Friday, May 8, 2009
The discussions, aimed at reducing the risk of violence in the area around South Ossetia, were due to take place on Thursday in line with an agreement reached in April during a first meeting. "It has been postponed because we could not agree on a suitable location," a spokesman for European Union ceasefire monitors in Georgia, Steve Bird, told AFP. "We tried a number of different locations but they weren't acceptable," he said.
Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili blamed Russia and South Ossetia for the cancellation. He said that after initially agreeing to hold the meeting further inside Georgian-controlled territory, the Russians and South Ossetians said late on Wednesday that was no longer acceptable.
"We regret their refusal to participate," he said. But an official with Russian military forces in South Ossetia blamed Georgia, saying the meeting "has been indefinitely postponed due to the unconstructive position of the Georgian side".
He told the Itar-Tass news agency that Georgia had initially agreed the meeting could be held in the same location as the first round of talks, the border village of Ergneti, but later insisted on other locations. Sporadic violence has continued around South Ossetia since an EU-brokered ceasefire was signed in August, ending a brief conflict over the rebel region. Tensions between Georgia and Russia have remained high since the war. Moscow has been fiercely critical of Nato military exercises that began in Georgia on Wednesday. A new round of talks aimed at preventing another war is to take place in Geneva on May 18-19.
While the Georgian government has accused Russia of trying an attempted coup, the Georgian opposition insists that it was President Mikhail Saakashvili who staged a theatrical show so he could blame Russia and brag before his NATO allies. Russia, meanwhile, is claiming that NATO is just trying to provoke a White House bent on restoring positive relations.
All this has cast a heavy shadow over Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Washington this week, where he is expected to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Rogozin said he drew these conclusions from the way the decision to expel the diplomats was revealed. "I was told of this decision only after a session of the Russia-NATO Council had ended, giving me no chance to react. A considerable number of ambassadors from NATO countries called me the other day to express their anger at this decision, they too had not been informed beforehand."
Asked how exactly these hawkish elements hoped to provoke the U.S. administration, he explained: "They are certain that we will react adequately, symmetrically. All those plans that we had agreed on, had shaken hands on, they are all being suspended indefinitely."
NATO has pressed on with the exercises, which started on Wednesday and will run through until June 1.
His party is campaigning for Saakashvili's resignation, but has strongly condemned Russia's military action in South Ossetia and its recognition of the republic's independence. Moscow-based military analysts said that NATO's insistence on holding the exercises is puzzling, given their relatively low military significance.
"These are General Staff exercises held in headquarters, not on the field," said Ivan Safranchuk, a defence analyst. "The level of these games has declined. NATO is in a delicate situation regarding Saakashvili. On the one hand, they find him a liability. But they keep up the obligations."
Rogozin said that NATO officials had explained the necessity of the exercises to him by saying that the organisation "had to save face."
On the Russian side, officials were "deliberately overreacting to underscore our vigilance over Saakashvili," said Safranchuk.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
"The four-party talks on averting an incident in the border zone scheduled for today has been postponed indefinitely because of Georgia's non-constructive position," commander of the Russian military base in South Ossetia told Itar Tass news agency on Thursday.
Georgia met officials from the region for the first time in the conflict zone on April 23 at talks facilitated by the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"Contrary to the agreement reached earlier, Georgia refused to host the meeting in the Ergneti settlement not far from South Ossetia border, and offered to hold it in the town of Gori, further away from the borderline. South Ossetia rejected the offer," the spokesman said.
"The planned for today second four-sided meeting on matters of preventing incidents in the border zone has been indefinitely postponed due to unconstructive position of the Georgian sided," he said.
"The Georgian side, contrary to the earlier reached agreement, refused to hold this meeting in its territory in the Ergneti village near the border with South Ossetia, but proposed to hold it in the city of Gori located far from the border. This proposal for a number of reasons, including security considerations, was not satisfactory to the South Ossetian side that refused to go to Gori," the Russian military base official explained.
"Thus the second four-sided meeting on the normalisation of the situation in the Caucasus has been indefinitely postponed through the Georgian side's fault," he said.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
NATO was originally formed in 1949 as an agreement of collaboration designed to prevent a possible attack from the Soviet Union on North America or Western Europe during the Cold War. In March 2004, NATO added seven more nations, six of which were once members of the Warsaw Pact-a military alliance of Eastern European Soviet countries.
According to international regulations, South Ossetia and Abkhazia belong to Georgia-a former Soviet republic. In the early 1990s, both pro-Russian regions became de facto independent but failed to be fully recognized as sovereign nations. Separatist factions operate in both regions.
In August 2008, a military conflict broke out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where many Russian citizens live. On Aug. 8, Georgian forces entered South Ossetia to assert sovereignty over the region, and Russia responded with a full military operation that saw Russian soldiers take control of Georgian territory beyond South Ossetia. A ceasefire was later brokered by the European Union (EU). On Aug. 26, the Russian government officially recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgia is currently led by pro-Western politicians. Last year, it was promised access to NATO.
On May 3, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev accused NATO of "muscle-flexing" as it was confirmed that close to 1,000 NATO soldiers will conduct military exercises at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi this month.
Do you support Georgia joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?
Feb. 2009 Sept. 2008
Support 63% 87%
Oppose 17% 8%
Not sure 11% 6%
Soldiers from 18 countries are taking part in the drills at a Georgian army base close to the capital, Tbilisi.
But Russia has said the exercises amount to a provocation.
They come just nine months after Russia's short war with Georgia and are taking place close to areas where Russian troops are stationed.
More than 1,000 soldiers will take part in the exercises over a period of more than three weeks.
For Georgia, which has been promised eventual Nato membership, they are a sign that, despite doubts over its candidate status after last year's war with Russia, it has not been forgotten.
Russia views the exercises as a provocation and has turned down an invitation to send observers.
In recent days its security forces have officially begun patrolling the border between South Ossetia, the epicentre of last summer's conflict, and Georgia. The Georgian government has repeatedly said Russia's actions are to blame for raising tension in the region.
It also accuses Moscow of backing the mutiny at an army base on Tuesday and supporting an alleged coup plot. Russia has denied the allegations.
The Georgian government is hopeful that the Nato exercises will give it a chance to prove to its Western allies that it can host an important international event without further disturbances.
Russia's foreign minister embarks on a U.S. visit on Wednesday to prepare for a bilateral summit due in July as part of the two countries' pledges to rebuild ties.
Sergei Lavrov will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Thursday, their second meeting since they symbolically pressed a "reset" button in Geneva in March to improve relations that plunged to a Cold War low under the George Bush administration.
In Washington, Lavrov will also meet with senior members of Congress and deliver a speech on Russia-U.S. relations at the Carnegie Center, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko.
"We expect substantial discussions at meetings with the leadership of the State Department, Congress and the expert community on current Russian-American relations and the problems that await resolution to ensure their sustainable development," Nesterenko said last week.
Arms control will dominate Lavrov's visit to the United States, as the two countries have pledged to draft a new arms reduction treaty to replace the Cold War-era START 1 treaty that expires in December.
The first round of "full-format" talks on the new treaty are due to take place in Moscow on May 18, with the aim of providing an outline for the pact before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in July.
Lavrov's visit could be overshadowed, however, by fresh tensions in Georgia. The former Soviet republic on Tuesday accused Russia of orchestrating a failed revolt at a military base. Moscow dismissed the charges as "insane."
Russia's war with Georgia over pro-Russian South Ossetia last August and the subsequent recognition of the breakaway region by Moscow fueled tensions with the United States and other Western powers.
Moscow's relations with NATO were also strained over the expulsion last week of two Russian diplomats by the alliance. Lavrov in response said he would not attend a NATO-Russia Council meeting later this month. The move came after Moscow and the alliance resolved to resume ties suspended following the war with Georgia.
On Monday, Lavrov will preside over a UN Security Council session on Middle East conflicts. Russia is the council president in May.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled his planned meeting of the Nato-Russia Council on 18 May and the government expelled two Canadian diplomats working at the north Atlantic alliance's information bureau in Moscow.
The move came as tit-for-tat to Nato's expulsion of two Brussels-based Russian diplomats accused of spying. One of the two men, administration director Vasily Chizhov, is also the son of Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov.
Russia had already pulled out of a planned meeting among senior military staff on 7 May in protest at the military exercises due to start today in Georgia.
Moscow has called the simulations "muscle flexing" and insisted that Nato to cancel them, saying they were taking place "where there was recently a war", alluding to the Russian invasion of Georgia after Tbilisi launched an attack against separatist forces in South Ossetia.
In a parallel development, the Georgian government on Tuesday stopped an attempted army mutiny that they say was staged by Russia and designed to disrupt the Nato exercises. A former Georgian special forces commander and a tank battalion commander were arrested.
President Mikhail Saakashvili called on Russia to stop its "provocative maneuvers" in Georgia.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that initial evidence and secret recordings show that the mutineers had Russian backing. The investigation was ongoing, he added.
Moscow denied involvement in the events and dismissed the accusations as "ridiculous."
The US reacted cautiously, calling the foiled mutiny plot an "isolated incident" that the Pentagon was still assessing.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman avoided the question of Russian involvement and stressed that the incident would not change "our long-term relationship with Georgia."
Meanwhile, in Prague, the EU is set to launch its Eastern Partnership - a new neighbourhood policy towards Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus, where president Saakashvili is also due to attend.
The embattled Georgian president has been facing opposition street protests since 9 April calling for his resignation over the failed August war and lack of democratic reforms.
Georgia is of key importance to Europe, as it is a major transit route for oil and gas pipelines coming from the Caspian Sea and bypassing Russia.
An EU energy summit dedicated to this route dubbed the "Southern Corridor" is also due to take place in Prague on Friday.
Yesterday's drama in Georgia is a reminder that the struggle for power and influence in Georgia could derail relations between Russia and Nato, and raises questions over European hopes that the region will become a secure energy supply route.
Georgia hosts strategic transit pipelines carrying Caspian oil and natural gas exports to the west. It is crucial to energy security in Europe, which is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian supplies.
The apparent mutiny, described at one stage by Georgia as an attempted coup, underlines the precarious position of Mikheil Saakashvili, the western-backed president, who many analysts say is unlikely to see out his four-year term.
His credibility was dented beyond repair by last August's disastrous war with Russia, which he was accused of starting and which resulted in the loss of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Street protests against the president's rule have become a regular fixture since early April, and while yesterday's mutiny was shortlived it demonstrated how opposition to Mr Saakashvili may be spreading throughout the establishment.
Georgian officials said the Russian secret services were behind the plot, which was timed to coincide with the start of Nato military exercises in the country.
Moscow's interest in seeing Mr Saakashvili leave power is clear, though Russian officials rushed yesterday to deny Georgian claims that the Kremlin financed the "coup" attempt.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Nato envoy, said the alliance's refusal to cancel the military exercises would "further provoke Georgia's downfall and could possibly destabilise the situation in neighbouring regions".
Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the committee for international relations in the state Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, called yesterday's events a "show" made for western consumption, which would help Mr Saakashvili distract Georgians from opposition demonstrations that have become a regular fixture in the capital. "This is one of Saakashvili's tricks. He is a master of such shows," he said.
Alexander Rondeli, the head of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, said the government needed to show evidence supporting its accusations against Russia and the alleged coup's ringleaders. But it was possible that the drama was at least partly inspired from Moscow, he added. "Russia is not just sitting on its hands and watching our country."
The situation in Georgia has put the administration of Barack Obama, US president, in a difficult position. Washington's support for Mr Saakashvili is a sticking point in an otherwise improving relationship with Moscow, underlined by a cordial meeting between Mr Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, in London in April.
The Obama administration insists it wants to "press the reset button" with Moscow. But relations were strained again last week when Moscow signed an agreement that, in effect, took control of the borders of Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a move that the US said was "another step in the wrong direction".
The military exercises due to take place in Georgia this week by countries involved in Nato's partnership for peace have also irked Russia, which sees them as a provocative action in a country it regards as under its sphere of influence.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, yesterday pulled out of a meeting of the Nato-Russia council. He had been due to attend a meeting of foreign ministers on May 18, intended to cement improved relations between Russia and Nato.
The meeting would have looked at a range of security issues, including co-operation between Russia and Nato on Afghanistan and joint attempts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. Moscow told Nato diplomats Mr Lavrov's decision was a response to the defence alliance's move to expel two Russian diplomats in the aftermath of a spying scandal, as well as Nato's intention to hold military exercises in Georgia.
Mr Obama has little room for diplomatic manoeuvre. His overtures to Russia, along with other traditional enemies of the US, have attracted the ire of the US rightwing. Delaying the Georgia war games would be viewed as a concession to Russia, and might cost Mr Obama politically at home, a Washington-based analyst said. The US department of defence said the mutiny appeared to be an isolated incident but added it was monitoring the situation. "It doesn't change our long-term relationship with Georgia," the Pentagon said.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The organisers of Alter/Vision have invited pop groups from all over Europe to participate in their rival event, which will take place at the same time as the Eurovision final in Moscow on May 16. It is an impertinent response to the ruling that the original Eurovision entry, a disco song performed by Stephane and 3G entitled We Don't Wanna Put In - a play on the name of Vladimir Putin - was too political.
The entry was seen as a protest over the war in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia last August. The European Broadcasting Union banned the song after deciding that it broke competition rules against political statements.
Georgian Public Television, which held the national contest, was asked to revise the lyrics or submit an alternative. Instead, it withdrew from Eurovision, complaining that organisers had bowed to "unacceptable" pressure from Russia, which is hosting the contest for the first time.
The Georgian Ministry of Culture is backing the alternative festival, to be held in the capital, Tbilisi, from May 15-17. Organisers said that it would feature 20 acts from nine countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Russia, but that there would be no voting to choose a winner.
"It's our moral support to the people who were supposed to sing at Eurovision but won't be there," a spokesman, Irakli Matkava, said. "We want to express true European values of freedom and fun. Eurovision is about bureaucratic control and censorship. It's more about a country's prestige than music."
The Russian hosts of this year's 54th Eurovision final are unlikely to lose sleep over this display of rivalry from Tbilisi. They would have been far more worried about the prospect of Mr Putin, who is not known for laughing off criticism, being mocked on live television in front of 100 million viewers across Europe.
Even so, Russia's own entry has been mired in controversy after a Ukrainian singer was chosen to represent the country soon after the "gas war" between the two former Soviet neighbours. Anastasia Prikhodko had already been rejected in Ukraine and her victory in Moscow sparked allegations of vote rigging from a losing finalist.
Contestants have begun to arrive in Moscow for rehearsals at the giant Olympiyski Arena before two semi-finals on May 12 and 14 to whittle down the 42 participating nations to 25 for the final.
Dmitri Shepelev, a journalist with the state-controlled Channel One television, will be the host. "The only thing I don't want is political questions. I'd like this contest to be focused on unity," he said yesterday.
They will meet on the Georgian territory to discuss normalization of the situation in the border district of Georgia with South Ossetia, the first deputy head of the Land Troops' main headquarters, Lieut. Gen. Sergei Antonov told Itar-Tass on Tuesday.
"We've already received the relevant notification from the head of the EU observer mission in Georgia, Hans Jorg Haber, on the readiness for this meeting," he said.
"Russia's representatives who will directly resolve all issues emerging in the border district of Georgia with South Ossetia will take part. Among them will be representatives of the Russian military contingent in South Ossetia," he said.
Antonov represented Russia at the first four-party meeting in Georgia' s village of Ergneti on April 23.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The accident occurred on Friday evening on the Tskhinval-Znaur highway, the Prosecutor General's Office said.
"As a result of a technical failure, the Volkswagen Golf car lost control, drove off the road, overturned and hit a tree," the Prosecutor General's Office said.
Gabulov "died at the scene from the bodily harm", it said.
The deployment, announced Saturday, quickly followed the signing of a deal that formalized Russia's control over the borders of the regions at the center of last summer's brief war with Georgia.
The border guards department for southern Russia said its troops took full responsibility for guarding the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Thursday, the same day that the leaders of both regions signed an agreement with President Dmitry Medvedev giving Russia control over the borders. The first border guards arrived in South Ossetia on Thursday, it said.
"The border must be securely closed and made inaccessible for enemies," said Nikolai Lisinsky, who heads the border guards department in southern Russia, Interfax reported.
He said video surveillance and unmanned aircraft would be used to patrol the border, but no barbed-wire fences would be put up and South Ossetia would remain accessible "for those who seek peace with us."
In Abkhazia, the region's border service said Russian border guards were deployed together with Abkhaz troops along the land borders. Abkhaz troops continued to guard the Black Sea coast, although Russian naval vessels were deployed off shore, the service said.
Russia has announced plans to start building a naval base in Abkhazia.
In signing Thursday's deal with Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetia leader Eduard Kokoity, Medvedev indicated that Russia's intention was to strengthen its position that the cease-fire that ended last summer's war had been superceded by subsequent agreements with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "This, without any doubt, is a political act," Medvedev said at a Kremlin ceremony. "These documents develop the agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance that were signed some time ago in this hall."
In an interview with New Europe's television arm, NETV, on the sidelines of the European People's Party convention in Warsaw, Poland April 29-30, Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Russia Duma, reiterated the Russian position that it was Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who began the conflict by having Georgian troops move into South Ossetia last August, which the Russian lawmaker said forced Russia to deploy its own troops, and only after, he said, Saakashvili misinterpreted signs from the West, such as promises Georgia would get into NATO, and which led him not to talk with Russia over the provinces which had long sought to break away.
Asked whether Saakashvili inadvertently walked into a bear trap by misreading international signals he thought were equivalent to support, Kosachev said, "The major mistake Saakashvili made was to promised his people, his electorate, to solve the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the end of his second term. As soon as you give those kind of promises, you are trapped. You have no other options but to do something and that's what he was trying to do." Kosachev said it was critical to remember that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February of 2008 and within two months was being recognized by some European countries, although Russia opposed it and still fiercely does.
"Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly promised us on different occasions, not to use military force, which he used in August last year, so Mr. Saakashvili personally does not have any confidence in Russia. We cannot communicate with a person who lies. This is what he has done and this is what he is still doing. I believe the position now inside of Georgia is much better than previously. What happens with Mr. Saakashvili is definitely a domestic affair for Georgia, and we will definitely not interfere, not at all. But I believe the chance for improving relations between Georgia and Russia will come sooner or later, but will come when we have some other leadership in Georgia."
Last year, Kosachev, in his position as Russia's representative to the Council of Europe, which is the main bastion of human rights for the EU, accused the Georgian president of violating the values of the council, ignoring human rights and the rule of law. Kosachev, a veteran diplomat who manages to mix strong suggestions with political boilerplate, said then what he reiterated to NETV, although he was more couched at the time, not long after the conflict, when tensions were running high and the EU was going to send monitors to the region. "Russia had no other choice but to act immediately, protecting people's lives, protecting peace in the region and enforcing peace," he told Russia Today. If anything, as he showed when he talked to New Europe, Kosachev has gotten tougher on Saakashvili.