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 (Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but, according to the government, it was revoked due to his acquisition of French citizenship afterwards.)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
Stalin's postmortem downfall was (quite literally) on display last night in Gori, Georgia, where a statue of the Soviet leader was dismantled from its decades-old perch in the square of Uncle Joe's hometown. The unceremonious removal -- conducted without announcement or fanfare in the dead of night -- sounded strangely reminiscent of a criminal enterprise (albeit one carried out by amateur vandals). Stalin's unexpected departure, however, came at the directive of the city's parliament, which explained its decision as a necessary product of modernization. Even President Mikheil Saakashvili weighed in to express his approval: "A memorial to Stalin," he declared in televised remarks, "has no place in the Georgia of the 21st Century."
Saakashvili's assessment isn't as cantankerous as it may sound -- in fact, Stalin-bashers in Gori are by all measures behind the curve. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, rioters across the crumbling USSR eagerly demolished all signs of the former leader (à la Baghdad in 2003), but Georgians in Gori staunchly resisted the revisionist portrait of their homegrown hero: Hundreds of locals reportedly gathered to protect the statue against its would-be defilers. Stalin's corpse was removed from its original resting place inside Red Square in 1961, just a few years after its entombment; half a century later, what's thought to be the last remaining statue of the leader in its original locale has finally come down.
Of course, these Georgians aren't merely catching up with a trend; they plan to take their protest one step further. In a not-so-subtle gesture to their neighbors, the now-ousted statue will be replaced by a memorial for Georgian soldiers who died in the country's 2008 war with Russia.
The now-dismantled Gori Stalin made FP's list of the world's ugliest statues in April.
Georgia's Olympic committe reacted angrily to the International Luge Federation blaming the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run last week on human error:
"I exclude the possibility that Nodar was not experienced enough," committee chief Giorgi Natsvlishlili said in televised comments. "From my point of view the track was at fault."
The International Luge Federation blamed the fatal crash on the luger, saying he had failed to compensate properly when he slid into the curve. But its chairman, Joseph Fendt, said Saturday the track had turned out to be far faster than its designers ever intended it to be, and Olympic officials have shortened it to slow speeds and altered it to keep lugers on the track if they crash.
"Safety standards were not properly observed," Mr. Natsvlishvili said.
He hinted that Georgia might take "further action" regarding the accident, but didn't elaborate.
I don't really know the ins and outs of luge politics, but it seems to me that shortening the track during competition constitutes an admission that there's something wrong with the track. As Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, "No sports mistake is supposed to lead to a death."
If indeed Kumaritashvili was not qualified to ride on the track -- doubtful since he was ranked 44th in the world -- that still doesn't exactly exonerate the organizers. Why are inexperienced riders being allowed to compete in such a dangerous sport at the Olympic level?
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
World Politics Review's Judah Grunstein casts a skeptical eye at NATO's 7,000 troops pledge, noting that it will consist largely of European troops are already stationed in the country and will have their deployments extended. A big chunk of them will also come from Georgia, a non-NATO member with an ulterior motive:
But the rest of the troops mentioned are either already deployed, or coming from a country whose desperate, loose cannon leader is pretty much discredited internationally. From a military perspective, Georgia's contribution is welcome news. But from a political perspective, it represents more that country's desperation to join NATO than a grand victory for Obama's new strategy.
According to the Washington Post, NATO officials are counting on at least 900 troops from Georgia. Grunstein thinks it might be as high as 3,300.
Whatever the numbers, I'm not sure why Mikheil Saakashvili thinks that helping out NATO in Afghanistan will be any more effective at currying international favor than helping out in Iraq. Georgia, at one point, had 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, the third largest contingent after the U.S. and Britain. But NATO membership appears no more likely today than it did three years ago and the U.S. military support Georgia was expecting when Russian tanks rolled in never materialized. No matter how many troops Georgia sends, it's not going to change the fact that NATO has no desire to incur Russian wrath by admitting a recently invaded country coping with two breakaway regions.
Yes, Georgia receives U.S. miltiary aid and training, but even that is conditional. The U.S. has made it clear that it is training Georgia in counterinsurgency techniques for use in Afghanistan and not "skills that would be useful against a large conventional force like Russia’s." In other words, we'll train to help out with our security priorities, just not yours.
Participating in these missions is generally not as effective a method of gaining U.S. favor as countries think it is. As Polish journalist Adam Michnik noted yesterday,"We are everywhere where the American army fights -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- and thankful America doesn't even remove the visas for Polish people to come to America!"
Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan have managed to turn their militaries into "rent-an-armies" for U.N. peacekeeping missions in exchange for military aid, but in terms of winning geopolitical concessions, sending thousands of your soldiers into a conflict where you have no particular strategic interest doesn't seem very effective.
NINA SHLAMOVA/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 star of Godfather III star has apparently been enlisted to play the Georgian President in an upcoming film depiction of the August war:
Television pictures showed Garcia holding court in a suit, red tie and a lapel pin bearing the red-and-white Georgian flag in Saakashvili's office in the presidential palace. [See above.]
The plot revolves around an American reporter who gets caught in the crossfire as war engulfs the country, testing his impartiality as a journalist. Papuna Davitaia, a parliament deputy from Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement, is one of the producers on the project.
"Our main concern was to show war as a bad thing," executive producer Michael Flannigan told Georgian television. "We had an opportunity to make a really anti-war film."
Garcia's actually not a bad choice for Saakashvili, though it's pretty doubtful that a film backed by Saakashvili himself and helmed by the director of "Deep Blue Sea" and "Cliffhanger" is going to accurately capture complexity and moral ambiguity of the August war.
On the other hand, all will be forgiven if they can get Daniel Craig to play Putin.
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
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
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (2R) cuts a cake symbolizing Georgian-US friendship during his tour at the USS Stout anchored in the Black Sea port of Batumi on July 16, 2009. The US started today joint exercises with Georgia, the first between the two countries since the former Soviet republic's war with giant neighbour Russia.
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
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.
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.
It seems the world won't get to see Georgian vocal group 3G (left) perform their Putin-mocking single "We don't wanna put in" at the Eurovision song contest in Moscow. The politically charged dicso tune was a little too hot for organizers to handle:
The contest's oversight committee said in a statement on the Eurovision web site that the song violated a statute in the contest's charter stating that songs must not bring the contest "into disrepute" and banning "lyrics, speeches [and] gestures of a political or similar nature."
The committee has given Georgia until March 16 to select a new entry or "change the lyrics of the selected song" so that it complies with the rule, the statement said.
I call BS on this. Ireland's Eurovision entry last year, sung by an obscene turkey puppet name Dustin, poked fun at a number of other countires, was purposely designed to mock the contest, and nearly set off a diplomatic incident in Macedonia. And Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad has angered Palestinian nationalists with a pro-reconciliation Eurovision duet with a Jewish singer.
Whether it's a kitschy song contest or the Olympics, geopolitical rivalries are inevitably part of any international competition. It's very sad to see Eurovision's organizers compromise the integrity of this august institution by bowing to Russia's objections.
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.
Yet another international organization is poking holes in the Georgian government's official narrative of last August's war. A new Amnesty International report finds that all participants in the conflict--the Georgian and Russian militaries as well as South Ossetian seperatists--failed to protect civilians. The New York Times reports:
Researchers in Tskhinvali concluded that Georgian forces had aimed Grad rockets at military targets — a Russian peacekeeper base, fuel depots and munitions stockpiles, among others — but that the targets were adjacent to civilian areas. The impact of the rockets had a radius of as much as 500 feet, and in some cases missiles struck a third of a mile away from what appeared to be their targets, the report said.
The researchers also found that several thousand civilians were in Tskhinvali the night of the attack, Aug. 7, and that 182 structures in the city were damaged, mostly in the first hours of the war.
Unlike the Georgian attack — described as “a fixed, localized incident that took place over eight hours” — the Russian bombardment that followed was sporadic and lasted for days, Mr. Dalhuisen said. The Georgian authorities commented on their military strategy to Amnesty International’s researchers, but Russian leaders did not.
The report found that Georgian towns, villages and civilians were hit during Russian bombing raids, sometimes “in the apparent absence of nearby military targets,” which would violate international law.
Russian infantry treated civilians in a disciplined fashion, but the Russians allowed South Ossetian forces to loot and set fires in the ethnic Georgian villages north of the separatist capital, the report determined. Amnesty International’s researchers “documented unlawful killings, beatings, threats, arson and looting” by armed South Ossetian groups, the report said.
On balance, the Russians probably come out looking worse, but the report's evenhanded tone will probably irritate the Georgian government, which has sought to portray itself as the innocent victim of Russian agression.
It also follows reports from OSCE monitors and the Times accusing Georgia of firing the first shot in the conflict, and one from Human Rights Watch condemning Georgia's use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Facing increasing internal opposition, the Saakashvili government is disputing the reports and calling for a new international investigation.
Whatever the Georgian government's guilt, the Amnesty report makes clear that its people continue to suffer the consequences.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
You gotta love it when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin goes uncensored while on official business, as he did during talks with Nicolas Sarkozy when the French president was at the Kremlin trying to forge a cease-fire after Russia invaded Georgia. In an attempt to illustrate just how hard he planned to lay the smack down on Georgia, Putin told Sarkozy, "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," referring to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Wait, it gets better:
Mr Sarkozy responded: "Hang him?"
"Why not? The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein," said Mr Putin.
Mr Sarkozy replied, using the familiar "tu": "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then replied: "Ah, you have scored a point there."
The inside info on the Godfather-esque sitdown is via Sarkozy's chief foreign policy advisor, Jean-David Levitte, who disclosed the details of the French president's August meeting with Putin to Le Nouvel Observateur today. According to Levitte, Sarkozy was aware of Putin's plan to oust Saakashvili and warned against it.
Sarkozy reassured Saakashvili in Paris today that he'd be looking out for Georgia during tomorrow's meeting with EU leaders and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Nice.
On French radio, also today, the Georgian president reacted to Putin's threat by laughing nervously, responding that he'd heard something of the comments but not in such detail. "It's funny, all the same," he told the interviewer.
Photo: FILE; HRVOJE POLAN/AFP/Getty Images
This map illustrates the structural damage wrought to villages between Kekhvi and Tskhinvali as of August 19, 2008, just three days after Russia signed a ceasefire bringing the Russian-Georgia war over the region to a close. Buildings either completely collapsed or with less than 50 percent of its roof still intact appear in red; those with visible structural damage to a wall or roof are marked in orange.
Interestingly (read: disturbingly), the map notes:
An important preliminary finding of this satellite damage analysis is the observed heavy concentration of damages within clearly defined residential areas."
The Washington Post reports today that domestic criticism of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is growing now that wartime freedom of speech restrictions have been lifted. But while a number of opposition figures are hoping to capitalize on the crisis that has weakened the president's political standing, all are wary of being associated with Russia's calls for Saakashvili's ouster.
For this reason, Putin and Medvedev's constant hurling of insults at Saakashvili seems counterproductive. The one thing Georgians of all political stripes seem to agree on is the need to resist Russian domination, and it will be hard for an opposition movement to gain momentum as long as it's suspected of having Russian backing. Saakashvili was using this to his advantage well before war broke out.
If Medvedev really wants to undermine Saakashvili, why doesn't he just invite him up to Sochi for the weekend?
Russia's campaign to win international recognition for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia isn't going as well as they may have hoped. So far only Nicaragua, of all places, has signed on. Belarus and Venezuela were both staunch supporters of Russia during the war with Georgia but haven't yet indicated that they intend to recognize the two regions. Moscow will push its case at a meeting of seven former-Soviet republics today in Moscow.
If you're keeping score for the "new cold war" at home, that's Kosovo: 46, South Ossetia and Abkhazia: 2.
Reading off McCain's teleprompter, Mark Halperin releases this tidbit from tonight's speech:
“We will make it clear to Russia’s rulers that acts of violence and intimidation come at a heavy cost.”
It will be interesting to hear how specific he gets in describing that cost.
In a related point, it was strange to hear Rudy Giuliani say last night that Barack Obama's "first instinct" when the war broke out was to "create a moral equivalency" between Georgia and Russia by calling for both sides to show restraint.
Obama's initial statement on Georgia was nearly identical to those from the State Department and White House. He also mentioned the need to "truly stand up for Georgia" during his convention speech and spoke with Mikheil Saakashvili on the phone yesterday. He certainly hasn't been as outspoken in support of Georgia as McCain, but Giuliani's statement was plain dishonest.
When FP spoke with analyst Paul Goble last week about the conflict in Georgia, he made the following interesting point:
I believe that one of the reasons the fighting stopped was not because there weren't people in the defense ministry who thought it should go on for a bit longer, but because in the first two working days of the war, there was a total of some $8 billion net capital outflow from Russia. You're talking about serious consequences for wealthy Russians [...] Polls tell us that for many Russians, the single most important right they acquired after 1991 was the right to travel. If getting a visa becomes more difficult, Russians are going to have a harder time moving about. It's going to be harder to get their children into elite international schools. There's going to be less money around. So, there's probably a constituency, and a pretty large one among an influential group of people, who are going to go to the Russian government and say, "You're hitting us where it matters most: in our pocketbooks." And that's a source of influence that should not be discounted at all.
Today, Andrei Piontkovsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow reads some tea leaves in the Kremlin and warns of the opposite effect: that hardline nationalists could be the ones who gain the upper hand.
Piontkovsky sees a split between "global and national kleptocrats." For now, he puts President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the global camp with Goble's wealthy Russians, and agrees that the two men restrained generals who were eager to roll the tanks into Tbilisi.
But the national kleptocrats, who "seem to believe that they can live without overseas assets, or without educating their children and maintaining residences in the West," present a growing threat, Piontkovsky argues. "They are content to own properties in elite residential areas around Moscow and in Russia, such as Rublyovka, Valday, and Krasnaya Polyana," and care little for the fruits of globalization.
While no one yet knows the national plutocrats' names, I believe that they are new, influential players in or associated with the Kremlin, and that they have now become bold enough to challenge both Putin and Medvedev. Russia's military chiefs, for whom it is psychologically difficult to be ordered by politicians to abruptly end a large-scale and successful military operation, are their natural allies.
I cannot predict who will win this growing confrontation. But even if the global kleptocrats sustain their more "moderate" position on Georgia, theirs could be a Pyrrhic victory. Every day and every hour, by means of their own propaganda, these globally minded kleptocrats, are setting the path to power for the nationalists.
Piontkovsky ends with an ominous premonition:
Putin once said that "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the fall of the Soviet Union." The national kleptocrats may soon start calling for its reversal, and they are in an increasingly strong position to do so.
Civil Georgia reports that President Mikheil Saakashvili is planning to introduce a "Patriot Act" to prevent Russian subversion of the Georgian government:
Saakashvili said that he planned to propose the parliament to develop “the patriotic act” and added that this new legislature – details of which he did not elaborate – would no way infringe the civil liberties.
“This will be carried out under the condition of maintaining democracy; freedom and liberties,” he added and repeated it for coupe of more times.
He said that the act was needed to prevent “external attempts to destabilize the country.
It's not clear yet exactly what this act will entail.
It's not clear yet exactly what this act will entail.
That was quick.
Soon there will be no North or South Ossetia — there will be a united Alania as part of Russia," [Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Tarzan] Kokoiti said, using another name for Ossetia.
"We will live in one united Russian state," he said.
Only this morning, the New York Times ran a feature on Ossetian nationalists imagining a future as the Andorra or Liechtenstein of the Caucasus. Oh well.
Vladimir Putin's made it fairly clear over the last few years that he's not all that concerned about his popularity in the West. Still, it's strange to see the normally well-spoken prime minister descend to Ahmadinejad-level paranoid bombast:
"The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US President."
Last Thursday, Georgia's former president Eduard Shevardnadze told Reuters that "now is not the time" to criticize Mikheil Saakashvili's handling of the South Ossetia war. I guess this week that time has come.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, Shevardnadze not only criticizes the man who overthrew him in 2003 for bungling the war, he all but blames him for starting it:
Many people blame the Georgian president. They are wrong in part, but there is also an element to truth to it. He can't be accused of having acted illegally. It was legal to move our forces into [the South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali. But it would have been better not to. When he did decide to go in he should have blocked the Roki Tunnel which the Russians came through. The failure to do so was a tactical mistake. He apparently didn't think things through to the end. He evidently had not expected the Russians to take control of Gori, Poti and Senaki, or perhaps come as far as Tbilisi. If I had been in his shoes, I certainly would not have marched in.
Shevardnadze also attacks Germany and France for blocking Georgia's NATO membership back in April, which he says encouraged Russia to take more aggressive action. But interestingly, he also believes Saakashvili made a mistake in pulling Georgia out of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States.
Judging from the interview, Shevardnadze seems to believe that it should have been possible to move Georgia toward greater cooperation with the U.S. and Europe while simultaneously improving relations with Russia and peacefully resolving the seperatist conflicts. While Saakashvili certainly deserves much of the criticism that has come his way in recent weeks, it's hard to imagine that any Georgian leader -- and certainly not Shevardnadze -- could have pulled all that off.
|Abkhazian flag||South Ossetian flag|
Russia's State Duma unanimously approved a resolution today to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway regions of Georgia, as independent states. This move has been hinted at for months but obviously, as RIA-Novosti observes, "the Georgian-Russian conflict has dramatically changed the position of the self-proclaimed republics."
President Medvedev still has to approve the resolution, but it's not too early to consider the implications of Russia's recognition. This development seems to be the best indication so far that the dreaded Kosovo effect -- the emboldening of separatist movements around the world in the wake of Kosovo's recognition -- was more than just hype. This was exactly what the Georgians had in mind when they decided not to recognize Kosovo last winter.
While U.N. membership for the two new states is about as likely as Putin and Saakashvili taking a fishing trip this fall, it will be interesting to see if any countries follow Russia's lead and recognize them. Recognition has historically had much more to do with politics than international law and it's quite possible that countries hoping to curry favor with the Russians --Belarus and Venezuela come to mind -- might set up ties with the de facto states. Analyst Paul Goble believes 15 to 20 countries might join in, hardly an international consensus but still enough to avoid a "Cyprus scenario" where the states would be recognized by only one other country.
This month's events have given some other frozen conflict participants pause as well. Medvedev was leaning pretty hard on Moldova's president this weekend, urging him not to repeat the "Georgian mistake" by trying to retake control of the quasi-independent Transnistria region, which is tepidly supported by Russia. The Moldovans seem to have gotten the message and I wouldn't be surprised if Moscow continued to use the former Soviet Union's separatist movements for political leverage. (Crimea, perhaps?)
Let the recognition wars begin.
Mikheil Saakashvili on why Georgia didn't launch an insurgency against Russia, à la Chechnya:
Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden."
It seems increasingly clear that Russian troops are not, in fact, pulling all the way out of Georgia:
Russian units said they had orders only to fall back as far as South Ossetia and some platoons were still dug in near roads outside Gori, while Russian troops bearing new peacekeeping badges dominated the main east-west highway, a key trading artery. A senior Russian official said Russian military checkpoints ringing South Ossetia would be permanent.
Moreover, it seems the Russian high command hasn't put much thought into the whole public diplomacy thing. Here are two more shots of Russian peacekeepers flipping Getty photographer Uriel Sinai the bird:
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