Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Shorts

One Suspected Organizer of the Mukhrovani Mutiny Killed and Two Wounded in a Shootout with Police in Georgia

Late on Wednesday, May 20, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (M.I.A.) of Georgia carried out a special operation to detain the three suspected organizers of the Mukhrovani mutiny - Gia Krialashvili, Koba Otanadze and Levan Amiridze - upon receiving a tip about their whereabouts. The three were hiding out at a summer cottage in the vicinity of the Tskhvarichamia village in the Gldani suburb of Tbilisi, according to the MIA press release. Apparently the culprits were on their way to escape to the Russian-controlled breakaway region of South Ossetia when they were ambushed by the Georgian police. In an ensuing two-hour shootout Krialashvili was killed while Otanadze and Amiridze were wounded and taken to the hospital, where they were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The police seized firearms, $3,700 in cash, four mobile phones and several SIM cards from the fugitives. It should be noted that following the abortive mutiny attempt at the Mukhrovani military base on May 5, the M.I.A. announced the bounty of GEL 50,000 ($30,000) for the information about the location of the wanted coup plotters. Later the bounty of GEL 200,000 ($121,000) was announced by the M.I.A. for the information leading to the capture of the alleged mastermind of the Mukhrovani mutiny, Koba Otanadze.

Gates Signals Obama Administration's Effort to Include Russia in the Development of Missile Defense Options

At a hearing of the Subcommittee on Defense of the House Appropriations Committee on May 20, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates presented the highlights of the fiscal 2010 budget plan. In remarks accompanying his prepared testimony, Secretary Gates pointed out that there was still enough money from Pentagon's fiscal 2009 budget to begin the construction of missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland if the Obama administration decides to proceed with those plans. However, Gates emphasized that the Obama administration had a "great" interest in cooperating with Russia on the missile defense. Gates stated, "The reality is that radars located in Russia supplementing those in the Czech Republic would give additional capability to the sites in Europe." Separately, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told the defense writers at a recently held breakfast meeting that the Pentagon was negotiating on the missile defense issue with Russia. She noted, "We are also looking at the full range of technological solutions, are there better ways to do this, and importantly, can we do this in a cooperative manner with Russia."

Poland Expects Delivery of Patriot Missile Batteries from U.S. by Year End as Russia Threatens to Position Iskander Missiles in Kaliningrad

On Monday, May 18, the Polish Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski told Reuters that Poland expected the Patriot missile battery to be deployed in Poland by the end of 2009 irrespective of the Obama administration's decision on the missile defense system in Europe. In particular, Komorowski noted, "Regardless of the decision (on missile defence), President Obama has said other cooperation with Poland, including strategic projects such as modernisation of our armed forces, will definitely be continued." Warsaw's insistence on the deployment of Patriot missile battery is in full accordance with the agreement reached between the Polish government and the Bush administration last year, which specified that in exchange for Poland's decision to host 10 long-range interceptor missiles as part of the U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Washington pledged to upgrade Polish air defense.

The terms of the bilateral security arrangement on the deployment of the Patriot missile battery spell out a number of caveats. As envisioned, the Patriot air defense unit will be based in Poland on a quarterly basis in 2009, 2010, and 2011 for training Polish personnel. From 2012, according to Komorowski, a Patriot missile battery will be permanently deployed near Warsaw. Komorowski explained, "At present, we cannot afford to buy Patriot batteries because of budget constraints but by 2013 we will consider starting to acquire that kind of theater missile defense system for our armed forces." Komorowski told the Financial Times that the U.S.-Polish talks on the establishment of the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. forces in Poland were expected to be wrapped up in July and this was to be followed by the arrival of 100-110 U.S. soldiers and 196 short-range missiles for the Patriot battery by the end of the year.

Notwithstanding the Obama administration "reset" policy towards Russia, according to the Financial Times report, "Polish officials have sought and won assurances from Washington that it would still go ahead with the Patriot deployment." The confidence of Polish officials is evident in Komorowski's comments, who stated, "We undoubtedly expect a clear 'yes' from the American side, it is just a matter of time...because there is no reason to think that the threat from Iran has grown smaller since last year." Sensing that the Patriot deployment in Poland will undoubtedly become a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations, Komorowski spoke in favor of developing a robust dialogue with Russia, but he stressed that it does not imply forgetting Russia's military invasion of Georgia and Moscow's subsequent recognition of Georgia's two separatist regions as independent states. Moreover, Komorowski noted, "In 1999 [when Poland joined N.A.T.O.], everybody thought the cold war was over. But last year we had Georgia. An independent country was invaded by our partner - Russia."

As expected, in response to the Polish statements, an unidentified member of Russia's General Staff repeated to the Interfax news agency Moscow's past threat of positioning the Iskander surface-to-surface missiles in the Kaliningrad region, which borders on Poland. In a rare glimpse of the psyche of the Russian top brass the same unidentified senior military official interpreted the Patriot deployment in Poland as "a response to Russia's objections to plans to install elements of the U.S. strategic missile defense in Europe."

Head of European Commission in Moscow Comments on Russia's Idea of Sphere of Influence

Ahead of the E.U.-Russia summit in Khabarovsk scheduled for May 21-22, the head of the representation of the European Commission in Moscow, Ambassador Mark Franco gave a lengthy on-line interview to the Russian news portal on May 12. The 70-minute interview is in Russian and can be streamed on-line at the website. Ambassador Franco responded to a wide array of questions submitted by website visitors on-line. Particularly noteworthy were his remarks with regard to the issue of the Sarkozy-Medvedev ceasefire agreement. When asked whether Russia adheres to the ceasefire agreement Ambassador Franco stated, "On a number of questions - yes. On a number of questions Russia actually fulfilled the requirements, obligations, which were accepted in accordance with this agreement. There are also other aspects of the agreement. I mean, in particular, the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These issues go beyond the provisions of the agreement. And the EU thinks that in the relationships between Russia and the EU in the area related to the provisions of the Sarkozy-Medvedev plan, there are indeed reserves for improvement." Franco acknowledged that the fulfillment of the ceasefire agreement will be raised at the E.U.-Russia negotiations in Khabarovsk. However, Ambassador Franco's most compelling remarks had to do with what Russia construes as its sphere of influence. In response to the question about what represents a fundamental problem in the E.U.-Russia relations, Franco stated:
"However, I think that the main difficulty, if we are talking about these relationships, is the difference in views between the E.U. and Russia. I would say that it is the evolution of the future development of what the Russian side calls the near abroad, and we call our common neighborhood. These are the free countries in the center of Europe - Moldova, Ukraine, Belorus. These are the countries of the Transcaucasus. And we have difficulties in determining a certain common approach to this question. Russia considers these countries its sphere of influence. We acknowledge, naturally, that Russia has interests in these countries. However, we think that these countries must have the opportunity to choose different relations with different countries naturally without reducing the intensity of their interactions with Russia." pressed Ambassador Franco to comment on whether the E.U. felt Russian resistance to the European outreach to Belarus and Moldova to which he responded:
"Well, what can I say? As we noted in the beginning of our conversation, when you asked about the main problems in the relationships between the E.U. and Russia, and I told you that they are in the relative roles in the common space of neighboring countries. Russia has an idea that it has spheres of influence. We consider them independent states that naturally have very close relationships with Russia. Nonetheless, Russia does not have the exclusive right in its relationships with these countries. The opportunities for developing other relations must be open. With all due respect to the existing relationships with Russia, it seems, Russia approaches this as some sort of a competition. We do not view it as a competition."
Georgian President Accuses Russia of Seeking a Pretext for Another War

In the interview with the journalist Natale Maria Serena from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on May 19, the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili noted that the abortive coup attempt at the Mukhrovani military base provided evidence that there were attempts to bribe the military leadership. Speaking of Russian militarization of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, President Saakashvili noted:
"They are expanding bases, sending soldiers in contravention of international agreements. Thousands of Georgians were expelled from Abkhazia, and in Ossetia there are already as many soldiers as there are residents. They want to impose on us the siege mentality and to erect the new Berlin Wall, which will divide us from Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. What will Europe do, close its eyes just as it did for the Sudetenland? Fortunately I do not see new Chamberlains. We all understand that there are certain inviolable principles."
Iraqi Government Rejects Kurdish Nabucco Deal

As this informative Reuters news report suggests, the search for gas placed Nabucco pipeline project into the midst of the political struggle between the Kurdistan Regional Government (K.R.G.) and the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. On Monday, May 18, a day after two of Nabucco participants, Austria's OMV AG and Hungary's Mol, joined with the United Arab Emirates' Crescent and Dana Gas to unveil the $8 billion plan to pump gas from Kurdistan, the Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani flatly stated, "We will not allow any side to export gas from the region without the approval of the central government and the Iraqi Oil Ministry." Meanwhile, the managing director of the Nabucco gas pipeline consortium Reinhard Mitschek hailed the fledgling deal with the K.R.G. as "an important and promising development for the acquisition of a huge volume of natural gas for Turkey and for Europe via Nabucco."

Russian Foreign Minister Reconfirms Conditionality between the Missile Defense Talks and Nuclear Arms Reduction

At the joint press conference following talks with his Egyptian counterpart on May 20, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again reiterated Moscow's position that links the nuclear arms reduction with the debate over the U.S. plans to position missile defense system in Eastern Europe. According to the transcript of the press conference on the Russian Foreign Ministry website, Lavrov stated:
"The proposals being discussed will be analyzed by us from the viewpoint of fundamental criteria. The results of the negotiations must, of course, be a step forward compared to the existing regime of limitations and reductions. The overall principle of the agreement must be equal security for the sides and the preservation of parity in the field of strategic stability. Undoubtedly, this cannot be ensured without taking into account the situation in the sphere of missile defense, the placement of strike systems in outer space, plans to develop nonnuclear-tipped warheads and, among other things, the situation in the sphere of conventional arms with regard for many innovative approaches in this matter. I hope that the totality of all these factors will be fully taken into account while elaborating an agreement on the further reduction of strategic offensive arms."
Useful Reuters Q+A on U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction talks

Reuters put together a helpful factoid on the first official round of the U.S.-Russian talks on strategic nuclear arms reductions, which was scheduled for May 19-20 in Moscow.