FP may have published its list of Ramzan Kadyrov's weirdest Instagrams a bit too soon. Instead of shutting down his account, as he threatened last week, the Chechen strongman appears to be doubling down on the photo-sharing site this week.
Take, for example, the Instagram aficionado's decision to introduce his followers to what appeared to be his doppelganger. According to the Moscow Times, the caption to the photo below reads, "Dear friends, I will reveal a secret to you, but please don't tell anybody. I have sent my double to work instead of me today. Let's see how he manages!"
Around the same time, Kadyrov played guide to British actress Elizabeth Hurley, who is currently in Grozny filming a thriller with French actor (and Kadyrov kindred spirit) Gérard Depardieu. Below, the trio tours Grozny; Kadryov shows Hurley how to use an iPhone?; and the boys inspect a monster truck.
"I can't dictate to Mr Depardieu and Miss Hurley whom they should meet with, but I hope they are not taking money from a person who is accused of involvement in egregious human rights violations," Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told the Telegraph. (The American actor Steven Seagal arrived in Grozny on Wednesday.)
And then Kadyrov's two worlds collided, as the Chechen leader introduced both Hurley and Kadyrov #2 to his kitten (this is, by the way, a different creature than his cat named Chanel.)
In a vaguely worded Instagram message, Kadyrov later suggested that the photos of his double had been a "joke" he played on detractors who spread "rumors" about him, though he didn't go into detail about how he had pulled it off -- or why posting photos with a lookalike or a Photoshopped version of himself would silence his critics.
Oh, and did we mention this one?
On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Ramzan Kadyrov, the 36 year-old president of Chechnya, reported human rights violator, supercar driver, champion boxer, and prolific Instagrammer, has once again posted an amazingly bizarre photo to his Instagram account -- posing with a lone wolf (Chechnya's national animal). The caption reads:
Wolf -- The only animal that can go into a fight against a stronger opponent. If he has lost the battle, he will look his opponent in the eye until the last breath, after which he dies.... The wolf always shows himself to his prey and chases it down on the run. It is for precisely this that we can respect them, despite their bloodthirstiness. #Chechnya #Hunting #Wolves.
(Interesting how Kadyrov, once a rebel fighter, appears to be evoking Chechen nationalism even as he grows closer and closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
But there are two sides to this man, clearly. Here's the picture Kadyrov posted just afterwards, of him cradling this cat:
Ever since November 2012, the Chechen strongman has been uploading several photos a day to the photo-sharing site -- quite a self-indulgent act for someone who once called the task a "burden." But how else to monitor public opinion, comment on current events, and appoint Instagram followers to his cabinet? In case you're not one of Kadyrov's 132,804 (and counting) Instagram followers, here are some of his weirdest pics:
1. #lounging #tiger #bondvillain
2. French actor Gérard Depardieu at table with Kadyrov and his identically dressed children.
3. Tracksuit? Check. Golden stag? Check. Let's do this.
4. The focus was on back, traps, and biceps.
5. "They fixed a few minor things, told me that I have excellent teeth and sent me off." #oversharing
6. Kadyrov posted this photo along with a caption telling "friends, brothers, sisters, subscribers" to stop making appeals to him via Instagram ("more than half" weren't true anyway!) and to stop arguing with each other in the comments section. #orthisiswhereiwillburyyou
7. Hugging the sheep the wolf will probably eat later.
8. Chechen rulers -- they're just like us!
9. Just grabbing a bull by the horns, lounging on a tractor...
10. A perk of being president: as much Jello as you want.
11. Anything Putin can do, I can do better.
Christian Caryl contributed to this post.
All photos from Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram page.
On Sunday, the Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate, a separatist group in Russia that has been tied to al Qaeda by the United Nations, issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks in Boston. Here's a translation by the jihadist media clearinghouse blog Jihadology:
[T]here are speculative assumptions that [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] may have been associated with the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular with the Mujahideen of Dagestan.
The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.
The statement also stressed that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has discouraged targeting civilians and blamed speculation about the Tsarnaevs' connection to Chechen separatists on Russian propaganda.
The Caucasus Emirate has been under particular scrutiny for the attacks, given the Tsarnaevs' Chechen heritage and older brother Tamerlan's trip to Chechnya and Dagestan last year, which some reports have tied to his radicalization.
The statement does not definitively indicate that the Tsarnaevs are not connected to the Caucasus Emirate, however. "The Caucasus Emirate is a very decentralized structure organizationally so I wouldn't necessarily say they speak on behalf of other wilayah or jama'at or even the emir Dokku Umarov," writes Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology, whom FP reached by email this morning. "The Caucasus Emirate is the main jihadi umbrella, but there are a bunch of wilayah and jama'at that work under it. I don't think we know enough information to determine if they could have worked with others."
The Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate is not the first jihadist group to deny involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility almost immediately after the bombings last week, with a spokesman for the organization saying, "Certainly, America is our target and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the [Pakistani Taliban] finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack."
Russia and Israel may disagree on Iran's nuclear program, but President Vladimir Putin and his entourage of about 400 officials and businessmen were warmly welcomed by Israeli officials during the Russian leader's first visit to the country in seven years. Upon arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Putin was "greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an IDF honor parade." Later that day, he attended an inauguration ceremony in Netanya for a memorial to the Soviet Red Army soldiers killed in World War II, along with Lieberman, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Speaking at the ceremony, Putin invoked Russia as both war and peacemaker:
"Russia who so greatly helped win the war is the same Russia that can help peace in the Middle East."
Putin's agenda also included a stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but his 24-hour tour made plenty of time for discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and other Israeli officials about regional issues -- namely Iran and Syria. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu said during a joint news conference that he and Putin "agreed that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran ‘presents a grave danger first of all to Israel, and to the region and the world as a whole.'"
Israeli officials, however, are not optimistic that their concerns will have any impact on Russian policy:
"Let's not exaggerate. It is a very brief visit," said a senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for reasons of diplomacy. He added, "Do not expect any major breakthrough."
According to Haaretz, Peres did not have much success with Putin at the state dinner that evening:
"President Shimon Peres pressed Putin further, asking that he ‘raise his voice' against a nuclear Iran. Putin responded by saying that Russia has a ‘national interest' to secure peace and quiet in Israel but did not elaborate further."
Despite the fact that talks about Iran were more process than substance, Tel Aviv University Russia specialist Boris Morozof notes that Israel and Russia do have "points of common interest," such as military technology, counterterrorism, and Israel's vast natural gas fields.
On Tuesday, Putin traveled to the West Bank, where he "inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in Bethlehem" and toured the Church of Nativity. He also told President Mahmoud Abbas that Russia "has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state," called his Palestinian counterpart's position on negotiations with Israel "responsible," and referenced Israeli unilateral actions as "not constructive."
Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet, a diplomatic body charged with mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whose members also include the U.S., the U.N., and the EU. The Quartet has made little progress since its inception in 2002, but Abbas reportedly "called for an international peace conference to take place in Moscow."
Jim Hollander - Pool / Getty Images
ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has just finished a two-day state visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The trip signifies growing ties between the two Black Sea states regarding joint energy and export projects. And as a token of this political rapprochement, Borisov was presented with honorary Georgian citizenship and a symbolic gesture of a Georgian passport.
But receiving Georgian citizenship isn't so easy for everybody. In October 2011, the government revoked the citizenship of billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, just days after he publically announced his plans to create a new political party for the October 2012 parliamentary elections. (Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but, according to the government, it was revoked due to his acquisition of French citizenship afterwards.) Citizenship is required in order to run for public office and create a political party. Since then, he and President Mikheil Saakashvili have been locked in an on-going feud over legitimacy. Members of Saakashavili's United National Movement have associated Ivanishvili (who made his fortune in Russia) as having close ties to the Kremlin.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on January 30, 2012, Ivanishvili referred to the government and its encroachment as having "a super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance." Throughout March 2012, the government has also been accused of intimidation against members of Ivanishvili's political group, "Georgian Dream," during a political financing investigation.
Ivanishvili challenged the loss of his citizenship in court, but the case was defeated in December 2011. He applied to reinstate his citizenship on January 5, 2012, and according to law, the authorities must respond within 3 months. The deadline expiring this week on Thursday, it's only a matter of time until we learn what's next in this Georgian (political) drama.
In the meantime, Ivanishvili (and the rest of us) might be forgiven for wondering what allows the prime minister of Bulgaria to fast-track through the citizenship process.
UPDATE: A letter from the Georgian Ambassador to the United States, Temuri Yakobashvili, has requested a correction in this story. The letter clarifies that Borisov "was handed a Georgian passport as a symbolic gesture while visiting one of our new Justice Halls. He was not granted Georgian citizenship."
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has an interesting definition of the word "provocative." After meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the U.N. this week, Lavrov commented on March 14 that the recent resumption of U.S.-Georgia military exercises "seems somewhat provocative."
This might make sense if only Russia wasn't organizing military exercises of its own in the Caucasus. In December 2011, Russia announced a new strategic command-and-staff exercise, "Caucasus 2012," to take place in September 2012. The purpose is to prepare for a possible Israeli attack on Iran (and the potential repercussions in the Caucasus region). The exercises are to involve all areas of the armed forces, and will take place not only in the Russian territories of the North Caucasus, but also in neighboring Armenia, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (over which the 2008 war was fought).
It also conveniently occurs right before the scheduled parliamentary elections in Georgia for October 2012. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is obviously skeptical of these "military exercises" on its borders, claiming Russia is "seeking to instigate a permanent state of tension" in the region.
Then again, Russian foreign affairs rhetoric isn't exactly known for its consistency. Last year, during the NATO decision-making to provide the Libyan rebels with military assistance against Qadaffi, Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin commented that creating a no-fly zone over Libyan air space was "a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country." Similar words came from Putin himself, who described the NATO mission as a "medieval call for a crusade ... [that] allows intervention in a sovereign state."
Ah, Putin condemning foreign military intervention
in a sovereign state. How quickly he forgot his intentions
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
The government of Georgia is courting MTV in its effots to improve its image in the world and encourage tourism. EurasiaNet.org reports:
In a bid to promote Georgia's profile in world markets and attract tourists and investors, Tbilisi has signed a deal with the global music entertainment network MTV for a high-octane concert to be televised worldwide, a source close to the negotiations has confirmed to EurasiaNet.org.
The concert, tentatively planned for May or June 2011, will be held in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi, according to Georgian Tourism Department Director Maia Sidamonidze. The performance will take place under the auspices of MTV Impact, a division of the network that uses concerts to expand MTV's reach in developing countries, with the pledge to use the MTV brand to encourage economic growth.
Georgia already enjoys a "crushing soft-power advantage" over its neighbors, as James Traub put it in an article for FP over the summer. The country has scant resources and a small population, but delicious food, friendly people and a beautiful landscape might be able to make up for that. And if Katy Perry gets a beach house near Batumi? Maybe the U.S. will be willing to join in the next fight against Russia.
In seriousness, though, it makes sense for the government in Tbilisi to push tourism and foreign investment to their tiny country and MTV, with a global audience in the hundreds of millions, is probably a good way to bring the kind of exposure that they want. The government is simultaneously trying to make English (instead of Russian), the national second language.
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Azerbaijan plans to nearly double its military expenditures for the coming year, according to an announcement by the Azerbaijani finance minister yesterday. Much of this money will be directed towards "modernizing the Azerbaijani military." Is this a prelude to a renewed round of fighting with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh?
Tensions have been heating up along the border between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, with a number of skirmishes in the past few months that have left soldiers from both sides dead. And peace negotiations, which are supposed to be mediated by Russia, the U.S. and France, don't seem to be going anywhere.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war over Nagorno-Karabakh War from 1998 to 1994. In the end, the territory was declared independent (Yerevan's preferred outcome) and subsequently was cleansed of ethnic Azeris and re-populated with Armenians from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan lost around 10 percent of its territory.
But that war took place just as the Soviet Union was coming apart, when both countries were fledgling Soviet republics. Things might look a little different this time around. Azerbaijan's GDP is around $46.13 billion, compared with Armenia's $11.92 billion. Baku enjoys good relations with all of its neighbors, including Russia, Iran, Georgia, and Turkey, as well as foreign powers like the United States and China. Armenia, meanwhile, is a lot less loved. Relations with Georgia are tepid and with Turkey they're non-existent. Armenia does, however, host Russian military bases (and they produce a lot of brandy for the Russian market).
Of course, it's possible, even likely, that nothing will happen in the South Caucasus any time soon. But if it does, it looks like Azerbaijan will be ready.
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
It hasn't attracted a whole lot of attention yet, but Russia's announcement this week of the arrest of militant leader Ali Taziyev, better known as Emir Magas could be a devastating blow to the insurgency in the North Caucasus. Magas was officially second-in-command behind the better-known Doku Umarov in the hierarchy of rebels aiming to establish an Islamic emirate in the Caucasus.
Past FP contributor and Bishkek-based International Crisis Group analysts Paul Quinn-Judge explains that Magas is actually a more significant target:
[W]hile Doku has become largely a figurehead in recent years – the last link with the old generation of independence fighters and a symbol of the war’s transformation into a religious struggle – Magas was a frontline commander, a highly successful military planner and an astute organiser. He was one of the commanders of the bloody attack on Nazran in 2004. He is sometimes alleged to have taken part in the hostage taking at Beslan later that year. He claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in June 2009 that badly injured the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and in the period between these events he united virtually all the small semi-autonomous groups of Islamic fighters under the command of the North Caucasus Emirate. This is an achievement that seems to have eluded his predecessor, Shamil Basayev.
The guerrilla movement was quick to confirm that Magas had been captured, and did not try to hide the gravity of the development. A long commentary on the Ingush jihadist site hunafa drew parallels with the early losses of Mohamed’s followers. It described the capture as a “severe test” for the movement and for Magas. “May Allah give him strength,” the site said.
Magas has been taken to Moscow for questioning.
In the latest development in the Armenian genocide resolution row, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted at expelling thousands of Armenians from the country. The threat was made as a result of genocide resolutions progressing in the U.S. Congress and Swedish parliament.
About 100,000 undocumented Armenians live in Turkey (and another 70,000 legal residents), many performing menial work.
Obviously Erdogan's words aren't helpful (and would seem particularly crass given the issue), but they're nothing new. Aris Nalci, editor at Agos, a Turkish-Armenian weekly, downplayed the remarks:
We are not taking it as a serious threat.
Checking the scorecard, the impact of the committee vote is now a threat to the use of Incirlik Air base, a crucial link in the supply train to Iraq; damaging the peace process and rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia; and now a warning that tens of thousands of poor, migrant Armenians might get deported.
Does the foreign affairs committee still think it was worth it?
Big news today in the world of geographical absurdities. Abkhazia -- which wants to be a country -- has been officially recognized by the Pacific island of Nauru -- which is barely a country. Nauru now joins the motley group of Nicaragua, Venezuela, and of course Russia in recognizing the breakaway Georgian region. Recognition didn't come cheap, though:
Nauru, an eight-square-mile rock in the South Pacific with about 11,000 inhabitants, was no pushover, according to the influential Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. In talks with Russian officials, Nauru requested $50 million for “urgent social and economic projects,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed Russian diplomats.
$3,500 $4,500 per Nauruan. This was just the latest of the ill-fated island's get-rich-quick schemes:
Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, has been desperate for income since its most important resource, phosphates formed by centuries of bird droppings, is nearly exhausted. The island has tried housing refugees for Australia and investing millions in a West End musical. (It bombed.)
Recently, it has begun to dabble in foreign-policy hardball. In 2002, Nauru severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, coincident with a reported pledge of $130 million from China. Three years later, it switched again, prompting a Chinese official to grumble that the islanders were “only interested in material gains.”
For a time, Nauru was also a major money laundering center used by the Russian mafia.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Eurasianet's Molly Corso reports that Tblisi and Washington are in talks over Georgia accepting detainees from Guantanamo Bay:
Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili stated that negotiations about a prisoner transfer are "ongoing." She would not specify the nature of the talks, or discuss any potential timetable for a transfer.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has made it clear that Georgia is ready to take Guantanamo prisoners. In a television interview with Fox News in late September, Saakashvili said that the country is "absolutely" willing to host Guantanamo detainees. "You know, whatever we can do to help America on its war on terror, we will do," he said.
Some of Saakashvili's Washington luster has worn off recently and he doesn't seem to have the same cordial relationship with Obama's team that he did with Bush's. Accepting detainees -- along with a recent pledge to send Georgian troops to Afghanistan -- is a good way to remind the administration of his pro-Washington bona fides.
The E.U. Fact-Finding Mission's recently released report on the conlifct in Georgia poses a bit of a challenge. The Associated Press went with "EU report: Georgian attack started war with Russia," the New York Times was more evenhanded with "E.U. Report to Place Blame on Both Sides in Georgia War", the Wall Street Journal split the difference with "Tbilisi Started '08 War, but Moscow Also at Fault, EU Finds."
Having read the report's conclusions, these are all basically correct. The authors do state explicitly that "Operations started with a massive Georgian artillery attack" on the night of Aug. 7 and that this attack was not justifiable under international law. They also say that Georgian claims of a Russian military incursion prior to this attack are not "sufficiently substantiated." Point for the Kremlin, but from that point on the Russians don't look very good.
The report rejects Russian claims of genocide by Georgia against Russian civilians, accuses the Russian military of allowing human rights abuses, including widespread rape, by South Ossetian forces against Georgian civilians, states that Russian troops "continued their advances for some days after the August ceasefire was declared," and finds that while their initial military reponse was justified, they went "far beyond the reasonable limits of defence" by moving into Georigan territory. In an interesting passage, the authors write:
In a matter of a very few days, the pattern of legitimate and illegitimate military action had thus turned around betweeen the two main actors Georgia and Russia.
The report also describes provocative Russian acts in the lead-up to the war, including "the formalising of links with the breakaway territories, the granting of Russian passports to their populations, and declarations about using the Kosovo precedent as a basis for the recognition fo South Ossetia and Abkhazia".
Another important passage:
"This Report shows that any explanation of the origins of the conflict cannot focus soleley on the artillery attack on Tskhinvaliin the night of 7/8 August and on what then developed into the questionable Georgian offensive in South Ossetia and the Russian military action. ...It must also take into account years of provocations, mutual accusations, military and political threats and acts of violence both inside and outside the conflict zone. It has to conside, too, the impact of a great power's coercive politics and diplomacy against a small and insubordinate neighbour, together with the small neighbour's penchant for overplaying its had and acting in the heat of the moment without careful consideration fo the final outcome, not to mention its fear that it might permanently lose important parts of its territory through creeping annexation."
In retrospect Russia's excessive use of force during the conflict seems not just brutal but politically stupid. Through years of pressure, the Kremlin had goaded Saakashvili into an ill-advised attack that provided the Russian miltiary with cover to consolidate control over the breakaway regions. If they had stopped there, Russia could have (somewhat credibly) painted Georgia as the aggressor and (much less credibly) justified their incursion as a humanitarian intervention.
Thanks to their attacks on non-disputed Georgian territory, their complicity in human rights abuses by South Ossetian forces, and their violations of the ceasefire, it's hard to see Russia as anything but a bullying aggressor. And with Saakashvili still in power and the underlying political dynamics basically unchanged, it's hard to see what they gained from it.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
It appears that the Obama administration's revised plans for a missile shield will heavily focus on the Caucasus, perhaps even that perpetual thorn in the Kremlin's side, Georgia:
US defense officials have not specified the radar’s new proposed location, but some Georgian and Russian officials and commentators have been quick to suggest that the Pentagon has Georgia in mind. These analysts said that if the United States is thinking about the South Caucasus, Georgia would be the best place for the radar deployment. Armenia, they say, would not wish to anger its close strategic ally Russia by hosting the radar, while Azerbaijan would not want to put its already strained relationship with Iran to the test.
Russian military analyst Vladislav Shurygin said that intelligence provided by the radar might also help Georgia to protect itself from Russian missiles. "We should not have any illusions about the US plans," he told the Regnum news agency. US officials have long maintained that the defense system would focus on Iran, rather than Russia.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright has said that Russia should actually be reassued by a Caucasus location since the radar won't be aimed at them:
“The X-band radar is a single directional,” he said. “In other words, when you put it down, it points in a single direction. And it will be very clear that it is pointing south towards Iran.”
That might be true, but the Bush adminstraion also argued that the Eastern European location had nothing to do with Russia and was purely aimed at Iran, which did little to assuage Moscow's concerns. I would imagine that an expanded U.S. troop presence in Georgia would annoy Russia as much, if not more, than having them in Poland.
RFE/RL reports that an Azerbaijani music fan was questioned by his country's National Security Ministry after voting for rival Armenia's entry in this year's Eurovision song contest:
"They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security,” Nasirli said. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, 'You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?' They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go."
A total of 43 Azeris voted for the Armenian duo Inga and Anush, and their song, "Jan-Jan."
Nasirli, like others, used his mobile phone to send a text message expressing his preference, little imagining his vote would eventually result in a summons from national security officials. (By contrast, 1,065 Armenians voted for the Azerbaijani team, apparently without consequence.)
The funny thing is, Nasirli's motives were actually patriotic:
Nasirli said he preferred the Armenian entry because it sounded "more Azeri" than his country's own submission, a duet featuring Arash, a pop superstar born in Iran and based in Sweden:
"I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan. Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash's song,” Nasirli said.
Here are the two entries so you can judge for yourself.
Russian aircraft were frequently taken by Russian and Ossetian forces for Georgian aircraft, and they were fired upon without identification and in the absence of any aggressive action on their part.
A NATO source tells Eurasianet that Azerbaijan is now more likely to join NATO than Ukraine or Georgia:
"Earlier, the perception in both Brussels [North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] headquarters] and Baku was that Georgia should integrate into NATO first and Azerbaijan should follow," the source said. "However, the situation has changed and it might be that in the year to come Azerbaijan will become the frontrunner. Baku may enter NATO earlier than Ukraine and Georgia."
After Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia, "[m]any NATO member-states believe that . . . it is simply impossible to provide membership to Georgia," the source continued.
Ukraine’s domestic divisions over NATO and political turmoil have reduced its membership chances, he said. "It is unclear who will represent the Ukrainian government in six months or a year and what its position on NATO membership will be."
By comparison, Azerbaijan appears a bastion of stability. Among its other "strong advantages" are the country’s "strong cultural links" with NATO member Turkey and its strategic importance for the planned Nabucco and TGI (Turkey-Greece-Italy) gas pipelines, projects which "will deepen Western support [for] Azerbaijan in the coming years," according to the source.
Interestingly, a large part of the reason Azerbaijan is now in a better spot for NATO membership is that its government never lobbied particularly hard to join. Ukraine and Georgia, where this has been a long-standing priority, invited both Russia and internal critics to try to prevent them from joining.
For a number of reasons explained in the article, Azerbaijan still has a long way to go before it can join, but it does seem as if the best way for ex-Soviet countries to join Nato might be to act like they don't actually want to.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct joint military exercises in August-September in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the Belarusian defense minister said on Wednesday.
The defense ministers of the post-Soviet security bloc comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan held a regular meeting in Moscow on June 3.
"The joint drills will be held in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to practice the deployment of CSTO's joint rapid-reaction force," Leonid Maltsev told reporters after the meeting.
He said the exercises in Belarus will also involve the Russia-Belarus joint military grouping created within the framework of the CSTO.
According to media reports, Russia is planning to build a strong military contingent in Central Asia within the CSTO comparable to NATO forces in Europe.
Russia was highly irritated by 19-country NATO war games held in Georgia last month. Interestingly, Kazakhstan, where part the CSTO drills are to take place, was one of the countries invited to participate in the NATO exercises but declined in solidarity with Russia.
The exercises in Belarus, right on NATO's eastern border, are likely to be seen as a response to NATO's actions in Georgia.
Almost exactly a month after the Russian government declared the anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya had ended, a suicide bomber killed three people at a checkpoint in Grozny. He had been attempting to reach the interior ministry building. Another bombing killed three people in a village in Southern Chechnya earlier this week:
The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says it is rare for Muslim rebels to be able to carry out an attack in Grozny, and a suicide bombing is even rarer.
It would appear to be a message from the separatists that the conflict is not over and that they remain a force to be reckoned with, our correspondent says.
Judging by opposition leader Salome Zurabishvil's interview with Der Spiegel, I'd say the chances of Georgia's current political crisis ending with a compromise are pretty minimal:
We were expecting a real dialogue with the president. A genuine dialogue about how we were going to find a way out of this political crisis. Unfortunately he was not prepared for such a talk. He seems to have lost his grip on reality and imagines that 65 percent of the population support him. He says the only crisis in Georgia is the aftermath of the worldwide economic crisis.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And which crisis are you referring to?
Zurabishvili: The political crisis in this country has been going on for about a year and a half. Since 2007, the people have been protesting against Saakashvili's increasingly authoritarian regime. There is no way of expressing this dissatisfaction democratically: elections were manipulated, parliament cannot be moved. Referenda or impeachment proceedings wouldn't stand a chance because in this country all power is concentrated in the hands of one man. And I would call him insane.
Thanks to improvements in law enforcement, Georgia's criminals are all heading north to Russia, according to President Mikheil Saakashvili. And he's just fine with that:
Our main export to Russia is not wine, but 'thieves in law" and other criminal elements," Saakashvili said at the opening ceremony of the new building of the Georgian Interior Ministry in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
Today, Georgia has almost gotten rid of organized crime and criminal ringleaders thanks to the police, who are not corrupt like they used to be, he said.
Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi, who is Britain's chief suspect in the murder of dissident ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko is considering running for mayor of Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that will host the 2014 Olympic Games.
Scotland Yard's prime suspect needled Britain last May, by attending a soccer game played by two British teams in Moscow. I have to imagining that attending an Olympics hosted by Lugovoi himself has to be a pretty infuriating prospect for the U.K.
Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
The three men accused of playing a role in the 2006 murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya were acquitted today. While it would be great to see Politkovskaya's killers brought to justice, that clearly wasn't going to happen at this trial anyway. None of the three Chechen men on trial were accused of actually killing the journalist, who was known for her fearless and critical coverage of Russia's war in Chechenya. The L.A. Times' Megan Stack wrote shortly before the verdict:
There is a pervasive sense that the trial is tangential, that the evidence is patchy and that the Russian government has only skimmed the edges of the crime rather than dug at its roots.
Conspicuously missing from the cramped courtroom is anyone accused of pulling the trigger or ordering or paying for the slaying. Lawyers say evidence has linked the crime to the FSB, domestic successor of the KGB, but has failed to reveal how far up the ranks of intelligence services the plan to kill Politkovskaya reached.
Whether these men played a role or not, a conviction in this "chaotic, confused and even farcical" trial would probably have actually set back the campaign to find and prosecute the actual killers. Politkovskaya's newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, is currently conducting its own investigation. That one may aim a little higher.
BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images
Georgia's entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Moscow in May, is a pretty obvious jab at Russian Prime Minsiter Vladimir Putin. The peppy disco number by vocal trio 3G with guest vocalist Stefane, is titled "We Don't Wanna Put In" and features the chorus:
We don't wanna put in/the negative move/is killing the groove
Imma try to shoot him/some disco tonight/boogie with you.
Check it out:
"We need to send a message to Europe and first of all to Moscow. It's important for us to say what Georgia wants to say as a country."
Georgia and its pipelines may be central to plans to bypass Russia as Europe's main gas supplier, but the country may soon be partially dependent on Russia for its own power supply.
Georgia has sold a partial management stake in the hydroelectric plant that supplies almost half the country's power to a Russian state-controlled energy firm for $9 million. The plant straddles the border between Georgia-proper and the Russian-occupied territory of Abkhazia. Even though Russia is now paying for electricity that Abkhazians and nearby Russians were already using for free and Georgia will maintain ownership, Georgian opposition leaders smell hypocrisy:
Salome Zurabishvili, leader of the opposition Georgian Way party, sharply criticized the move. “The government is a traitor, which says, on the one hand, that Russia is an occupier, and on the other hand makes deals with the same country.”
Even though this seems like a decent deal for Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili's government had to expect to take a hit from the public. It may be a sign that while top Georgian officials continue to decry the Russian occupation of their territory, in reality they're learning to live with it.
On Friday, Georgia and the United Staets signed a strategic partnership agreement in what foreign minister Grigol Vashadze called a "stepping stone which will bring Georgia to Euro-Atlantic structures, to membership within NATO, and to return to the family of Western and civilized nations." The agreement can be considered the Bush administration's final friendly gesture to one of its staunchest allies.
I got a chance to speak with Vashadze at the Georgian embassy shortly after the agreement was signed. He had a number of interesting things to say about the U.S.-Georgia relationship, but seemed a bit perturbed when I referred to the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "conflicts":
We are not speaking about conflicts. We could speak about conflicts before the August war. Now this is not a conflict; it's an occupation. From one point of view, it's absolutely dreadful because you wake up and 20 percent of your territory is occupied by an unwelcome neighbor. From another point of view, Russia played all their aces. Everything is called its proper name right now: Russia is not a peacekeeper; it is an occupier. We're not talking about ethnic conflict; we're talking about the cleaning of those territories of their core population to build up Russian military bases.
So we have a very simple question: Can Russia use those occupied territories as an instrument of influence? As this charter shows, and as the world's attitude changed, we see that, no, Russia cannot do that anymore.
Read the whole interview here.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin named on Thursday a mountain peak in the Caucasus in honor of Russian spies.
The former president's office has said that the one-time KGB agent signed a resolution to name the Sugan Ridge mountain peak the Peak of Russian Counterintelligence Agents.
It's not a catchy name, but the mountain is in North Ossetia near the Georgian border, so it may be an appropriate one.
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