expert on South Caucasus Ziba Norman said. "There is a genuine need for cooperation with Russia regarding supply routes for military operations in Afghanistan, and Russia may have calculated that this can be used as a bargaining tool in an attempt to prevent the NATO exercises in Georgia," Director of the London-based Transatlantic and Caucasus Studies Institute Norman told Trend News via email.

Remizov said Moscow is increasing number of negotiating positions with the U.S. as agenda of mutual relations are being formed actively. "As a subject for "exchange" the problem of military cooperation with Georgia was more important than even missile defense system in Europe as prospects of military bases in Georgia are more significant for Russia," Russian National Strategy Institute Director Mikhail Remizov told Trend News over telephone from Moscow.

Western observers say Russia's step is also demonstration of regional influence in the Caucasus.
Georgia falls within an area that Russia considers to be its private preserve, an area in which it believes it has the right to assert its influence, Norman said. "Georgia is of greater strategic importance to Russia. The hasty recognition of Abkhazia's independence and the subsequent development of a Russian military presence on the Black Sea coast are clear examples of just how critical Russia believes this region is," Norman said.

"Moscow's protest is part of a strategy to weaken NATO, so if these exercises were to be abandoned then NATO would lose credibility," Norman said.

Russian expert said not military decision of NATO member states, but diplomatic situation is principal in this situation. "Moscow wants the regime in Georgia to be diplomatically out of the zone of military cooperation with the West because this regime does not hide that it is concerned with the possible military revenge," Remizov said. Moscow's protests are simply policy to prevent military cooperation, he said.

Shooting Reported at S.Ossetia Border

Both the Georgian and South Ossetian sides have reported that a shooting took place at an administrative border in south-east from Tskhinvali on April 22.

The both sides have blamed each other of opening fire. The Georgian Interior Ministry said that fire was opened at the Georgian police post in the village of Plavi "from various directions from the Russian-occupied South Ossetian territory" at 8:30pm on April 22. Shooting from automatic weapons lasted for several minutes, the Georgian Interior Ministry said.

The South Ossetian side, however, claimed that its village of Otrev in an immediate vicinity of the administrative border line came under fire from the Georgian side with use of automatic weapons. "The South Ossetian side has not yielded to this provocation and has not opened a response fire," Ibragim Gassiev, the breakaway region's deputy defense minister, said in remarks posted on website of the region's ministry for information and press.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Russia intercepts Georgian Olympic spy

Russia's FSB security service on Tuesday said it had unmasked a Georgian spying on preparations for the Olympic Games and plotting ‘subversive activities,' news agencies reported. "The Russian FSB uncovered and halted an agent of the Georgian security services, illegally trespassing on Russian territory with the aim of carrying out reconnaissance and subversive activities," an FSB spokesman said. Tbilisi denied that the man was one of its agents and accused Moscow of tit-for-tat retaliation after Georgian authorities detained a Russian youth activist last week. Russian counterintelligence said the Georgian agent had entered the country in 2007 on a Ukrainian passport and was undercover as the owner of an Internet cafe in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"He was directed to gather information on the socio-political situation in the region, and on the preparation for the Olympic Games," the FSB source was quoted as saying by Interfax and RIA-Novosti.

Moscow Pulls Out of NATO-Russia Military Meet

Russia will pull out of a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council chiefs of staff to protest what it described as "provocative" war games planned by the 28-member alliance in Georgia next month, reports say. Recently, Russian officials including President Dmitry Medvedev have harshly criticized the planned exercises.

Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin said if there were no responses to a Russian complaint about the exercises, Moscow would take certain measures.

"I can reveal one of them now, the meeting of the commanders of the general staffs of Russia and NATO, planned for May 7, will not take place," Rogozin said. He said from Russia's point of view, and from Georgia's point of view, and from the viewpoint of world affairs, such war games are clearly provocative in nature.

However, the envoy did not say whether Moscow would scuttle a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council--the highest-level body linking Russia and the alliance--expected to take place in May or June.

NATO-Russia Council deliberations were suspended last year after the brief Georgia-Russia war, but the two sides have tried to resume dialogue. A council meeting at the ambassador level is set for April 29.

Russia and Georgia have been at loggerheads after fighting a brief war in August, and Moscow has been extremely wary of any cooperation between NATO and the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.

Kazakhstan, Estonia and Latvia will not participate in NATO exercises in Georgia

Kazakhstan, Estonia and Latvia will not accept participation in NATO exercises in the territory of Georgia, which plans to involve the forces of 19 NATO countries and the partners of the Alliance, "Kazakhstan Today" agency reports citing the Russian television channel Vesti.

The Minister of Defense of Kazakhstan, Danial Ahmetov, said, "We never agreed to take part in the exercises. Therefore, I consider it premature to speak about participation of our contingent of military personnel in the exercises."

Moscow had already called the forthcoming exercises provocative. The President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, stated that maneuvers of the Alliance in the territory of Georgia will lead to various complications and will not assist renewal of cooperation between Russia and NATO. The representative at the Alliance, Dmitry Rogozin, warned Russia that Moscow will refuse renewal of contacts to the Alliance at the military level if the exercises take place, Vesti reminded.

Lavrov deplores Nato 'Cold War logic'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused members of Nato of reverting to the "confrontational logic of the Cold War".

In an interview with the BBC Russian service, Mr Lavrov said the roots of the diplomatic hostility lay in the alliance's "unilateral position" on the war between Russia and Georgia last August.

He said Nato members refused "to even debate the reasons for the conflict" over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

"The recent cooling of our relations with Nato exposes clear problems in our dialogue," he said.
"We do not understand this tendency - still there, still not understood by us - to try to downplay the norms of international law, the role of the UN Security Council," he added.

However, Mr Lavrov stressed that Nato was "not inherently seen by Russia as a source of danger".

Instead, he said, it was "part of the existing European security infrastructure", and an "organisation with which Russia wants to co-operate".

Acute disputes

As part of the relaunch of its website ( ), the BBC's Russian Service interviewed the Russian and UK foreign ministers on the state of bilateral relations.

Mr Lavrov and his British counterpart, David Miliband, agreed that Russia has a particular role to play in the world. Among the key factors, both men identified Russia's "immense geography, natural resources, and global interests".

This, said Mr Lavrov, was why Russia had been able to "form partner-like relations with many countries around the world".

He rejected any suggestion that Russia had become friendless or somehow marginalised, and pointed to the recent G20 summit in London, which, he insisted, had "resulted in practical measures to restart the global economy that would have been unthinkable even two years ago".
Commercial links between Russia and the UK have boomed, despite considerable political differences and, at times, acute disputes.

Mr Miliband said the UK and Russia needed to concentrate on "what's working" in their relationship.

He identified trade, people-to-people contact, co-operation over the Middle East and Afghanistan, and, most recently, measures to tackle climate change.

Mr Miliband also stressed that the "positive personal chemistry" between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Gordon Brown should help address the issues that divide London and Moscow.

'Special influence'

The interviews suggested there remain areas of clear disagreement between London and Moscow. In particular, their respective positions on Georgia and its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still far apart.

Mr Miliband said the UK did not agree with Russia over recognition of the two regions' independence or what he called "the invasion of Georgia" last August.

The UK could not recognise South Ossetian or Abkhazian independence, the British Foreign Secretary explained, because "they did not go through the proper procedures, and the outcome was the result of military force".

Mr Lavrov's approach was quite different.

Highlighting what he described as "the harm done by attempting to deny Russia's right to defend its national interests", he insisted Russia's actions in August 2008 were both justified and legal.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he maintained, left Georgian sovereignty under an old Soviet law, dating back to 1990, allowing territories and republics the formal right of secession.

Russia's decision to recognise their sovereignty, years later and only after the events of last August, was "not the result of geopolitical ambition, but in the interests of security and the very survival of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian peoples", he said.

Mr Miliband said the UK recognised that Russia wanted "to see stability along its borders", but insisted that "no country should have zones of special influence".

President Medvedev has referred to "zones of privileged interest" in the former Soviet republics. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Lavrov said attempts to "revert to ancient European history", would be "counterproductive".

'Information war'

Both ministers appeared to allude to lingering Cold War stereotypes in each other's policies.
Mr Miliband suggested Russia and the UK, both diverse nations with complex histories, were still coming to terms with the loss of empire.

However, Mr Lavrov singled out the Western media for criticism, accusing it of "allowing itself to be used as a weapon in an information war".

Mr Lavrov believes that parts of the Western media are consciously trying to undermine Russia's image in the world.

A number of British academics and writers have asked whether there is a "new Cold War". Some believe it has already begun.

But the mere suggestion angered the Russian foreign minister.
He described it as "the product of the inertia of the imagination of some sensationalist journalists, as well as biased experts".

'Politics of consensus'

While many of the disagreements between London and Moscow have been about specific issues, there are also wider, philosophical differences over how Europe's security should be guaranteed.
Moscow sees Nato's expansion, for example, as a hangover from the Cold War.

Yet London has been an enthusiastic supporter of Nato membership for Central and Eastern European nations, and continues to support the prospect of eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

Indeed, in his interview Mr Miliband said the door was open, although he warned that neither country should see joining as "on the cards just yet".

Mr Lavrov's line appeared somewhat more cautious than that of many Russian officials, who have capitalised on widespread anti-Nato sentiments for political gain.

Mr Lavrov explained that the prospect of further eastwards expansion could "not avoid causing concern" in Russia, but said a Nato willing to "take adequate account" of Russia's national interests would be a major factor in bolstering "the new politics of consensus".

The unresolved murder of the former Russian security service agent, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in November 2006, is a lingering source of tension between Russia and the UK.
Russia refuses to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the man British prosecutors suspect of poisoning Litvinenko.

Moscow points to a constitutional ban on extraditions of its citizens to other countries.
However, in his interview, Mr Miliband insisted that "justice will be sought for a very serious crime".

Asked about Russia's response, he described it bluntly as "no co-operation and no movement".

Friday, April 17, 2009

Georgian opposition to protect itself

Georgian opposition parties will form unarmed people's militia units to provide security for those who participate in civil protests. Some 20 opposition members have been attacked since the beginning of protests.This is according to Conservative Party spokesman Bidzina Gujabidze, who voiced the opposition's concern over the attacks that have mostly happened at nighttime.

Many opposition members say the Georgian Interior Ministry is behind the attacks. The Ministry in turn claims some of the scuffles were initiated by protesters themselves. Georgian human rights commissioner Sozar Subari has listed numerous attacks on opposition activists by unidentified individuals over the past few days.
Among these are the crackdown of the opposition press-center in front of the parliament building on April 12 and the beating of Coca-Cola Georgia CEO Vakhtang Lagidze with singer Zurab Mandzhavidze on their way back from the rally on the eve of April 14. Another two opposition members were beaten in the early hours of April 16.

Subari also called for the Interior Ministry to submit CCTV footage they possess, that may help in identifying some of the attackers. "The attacks on opposition activists that continue in Tbilisi greatly resemble the situation in November 2007, when opposition activists were subject to similar assaults before a peaceful rally was dispersed by force," the ombudsman said.
Rallies in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi have been ongoing for a week. Their main demand is for the president to leave office. It has not yet been met and Saakashvili has stated his intention to keep his post several times.

Even when the opposition members prepared all the necessary documents for head of state's resignation, he refused to put pen to paper, saying:

"On this concrete issue the answer is ‘No'."

There will be a short break in the protest action for Easter but the opposition leaders promise even bigger rallies after the weekend. Meanwhile Georgia's Parliament Speaker David Bakradze has announced that Mikhail Saakashvili will be visiting the US in the near future. The particular date of the visit is not yet disclosed.

Opposition in chains

Poet and opposition member Lia Naroushvili sits in a cage every day as a way of symbolizing that her own country has become a prison under Saakashvili. At home she has her belongings packed and ready to leave Georgia if Saakashvili doesn't resign. As an active member of the opposition, she is holding onto the hope that one day he will step down and she will be able to return to her native land headed by a new leader.

"The whole city is against Saakashvili. If he has at least a little bit of brain he will go. There's no place for him in Georgia. But if he stays against everyone's will I'm not going to live in this country. I don't care where, just out of here," Naroushvili says. For many the turning point in his presidency was last year's August conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. The opposition says it can't forgive what they say was the president's action in South Ossetia.

According to leader of Georgia's Peoples Party Koba Davitashvili, Saakashvili's administration had other failures as well:

"The totalitarian regime, violations of freedom of speech, political assassinations, terrorist attacks, political prisoners flock the jails. And, above all, it is due to Saakashvili's rash actions that Georgia has lost territory," Davitashvili said.


Abkhazia says no need for EU peace observers

Abkhazia's leader reiterated on Thursday that his republic does not want peace observers from the European Union, but said they should continue to be deployed in neighboring Georgia as a safeguard against aggression. Under a deal signed by the French and Russian leaders last September, following the Russia-Georgia war, the EU was to deploy 200 monitors in Georgia. However, their mandate became a source of dispute after Russia recognized Georgia's breakaway republics - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - as independent states.

"I confirm that there would be no point in admitting an EU mission to Abkhazia, because we have observers and a mission from the United Nations. This is more than enough for us," Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh said during an interview on Russia Today's Spotlight program to be broadcast on Friday. He said Abkhazia is "cautious" over admitting EU monitors, due to the EU's refusal to recognize Abkhazia as an independent country. However, he said the observers are still needed south of the border. "Observers of the military situation are needed over there, where the aggression has been coming from for the past 20 years."

Bagapsh reiterated that Abkhazia refuses to negotiate with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime. "As far as Georgia's political actors and political leadership are concerned, we will have no contact with the current leadership," he said. On February 13, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to extend the mandate for its observer mission in Georgia and Abkhazia by four months.

The UN mission in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone - formerly known as the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) - was deployed in 1993 to oversee a ceasefire following a post-Soviet conflict that resulted in Abkhazia gaining de facto independence. Bagapsh said that Abkhazia will not seek recognition from any other countries. "We are not going to ask anyone to recognize Abkhazia. We ourselves must work to create such a situation in the republic - economic and political stability, national unity - that will leave nobody with any questions," he said.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the five-day war with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Most residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had held Russian citizenship for several years.
Russia's decision was condemned by the United States and the EU. Nicaragua has so far been the only other country to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Int'l talks on Russia-Georgia conflict to resume in May

The fifth round of international talks aimed to solve outstanding issues left over by the Russia-Georgia war last August will be held here on May 18-19, mediators of the talks said in a statement on Thursday.

The series of talks, initiated last October, are co-chaired by the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations.
Other parties to the talks include Russia, Georgia, the United States as well as Georgia's two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were recognized as independent states by Russia shortly after the five-day war in August.

The last round of talks were held in February, during which participants agreed on a mechanism to prevent and solve security incidents in and around the sensitive South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. But the parties failed to resolve long-term security and humanitarian issues.

Georgian opposition to create public committees

Georgian opposition said it is beginning on Friday "to create public committees across the country for a better holding next week of peaceful actions to demand the resignation of (President) Mikhail Saakashvili."

The opposition declared "total mobilization of Georgian citizens for protest actions" and said next week its activists will leave for Georgian regions to arrange for the travel of supporters to Tbilisi.
Opposition leaders said all those willing to join the protests will be able to register at the committees.

Rallies will continue during Easter, however they will be modest, the opposition said, adding activists will daily visit all the places in Tbilisi where demonstrations were held.
In the meantime, authorities said they were ready to discuss all issues with the opposition except for Saakashvili's resignation.

However, the opposition responded the resignation is the only demand, which it may discuss with the president.

"The opposition is ready to meet Saakashvili and explain to him why he has to resign and to listen to his arguments why he does not want to resign," opposition leaders said.

The Georgian trap

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Russia slams NATO exercise in Georgia

Russia Thursday criticised NATO's planned military exercise in Georgia, saying it could give the Georgian regime a sense of impunity and raise tensions in the Caucasus region."I hope that NATO countries, in planning future interaction with Georgia within the partnership for peace programme, will avoid steps that could nudge the Georgian regime into a feeling of permissiveness and impunity," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

NATO announced Wednesday that an exercise involving 19 member states would take place from May 6 till June 1. Georgia itself has applied to become a member of NATO.

"With regard to Georgia's regime, a demonstration of NATO's participation (in the exercises) will not send the right signal by those who honestly want to achieve stability in the Caucasus," he said.

The minister said that countries should understand that in view of the August 2008 conflict, which began with Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, supplying arms to Georgia poses a severe danger.

He said that NATO countries have ignored Russia's warnings in recent years in continually supplying offensive weapons to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime.
NATO Press Secretary Robert Pshel told RIA Novosti that during the exercises "no one will be using weapons or tanks".

The drills are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programmes.

The exercises are "not purely NATO", but are partner exercises within the framework of the Partnership for Peace programme, Pshel said. "They are open to all of NATO's partner countries, including Russia."

Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier said the country had asked NATO's leadership not to hold the exercises.

"We sent an official note to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer proposing that the NATO military exercises in Georgia, planned for the near future, be postponed or cancelled," he said.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Will there be Rose II in Georgia?

Demonstrations against President Mikhail Saakashvili continued fifth day on April 13th in Georgia. Consolidated opposition demands president’s resignation, early presidential and parliamentary elections being held in the spring 2009.So far the participation to protests is not enough to implement Rose Revolution II but two new regional questions have potential to develop conflicts and change political geography once again.

Critics accuse Mr Saakashvili, who came to power on the back of the 2003 Rose Revolution, of monopolising power and exerting pressure on the judiciary and the media. Last year's war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia and caused also separation of other breakaway province – Abkhazia are added to his other crucial mistakes.

During previous demonstration in 2007, Saakashvili deployed the military and successfully — though violently — crushed the protests. But that demonstration consisted of 15,000 protesters.Now the first time all 17 opposition parties have consolidated enough to organize a mass movement in the country. Furthermore, many members of the government – who were leading also Rose I - are joining the cause.


Some 60,000 people turned out on Thursday for the first day of demonstrations - but far fewer were visible on Friday. About 10,000 people protested Saturday 11.4.2009 in three locations: in front of parliament, outside Saakashvili's residence and at the headquarters of the main state television channel, where they called for the demonstrations to be broadcast live.

The Georgian opposition reversed its previous decision to hold a break for Palm Sunday and resume protests on Monday after the opposition's press center, set up in front of the Georgian parliament's building, was attacked by unidentified assailants on the night of April 11-12. Opposition leaders said a 50-strong mob had attacked the venue, tearing banners and ripping out computer cables at a stage set up outside parliament as dozens of protesters prepared to spend a third night on the street. Police, however, said protesters had set on street cleaners who arrived to clear the site of litter. (Source Newsdaily)

Georgia's political opposition will erect fake jail cells at sites across Tbilisi to symbolize the country turning into a police state and to symbolise imprisoned democracy.

Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti

There is also concern that protests are planned in the Georgian secessionist region of Adjara, which rose up against and rejected Saakashvili’s government in 2004 after the Rose Revolution. This region was suppressed by Saakashvili once and has held a grudge ever since, looking for the perfect time to rise up again. Tbilisi especially wants to keep Adjara under its control because it is home to the large port of Batumi, and many of Georgia’s transport routes to Turkey run through it.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Batumi 9th April with demand president’s resignation. Movement for “Fair Georgia” representative said they will hold similar rallies on May 6 if the president refuses to resign.

Adjara regionIf Adjara rises up, there are rumors in the region that its neighboring secessionist region, Samtskhe-Javakheti, will join in to help destabilize Saakashvili and the government. Georgia already officially lost its two northern secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russian occupation during the August 2008 war and is highly concerned with its southern regions trying to break away.

In Samtskhe-Javakheti, an isolated, predominantly ethnic Armenian region in the country’s south there is a risk that socio-economic problems may turn into ethnic problems.The financial decline, crisis in central government and ethnic question makes the region a potential conflict region.
Hot early summer starting

Georgia is living now crucial moments if there will be Rose Revolution II or not. My point of view is that three aspects will show the direction:

First if opposition can get more supporters on the streets, President can manage today’s demonstrations, but if there is over 100,000 protesters this could be enough for revolution.

Second aspect is if there will be enough support for change outside Tbilisi and especially if the two secessionist regions see opportunity now implement wide autonomy.

Third aspect is the response of present government and President, violence can develop situation worse at least mid term, negotiations and concessions can divide opposition. Georgia is not isolated state in Europe, it is only one flashpoint in northern Black Sea region.In Moldova some activities started last week, in Ukraine triangle drama between two governing parties and opposition is erupting anytime soon boosted next gas bill and rising ethnic tensions. Neighbour Balkans has its own tensions and the big game about energy and sphere of influence is going on between U.S., EU and Russia. Anyway that part of world can be a little bit different after this year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Strong explosion shook Tskhinval

An explosion occurred in the center of Tskhinval late night. The Committee of Information and Mass-media of the South Ossetia reported that the Georgian side was shooting from large-caliber firearm from the Georgian-controlled territory. Georgia officials as usually told it was a provocation and left no other comments.

The local population of the Georgian villages confirm the fact of explosion, although they do not know what exactly happened. The Ministry of home affairs of South Ossetia will investigate the explosion

Georgia protests enter fifth day

Thousands of opposition supporters in Georgia have begun a fifth day of protests, calling on President Mikhail Saakashvili to step down.

The demonstrators gathered outside the parliament in Tbilisi, before marching on to the presidential palace, where they plan to hold an ongoing protest.
Correspondents say turnout is falling and the opposition seems increasingly unsure of how to continue its campaign.
Mr Saakashvili says Russian oligarchs are financing the Georgian opposition.

The opposition accuses him of mishandling last year's conflict with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, and of being increasingly autocratic.

Consistent message

After a brief pause on Sunday, more than 20,000 opposition supporters returned to the Georgian parliament building for a fifth day, chanting "Misha, Go!". They again blocked the capital's main street, cheered on the main opposition leaders and began to march on the presidential palace.

Mr Saakashvili's critics say his style of government is autocratic

"The fight continues, and today I have the impression that this fight will end soon with your victory," said Levan Gachechiladze, the main opposition candidate in last year's presidential election.

"Saakashvili must leave," he added. "There is no place for him in Georgia's future."
The BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi says the protesters' message has not changed - they still want Mr Saakashvili to resign - but with a diminishing turnout, the opposition seems increasingly unsure as to how to convince him or the rest of the country of its cause.
Some 60,000 people rallied at the start of the campaign on Thursday.

On Saturday, the opposition leaders talked about entering dialogue with the president and about spreading their protest to the regions.

Now, those two seemingly unpopular ideas appear to have been shelved, our correspondent says. While many opposition supporters hold the president to account for leading his country into a disastrous war with Russia last summer, others see no alternative to him as president and are wary of further destabilising their country, he adds.

Mr Saakashvili remains resolute in his determination to finish his final term in office and has repeatedly offered to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

Monday, April 13, 2009


'Georgian crimes' section is updated.
Watch photos HERE.

Lavrov says Georgia conflict proves dangers of NATO expansion

The August conflict with Georgia demonstrated just how dangerous NATO's eastward expansion could be, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a session of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council on Saturday.

"The Caucasus crisis showed how dangerous the automatic eastward expansion of NATO is. It is enough just to imagine what would have happened if Georgia had been a NATO member, as Russia would have still had no other option but to act as it did last August," he said. Last December European NATO members led by Germany blocked bids by Georgia and Ukraine, who are actively seeking membership in the military alliance.

The refusal followed Russia's five-day war with Tbilisi in August, launched after Georgian troops mounted an offensive on its former republic, South Ossetia. The conflict led to a suspension in the Russia-NATO Council in September 2008, although the two sides agreed earlier this month to resume work.

Lavrov said the Russia-NATO Council could be a basis for cooperation within the Euro-Atlantic space, but ruled out Russia joining the alliance. "The Russia-NATO Council could, if all participants, including the EU, have the political will, become a constructive basis for the Euro-Atlantic space," he said, adding "I don't think Russia could join NATO as it currently stands."

The minister also described Russia-American relations, which have shown signs of a thaw since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January, as "cautiously optimistic."

"Irrespective of what decisions the Obama administration makes in the coming months... the positive change in our relations with the U.S. will work to the general global benefit of regional politics, particularly in the Euro-Atlantic," the foreign minister said.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Georgia pres face protests

Thousands of protesters are expected to continue action on Saturday after blocking streets in the Georgian capital and vowing widespread civil disobedience on Friday as President Mikheil Saakashvili rejected opposition calls to resign. Following the biggest demonstrations against Saakashvili's rule since Georgia's August 2008 war with Russia, opposition protesters temporarily blocked main streets and marched on the president's office.

Opposition leaders vowed to continue roadblocks every day from 3pm to 9pm (11am GMT to 5pm GMT) and to expand protests nationwide until Saakashvili resigns.

"The opposition has decided to start a national disobedience campaign," Kakha Kukava, a co-leader of the opposition Conservative Party, told a crowd of 25 000 protesters in central Tbilisi.
At least 60 000 opposition supporters had rallied to call for Saakashvili's resignation on Thursday. With the number of protesters falling, opposition leaders sought to ratchet up pressure on Saakashvili by announcing the roadblocks and disobedience campaign.
Saakashvili has steadfastly refused to step down but said he was open to talks with the opposition.

"I've been listening to ultimatums every month for the last five years... My term expires in 2013," Saakashvili told journalists.

Open for dialogue

Saakashvili said he was ready for dialogue on a raft of issues, including electoral reforms and constitutional changes such as direct elections for mayors and other municipal officials.
The secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Eka Tkeshelashvili, told reporters that police would present "no obstacles" to protesters blocking the streets and called for the opposition to sit down for talks.

"We are dedicated to a meaningful dialogue... We hope that sometime soon the opposition will have a constructive approach," she said.

The United States on Friday refrained from comment on the calls for Saakashvili, a strong ally of the administration of former president George W. Bush, to resign. "This is an internal Georgian matter," said a US State Department spokesperson, Richard Aker, after being questioned on the resignation calls.

The protests are being organised by a wide coalition of opposition groups and analysts have questioned whether organisers will be able to maintain unity. Responding to Saakashvili's offer, opposition leader Irakli Alasania said he was open to meetings as long as they are held "in a transparent way."

"Nobody is against real dialogue," said Alasania, a former Georgian envoy to the United Nations who is considered a moderate voice in the opposition. But some rejected negotiations on anything but Saakashvili stepping down. "The only thing that can be discussed with Saakashvili is his resignation," said another opposition leader Salome Zurabishvili, a former foreign minister. "We are open for transparent dialogue on how Saakashvili will resign."

Protesters had blocked the capital's main road, Rustaveli Avenue, overnight before rallying in the afternoon and then paralysing traffic in central Tbilisi by marching through the streets.
At midnight, only a few dozen protesters remained outside parliament and organisers said they had told supporters not to protest overnight.

Unpopular or not?

Opponents accuse Saakashvili of mishandling the conflict with Russia and of becoming increasingly autocratic since he came to power following the 2003 Rose Revolution. Both the government and opposition have promised to keep the demonstrations peaceful, but tensions are running high and some fear the protests could spark civil unrest.

Accusing authorities of intimidation, opposition leaders said up to 10 of their activists had been beaten by unidentified assailants near the protests. Police denied any involvement by the authorities and promised to investigate any attacks. Government loyalists say Saakashvili continues to enjoy widespread support and that the opposition is looking to overturn the results of a snap presidential poll last year in which he won a second five-year term.

The Bush administration's strong backing for Saakashvili has been cited as critical factor in prompting the Georgian government last August to launch an armed campaign to regain control of the separatist region of South Ossetia. The short conflict resulted in a crushing defeat for Georgia at the hands of Russia's overwhelming military response in support of the separatists.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Georgia's embattled president refuses to resign

Democratic Movement-United Georgia party leader Nino Burjanadze with her supporters during a demonstration in Tbilisi yesterday. Some 40,000 Georgians rallied at the start of a campaign to force President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, an effort led by opponents emboldened by last years disastrous war with Russia.

MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, Georgia's pro-western president, last night rejected opposition demands that he resign following a day of noisy mass protests against his rule in the capital, Tbilisi, and other Georgian cities.

About 60,000 people took part in a rally outside Georgia's parliament building in Tbilisi, waving flags and chanting slogans, in what amounts to the most serious and sustained political challenge to Mr Saakashvili since last summer's disastrous war with Russia.

Opposition leaders said they would continue their protests until Mr Saakasvhili quits. They accuse him of presiding over an increasingly autocratic regime, and of unravelling many of the freedoms associated with the 2003 Rose Revolution that brought Mr Saakashvili to power.
"We have no other way out but to stand here until the end, until the Judas of Georgian politics resigns," former presidential challenger Levan Gachechiladze told the crowd. Speakers complained of government pressure on the media and judiciary, and criticised last year's lost war.

Others waved banners showing Mr Saakashvili with his alleged celebrity masseuse. Government officials have confirmed Mr Saakashvili has been treated for back problems, but the opposition claims the masseuse is a further example of the president's frivolity and decadence at a time of economic hardship.

"Today is referendum day in Georgia," said former UN ambassador Irakli Alasania, one of several senior figures to defect from Mr Saakashvili's inner circle, citing the president's serious errors of judgment.

Another former ally turned opponent, Nino Burjanadze, a potential presidential rival, said: "Georgians no longer trust him with anything."

Opposition to Mr Saakasvhili has accelerated since last year - when the president launched his ill-fated attempt to recapture the breakaway region of South Ossetia, triggering a punitive Russian invasion and the loss of more Georgian territory. There has also been a noticeable cooling of support towards his regime from the US and other key western backers.

Georgia's opposition, however, has its own failings. It has been frequently weak and divided, and has been unable to capitalise on Mr Saakashvili's alleged blunders. It also has no constitutional way of removing the president, who was re-elected for a second five-year term in 2008 and who made it clear yesterday he does not countenance stepping down.

"He keeps stubbornly saying he is going to stay," Zaza Gachechiladze, the editor-in-chief of Georgia's the Messenger newspaper, said yesterday.