Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Opinion: Four fallacies about the Russo-Georgian conflict

By M. Steven Fish Special to the Mercury News

According to American leaders, Russia's control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia represents an assault by an arrogant adversary on a freedom-loving ally. The John McCain campaign advocates slapping economic sanctions on Russia and pressing forward with admitting Georgia to NATO — even at the risk of confrontation with Russia. The Barack Obama campaign is less strident, but shares the assumption that the United States bears responsibility for backing Georgia in the face of Russian aggression.

This reasoning is faulty and perilous. It is based on four fallacies.

The first is that Georgia is a democracy. It is not. Elections in Georgia are riddled with fraud, and the president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has a penchant for aggrandizing his personal power at the expense of fair procedures. Abuse of citizens by predatory police is rampant in Georgia, and the judiciary is hapless and corrupt.

The second fallacy is that the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia embrace Georgian rule. Ever since the Soviet Union began unraveling in the late 1980s, Georgia has treated its ethnic minorities poorly. That is why the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia rose against the Georgian government in the early 1990s and why they still welcome the Russians today. Some of Russia's other post-communist neighbors have become genuine democracies and treated their minorities fairly. Lithuania, Bulgaria and Mongolia are examples. Georgia is not part of that group.

The third fallacy is that Russia is dispensable. In fact, it is vital to helping the United States meet its three biggest strategic challenges. The first is the rise of China. Like the United States, Russia has a powerful interest in checking Chinese expansionism. The second is reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Russia is the world's largest exporter of hydrocarbons. While mild anti-American propaganda abounds in Russia, Russian schools do not portray the West as wicked root and branch. Russians treasure their cultural autonomy, but they would rather join the West than destroy it. If America is to reduce its dependence on those who truly wish it ill, Russia can help. The third challenge is fighting terrorism. Here American and Russian interests are virtually identical. Close cooperation with Russia, whose global espionage operations are second only to America's, is crucial to success in counterterrorism.

The fourth fallacy is that Russia can be manipulated. It cannot. A decade of robust economic growth has enabled Russia to clear its foreign debts, rebuild its state apparatus, and slash poverty. The regime is not democratic, but the government enjoys broad and stable popular support.

Given Russia's revived capabilities, it unsurprising that the Bush administration's ill-advised push to admit Georgia to NATO provoked resistance. A pro-democratic government in Moscow would have opposed the move as strongly as the Putin-Medvedev administration has. Russians of every political stripe regard the prospect of Georgia's admission to NATO as a menace.

America often faces a painful trade-off between principles and interests. The Russo-Georgian conflict poses no such quandary. America's commitment to the principle of self-determination favors Russian rather than Georgian sway in Abkhazia and South Ossetia since that is what most inhabitants of these regions prefer. America's strategic interests are served by bolstering ties with a leading oil producer, bulwark against Chinese ambitions, and essential link in the war on terror. Yet both Republicans and Democrats now back massive support for rebuilding Georgia's military, which was devastated in Georgia's reckless play for South Ossetia in August.

Building up a diminutive, poorly governed client state on Russia's border is a fool's gambit. It contradicts American principles and vital national interests.

M. Steven Fish is a professor of political science at the University of California-Berkeley and the author of "Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics'' (Cambridge, 2005). He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

News & Analysis- Sept., 23 - Abkhazia, S. Ossetia, Georgia

Gagauzia's Parliament recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The People's Assembly of Gagauzia has recognized independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia at a session on September 19, 2008. The Gagauz Parliament also voiced its unconditional support for Russia's actions towards the republics, a source at the Assembly told a REGNUM correspondent. 


The West Hails Georgia As a Democracy. But Is It One? By Michael Freedman | NEWSWEEK
The NGO Freedom House puts the country in the same category as Venezuela and Nigeria in its most recent study, rating Georgia less free and democratic than Moldova, Ukraine and every EU and NATO membership candidate. Lincoln Mitchell, a Georgia expert and Columbia University professor, says Georgian democracy suffers from having no real line between state and party, and while it has made great economic strides under President Mikheil Saakashvili, he has never created a meaningful judiciary, has weakened the legislature and has centralized executive power


South Ossetia and Abkhazia: Notes from the inside - by Laray Polk
American news coverage of the US-Georgia-Russia conflict continues to be appalling--blindingly biased and simplistic, and yet my knowledge of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is scant.

On August 12, I received an e-mail from a humanitarian organization in Abkhazia describing events as they had unfolded on the ground in South Ossetia. I wrote directly to them. What is below is the e-mail response I received from Liana Kvarchelia. She has kindly given me permission to post it on 3quarksdaily.


September 25, 2008 - Lecture: "Abkhazia and the New Cold War," Paul Crego, Kluge Staff fellow, at 4:00 PM in West Dining Room, Thomas Jefferson Building
Before the summer of 2008, it is likely that most Americans had never heard of Abkhazia. Dr. Crego discusses the history, language and culture of the Abkhazian people and the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict as it developed in the late Soviet period through the 1992-1993 war. Abkhazia in the context of geopolitical conflicts will also be covered. Further, he will discuss his assessment that Abkhazia has become a Russian military colony.


Kashmir leaders hopeful after Ossetia, Abkhazia independence
"The independence declaration of these two regions is a psychological inspiration for the suppressed Kashmiris," said Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman, Muhammad Yasin Malik. The move had strengthened Kashmiri's resolve to achieve independence from India, he added.


Tina Kandelaki: From Georgia with loathing
The television star Tina Kandelaki might be expected to feel aggrieved about Russian action in Georgia, her native country. Not a bit of it. Moscow's media has more freedom, she says, and her President, Mikheil Saakashvili, will go down in history as Mikheil the Destroyer, she tells Shaun Walker


Georgia's Influence Peddlers in Washington - Wayne Madsen, September 2, 2008
A little-known Georgia lobbying network in Washington, DC, is working together with faux progressive guru George Soros and John
McCain foreign policy adviser/Georgia uber-lobbyist Randy Scheunemann to prop up Georgia as a NATO client state and engineer a renewed Cold
War with Russia, with U.S. defense contractors poised to rake in even more obscene profits.


Georgian "democracy" owes more to Josef Stalin than Thomas Jefferson. By John Laughland
The American Conservative on Georgian History


Luc Van den Brande, PACE representative on Georgia-Russia relations

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Turkey not against resuming sea traffic with Abkhazia


Turkey will not hinder the resumption of maritime traffic with Abkhazia, Sener Gogua, the head of the Abkhaz parliamentary committee for links with fellow-countrymen, said on Friday, Russian Interfax agency reported.

"I have had several official meetings over the past 14 days dealing with the recognition of Abkhazia's sovereignty and independence, the arrangement of direct contacts between Turkey and Abkhazia, and the possible changing of Ankara's policy toward Sukhumi," Gogua was quoted as saying by Interfax.

He paid a visit to Turkey, where he traveled on the Abkhaz foreign minister's request.

"I discussed the restoration of maritime traffic at a meeting with the Turkish prime minister's foreign policy advisor. I am sure practical issues for resuming maritime traffic between our countries will soon be resolved," Gogua said.

The Caucasus diaspora in Turkey has sent a letter to the Turkish leadership to urge it to revise its attitude toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia and arrange mutually beneficial cooperation, taking into account the recent changes in the situation in the Caucasus region, he added.

Gogua also said he had meetings with experts from various think tank organizations.

"We tried to persuade Turkish experts and politicians that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will never be part of Georgia again, especially considering the tragic August events in Tskhinvali," he said.

The Turkish political elite should revise its attitude toward Georgia and stop providing it with military and economic assistance, Gogua said. "We repeatedly pointed out at the meetings that we understandTurkey's strategic interests regarding energy security but that the policy of Georgia's support does not promote stability in the region," he said.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Kendelen settlement Inhabitants (Kabardino-Balkaria) stopped horsemen of the horse campaign


The started on September, 14th from Abkhazia’s square in the city of Nalchik the horse run, devoted to the 300th anniversary of the victory of Kabarda in Kanzhal battle and recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in the morning on September, 15th was collided with an unexpected barrier. In 50 kilometers from Nalchik in the area of Balkarian settlement Kendelen inhabitants of the settlement, refusing to let through blocked the road to Kanzhal mountain for the horsemen.

As the member of the Council of Elders of Balkarian people Tamara Gerieva phoned to “Caucasian unit” correspondent, the opposition proceeds now. The head of the administration of Kendelen settlement, the head of the area and the chief of the area militia ask to let go the horsemen.

"The horsemen, - Tamara Gerieva told, - have already expressed their readiness to return". "We demand to drop to the place of the event the head of the Kabardino-Balkarian president administration Albert Kazharov in connection with that at the moment the president of the republic is off", - she added.

According to Tamara Gerieva, the situation is caused by that Balkarians do not agree the way the history is interpreted, they do not agree with celebrating the 300th anniversary of Kanzhal fight, as they have their point of view on that event. The Balkarian historians, addressed by “Caucasian unit” correspondent, refused from comments.

Let's remind, the horse trip, devoted to the 300th anniversary of Kanzhal fight and recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was organized by the Abkhazian volunteers union, the Union of Afghanistan veterans, as well as other public organizations.

For participation in the action extent in 500 kilometers it was chosen the best horses of the studs of the republic. For of the seven days way the participants of the campaign planned to visit 28 settlements of the republic.

Before their departure a meeting took place on the square. The acted remarked the meaning of two historical events - the 300th anniversary of Kabarda’s victory above the Crimean khan Kaplan-Ghirey in Kanzhal fight and recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Representatives of South Ossetia took part in the action, too; they expressed their gratitude to its organizers.

According to one of the organizers of the action Zamir Shuhov, the national horse trips of such scale had not passed in Kabardino-Balkaria over 50 years. "They are of great importance for the youth patriotic education, inoculation of respect for the national cultures and history of the peoples ", - Shuhov informed “Caucasian unit " correspondent.

About Kanzhal battle the historical sources inform the following.

Since the beginning of 1708 the Crimean khanate began mobilization of the military forces for a war against Kabarda. The number of Crimean-Turkish army made from 40 000 up to 100 000 men.

Before the Crimean intrusion in Kabarda the Supreme prince of Kabarda Kurgoko Atazhukin achieved the full consolidation of the political elite and, accordingly, association of the military resources of specific princedoms. However the number of the armed forces of Kabarda was much lesser than the conquerors’ one (from 7 up to 12 thousand soldiers).

In the middle of the summer 1708 Tatar-Turkish armies started a military operation. The active military opposition proceeded within a month and a half.

In the beginning of September, 1708 there was a night battle near Kanzhal mountain that was the culmination of all the military campaign of that year. From the Khan’s armies approximately 5 thousand men escaped.

Kabarda, after its victory by Kanzhal, not only did not pay any tribute to Bakhchisarai, but also went over to the offensive, and in August, 1711 crushed again on Kuban the 15-thousand Crimean army.

Kanzhal battle belongs to the number of the largest night battles in the military history.

Georgia and Ukraine 'shouldn't join Nato'

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

In a potentially significant swing of expert Western opinion, a leading British think tank has urged that Nato membership should not be granted to Georgia or Ukraine.

"The policy of Nato enlargement now would be a strategic error," said Dr John Chipman, Director General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

"There is no case for accelerating membership for Georgia and Ukraine. There is a strong case for a pause," he said in remarks introducing the IISS's annual review of world affairs, the Strategic Survey.

Current Nato policy, decided at a summit meeting in Bucharest in April, is that both countries should become members eventually but no timetable has been set.

Who started the war?

The IISS intervention shows that following the war in Georgia, a debate is growing about whether a confrontational approach to Russia is the best one.

The IISS is highly critical of Georgian actions - in contrast to the support Georgia has received from the US and some European countries, notably Britain. Naturally, if Georgia is faulted, then less blame can be put on Russia, whatever its reaction or, as some hold, its over-reaction.

Dr Chipman said that the "balance of evidence suggests that Georgia started this war".

Georgia has claimed that Russian forces had already started to enter South Ossetia by the time it acted. Russia has said that it responded to a Georgian attack.

Pressure seems to be growing for an international inquiry into the actual sequence of events.
The IISS position will undermine sympathy for Georgia and its leader President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Its analysis is that Georgia ignored American warnings not to go into South Ossetia and is therefore an unreliable partner at present.

'No give and take'

But the importance of the intervention goes beyond that, as it calls for a calmer approach to relations with Russia.

"There have been major errors of presentation of policy towards Russia. The US and Nato have in the past told Russia to accept whatever was happening. There was no give and take. We are disappointed at the way some Western leaders pushed the Cold War button after Georgia," said Dr Chipman. "We should not over-inflate the crisis."

He added: "The events of August 2008 do not signify fresh steps towards a new Cold War, because neither side wants one and the stakes are too low to warrant one."

Role for EU

Another IISS expert, Oksana Antonenko, reflected the IISS view that with a decline in US influence, the EU should be more active in formulating policy initiatives - but lacked the means to do so.

She said it was good timing that France - a major, influential country -held the EU presidency during the Georgia crisis.

"It highlighted the fact that EU institutions are highly incapable ones," she said.

"We urgently need a mechanism to stop the presidency from fluctuating between different member states."

The Lisbon Treaty does provide for a permanent presidency and a strengthened foreign policy representative, but it has not been ratified.

The IISS report came on a day when Nato defence ministers were meeting in London. There is some feeling in Nato that its priority should be to do more to reassure its existing members, especially those close to Russia, rather than rushing to bring in new members. And that is a view supported in the IISS report.

A great deal will depend on the views of the next American president. The Bush administration is all for pushing on with membership for Ukraine and Georgia, and the issue will be taken up again at Nato meetings in December.

A British official predicted that there would be no slowing of support for Georgia and no disposition to reward Russia.

But no quick decisions are likely in the current uncertain state of affairs.

Rice lectures to the end, by Peter Lavelle

by Peter Lavelle

U.S. Secretary of the State, Condoleezza Rice, delivered what is probably her last major speech on Russia while in office. Addressing the German Marshall Fund, she demonstrated that she understands very little of what Russia’s foreign policy is all about. Rice can’t get beyond the web of double-standards and self-righteousness that has been part and parcel of U.S. foreign policy for almost the last twenty years.

Like a headmaster of a prep school, Rice told her audience what was right (preciously little) and wrong about Russia’s foreign policy (and a few condescending comments on Russia’s domestic policies). In a nutshell Russia – the schoolboy – misbehaves badly in the world. Rice’s speech sounded like a report card being read out to parents who should be ashamed.

Everyone “miscalculated” when it came to the origins of Saakashvili’s war. Rice went on to state that Tbilisi was provoked by Russia to start the war. This is utter nonsense and an insult to those who needlessly died. Let’s give it a thought: Russia tricked the Georgians into killing civilians and Russian peacekeepers. Russia tricked Tbilisi into shelling women and children as they slept. How did Russia stand to benefit from that? Rice did not mention a word on the militarisation of the Saakashvili regime – paid for and trained by Washington. What was that beefed-up military for? Well we know the answer to the question now.

Rice claims Russia violated international law and dismembered a sovereign state. But she contradicted herself. She admitted that Tbilisi started military operations first (though because of a “provocation”). International law became a dead letter when Saakashvili ordered the first shot. Rice is right on one point – Georgia’s sovereignty has been changed. However, it was Saakashvili’s regime with American support that created this new reality. Russia is not selfishly seeking security on its borders.

Just as an aside, I would have liked to ask her the following question: Americans are regarded as occupiers in Iraq. Are Russians seen as occupiers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? The answer is obvious! Russian troops are seen as liberators. Anyone who believes that we can go back to the status quo ante in Georgia is delusional. The good news is Tbilisi will never again threaten its former breakaway republics.

Rice spoke with contempt when referring to Dmitry Medvedev’s claim that Russia has “privileged” interests in the region of the world where it is situated. This comes from an American Secretary of State who sees the entire world as Washington’s sphere of influence! I don’t even have words to describe this enormous double-standard.

Again Rice went on to talk about how wonderful, friendly, democratic and open, blah, blah, etc NATO is. She repeated the usual litanies about how it projects peace and security. Ask the Serbs what they think about this flowery language. Ask ethnic Russians in Ukraine what they think about peace-loving NATO. The fact is Rice and NATO never think about anybody else’s security – least of all Russia’s. Never once did Rice mention how Russia understands its own security interests. Never once - to my mind – has the US ever sat down with Russia to cut a deal both can live with.

Rice really annoyed me by her remarks that Russia bullies its neighbors - and the reference to using energy as a blackmail tool is simply ludicrous. The U.S. has spent millions of dollars to promote regime changes in the post-Soviet space. Is Russia really expected to stand on the sidelines and watch the U.S. overthrow regimes it doesn’t like in favor of those that promote its global geopolitical agenda (that is almost always directed against Russia’s influence in the post-Soviet space)? Any Russian leader who would allow this to happen would be charged with dereliction of duty.

As for using energy to blackmail its neighbors, Rice obviously does not know much about Russia’s energy policy. Prior to about 2001, Russia DID use energy as a political tool. But such a policy did not produce dividends. Russia provided CHEAP energy to its neighbors in the HOPE of political deference. What happened? Russia’s neighbors gladly accepted Russia’s cheap energy, but at the same time entertained Western approaches. Essentially what Russia tried to do was to subsidise its neighbours’ foreign policies and it didn’t work. Going to market prices takes politics out of the equation. But Dick Cheney doesn’t agree. Energy is his favourite weapon of choice to start wars.

Rice’s speech was pathetic. It never entered her mind that others have their own opinion and interests. The U.S. has needlessly created havoc in the world. It has made potential friends into enemies. It ignores international law when it suits its purposes. But it condemns others for not following it. It supports aggression, but never admits its own. And it can’t even run its own economy-based market principles it claims to hold so dear.

I, for one, will be very happy to see Ms Rice leave the scene. She insults even average intelligence. Her views on Russia and how the world should kneel to American interests are Orwellian. The only upside to all of this is the plain fact that Rice and the rest of the Bush people have basically bankrupted the U.S. Washington today has few resources to play the world as its own chessboard. Its ideologically driven over-reach is ending in the checkmate of itself.

In Russian there is a saying: The dogs bark, but the caravan passes. And Rice’s bark has no bite.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

South Ossetia and Abkhazia: what is next?

Russian Today - SPOTLIGHT, with Al Gurnov

Today we will talk about the consequences August’s South Ossetia conflict. Following the bloody and ill-fated attempt by Georgia to capture South Ossetia, Russia grudgingly recognised the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, thus satisfying the long-standing aspiration of these two nations. What does this recognition mean for these peoples and for their international relations? We’ll discuss these questions with two professors: Robert Legvold, a Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and George Hewitt of the University of London.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Saakashvili "planned S. Ossetia invasion": ex-minister

By Brian Rohan

PARIS (Reuters) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had long planned a military strike to seize back the breakaway region of South Ossetia but executed it poorly, making it easy for Russia to retaliate, Saakashvili's former defence minister said.

Irakly Okruashvili, Georgia's leading political exile, said in a weekend interview in Paris that the United States was partly to blame for the war, having failed to check the ambitions of what he called a man with democratic failings.

Saakashvili's days as president were now numbered, he said.

The former defence minister's remarks are significant because Saakashvili has always maintained Russia started the war by invading his country. The Georgian president said he handed EU leaders last week "very strong proof" that Moscow was to blame, though he did not give details.

But Okruashvili, a close Saakashvili ally who served as defence minister from 2004 to 2006, said he and the president worked together on military plans to invade South Ossetia and a second breakaway region on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia.

"Abkhazia was our strategic priority, but we drew up military plans in 2005 for taking both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well," Okruashvili said.

There was no immediate reaction from Saakashvili's officials to his remarks.

While in office, Okruashvili was an outspoken hawk, overseeing a military buildup and calling for Georgia to take back South Ossetia -- his birthplace -- by force.

But in the interview he fiercely criticized Saakashvili's handling of the war, which he said was launched in haste, without diplomatic support and failed to take account of a build-up of Russian forces in the region.


"The original plans called for a two-pronged operation entering South Ossetia, taking Tskhinvali, the Roki Tunnel and Java," he said, referring respectively to the regional capital, the main border crossing between Russia and the rebel region, and another key town.

"Saakashvili's offensive only aimed at taking Tskhinvali, because he thought the U.S. would block a Russian reaction through diplomatic channels."

"But when the U.S. reaction turned out to be non-existent, Saakashvili then moved troops toward the Roki tunnel, only to be outmaneuvered by the Russians," he said.

Russia responded to the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali by pouring troops and tanks through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia, routing the Georgian army. Okruashvili said that outcome was inevitable.

"After 2006 we didn't have the possibility for success by military means... the Russians had repositioned and improved their military infrastructure in the North Caucasus, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia -- and obviously they did it for us."

Okruashvili said the Georgian president could have ordered his army to defend several key towns from the Russians but "let the Russians in to avoid criticism and appear more of a victim".
Washington had always made clear to the Georgian leadership that it would not support an invasion, Okruashvili added.

"When we met President Bush in May 2005, we were told directly: don't involve yourself in a military confrontation. We won't be able to help you militarily."

Okruashvili, 34, fled to Europe in 2007 after imprisonment in Georgia, where he faced corruption charges he denied, saying they were intended to punish him for criticizing the president.

In March, a Georgian court sentenced him to 11 years in prison in absentia, but he was granted asylum in France where last week a court rejected Tbilisi's extradition request.

Okruashvili said Washington was partly to blame for the war because it uncritically supported Saakashvili despite his growing authoritarianism.

"There were no checks and balances. The institutions he created all revolved around him. Lack of criticism from the U.S. allowed him to go too far," he said.

Okruashvili said the Georgian president should now resign or face possible prosecution for ordering the war and for signing a "disgraceful" EU-brokered ceasefire plan which he said gave Russia a much stronger claim on the two rebel regions.

"(Saakashvili) must be held accountable and resign. If he steps down, he shouldn't be prosecuted. But if he doesn't it will lead to criminal charges against him," Okruashvili said. Propelled to the forefront of the opposition when the charges brought against him helped spark mass demonstrations in Tbilisi, Okruashvili said he hoped the coming anniversary of those protests would rally the president's critics.

"November 7th will be a test. We'll see how much the opposition is able to mobilize," he said.

In the French capital since January, Okruashvili plans to come back to his homeland soon.

"I will return within a year, even if it means risking jail. But in the meantime I will try to create the right conditions. Saakashvili's days are numbered."

Russian FM makes first official visit to Abkhazia

In his first official visit to Sukhum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Abkhazian president Sergey Bagapsh. Abkhazia will not accept EU or OSCE observers on its territory, said Bagapsh in a press conference after the meeting.

Lavrov discussed candidates for Russian and Abkhaz ambassadors in the two countries with president Sergei Bagapsh, as well as the prospective location of the Russian embassy in Sukhum. The new ambassadors are to be named in the near future.

Lavrov pledged Russia's commitment to developing Abkhazia, and securing recognition of its independence by other countries. Besides Russia, Nicaragua is the only country to fully recognise the republic's independence. Belarus and Venezuela have indicated they may recognise it in the near future.

Russia guarantees there will be no more war in Abkhazia. That will be done with the help of the treaty of amity, cooperation and mutual assistance, which will be signed at the summit level in the near future,” Lavrov stated at a joint press-conference with Sergei Bagapsh.

We shall sign specific agreements regarding various sectors as is fitting for two countries that are allies. They will cover areas of defence and security, customs and borders, free trade and tax policies, currency and banking system. This is in direct line with the assistance the Russian Federation is giving Abkhazia to become a fully independent state,” he added.

The plane carrying Lavrov and a group of journalists was the first civil aircraft to land in the Abkhazian capital for more than a decade. Lavrov said that he can personally attest that the airport is in perfect condition and ready to receive international passengers.

No EU, OSCE observers in – Abkhazia’s president

Only Russian monitors will be allowed into the newly independent republic of Abkhazia, according to President Sergey Bagapsh. OSCE and EU officials are expected to monitor the security zone on the border with Georgia.

Abkhazia will not allow EU or OSCE observers on its territory. We have no need to do that. Its not us, who created problems in the region. Monitoring has to be carried out where the problems came from,” Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh said.

Eight thousand Russian troops are to be deployed in Abkhazia to maintain security.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ossetia-Georgia-Russia-U.S.A. Towards a Second Cold War?

By Noam Chomsky - Counter Punch, September 11, 2008

Aghast at the atrocities committed by US forces invading the Philippines, and the rhetorical flights about liberation and noble intent that routinely accompany crimes of state, Mark Twain threw up his hands at his inability to wield his formidable weapon of satire. The immediate object of his frustration was the renowned General Funston. "No satire of Funston could reach perfection," Twain lamented, "because Funston occupies that summit himself... [he is] satire incarnated."

It is a thought that often comes to mind, again in August 2008 during the Georgia-Ossetia-Russia war. George Bush, Condoleezza Rica and other dignitaries solemnly invoked the sanctity of the United Nations, warning that Russia could be excluded from international institutions "by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with" their principles. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations must be rigorously honored, they intoned – "all nations," that is, apart from those that the US chooses to attack: Iraq, Serbia, perhaps Iran, and a list of others too long and familiar to mention.

The junior partner joined in as well. British foreign secretary David Miliband accused Russia of engaging in "19th century forms of diplomacy" by invading a sovereign state, something Britain would never contemplate today. That "is simply not the way that international relations can be run in the 21st century," he added, echoing the decider-in-chief, who said that invasion of "a sovereign neighboring state…is unacceptable in the 21st century." Mexico and Canada therefore need not fear further invasions and annexation of much of their territory, because the US now only invades states that are not on its borders, though no such constraint holds for its clients, as Lebanon learned once again in 2006.

"The moral of this story is even more enlightening," Serge Halimi writes in Le Monde Diplomatique and CounterPunch newsletter, "when, to defend his country's borders, the charming pro-American Saakashvili repatriates some of the 2,000 soldiers he had sent to invade Iraq," one of the largest contingents apart from the two warrior states.

Prominent analysts joined the chorus. Fareed Zakaria applauded Bush's observation that Russia's behavior is unacceptable today, unlike the 19th century, "when the Russian intervention would have been standard operating procedure for a great power." We therefore must devise a strategy for bringing Russia "in line with the civilized world," where intervention is unthinkable.

There were, to be sure, some who shared Mark Twain's despair. One distinguished example is Chris Patten, former EU commissioner for external relations, chairman of the British Conservative Party, chancellor of Oxford University and a member of the House of Lords. He wrote that the Western reaction "is enough to make even the cynical shake their heads in disbelief" – referring to Europe's failure to respond vigorously to the effrontery of Russian leaders, who, "like 19th-century tsars, want a sphere of influence around their borders."

Patten rightly distinguishes Russia from the global superpower, which long ago passed the point where it demanded a sphere of influence around its borders, and demands a sphere of influence over the entire world. It also acts vigorously to enforce that demand, in accord with the Clinton doctrine that Washington has the right to use military force to defend vital interests such as "ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources" – and in the real world, far more.

Clinton was breaking no new ground, of course. His doctrine derives from standard principles formulated by high-level planners during World War II, which offered the prospect of global dominance. In the postwar world, they determined, the US should aim "to hold unquestioned power" while ensuring the "limitation of any exercise of sovereignty" by states that might interfere with its global designs. To secure these ends, "the foremost requirement [is] the rapid fulfillment of a program of complete rearmament," a core element of "an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the United States." The plans laid during the war were implemented in various ways in the years that followed.

The goals are deeply rooted in stable institutional structures. Hence they persist through changes in occupancy of the White House, and are untroubled by the opportunity for "peace dividends," the disappearance of the major rival from the world scene, or other marginal irrelevancies. Devising new challenges is never beyond the reach of doctrinal managers, as when Ronald Reagan pulled on his cowboy boots and declared a national emergency because the Nicaraguan army was only two days from Harlingen Texas, and might lead the hordes who are about to "sweep over the United States and take what we have," as Lyndon Johnson lamented when he called for holding the line in Vietnam. Most ominously, those holding the reins may actually believe their own words.

Returning to the efforts to elevate Russia to the civilized world, the seven charter members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries issued a statement "condemning the action of our fellow G8 member," Russia, which has yet to comprehend the Anglo-American commitment to non-intervention. The European Union held a rare emergency meeting to condemn Russia's crime, its first meeting since the invasion of Iraq, which elicited no condemnation.

Russia called for an emergency session of the Security Council, but no consensus was reached because, according to Council diplomats, the US, Britain, and some others rejected a phrase that called on both sides "to renounce the use of force."

The typical reactions recall Orwell's observations on the "indifference to reality" of the "nationalist," who "not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but ... has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

The basic facts are not seriously in dispute. South Ossetia, along with the much more significant region of Abkhazia, were assigned by Stalin to his native Georgia. Western leaders sternly admonish that Stalin's directives must be respected, despite the strong opposition of Ossetians and Abkhazians. The provinces enjoyed relative autonomy until the collapse of the USSR. In 1990, Georgia's ultranationalist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished autonomous regions and invaded South Ossetia. The bitter war that followed left 1000 dead and tens of thousands of refugees, with the capital city of Tskhinvali "battered and depopulated" (New York Times).

A small Russian force then supervised an uneasy truce, broken decisively on August 7, 2008, when Georgian president Saakashvili's ordered his forces to invade. According to "an extensive set of witnesses," the Times reports, Georgia's military at once "began pounding civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali, as well as a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire." The predictable Russian response drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, and Russia went on to conquer parts of Georgia, then partially withdrawing to the vicinity of South Ossetia. There were many casualties and atrocities. As is normal, the innocent suffered severely.

Russia reported at first that ten Russian peacekeepers were killed by Georgian shelling. The West took little notice. That too is normal. There was, for example, no reaction when Aviation Week reported that 200 Russians were killed in an Israeli air raid in Lebanon in 1982 during a US-backed invasion that left some 15-20,000 dead, with no credible pretext beyond strengthening Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.

Among Ossetians who fled north, the "prevailing view," according to the London Financial Times, "is that Georgia's pro-western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, tried to wipe out their breakaway enclave." Ossetian militias, under Russian eyes, then brutally drove out Georgians, in areas beyond Ossetia as well. "Georgia said its attack had been necessary to stop a Russian attack that already had been under way," the New York Times reports, but weeks later "there has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia's insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages."

In Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports, "legislators, officials and local analysts have embraced the theory that the Bush administration encouraged Georgia, its ally, to start the war in order to precipitate an international crisis that would play up the national-security experience of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate." In contrast, French author Bernard-Henri Levy, writing in the New Republic, proclaims that "no one can ignore the fact that President Saakashvili only decided to act when he no longer had a choice, and war had already come. In spite of this accumulation of facts that should have been blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers, many in the media rushed as one man toward the thesis of the Georgians as instigators, as irresponsible provocateurs of the war."

The Russian propaganda system made the mistake of presenting evidence, which was easily refuted. Its Western counterparts, more wisely, keep to authoritative pronouncements, like Levy's denunciation of the major Western media for ignoring what is "blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers" for whom loyalty to the state suffices to establish The Truth – which, perhaps, is even true, serious analysts might conclude.

The Russians are losing the "propaganda war," BBC reported, as Washington and its allies have succeeded in "presenting the Russian actions as aggression and playing down the Georgian attack into South Ossetia on August 7, which triggered the Russian operation," though "the evidence from South Ossetia about that attack indicates that it was extensive and damaging." Russia has "not yet learned how to play the media game," the BBC observes. That is natural. Propaganda has typically become more sophisticated as countries become more free and the state loses the ability to control the population by force.

The Russian failure to provide credible evidence was partially overcome by the Financial Times, which discovered that the Pentagon had provided combat training to Georgian special forces commandos shortly before the Georgian attack on August 7, revelations that "could add fuel to accusations by Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister, last month that the US had `orchestrated' the war in the Georgian enclave." The training was in part carried out by former US special forces recruited by private military contractors, including MPRI, which, as the journal notes, "was hired by the Pentagon in 1995 to train the Croatian military prior to their invasion of the ethnically-Serbian Krajina region, which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars." The US-backed Krajina expulsion (generally estimated at 250,000, with many killed) was possibly the worst case of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II. Its fate in approved history is rather like that of photographs of Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, for simple and sufficient reasons: it does not accord with the required image of US nobility confronting Serbian evil.

The toll of the August 2008 Caucasus war is subject to varying estimates. A month afterwards, the Financial Times cited Russian reports that "at least 133 civilians died in the attack, as well as 59 of its own peacekeepers," while in the ensuing Russian mass invasion and aerial bombardment of Georgia, according to the FT, 215 Georgians died, including 146 soldiers and 69 civilians. Further revelations are likely to follow.

In the background lie two crucial issues. One is control over pipelines to Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Georgia was chosen as a corridor by Clinton to bypass Russia and Iran, and was also heavily militarized for the purpose. Hence Georgia is "a very major and strategic asset to us," Zbigniew Brzezinski observes.

It is noteworthy that analysts are becoming less reticent in explaining real US motives in the region as pretexts of dire threats and liberation fade and it becomes more difficult to deflect Iraqi demands for withdrawal of the occupying army. Thus the editors of the Washington Post admonished Barack Obama for regarding Afghanistan as "the central front" for the United States, reminding him that Iraq "lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves," and Afghanistan's "strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq." A welcome, if belated, recognition of reality about the US invasion.

The second issue is expansion of NATO to the East, described by George Kennan in 1997 as "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era, [which] may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations."

As the USSR collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev made a concession that was astonishing in the light of recent history and strategic realities: he agreed to allow a united Germany to join a hostile military alliance. This "stunning concession" was hailed by Western media, NATO, and President Bush I, who called it a demonstration of "statesmanship ... in the best interests of all countries of Europe, including the Soviet Union."

Gorbachev agreed to the stunning concession on the basis of "assurances that NATO would not extend its jurisdiction to the east, `not one inch' in [Secretary of State] Jim Baker's exact words." This reminder by Jack Matlock, the leading Soviet expert of the Foreign Service and US ambassador to Russia in the crucial years 1987 to 1991, is confirmed by Strobe Talbott, the highest official in charge of Eastern Europe in the Clinton administration. On the basis of a full review of the diplomatic record, Talbott reports that "Secretary of State Baker did say to then Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in the context of the Soviet Union's reluctant willingness to let a unified Germany remain part of NATO, that NATO would not move to the east."

Clinton quickly reneged on that commitment, also dismissing Gorbachev's effort to end the Cold War with cooperation among partners. NATO also rejected a Russian proposal for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone from the Arctic to the Black Sea, which would have "interfered with plans to extend NATO," strategic analyst and former NATO planner Michael MccGwire observes.

Rejecting these possibilities, the US took a triumphalist stand that threatened Russian security and also played a major role in driving Russia to severe economic and social collapse, with millions of deaths. The process was sharply escalated by Bush's further expansion of NATO, dismantling of crucial disarmament agreements, and aggressive militarism. Matlock writes that Russia might have tolerated incorporation of former Russian satellites into NATO if it "had not bombed Serbia and continued expanding. But, in the final analysis, ABM missiles in Poland, and the drive for Georgia and Ukraine in NATO crossed absolute red lines. The insistence on recognizing Kosovo independence was sort of the very last straw. Putin had learned that concessions to the U.S. were not reciprocated, but used to promote U.S. dominance in the world.Once he had the strength to resist, he did so," in Georgia.

Clinton officials argue that expansion of NATO posed no military threat, and was no more than a benign move to allow former Russian satellites to join the EU (Talbott). That is hardly persuasive. Austria, Sweden and Finland are in the EU but not NATO. If the Warsaw Pact had survived and was incorporating Latin American countries – let alone Canada and Mexico – the US would not easily be persuaded that the Pact is just a Quaker meeting. There should be no need to review the record of US violence to block mostly fanciful ties to Moscow in "our little region over here," the Western hemisphere, to quote Secretary of War Henry Stimson when he explained that all regional systems must be dismantled after World II, apart from our own, which are to be extended.

To underscore the conclusion, in the midst of the current crisis in the Caucasus, Washington professes concern that Russia might resume military and intelligence cooperation with Cuba at a level not remotely approaching US-Georgia relations, and not a further step towards a significant security threat.

Missile defense too is presented here as benign, though leading US strategic analysts have explained why Russian planners must regard the systems and their chosen location as the basis for a potential threat to the Russian deterrent, hence in effect a first-strike weapon. The Russian invasion of Georgia was used as a pretext to conclude the agreement to place these systems in Poland, thus "bolstering an argument made repeatedly by Moscow and rejected by Washington: that the true target of the system is Russia," AP commentator Desmond Butler observed.

Matlock is not alone in regarding Kosovo as an important factor. "Recognition of South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence was justified on the principle of a mistreated minority's right to secession - the principle Bush had established for Kosovo," the Boston Globe editors comment.

But there are crucial differences. Strobe Talbott recognizes that "there's a degree of payback for what the U.S. and NATO did in Kosovo nine years ago," but insists that the "analogy is utterly and profoundly false." No one is a better position to know why it is profoundly false, and he has lucidly explained the reasons, in his preface to a book on NATO's bombing of Serbia by his associate John Norris. Talbott writes that those who want to know "how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved" in the war should turn to Norris's well-informed account. Norris concludes that "it was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO's war."

That the motive for the NATO bombing could not have been "the plight of Kosovar Albanians" was already clear from the rich Western documentary record revealing that the atrocities were, overwhelmingly, the anticipated consequence of the bombing, not its cause. But even before the record was released, it should have been evident to all but the most fervent loyalists that humanitarian concern could hardly have motivated the US and Britain, which at the same time were lending decisive support to atrocities well beyond what was reported from Kosovo, with a background far more horrendous than anything that had happened in the Balkans. But these are mere facts, hence of no moment to Orwell's "nationalists" – in this case, most of the Western intellectual community, who had made an enormous investment in self-aggrandizement and prevarication about the "noble phase" of US foreign policy and its "saintly glow" as the millennium approached its end, with the bombing of Serbia as the jewel in the crown.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear from the highest level that the real reason for the bombing was that Serbia was a lone holdout in Europe to the political and economic programs of the Clinton administration and its allies, though it will be a long time before such annoyances are allowed to enter the canon.

There are of course other differences between Kosovo and the regions of Georgia that call for independence or union with Russia. Thus Russia is not known to have a huge military base there named after a hero of the invasion of Afghanistan, comparable to Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, named after a Vietnam war hero and presumably part of the vast US basing system aimed at the Middle East energy-producing regions. And there are many other differences.

There is much talk about a "new cold war" instigated by brutal Russian behavior in Georgia. One cannot fail to be alarmed by signs of confrontation, among them new US naval contingents in the Black Sea – the counterpart would hardly be tolerated in the Caribbean. Efforts to expand NATO to Ukraine, now contemplated, could become extremely hazardous.

Nonetheless, a new cold war seems unlikely. To evaluate the prospect, we should begin with clarity about the old cold war. Fevered rhetoric aside, in practice the cold war was a tacit compact in which each of the contestants was largely free to resort to violence and subversion to control its own domains: for Russia, its Eastern neighbors; for the global superpower, most of the world. Human society need not endure – and might not survive – a resurrection of anything like that.

A sensible alternative is the Gorbachev vision rejected by Clinton and undermined by Bush. Sane advice along these lines has recently been given by former Israeli Foreign Minister and historian Shlomo ben-Ami, writing in the Beirut Daily Star: "Russia must seek genuine strategic partnership with the US, and the latter must understand that, when excluded and despised, Russia can be a major global spoiler. Ignored and humiliated by the US since the Cold War ended, Russia needs integration into a new global order that respects its interests as a resurgent power, not an anti-Western strategy of confrontation."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Abkhazia Seeks International Support

Following recognition by Moscow, Abkhaz leadership to seek full international acceptance.

By Inal Khashig in Sukhum (CRS No. 459, 11-Sep-08)

Abkhazia is building swiftly on recognition by Russia in an effort to win credibility as an independent state in the wider international community.

The upbeat mood in the Abkhaz capital Sukhum created by Moscow’s formal recognition on August 26 received another boost on September 5 with a decision by Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to acknowledge both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.

The news came as a surprise, even though politically-charged debates in Sukhum’s cafés have focused on the question of which country might recognise the Black Sea republic next. Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus and Syria had been mentioned frequently, but not Nicaragua.

Abkhaz presidential adviser Vyacheslav Chirikba welcomed the news, saying, “It’s good that our independence isn’t like that of Northern Cyprus, which has been recognised by Turkey alone for the last 30 years. Now it will be easier for other countries to take a decision to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

President Sergei Bagapsh has said he expects 10 or 11 states to recognise Abkhazia, but has not said which ones.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia look set to pursue different paths as they seek to formalise their separation from Georgia.

When South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity met a group of western academics and journalists in Sochi on September 11, he said he hoped his territory would join Russia.

“We are looking forward to joining North Ossetia and the Russian Federation,” he said. North Ossetia is a constituent republic within the Russian Federation.

Subsequently, however, Kokoity elaborated by saying he still wanted South Ossetia to be independent.

Bagapsh has been categorical that he wants to achieve full international recognition, in alliance with Russia.

He told journalists in Sukhumi that he did not want to see a greater level of militarisation in the Caucasus, and said there was no need for new Russian army bases in Abkhazia.

“We can use the existing infrastructure and bases where Russian peacekeepers have been deployed for the past 15 years,” he said.

Many people in Abkhazia say they do not want to be cut off from Europe, despite the western backing for Georgia in the recent conflict. Foreign minister Sergei Shamba has frequently said that Abkhazia’s relations with the outside world look in three directions – towards Russia, towards Turkey, which has an Abkhaz diaspora of more than half a million people, and towards the European Union.

An editorial in the Abkhaz newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda held out the hope that Europe would come to look more favourably on Abkhazia, and warned that refusing to recognise it would be counterproductive for the West.

“Most politicians who set the policies of the United State and the European Union countries still see Russia not as an equal partner but through the prism of the Cold War,” said the editorial. “Unconditionally and totally denying the Abkhaz their right to statehood in order to please Georgia will lead to a boomerang effect for Washington and Brussels, and the very thing they initially strove to avoid will come to pass – Abkhazia as a continuation of Russian territory as far as the river Inguri.”

The article argued that the US and other western states must realise that Abkhaz independence was unavoidable. “The only acceptable way out of this situation is not to procrastinate on this [recognition], but to follow Moscow… If that happens, there is still a slim possibility that they [western states] will be able to assert their own interests,” it said.

In the mean time, Abkhazia is pressing ahead with acquiring all the paraphernalia of a sovereign state. On September 10, its foreign minister – together with his South Ossetian counterpart – went to Moscow to sign the documentation establishing diplomatic relations, and the Abkhaz government has also begun drafting a friendship and cooperation treaty with Russia.

The government has already earmarked a location for the new Russian embassy, a historic building in central Sukhum known as the House of the Merchant Aloizi.

The government says Georgia’s formal rejection of a 1994 Moscow agreement establishing the terms of a ceasefire and peacekeeping mandate for Abkhazia after the 1992-93 war means that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the republic may take on a new role.

The 1994 accord placed a limit of 3,000 on the peacekeeping force, but the Abkhaz government says it wants to see 3,800 Russian troops stationed there.

“This will give Abkhazia the chance to genuinely fortify our border with Georgia, which is the first thing we are now going to do,” said foreign minister Shamba. “The Moscow agreement forbade us to build fortifications along the border. In the zone for which the peacekeepers were responsible, security forces were only allowed to carry personal firearms. Now there are no restrictions.”

There are also plans to refurbish Sukhum airport, which at one time was sufficiently well-equipped to handle flights by the Soviet space shuttle Buran, but has fallen virtually into disuse for the last 15 years. Even before Moscow recognised Abkhazia, there was talk that the airport could become an additional transport hub for the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi. Now the airport is to be used for scheduled flights to Russia.

Bagapsh has said he hopes to see investment in the Abkhaz economy worth 10 billion roubles over the next two or three years, not only in tourism and in construction work for the Sochi Olympics, but also in industry and in oil and gas exploration off the Black Sea coast.

Inal Khashig is editor of Chegemskaya Pravda newspaper in Abkhazia.

Abkhazian dream - Documentary

The Kodor gorge is one of the most remote regions in the Caucasus. Voices of the people who live in this war-torn land are rarely heard in the outside world.
RT correspondent Aleksandr Luchaninov visits the republic and investigates the aftermath of the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

News & Analysis - September 9 - 10

Georgians Question Wisdom of War With Russia President's Future At Stake, Some Say, By Tara Bahrampour
David Usupashvili, leader of the opposition Republican Party, said he had serious concerns about the decision to fight the much larger Russian army. "I don't believe that the Georgian government started this military action, but I condemn my government's action to respond with a full-scale military conflict," he said. "The main fundamental question is why Saakashvili and his administration . . . did not think Russia would respond with all in its power, guns and tanks."


US look at rebuilding Georgia military
The United States said on Tuesday it would examine how to help rebuild Georgia's military after Tbilisi's devastating war with Russia, risking renewed Russian wrath over military aid to the small US ally.


Circassian Diaspora of Turkey aspires to draw Russia and Turkey closer

The Circassian Diaspora of Turkey aspires to promote adjustment of friendship between Russia and Turkey. According that the activities of their organizations abroad, in particular, KAFFED – "Adyghe Khasa" Federations of Turkey - are organized. The mentioned imperative dictated the further steps of the organizations during the recent tragical events in Caucasus.


Adygeya capital prepares for VI International festival of Adygeyan culture
The VI International festival of Adygeyan culture in Maykop should be renewed. That was stated by Minister of culture Adam Tletseri at the next session of the festival organizing committee with participation of the heads of the academic ensembles of Adygeya "Islamey" and "Nalmes" Aslan Nekhaj and Magomed Kulov as well as other art workers.


Exploration confirms the rightness of the U.S. position Russia to South Ossetia
American intelligence confirms that the recent fighting in South Ossetia have been initiated by Georgia and therefore the position of Russia is correct, but the U.S. position - no, said deputy chairman of subcommittee on international organizations to the U.S. Congress House of Representatives Republican Congressman Dana Rorabaker. "Russian right, we are wrong. Georgians it began, this put an end to Russian ", - said deputy chairman of the U.S. congressional subcommittee.


Freshly Recognized
Russia established diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia
Russia established diplomatic relations with Tskhinvali and Sukhumi yesterday. In the near future, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will sign intergovernmental agreements on friendship and cooperation with the leaders of the two freshly recognized republics. Among other things, the agreements propose the placement of Russian military bases on the territories of the republics. Moscow is hoping that other countries will begin to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At the Russian Foreign Ministry, Kommersant was told that there is particular hope for Belarus, Syria, Libya, Jordan and Morocco.


Abkhazia. S. Ossetia to participate in international discussions
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are set to take part in international discussions of the Caucasus conflict scheduled to be held in Geneva on October 15, Foreign Ministers of the two republics, Sergei Shamba and Murat Dzhioyev, stated after their meeting with their Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov. South Ossetia's Murat Dzhioyev stressed that his country was open to talks with all states interested in peace and stability in the region, while Abkhazia's Sergei Shamba noted that no issues pertaining to the region could be solved without their input.


Abandoned Soviet train station in Abkhazia
One of the more ornate abandoned places in the world this railway station in Abkhazia is a stunning relic from the collapse of the Soviet empire. Soviet era train stations were often overdone marble monuments to the working man and this was no exception.


The EU blinked first, by Peter Lavelle


Monday, 8 September 2008

Some Thoughts Arising From Lt-Col. Robert Hamilton's Paper, by George Hewitt

-Ossetian War Article
-RE: Ossetian War article/ JRL#159 item #24.


Some Thoughts Arising From Lt-Col. Robert Hamilton's Paper

US Lieutenant-colonel Robert Hamilton, in a reply to an article on recent events in S. Ossetia, offers a few observations which call for a response.

He begins by correcting some of the figures given in the article to which he is replying that relate to the armaments available to the Georgian military. Whilst the number and nature of those armaments are of no immediate concern for present purposes, one question does immediately arise about which Hamilton is silent. This question is: 'For what purpose did Georgia need all the weaponry supplied to it by the USA, the Ukraine, Israel, and others over recent years?' The answer is, of course, now clear to the whole world: it was to attack the two regions of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia placed within the Soviet boundaries of his homeland by Georgia's most famous son, Iosep Besarionis-dze Dzhughashvili (aka Joseph Stalin). The weight of military forces that bore down on Tskhinval on the night of the 7th August could not have been mustered without some kind of careful preparation. Georgian president (for how much longer, one wonders) Misha Saak'ashvili was ever making verbal assurances that he would not resort to arms to resolve the conflicts in these two regions (since 26th August 'de iure' independent states), but, crucially, he never put his signature to any such binding document. And the reason is obvious: however long Misha's generals might have been planning the S. Ossetian operation, they had certainly been planning over many months a parallel strike on Abkhazia, as evidenced by the tremendous amount of heavy weaponry and munitions they had been amassing in the Upper K'odor Valley, all of which was discovered there once it had been cleared of Misha's 'policemen', as he had deceptively described them for the purpose of deceiving a gullible world since introducing these forces (in blatant transgression of the 1994 peace-accords) in 2006. And just to remind the Lt.-colonel of the quality of the Georgian forces on the western front, they fled from both the Upper K'odor Valley and from their positions along the River Ingur in the face of those ranged against them – bombing and shelling unarmed civilians in S. Ossetia causes such shrieks of wild enthusiasm as 'This is war!', as captured on film, but fighting a determined opposition is obviously another matter, where flight is the order of the day. As one of those in southern Abkhazia that weekend after the attack on S. Ossetia and thus a potential target for the planned assault there, I find nothing appealing in Hamilton's threat: 'If the US makes the decision to continue and even expand its capacity-building efforts with the Georgians, it would not be too difficult a task to build the types of capabilities (air defense, maritime security, C4ISR and mobile, lethal anti-armor) required for Georgia to bloody the Russian Army if it decides to invade Georgia again.' If Saak'ashvili had not taken the insane decision to attack S. Ossetia on 7th August, there would have been no Russian response. It is quite wrong to depict what happened as a Russian 'invasion', as has been repeated 'ad nauseam' in the Western media. The military mind illustrated by Hamilton's piece thinks in terms only of 'bloodying' an opposing military – where were the opposing military as Tskhinval's population was abed at 11.30 pm at the start of the assault? Where would have been the opposing military forces, if it had been the Georgians who were in a position to open up a 2nd front in the West? Thanks to Russian actions in destroying what it could find of the armaments recklessly provided to Georgia by its Western allies, Abkhazia was able to escape the bloodshed planned by Saak'ashvili, his generals, and (who knows?) his Western 'advisers'? What has Hamilton to say to the S. Ossetians and the Abkhazians about the application actually made by Tbilisi of Western armaments on 7th August and planned for later use in Abkhazia? Let us hope Hamilton's political masters do not take another insane decision and rearm the Georgian state in the way suggested in Hamilton's threat, for that would be sure recipe for further tragedy in the country.

Hamilton repeats what has been said by at least one Georgian minister this year in reference to the mistakes made by Georgia in its dealings with Abkhazia in the early 1990s, namely: 'We allowed ourselves to be provoked.' Well, there's a very simple lesson here – if you don't want to be provoked, don't be! As to 'provocations' back in 1992, I scratch my head in vain to think of any provocations causing a rift between the Abkhazians and the Georgians other than the self-inflicted woes arising directly out of the madness of nationalism that exploded amongst the Georgians from late 1988 and poisoned relations between Tbilisi and a number of the ethnic groups living within Soviet Georgia. This led to fatal clashes in the Azerbaijani-populated district of Dmanisi-Marneuli and in Abkhazia in July 1989, and tensions remained high until the ultimate madness of war, which broke out on 14th August 1992, thanks to Shevardnadze's decision to send his troops into Abkhazia in the hope this would put an end to the Mingrelia-based civil war, where forces loyal to the ousted president Zviad Gamsakhurdia were fighting the military junta that had overthrown him. Where here were any external 'provocations'? Georgians were the only ones responsible for opening the Pandora's Box of nationalism, and they have to recognise that responsibility and face the consequences (viz. loss of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia as of 1992 and 1992, respectively) rather than run around laying the blame on the Kremlin.

With reference to Russo-Georgian relations over recent years, as everyone knows, they have been going from bad to worse. But, even if Russia has an agenda with regards to Tbilisi, who gave it the chance to act? Tbilisi, launching the fourth war under its three post-Soviet presidents: Gamsakhurdia (S. Ossetia 1990-92), Shevardnadze (Abkhazia 1992-93), Saak'ashvili (S. Ossetia August 2008), plus the aforementioned Mingrelia-based civil war of 1992. Given what happened in S. Ossetia on 7th August and what was indisputably planned for Abkhazia, Russia's actions were correct and followed the sort of perfect military logic that even US military personnel should appreciate – dismantle your opponent's capacity to fight and do further damage. It was the result of a totally wrong-headed policy towards Georgia followed by the West since the USSR fell apart, largely because the policy-makers listened (if they listened to anybody) only to those with experience of the USSR based on knowledge of machinations in and around the Kremlin, rather than taking the trouble to discover what the realities of Transcaucasian life might be for those living there. The West has done nothing to solve the problems it helped to create in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia for almost 20 years. Russia has now acted decisively, and, if Western leaders had any sense, they would abandon their failed policy of giving unconditional support to whoever happens to head the government in Tbilisi and recognise both S. Ossetia and Abkhazia, so that serious thoughts might finally be given to how to take the whole area forward into the 21st century rather than to talk of providing more armaments sufficient to 'bloody' the Russians – what utter poverty of imagination.

Among the 'provocations' listed by Hamilton and relating to Abkhazia (which is the case I am best qualified to discuss) for which he condemns Russia are:

Lifting the military and economic embargo on Abkhazia; Dealing directly with the separatist authorities instead of using the Georgian government as an interlocutor; Deploying an additional battalion of Russian troops there under the auspices of increasing its peacekeeping contingent; Deploying railroad troops to repair the railway line between the Russian border and a major port - ostensibly for humanitarian purposes but later used to transport Russian military equipment; Shooting down an unarmed Georgian reconnaissance drone.

The barren policies employed over recent years to punish the victims of Georgia's wars of aggressive integrationism (S. Ossetia 1990-92; Abkhazia 1992-93), including the blockade imposed at Georgia'sinsistence, were leading nowhere. Russia took the step, which any sensible leader in Tbilisi would have taken himself as a move to improve relations with Sukhum, of lifting the blockade and is to becongratulated for so doing. Had the West ever been inclined to offer positive advice to the Georgian government, it would either have told Tbilisi in no uncertain terms to recognise S. Ossetia and Abkhazia or have done so itself, a move which Tbilisi would have been forced to follow. The West could then have played a part in creating both stability in the region and a successful future for these republics AS WELL AS FOR GEORGIA PROPER, WHERE 70% OF THE NATIONAL BUDGET HAS BEEN WASTED ON THE MILITARY OVER RECENT YEARS. By behaving in the misguided way it has, it has merely achieved what it wanted to avoid – both republics have been driven ever closer to Moscow, and Moscow has played its hand brilliantly in trumping Western (lack of) actions in the relevant areas.

Since there have been no direct negotiations between Sukhum and Tbilisi since Saak'ashvili's introduction of his troops into the Upper K'odor Valley in 2006, how could Russia have spoken to the Abkhazians via the Georgian government?

It looked as though the Georgians might resort to hostilities either in the spring or early summer in Abkhazia after NATO's regrettable decision in April at Bucharest not to bin the unworthy proposalemanating from Washington to admit Georgia into the organisation but to promise some-time membership and to review the case in December. Once that fatal decision was taken, it was always likely that the impetuous Georgian president would try his luck to resolve the outstanding territorial issues before that meeting. In light of this, it was only proper that Russia should have increased its peace-keeping forces in Abkhazia at the time and take the precautionary step of refurbishing the rail-link between Sukhum and Ochamchira. Everything they have done has preserved the peace in Abkhazia and had the additional advantage of ridding the K'odor Valley of its illegal occupiers. Isn't keeping the peace what peace-keepers are meant to do?

OK, Israeli-supplied Georgian drones were shot down earlier in the year – but they should not have been in the Upper K'odor Valley or flown over the demilitarised zone or Abkhazian territory in the first place. Hamilton conveniently forgets this point, which is a perfect illustration of pot calling the kettle black. Towards the end of his Georgian apologia Hamilton dismisses any idea of the Georgian army hatching a 'long-term plan to retake South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force'. How then does he explain not only the quantity but also the nature of the weaponry built up in the Upper K'odor Valley? The Abkhazians and other residents of Abkhazia who would have been slaughtered by these 'policing' tools don't need an American Lt.-Col. to teach them the answer… And neither do I.

Finally a question for the Lt.-colonel. What purpose does he suppose is being served by his and his colleagues' presence in Georgia? No doubt he is just obeying orders and doing his job. But presumably he must be able to justify his work to his conscience from an ideological point of view. And so, he probably feels that he is contributing to buttressing the 'beacon of democracy' that his government claims Georgia to be. How then would he assess the level of 'democracy' hisoperation is assisting when:

1. riot-police are loosed on oppositionists during the November 2007 anti-Saak'ashvili demonstrations;
2. the independent TV channel Imedi's equipment is smashed and broadcasting suspended at the same time;
3. during the May 2008 elections, in a cynical attempt to portray the Abkhazians in bad light to the world, 'Georgian' (specifically Mingrelian) voters crossing from Abkhazia to vote in Zugdidi are shotat in their bus in the village of Q'urcha with immediate claims from Tbilisi that the Abkhazians were responsible for this act, when in fact it was staged by the Georgians themselves (as demonstrated by both Georgian and foreign investigative reporters);
4. during the S. Ossetian events all Russian channels and internet-sites are jammed across Georgia to deprive Georgian citizens of access to the Russian side of the argument?

This is most assuredly not the sort of democracy I want to see my government supporting.

George Hewitt (Professor of Caucasian Languages, SOAS, London University)

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Moscow’s Windfall Recognition of Abkhazia

After formal recognition by Russia, Black Sea republic asks itself some big questions.

By Akhra Smyr in Sukhum (CRS No. 458, 05-Sep-08)

The turbulent events of the last month have turned the Caucasus upside down and left many questions still to be answered. One thing, however, is certain – Abkhazia has emerged a winner from the crisis, capturing territory from Georgia and then winning diplomatic recognition from Russia.

As Russian troops poured into South Ossetia, Abkhaz forces opened a second front and captured the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, which the Tbilisi government renamed Upper Abkhazia after winning control of it two years ago. One man was killed and two were wounded in the operation.

The Abkhaz also gained a strip of land along the river Inguri which had earlier belonged to the Georgians.

These offensives did not result in an outbreak of jubilation, and although people in Abkhazia were glued to their television sets, they were mostly watching the Olympic Games in Beijing.

When Russian president Dmitry Medvedev formally recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states on August 26, it caught the republic completely by surprise. After 15 years of suspense, no one, not even senior officials, believed Russia would actually take this step.

Just after three in the morning, as Medvedev finished announcing the news in a televised address, the first salvoes of automatic gunfire began to sound over Abkhazia as the celebrations began.

In under ten minutes, the streets of the Abkhaz capital Sukhum were full of people. Cars bearing the national flag of Abkhazia zoomed along the streets hooting their horns, the sound mingling with gunshots and shouts of delight.

It seemed as though the entire population had come out to mark the occasion. President Sergei Bagapsh and the rest of the Abkhaz leadership came out to join the celebrations on Sukhum’s central square, in front of the old parliament building, still in ruins from the 1992-93 war.

Now that Abkhazia has taken this step towards statehood, it is having to consider just how ready it is to meet the challenge.

Maxim Gvinjia, Abkhazia’s young deputy foreign minister, said his ministry would have to hire more staff urgently to man a new embassy and consulate in Moscow and possibly other capitals as well.

Abkhaz Airlines has been running just one flight within Abkhazia, but suddenly there is talk of starting scheduled flights to Moscow, Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don.

The company will have to recruit skilled personnel, buy new aircraft, repair airport infrastructure and resolve other issues. But director Vyacheslav Eshchba is upbeat, and says he only needs a month-and-a-half or so to get everything working properly.

Local businessmen are hoping for a boom as more Russian money flows into Abkhazia.

Asida, who works for a firm of estate agents, says property prices fell at the beginning of the summer but now she expects a precipitate rise.

She predicts that prices in Gagra, Novy Afon and Sukhum – the most desirable locations – will be on a par with Moscow within a year as wealthy Russians gain enough confidence in the political climate to buy homes in this sunny region.

The Abkhaz are anticipating Russian investment in tourism, banking, transport and communications. Those lucky enough to own plots of land by the sea are looking for firms able to put up hotels and restaurants.

The prospect of a big influx of Russian money into a small place like Abkhazia is causing trepidation as well as excitement.
Many fear Moscow will exact a high price for diplomatic recognition.

A senior Abkhaz official who asked not to be named told IWPR that Russian leaders wanted to see key figures in the government replaced so that the Kremlin could control the economy.

“Bagapsh will have to endure more than one difficult conversation, and I doubt he will be strong enough to stand up to such strong pressure,” said the official.

Russian financial interest in Abkhazia is made more urgent by the prospect of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Sochi, only a few kilometres north of the border.

Leon Ajinjal, who heads a non-government organisation that looks at the future development of Abkhazia, wonders whether this nascent state will be allowed to become an independent international player, or whether Russia will hamstring it and ultimately swallow it up.

Despite such concerns for the future, the prevailing mood for now is one of heady optimism.

Akhra Smyr is a correspondent with Chegemskaya Pravda newspaper in Abkhazia.