Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Lukashenko Can Learn From Bakiyev

By Erica Marat

“Uhadzi!” (Go away), shouted protesters in central Minsk on December 19, the day when Alexander Lukashenko secured another presidential term for himself. Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Belarus’ capital to protest against the rigged presidential elections. Belarus Spetznaz (special forces) and OMON (special police unit) suppressed the protests by beating up hundreds, among them activists and journalists.

The scenes from Minsk’s downtown were déjà vu for another dictator, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has ironically been residing in Belarus for months now. The Kyrgyz equivalent of “Uhadzi!”, “Ketsin!”, was the main slogan during the April 7 riots in Bishkek that resulted in Bakiyev’s ouster.

Lukashenko was the only leader to host Bakiyev and his family members (including Bakiyev’s unofficial younger wife). Bakiyev’s move to Belarus highlighted similarities between Lukashenko and himself. Both greedy for power and money, the two men are mocked by their own people for reeking idiocy and shortsightedness.

Bakiyev’s authoritarian policies were deepening as social discontent with him mounted. In the final months of his leadership he tightened control over the military, appointing relatives and cronies to key posts. Bakiyev also created special elite forces to ensure his own personal security. Reportedly, these special forces were ordered to shoot at protesters during the April 7 demonstrations. Eighty-six people were shot dead and hundreds were wounded that day.

Lukashenko has already created a loyal military that showed its unwavering support on elections day. Several layers of police and army personnel are trained to defend the leader against social unrest. Although the forces dispatched against the crowds did not shoot, Jamestown sources report that snipers were planted on rooftops of buildings surrounding the Nezavisimaya and Oktyabrskaya squares where most protesters gathered.

Some reports suggest that government provocateurs stirred unrest during the protests by smashing windows of nearby government buildings. Such imposed chaos presented an opportunity for OMON to purge crowds and arrest roughly 650 protesters. Similar ingenious techniques have been widely used by both Bakiyev and his predecessor, Askar Akayev.

As Lukashenko continues his rule, a lot will depend on the Belarus opposition’s ability to organize and pressure the regime. However, the experience of Kyrgyzstan, as well as that of other countries ruled by unpopular authoritarian leaders, suggests that clashes between the regime and civilians do not pass unforgotten. Rather, civic discontent continues to breed, creating more opportunities for opposition leaders to gain both domestic and international support.

Effectively, Lukashenko has three options lined up for him in the next few years: consider giving up his power, opening up to the opposition, or suppressing the next round of protests with more violent means. Bakiyev’s experience might come in handy, though Lukashenko should not rely too much on his friend in need.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moscow’s Two-Track Response to Tbilisi’s Constructive Unilateralism

By David Iberi

In his highly publicized speech in the European Parliament on November 23, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled peace initiatives aimed at reducing tension between his country and Russia. They include the commitment of non-use of force against Russian occupying bodies and their proxies and a readiness to engage in high-level talks with Moscow without preconditions. The Kremlin’s response to what is called Georgia’s constructive unilateralism so far has been a mixture of diplomacy by proxy and a reinforcement of Russia’s military presence in the occupied Georgian territories in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

Although Georgia has vowed to seek reunification of the country within its UN-recognized borders only through peaceful means, it nonetheless retains the right to self-defense if Russia perpetrates new military attacks against the Georgian government and people.

On November 24, a day after Saakashvili spoke to the European Parliament, the Russian Foreign Ministry made its first comment on his speech only to argue that Russia is just a mediator and there is no conflict between Russia and Georgia. Instead, according to the Foreign Ministry, “at issue is…the long-running conflict between Tbilisi and the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” Therefore, the statement went on, there should be “a legal enshrinement of obligations not to use force” between Georgia and the two Russia-sponsored proxy regimes.

In a matter of days, the proxy regimes themselves issued statements in which they pledged that they would not resort to force “against Georgia” and requested that non-use of force agreements be signed between Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia and Georgia, “preferably under international guarantees.”

Then, on December 7, the Russian Foreign Ministry made another statement to sum up the non-use of force pledges by Georgia and the Russian proxies in the occupied Georgian regions. Hailing the “exceptionally important step…taken towards sustainable peace and security, Moscow stressed the importance of building “equitable and neighborly relations between Abkhazia, “South Ossetia” and Georgia. The “full-fledged legal enshrinement” of a regime of non-use of force between the three was again underlined in the statement and with that, apparently, Russia’s role as that of the guarantor of peace and security in “Transcaucasia” – Russian jargon for the South Caucasus used to make clear that the region is part of the Kremlin’s geopolitical orbit.

In parallel with these “multilateral” diplomatic overtures, Georgia announced in early November that it broke yet another network of Russian intelligence operating within its territory and arrested 13 people, including four Russian citizens, who were accused of spying for Russia’s military. This was the fourth time since 2006 that Tbilisi made a public announcement about the arrest of a Russian spy network. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, called the latest incident a “farce” and “anti-Russian hysteria.”

In early December, Georgian police arrested several people accused of organizing, carrying out and participating in a series of explosions, including one fatal incident, that took place in September and November 2010. Police claim their activities were directed by a Russian general, Yevgeny Borisov, stationed in one of the Russian military bases in Abkhazia. It is not immediately clear from the statements made by Georgian law enforcement if Borisov’s activities were closely coordinated by Moscow.

On the ground in the occupied regions, Russia has continued to build up its military infrastructure and capabilities. New military garrisons were inaugurated in both Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, and in addition to S-300 systems already stationed in Abkhazia, Russian media recently reported the deployment of the BM-30 “Smerch” heavy multiple rocket launchers to the Tskhinvali region, within striking distance of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. According to Georgian estimates, there are at least 12,000 Russian troops in both territories.

Georgia has continually tried to disentangle itself from Moscow through a two-track approach of “diplomacy of peaceful de-occupation.” On the one hand, it asks the international community to condemn Russia’s illegal occupation of its territories and demand its termination. On the other, it shows willingness and readiness to engage in high-level talks with Moscow.

Russia seems to be using a two-track approach of its own, as well. On one side, it has proxy regimes in the occupied territories through which it reacts diplomatically to Georgia’s peace offers and, on the other, it continues to strengthen its military presence in the occupied lands in order to underpin the “proxy” diplomatic response. The irony is that the regimes in de-populated Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia are mere extensions of the Russian state structure and by no means do they represent the local populations, the majority of whom live in other parts of Georgia as victims of the two-decade-old ethnic cleansing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

UzbekKino Releases List of Banned Movies

By Erica Marat

Everyone in Central Asia knows where to buy pirated copies of the latest movies. DVDs burned in Russia, China and Eastern Europe flood the local markets as soon as they appear on big screens in the West. Controlling this part of the black market is inefficient and costly for the authorities. Pirated movies and music are relatively cheap ($0.50-$3 per DVD) according to the local standards, and the quality is often quite acceptable.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to regulate the market, UzbekKino published a list of 744 movies banned in Uzbekistan during 2005-2010. The list includes Western, Russian and Uzbek movies. All movies on the list were produced during the past decade.

The list was comprised of mostly horror and pornographic movies, including “Eyes Wide Shut”, “The Secrets of Kamasutra”, “Saw” and “Hostel”. Russian movies about the war in Chechnya are banned in Uzbekistan as well.

Movies by the famous Umida Akhmedova, who was persecuted in Uzbekistan for slandering the Uzbek nation, are banned as well.

Some family cartoons, like “Shrek” and “Madagascar”, are also in the list. Epic movies including “Lord of the Rings” and “Eclipse” are banned in Uzbekistan as well.

UzbekKino has not explained why certain films are banned or what type of punishment can be expected for breaking the rule. Inevitably, some movies that could have made it onto the list but for some reason were left out, are in the grey zone. For example, most of Quentin Tarantino’s films are banned, but “Pulp Fiction” is not. Does UzbekKino recommend that people avoid watching it?

It is also unclear as to who decided the contents of the list. UzbekKino’s staff mostly includes actors, directors and scriptwriters. Members of the agency’s higher administration have backgrounds in cinematography as well. Were the decisions made based on ethical, cinematographic or political views?

UzbekKino’s website also offers a list of movies allowed to be shown and watched in Uzbekistan. Nearly all of them are movies produced by local directors. Each year UzbekKino lists 8 to 16 of such movies.

While the logic behind UzbekKino’s choice of prohibited movies is difficult to define, the effectiveness of this ban should not be overestimated. In 2008, Jamestown watched “Madagascar 2” on a train from Samarkand to Bukhara. Dozens of fellow travelers enjoyed the cartoon as well.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Troublesome Coalition Formation in Kyrgyzstan

By Erica Marat

After weeks of negotiations, the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) finally formed a ruling coalition with the Ata-Meken and Respublika parties. The coalition, however, fell apart the next day when Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev failed to gain enough votes to be elected parliament speaker, a position he coveted since becoming MP.

Several members of the Respublika party prevented Tekebayev from earning the position. From the very beginning, Respublika was against Tekebayev’s leadership.

President Roza Otunbayeva has now granted Respublika the responsibility to form a coalition. The party will have several weeks to do so. Respublika’s deputy chief, Bakyt Torobayev, has said that the party is seeking to form a wide coalition comprising either all or four out of five parties represented in the parliament. All five political parties have agreed to form a special working group that would facilitate the process of coalition formation.

Even if Respublika is unable to gather all parties into one alliance, the likelihood that Ata-Jurt will be included in the ruling coalition is high. Ata-Jurt is infamous for its nationalist views; most of its members are still loyal supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Ata-Jurt’s inclusion in the ruling coalition, however, will bridge the gap between the so-called “northern” and “southern” parties. Indeed, Ata-Jurt’s main electorate is concentrated in the country’s south.

Whatever the interplay, Respublika’s leader, Omurbek Babanov, will seek the prime minister position. He will likely be challenged by SDPK’s Almazbek Atambayev, who has been determined to earn the post.

Ata-Meken, in the meantime, is facing a leadership problem. Tekebayev has become a victim of his own achievement. He authored the current constitution that allows for transparent and balanced political leadership. Tekebayev’s opponents, however, have used the process of coalition formation to marginalize him within the parliament.

Kyrgyzstan today lacks a functional government and parliament. Its judicial system is deeply ineffective and the president’s control over police forces is lacking in southern parts of the country. Yet, there are grounds for optimism. The prolonged process of coalition formation has considerably improved the parliament’s transparency. Voters and mass media are able to observe what guides individual MPs and their parties. Distribution of key government posts is an obvious divide behind coalition formation.

The coalition formation process has also been a steep learning curve for MPs who have never before had to function is such a transparent environment. If a stable coalition emerges, for the first time in its post-Soviet history Kyrgyzstan might be experiencing elements of deliberative politics. Judging from the past two months, however, a coherent, ruling coalition is still far away.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Osh Tense Once Again

By Erica Marat

On November 29, residents of Osh city awaited in panic for the government to clarify that a series of shootings were part of a National Security Service’s special operation. Memories of ethnic strife from last June are still fresh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 450 people died and 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks were forced out of their homes as a result of the clash that erupted unexpectedly on June 10 and lasted until June 14. The violence was aggravated by government forces’ chaotic and unprofessional actions during the outbreak.

Head of the National Security Service Keneshbek Dushebayev has assured the people that this was a special operation conducted by security forces and the government was in control of the situation. President Roza Otunbayeva, too, rushed to explain that the shootings were not a result of renewed ethnic violence.

According to the Ministry of Health, four government troops were injured and three criminals were eliminated in the clash. Earlier this month Kyrgyz security forces detained nine people suspected of attempting to instigate ethnic clashes. The government still blames former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev for fueling the ethnic hatred that arose last June.

Despite statements by Dushebayev and Otunbayeva, information coming from the government was incomplete and at times conflicting. Minister of Interior Zarylbek Rysaliyev argued that security forces disbanded an organized group that intended to instigate ethnic strife in southern Kyrgyzstan. Other government channels pointed at security forces’ eradication of Islamic radicals.

The population at large lacked clear information as to what type of “special operation” the government decided to carry out in Osh. Rumors spread fast, fueling panic. Some ethnic Uzbeks feared that police forces renewed “chistki” (cleansing) of Uzbek neighborhoods in search for weapons and the alleged instigators of June violence. Local ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities mobilized for defense against perpetrators.

The latest incident points at persisting fear of the possibility of renewed ethnic clashes as well as the government’s inability to communicate with the masses efficiently. It is such panic and lack of information that might potentially spark a new wave of violence. Looters and opportunistic criminals will seek to attack local businesses and communities should there be a feeling that the government is losing control over Osh. This is the same feeling that many in Osh shared during clashes between government troops and unknown insurgents.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seven Years after Georgia’s Rose Revolution: From a Failed State to a Modern Nation

By David Iberi

On November 23, 2010, Georgians mark the seventh anniversary of the Rose Revolution, a peaceful, popular uprising that ended Eduard Shevardnadze’s post-Soviet regime in the Caucasus country. The revolution followed the parliamentary elections in early November 2003 that had been assessed by opposition political parties, domestic and international observers and, most importantly, by hundreds of thousands of Georgian voters as unfair and undemocratic. The longtime ruler of Georgia, Shevardnadze, submitted his resignation after realizing that he had virtually no public support. His old elite-based regime had exhausted all legitimate means, both at home and abroad, to remain in power.

The new government of young, pro-Western reformers led by Mikheil Saakashvili, who briefly served as minister of justice under Shevardnadze but resigned in protest to the clan-based corrupt power structures, was legitimized in the presidential and parliamentary elections that were held shortly after the revolution.

On all accounts, the Georgia of late 2003 was a failed state. The central government exercised control over only a portion of the country with Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and Ajara under direct or indirect Russian rule. The remainder of the territory was hardly governed properly, either. Economic and political reforms undertaken between 1995 and 2000 ended nowhere since they were half-measures at best and parts of devious schemes at worst. Add to that the arrears for months in salaries and pensions, the inefficient and bribe-taking police and bureaucracy, the depleted state coffers, and the acute shortage of electricity keeping the half of the country constantly in the dark and the other half with daily blackouts, and you will have a clearer picture of what Georgia in 2003.

There was, however, more than that. The aging Shevardnadze busied himself more with balancing interest groups and competing clans than exercising his constitutional duties. His utterly corrupt ministers and governors nearly reestablished the practices of the tumultuous years of the early 1990s when gangs roamed the streets and criminality ruled the countryside. Abductions for ransom and crimes related to illegal drugs were so frequent that Georgia’s only portrayals in Western media at the time were journalistic accounts of foreign businessmen’s travels in remote Georgian villages in the company of local warlords.

It was at that period in time when Western audiences first learned about the Pankisi Gorge, a tiny area in northeastern Georgia where armed paramilitary units were engaged in all sorts of illegal activities. Although Pankisi became the epitome of lawlessness and the trademark of Georgia in that day, no better was the situation in other parts of the country, be it Ajara, the Tskhinvali region, Svaneti or Abkhazia, where pockets of illegal transactions were rapidly expanding.

The first priority for the Saakashvili government was to restore law and order across the country and to provide normal administration and services to the population. Pankisi was soon free of gangs and, step by step, other provinces were as well. The Russian-supported regime in Ajara, which had become the fiefdom of local landlord Aslan Abashidze and his clan, was deposed peacefully in late spring 2004. One of the least developed regions of Georgia at the Black Sea near the Turkish border, subtropical Ajara, with the central city of Batumi, has since become Georgia’s Riviera and home to five-star hotels and kilometers of seashore boulevards attracting hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists.

In summer 2006, Georgia succeeded in restoring constitutional order in the interconnected regions of Svaneti and Upper Abkhazia in northwestern Georgia. Assessing Tbilisi’s successes, Matthew Bryza, the then U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the press in August 2006: “In this case [Upper Abkhazia], the Georgian government is eliminating the lawlessness and restoring the rule of law. In Gali, that’s not happening.” What he meant was the despicable situation in the Russian-occupied parts of Abkhazia, which continues up to this day.

Almost in the same period of time, in 2005-2006, the government succeeded in removing two Russian military bases from Georgian soil that should have been closed much earlier in accordance with the commitments Moscow had undertaken at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Istanbul Summit in 1999. The removal of the Russian military bases and the restoration of central rule over Ajara have arguably been the two biggest victories of the Saakashvili administration in terms of consolidating Georgia’s sovereignty. Over time, the country’s institutions, including the police force, the army and the bureaucracy, have changed and become almost unrecognizable. The ambitious economic and structural reforms have put Georgia in the eleventh spot in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business category and have made it one of the fastest reforming economies.

Societal changes have been likewise impressive. The traditional Soviet-styled elites, which in fact were competing clans with connections to power echelons in the Kremlin, have been largely replaced by associations and parties of Western-educated individuals who have the same kinds of debates about the role of government, religious and moral issues, and political and economic freedoms as elites do in the West. The organization of Georgian society today is increasingly along the Western lines. This is true not only in the capital of Tbilisi but in the rapidly developing provinces as well. The modernization process will only deepen with the expansion of infrastructure projects, including highways, railroads and educational institutions, interconnecting the nation. Moving the parliament and government to Kutaisi, the second largest city in central-western Georgia, will only speed up the dynamic changes, as will making English a second language and attracting a population of thousands of English teachers and other professionals from the English-speaking world.

The rapid changes, arguably, have disadvantages too. As Georgia moves farther and farther from the Russian reality, a gap widens between the lifestyles of those who live in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in the lawless environment under factual Russian rule and the society in the rest of Georgia. For better or worse, however, those provinces remain depopulated largely due to the ethnic cleansing but also because of the unbearable conditions. And, besides, there will hardly be any chance for those Russian-occupied Georgian territories to reunite with the rest of the nation unless the bigger part keeps advancing along the path of reform and modernization.

Monday, November 22, 2010

NATO Decisions Give Fresh Air to Georgia’s Pro-Western Reformists

By David Iberi

On November 19-20, 2010, the heads of state and government of NATO member countries met in the Portuguese capital to discuss some of the most challenging issues the Western alliance is facing today, from the ongoing operations in Afghanistan to the collective missile defense system and uneasy relations with Russia.

For Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who also attended the summit, this was an additional opportunity to hold meetings with and garner support from individual NATO leaders and engage in active discussions related to his country’s security problems and modernization reforms. While talks with British, Canadian, Dutch, Turkish, Polish, Romanian, Czech and several other leaders were important for Saakashvili, his bilateral meeting with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, undoubtedly was the highlight of his Lisbon trip. The language of the Lisbon Summit Declaration and of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly resolution on Georgia a few days earlier were likewise significant and, combined, they even triggered a reshuffle in the Saakashvili administration that will strengthen the positions of pro-Western reformists in Georgian society.

The read-out of the first time ever tête-à-tête meeting between Obama and Saakashvili published by the White House said that Obama “reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity…expressed his appreciation for Georgia’s significant contributions to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan…[and] discussed the Georgian government’s efforts to implement political, economic, and defense reforms and our shared interest in securing democracy, stability, and prosperity in Georgia.”

Obama’s meeting with Saakashvili on the sidelines of the NATO summit was more than a symbolic gesture and in sharp contrast to the arcane postulates propagated by individual authors, such as Walter Russell Mead from the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based influential think-tank, who have long written off Georgia as a factor in U.S. foreign policy and rejected Tbilisi’s NATO bid as pure utopia.

The account of the same meeting published by Tbilisi stated that the two leaders “focused on the strong and growing partnership between [the] two countries, based on [the] shared democratic values and strategic goals… under the auspices of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership…[and] discussed regional security, stressing the importance of dialogue and cooperation.” In addition, Saakashvili thanked Obama for America’s “steadfast support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity… for affirming Georgia's path toward eventual NATO membership… [and] for [Washington’s] generous financial aid package that helped Georgia in the past two years. Obama, for his part, “praised Georgia's contributions to NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan, where almost a thousand Georgian troops are serving…[and] commended Georgia's reforms, [urging] the Georgian leadership to continue them.” President Obama also said the United States supports Georgia's Euro-Atlantic and NATO aspirations.

The Lisbon Summit Declaration says that “Stability and successful political and economic reform in Georgia and Ukraine are important to Euro-Atlantic security. We will continue and develop the partnerships with these countries taking into account the Euro-Atlantic aspiration or orientation of each of the countries.” This actually means that the alliance has decoupled NATO-aspirant Georgia from Ukraine, whose leadership no longer sees NATO membership as a national priority, at least for the moment. To manifest the decoupling even further, a separate paragraph was introduced for Georgia that states that “at the 2008 Bucharest Summit we agreed that Georgia will become a member of NATO and we reaffirm all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions.”

The declaration also reiterated NATO’s “continued support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders… [called] “on Russia to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states,” and urged Moscow “to meet its commitments with respect to Georgia, as mediated by the European Union on August 12 and September 8, 2008.

The language of the resolution on the situation in Georgia adopted by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw, Poland on November 16, three days before the NATO summit, was even more favorable to Georgia. The document that very much resembles the Council of Europe’s several resolutions on Georgia in the aftermath of the Russian military aggression in 2008 openly calls the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia “occupied territories” and expresses concern over the “continuing failure by the Russian Federation to comply fully with the provisions of the EU-brokered Ceasefire Agreement, and particularly its failure to withdraw to the positions it held before the conflict.” Even more importantly, the Assembly urges Moscow “to reverse the results of...the ethnic cleansing” that was committed by Russia and its proxies in the occupied Georgian territories and “allow the safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons to their homes.” Among other requests, the resolution also asks the NATO governments and parliaments “to reaffirm...the Bucharest Summit declaration that Georgia will become a member of NATO.”

Already in Lisbon, Saakashvili announced an important reshuffle in his administration. Giorgi Bokeria, one of the closest allies of the Georgian leader and, arguably, the single most influential catalyst of Georgia’s democratization and modernization, has become the assistant to the president for national security affairs and secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia.

Bokeria, who served as first deputy foreign minister prior to the recent appointment and years before was a member of Georgian Parliament, played a key role in many aspects of Georgia’s reforms. As a staunch trans-Atlanticist and a man who worked with the Liberty Institute, a powerful force behind the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003, he has been one of the major targets of the pro-Russian forces in Georgia. Bokeria is believed to reinvigorate and consolidate Tbilisi’s pro-Western agenda, in which sovereignty issues are firmly anchored with the Euro-Atlantic integration and NATO membership, for the next several, crucial years before the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Analysts in Tbilisi foresee that the National Security Council will become a powerful decision-making body under his leadership.

It is no coincidence that this major change in the Saakashvili administration came during the Lisbon Summit. It is seen as a reward for the important diplomatic efforts behind Georgia’s latest successes as well as a sign that Tbilisi has no plans to succumb to Russian pressure and go back to Moscow’s sphere of influence where it belonged some seven years ago.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kazakhstan Lifts Ban on Major Blog Portal

By Erica Marat

Kazakhstani bloggers can now use the popular LiveJournal blogging site again. After Kazakhstan authorities had reportedly banned access to the site for two years, LiveJournal has become available again. Kazakhstan’s lifting of the ban coincides with the suspension of Kazakh president Nurslutan Nazarbayev’s former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev’s LiveJournal page. There have been no official statement as to whether these two events are linked, but a few savvy bloggers are convinced that this is the only explanation.

Rakhat Aliyev requested asylum in Austria in 2007 after his relations with Nazarbayev soured. Since then he has used his LiveJournal page to launch attacks against the president. He posted provoking material about Nazarbayev’s alleged corruption deals, as well the president’s personal life. Although Kazakhstan authorities did not officially react to Aliyev’s statements, Astana has been pressuring Austria to extradite him back to Kazakhstan.

Owned by the Russian company SUP, LiveJournal is a major part of the Russian-language blogosphere. It is loosely edited but well maintained by its owners to prevent abuses and spamming. In Russia, LiveJournal, along with other internet resources, has become the only media outlet where opposition forces are able to freely express their own views.

Overall, 874,783 users have been registered in Russia to date. The users vary from those who blog about hobbies to those trying to spread political messages. Nemours young Russian rights and political activists are actively present on LiveJournal. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, an avid user of social media, has his own LiveJournal page as well. The president uses his page to post weekly video-diaries.

The impact of LiveJournal on Russia’s political life has been growing, as at times the blogosphere is the only credible source of information when compared to national propaganda featured on TV and by the press. Apparently, renowned journalist Oleg Kashin’s criticism of the pro-Kremlin “Molodaya Gvardiya” youth movement unnerved his opponents. The journalist was severely beaten in front of his house on the morning of November 6 by unknown perpetrators.

Due to its implosive content, LiveJournal has been blocked in other parts of Central Asia as well. During former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s block of LiveJournal access in Kyrgyzstan, local bloggers were forced to switch social media portals. However, the vibrant blogger community in Kyrgyzstan only flourished under Bakiyev’s regime and became ever more active after the leader’s ouster. Kyrgyzstan's bloggers provide timely information on all aspects of political life in the country, particularly during the elections season. President Roza Otunbayeva has even started her own video-diaries similar to those of Medvedev.

Kazakhstan’s temporary ban on LiveJournal is likely to have produced similar results. Perhaps it is time for Nazarbayev to join the virtual community as well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kyrgyz Government Unhappy with DoD Decision

By Erica Marat

Kyrgyzstan president Roza Otunbayeva has expressed her disappointment with the November 3 U.S. Defense Department (DoD) decision to renew its contract with Mina Corp Ltd., which has supplied jet fuel to the U.S. Transit Center Manas in Bishkek for the past six years. The one-year, $315 million contract will allow Mina to supply 96 million gallons of fuel to Manas. The contract can also be extended for another year.

Otunbayeva is particularly unhappy with the DoD’s decision to renew its collaboration with Mina due to the fact that her government is still investigating the company’s work in Kyrgyzstan. The government has urged the United States to terminate the contract with Mina until the investigation is completed.

According to the president, the Defense Department has turned a blind eye to the fact that revenues from selling fuel to Mina by local companies surpass the state budget. The business is so secretive, she alleges, that it is difficult to trace how these virtual companies serving Mina function. Both DoD and Mina have claimed that they are not aware of any corruption schemes led by Kyrgyz contractors. The U.S. Congress, in the meantime, has called on the DoD to “ensure transparency” in fuel supply contracts.

DoD’s resumed cooperation with Mina comes at the time that Otunbayeva’s administration is pushing for greater transparency throughout the government. Although corruption remains high in Kyrgyzstan, some positive changes are obvious. Otunbayeva has been determined to fight the major corruption sources of the previous regime.

Namely, Kyrgyzstan’s hydro-energy sector shows signs of gradual recovery. Otunbayeva’s government also disbanded the Central Agency on Development, Investment and Innovation formerly led Bakiyev’s son, Maksim Bakiyev. The agency was formed as a result of Bakiyev’s government reform and was entitled to control all foreign financial inflows, including aid and credits. The agency’s responsibility also included the control of major national hydroelectric and gold companies.

Otunbayeva has announced that a new state agency “Manas” will be formed to take over fuel supplies to the Transit Center. Right now the Kyrgyz government is pushing for the gradual overtake of fuel supplies by local companies, hoping to increase their involvement from 20 percent to 50 percent during 2011.

The few open supporters of the U.S. Transit Center’s presence in Kyrgyzstan see its main benefit in significant financial inflows from rent payments. Although none of the five political parties represented in the parliament have openly challenged the U.S. presence, corruption around fuel supplies might potentially serve as a strong argument against the Transit Center.

Russian State TV Broadcasts a Parody of Ukraine’s President

By Taras Kuzio

It did not take long for Russia to poke fun at Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in a seven minute comical parody aired on Russia’s State channel 1 in the “Bolshaya Raznytsia” (Great Differences) program on October 31, the same day as Ukraine’s local elections. The timing was obviously not coincidental.

“Bolshaya Raznytsia” is retransmitted by Ukraine’s ICTV channel, owned by oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, a darling of Western leaders such as President Bill Clinton. However, ICTV censored the video clip parodying Yanukovych.

In May, Ukrainian television also censored a similarly embarrassing clip of Russian President Dmityri Medvedev and Yanukovych laying wreaths to commemorate the end of World War II (or the “Great Patriotic War” as it is now called) with Yanukovych’s wreath falling back on to him. The wreath incident became a sensational hit on Youtube.

Over the summer Russian television lambasted Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko in documentaries entitled “The Godfather,” that depicted him in an unflattering light with ties to exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskiy. “The Godfather” re-opened the sensitive issue of a presidential-run death squad that operated in the late 1990s that murdered the regime’s opponents and a Russian journalist.

The question now is why Moscow is parodying Yanukovych, who has this year become more pro-Russian than Lukashenka. In fact, latter has fallen out with Moscow and is fighting the December 18 Belarusian elections without Russian support.

Russian political technologist Stanislav Belkovsky told the BBC that Moscow has become disenchanted with Yanukovych. The television skit plus Western criticism of him over election fraud last Sunday could be a double whammy for Yanukovych. At this rate, Ukraine could soon have a “no vector” foreign policy.

Belkovsky pointed out that such a parody would not have appeared on Russian state television without the Kremlin’s approval. He also claimed that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin preferred Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential election, which could have influenced his decision to approve the airing of the parody. Russian President Medvedev has developed closer relations with Yanukovych than has Putin.

More importantly, Yanukovych has not agreed to various Russian economic proposals for the takeover of Ukrainian companies or joint ventures, Belkovsky argues. Putin has, according to sources in Kyiv that confided in the Jamestown Foundation, set aside $20 billion of his funds for the purchase of strategic areas of Ukraine’s economy, such as the metallurgical industry which accounts for forty percent of export earnings.

Kyiv’s rejection of Putin’s offer to merge the two state-run gas companies Naftohaz Ukrainy and Gazprom was especially galling. Equally infuriating is Yanukovych’s close ties with Lukashenka over energy issues by reversing the Odesa-Brody pipeline from north-south to south-north so that Minsk can import Venezuelan oil. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently visited Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (see JF blog, October 21).

Russia’s State TV parody shows former president Viktor Yushchenko asking Yanukovych how many years it will be before Ukraine pays for its imported gas. The camera pans in on Yanukovych’s hands behind his back which show him giving a “dulia” to this question (meaning never). The correct answer should have been “two years.”

The Kremlin-inspired parody of Yanukovych resembles earlier ones aimed against Lukashenka. The difference, however, is that this recent parody was far less revealing and critical. There was no mention, for example, of Yanukovych’s two prison terms, while the Godfather skit based on Lukashenka raised the issue of officially sanctioned murders in Belarus of opposition politicians.

Most amusingly, when Party of Regions deputy Vladislav Lukianov was asked what he thought of the parody he replied, “Russia is a democratic country... This is a sign of democracy, a sign of political tolerance."

Presumably, following Lukianov’s “logic”, if Russia is “democratic” for showing the parody then Ukraine, by his admission, is not democratic, as ICTV cut out the parody from its retransmission of “Bolshaya Raznytsia.” Lukianov should be asked if it is then the case that Ukraine will only be considered democratic if its state TV channel aired a similar parody of President Medvedev?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Georgian Premier Goes to China, India to Attract Investments

By David Iberi

On October 24, 2010, Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri kicked off his nine-day tour of China and India. Accompanied by his top economic team, Gilauri met in Beijing with China’s Vice Premier, Zhang Dejiang, to discuss a “broad spectrum of political and economic issues” and explore opportunities for “strengthening the already fruitful cooperation” between the two nations. In India, where Gilauri traveled on October 30, the Georgian delegation took part in the Invest in Georgia Forum that attracted Indian companies interested in the Georgian market.

As reported by Georgian media and later confirmed by the Georgian prime minister himself, the Chinese vice premier told his Georgian counterpart that his government “encourages Chinese companies” to deepen collaboration with Georgia and make investments in the Georgian economy. Gilauri called this kind of encouragement “a political decision” on the part of the Chinese government. A Georgia-China business council will soon be created to address trade and economic issues and Georgia expects hundreds of millions of US dollars in Chinese investments “in a matter of two to three years.”

For its part, Tbilisi offers a set of incentives in terms of the better use of the country’s transit potential for China’s air and land travel to and from Europe, including the establishment of a direct flight between Tbilisi and Beijing, multimillion energy projects in Georgia’s hydro power sector and in general making Georgia a “regional logistical hub” in the Caucasus for Chinese businesses and tourism.

The free economic zones at Georgia’s Black Sea ports could offer a different set of opportunities, Tbilisi hopes, to Chinese industries as they try to explore new markets in the wider Black Sea region and the Middle East. Four-season tourism potential is one of Georgia’s prides. The country, with a population of five million, has already attracted more than one million foreign tourists this year mainly to its subtropical sea resorts and the capital. Georgians expect more visitors to come as the ski season soon starts in the Caucasus Mountains in less than a month. Wine is another asset of Georgia and a variety of Georgian wines was on display in Shanghai’s renowned World Expo as Prime Minister Gilauri was given a tour in the Georgian pavilion during the National Day for Georgia event.

Gilauri held separate meetings with representatives of China’s investment companies, banking, technology, automobile and energy sectors. In India, he met with entrepreneurs who are interested in investing capital in Georgia’s steel and textile industries, agriculture as well as tourism and infrastructure projects and film production.

Georgia’s liberal economic reforms have found international acclaim and over the past several consecutive years the country has been in leading positions worldwide in terms of ease of doing business, business and investment attractiveness and efficient anti-corruption policies. Despite the Russian invasion in 2008 and the ongoing international economic crisis, Georgia’s GDP has grown by 6% in the nine months of 2010, although the growth is less impressive than the two-digit numbers that existed during several years before the war.

Georgia dramatically intensified its diplomatic, political, economic and trade relations with the outside world after the 2003 Rose Revolution but, paradoxically, the Caucasus nation’s openness only increased after the Russian aggression. Tbilisi apparently hopes that a greater international presence in the Georgian economy and a diversification of Georgia’s economic and trade ties will only help its long-term political objectives in addition to providing for steadier and more robust economic growth.

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Support for Two Ukrainian NGOs Under Question

By Taras Kuzio

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has given grants to two Ukrainian election-monitoring organizations: the well known Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) and the lesser known Opora. KVU obtained $200,000 in 2007 and $140,000 in 2010, while Opora received $100,000 in 2007 and again in 2009. Unfortunately, only funding given to Opora has been money well-spent.

KVU and Opora also received funding from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), but in the case of KVU, a decade-long relationship ended in the first two years following Viktor Yushchenko’s election. The reason was KVU’s financial shenanigans.

Opora grew out of the “black” wing (based on its symbols) of the Pora (It’s Time) youth NGO that modeled itself on Serbia’s Otpor and Georgia’s Kmara. The “yellow” wing of Pora, headed by Vladyslav Kaskiv, was a parody of the Serbian and Georgian youth NGOs, acting more as a vehicle for his political ambitions. Yellow Pora became a political party, but failed to enter parliament in 2006. It succeeded, however, in 2007 as one of nine parties in the Our Ukraine-Self Defense bloc.

After Yanukovych’s election, Pora leader Kaskiv defected to the new administration and joined the Nikolai Azarov government. It seems as though the KVU has also been bought.
The reputation of the KVU, which was stellar during its decade-long cooperation with NDI, deteriorated, ironically, during the Yushchenko presidency, when Ukraine held three free elections. Suspicions of corruption first surfaced during the pre-term March 2009 Ternopil oblast council election, which was endorsed by the KVU as “free” despite numerous, significant infringements. The KVU worked with Presidential Administration head Viktor Baloga, who used the Ternopil elections to ensure that the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc received poor results (and in the same breath permitting the nationalist Svoboda party to win).

The link between KVU and Baloga was confirmed when KVU leader Ihor Popov was appointed deputy head of the Presidential Secretariat immediately after the Ternopil elections. The final proof of this relationship was evident this year when Popov was elected leader of the United Center party that Baloga established in 2008 to compete with Our Ukraine to become the president’s party of power.

Popov’s replacement as head of KVU, Oleksandr Chernenko, gave the October 31 local elections a similar clean bill of health four hours before the polls closed, claiming they were held in a “free atmosphere.” He was already insisting to the mass media that the elections could not be declared illegitimate (also before the polls closed).

This statement points to Chernenko’s biased work on behalf of the authorities, Ukrainian experts and journalists believe. Opora, other Ukrainian and foreign NGOs, the Ukrainian opposition, the U.S. Embassy and the Council of Europe, as well European Parliamentarians from all the major political groups (including the Socialists, with whom the Party of Regions signed a memorandum of cooperation last month), were highly critical of the October 31 elections and believed they were a step back from the free presidential elections held in January-February.

Even the Odesa branch of KVU stated that the local elections in their city had a greater number of violations than the infamous fraud in the 2004 elections that sparked the Orange Revolution. The Odesa election commission committed egregious violations that led to a “scandalous situation” in the city, Odesa’s KVU stated.

The Charles Stewart Mott foundation should investigate this blaring contradiction between the corrupted KVU and objective and unbiased Opora. The KVU’s reporting of the October 31 local elections shows that only Opora has proven that it is worthy of U.S. assistance.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Official Election Results Finally Announced in Kyrgyzstan

By Erica Marat

Kyrgyzstan’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) has announced the October 10 parliamentary election results following three weeks of deliberation. As expected, five parties were proclaimed winners – Ata-Jurt, Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Ar-Namys, Respublika, and Ata-Meken.

Although the winners are now officially recognized, it remains unclear how the parties will form parliamentary coalitions. Rumor in Bishkek has it that SDPK, Respublika and Ata-Meken will form a bloc, leaving Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys as the minority. This type of coalition is widely supported in Bishkek.

However, voters from southern Kyrgyzstan would prefer for either Ata-Jurt or Ar-Namys to prevail in parliament – both parties received strong support in Osh and Jalalabad. Ethnic Kyrgyz overwhelmingly supported Ata-Jurt, while ethnic Uzbek voters hoped Ar-Namys would represent their interests in the parliament. In effect, Respublika got a trump card and is, therefore, able to decide on its own partners. The party’s leader, Ombek Babanov, is likely to demand the position of prime minister in return for building a coalition with competitors.

Several political parties that were not able to overcome the 5-percent threshold, including Butun Kyrgyzstan Party, refused to recognize official results. Butun Kyrgyzstan leader Adakhan Modumarov has announced that he will not give up and demands that his party is included in the parliament. Butun Kyrgyzstan originally passed the required 5-percent threshold, however, because the voters’ lists were extended on election Day, the threshold rose by a few thousand and the party failed to meet the new threshold. Madumarov has been holding rallies in Osh and Bishkek for weeks now.

According to CEC Chair Akylbek Sariyev, if requested by the court, election results will be recounted. However, it is unlikely that the CEC will be officially requested to recount the votes.

According to the CEC, 120 parliamentary mandates will be distributed in the following way:

• Ata-Jurt - 28 mandates
• SDPK – 26 mandates
• Ar-Namys – 25 mandates
• Respublika – 23 mandates
• Ata-Meken – 18 mandates
• Another 3 seats will be distributed proportionally between parties.

Although Butun Kyrgyzstan will now become the loudest political voice outside the parliament, the country’s most powerful parties are represented in the parliament. Many in Kyrgyzstan hope that the winners will now resolve their differences and abstain from street-riot politics. Leader of the Ar-Namys party Felix Kulov and the Ata-Jurt leader, Kamchybek Tashiyev, however, previously warned that they would hold mass riots in Bishkek should CEC not consider their reports of irregularities during the October 10 vote.

Both politicians have since dropped their plans to stage riots, showing agreement with CEC’s conclusions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pressing Issues Remain as the Zone of Russian Occupation Slightly Shrinks

By David Iberi

On October 19, 2010, Tbilisi regained control over the village of Perevi after a regiment of the Russian occupation forces left the area the previous day. Located in western Georgia close to what is called the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Perevi was first vacated by the Russians in 2008, but their military units soon reentered the village and reoccupied it for nearly two years. As Perevi is now free and fully accessible for Georgian police and ordinary citizens, the more important questions of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remain unsolved. The Russians have just shifted the occupation line slightly inward, but will apparently not budge any further unless international pressure intensifies.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry immediately called the Russian withdrawal from Perevi “a step taken in the right direction,” but cautiously added that this was only a “miniscule step.” First Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Bokeria told Georgian and foreign media that Moscow de-occupied the Georgian village as a result of “the pressure from the international community.”

That Perevi was never a part of the Bolshevik-designed South Ossetia autonomous district – a territorial entity created within the Georgian Soviet Republic shortly after the Russian invasion and occupation in 1921 – has not been disputed by Russia’s current leadership. Instead, Georgian analysts argue that Perevi was kept under occupation for strategic reasons and possibly as a bargaining chip in future negotiations. The Russians apparently exhausted the village’s strategic significance after they completed the construction of roads northwest of Perevi that would allow them to move their troops easier than before in the western flank of occupation. As far as the bargaining value of Perevi is concerned, the Russians probably later realized that it was not big enough to entice the Georgians into some new scheme. Tbilisi’s muted response to Moscow’s highly publicized step was clear evidence of that.

The Russian foreign ministry issued a contradictory statement on October 19, the opening part of which claimed that Moscow acted “in a spirit of goodwill” when solving this “technical, in fact, problem.” “This was preceded by serious preparation,” the document read, such as the completion of “a 10-plus km bypass road.” The statement became more revealing at the end, reading, “With the withdrawal of the Russian border post from Perevi the issue of alleged non-compliance by us with the [2008 Russo-Georgian ceasefire] agreement has been definitively closed.”

In its own statement, the Georgian Foreign Ministry called the Russian claim on the “closure” of the issue “a cynical attempt to evade the full compliance with the international legal commitments” stipulated in the ceasefire agreement and reminded Moscow and the international community that Russia continues to occupy 20 percent of Georgia’s sovereign territory where “several military bases and up to 10,000 troops are illegally deployed.” Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, for her part welcomed “the removal of the Russian checkpoint in Perevi, Georgia” as a “positive development on the ground” and expressed a hope for “further progress toward the full implementation of the European Union-brokered Six Point Agreement.” Ashton’s statement complemented Georgia’s argument that by quitting in Perevi, Moscow made just one step in the right direction.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and members of his cabinet have said on many occasions that Tbilisi is ready to engage in dialogue and negotiations with Moscow “without any preconditions,” to which Moscow has not yet responded. In a larger perspective, what Tbilisi is apparently trying to do is to include the solving of its sovereignty and territorial integrity issue as a composite part of the United States and the West’s reset policy with Russia. The dynamics of Moscow’s bid to accede the World Trade Organization as well the NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summits in November and December will be indicative of how much Georgia’s pro-Western government’s “inclusion” agenda is shared by Washington and Brussels.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Leader of Opposition Party Attacked in Kyrgyzstan

By Erica Marat

A new scandal is in the making inside Kyrgyzstan’s security services. Leader of the Ata-Jurt party, Kamchybek Tashiyev, is arguing that National Security Service (NSS) attempted to assassinate him last Saturday night in front of his own house in Bishkek. According to Tashiyev, NSS personnel deliberately provoked him in front of his house followed by a few armed NSS personnel shooting at his house and his guards.

After Tashiyev’s guards captured NSS attackers, Ata-Jurt’s official memo states, 15 more armed NSS staffers stormed the politician’s house. When the police and prosecutors arrived to the scene they also evidenced that NSS were involved in illegal activity, the memo states.

Head of NSS Keneshbek Dushebayev denies allegations and claims that members of his service were stationed in a car 200 meters away from Tashiyev’s house when Tashiyev’s guards dragged one of the NSS personnel from the car and beat him inside the politician’s house. According to Dushebayev, the remaining two officers tried to rescue their colleague but were beaten by over 40 of Tashiyev’s guards. NSS personnel were bound to fire shots into the sky to protect themselves, Dushebayev recounts.

Whose version – Tashiev or Dushebayev’s – is closer to the truth remains to be seen. However, the Ata-Jurt-NSS showdown reveals the infighting between former president Kurmanbek Bakiev’s loyal regime followers and the current government that is made up mostly of Bakiyev’s former opponents. Ata-Jurt has experienced pressure from the general prosecutor, Kubatbek Baibolov, who accused the party of instigating inter-ethnic hatred in the run-down to the October 10 parliamentary elections. During Bakiyev’s rein both Dushebayev and Baibolov, along with a number of other security officials, were pressured by the regime.

With pro-Bakiyev politicians now entering the parliament, tensions within security structures are better described between the legislative and executive branches. However, tensions are breeding between the General Prosecutor’s office, NSS, and other power ministries. All have been trading criticism about the lack of professionalism in maintaining order in the country, particularly during the June violence.

These showdowns inside power institutions will negatively impact lower-ranking personnel. Without coherent political leadership over armed and police forces, human rights abuses will continue to be entrenched in the everyday lives of locals, particularly in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yanukovych’s New Best Friend – Hugo Chavez

By Taras Kuzio

Venezuela’s eccentric President Hugo Chavez visited Ukraine on October 18 to cement an economic, political and security relationship. As the director of Kyiv’s Institute of World Policy, Alyona Hetmanchuk, noted, the new alliance was given a name by Ariel Cohen of Washington’s Heritage Foundation: VIRUS – which brings together Venezuela, India, Russia and Syria. Perhaps Ukraine, Hetmanchuk muses, is planned to be the ‘U’ in the new strategic alliance of VIRUS?

Chavez travelled to Ukraine after visiting Russia and Belarus. From Kyiv, he visited Iran, Syria, Libya and Portugal. “I was very pleased to hear about your victory, about your return, which was secured by the Ukrainian public. That very day I said to myself that I cannot waste time anymore, I must go to Ukraine and shake Viktor Yanukovych's hand, I have to embrace [the president] and convey the warmest greetings to the Ukrainian people,” Chavez said.

Kyiv’s relationship with Venezuela harms Ukraine’s relationship with Georgia. During the same week that Chavez visited Ukraine, the prosecutor’s office re-opened the case of alleged “illegal” arms sales to Georgia during President Viktor Yushchenko’s rule.

Venezuela and Nicaragua are two of the four entities that recognize the independence of Georgia’s occupied provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (the others being Nauru and Moldova’s Trans-Dniestr). In September 2008, the Party of Regions and Communist Party of Ukraine supported a resolution in the Ukrainian parliament that recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – but it failed to be adopted. A similar resolution in the Crimean parliament succeeded after it was supported by the Yanukovych bloc, which unites the Party of Regions and Russian nationalists with the Communists.

Yanukovych has not acted upon this step since becoming Ukraine’s president and now claims he supports the territorial integrity of states such as Moldova. Yanukovych claimed that “this was because we always stand for territorial integrity.”

However, it seems as though the Party of Regions has one rule when in the opposition position and another when in power.

Besides the inevitable arms exports to Venezuela, both sides discussed economic projects. These included Ukraine’s development of oil and gas fields in Venezuela, the transportation of 10 million tons of Venezuelan oil through Ukraine to Belarus, the opening of embassies in both countries, and the purchase of An-74 planes for transport and marine patrol operations. Venezuela currently uses 15 An-140 and An-74 Antonov planes.

Venezuela is interested in cooperation in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, agriculture, industry and education. The widely criticized minister of education, Dmytro Tabachnyk, could very well become a “senior adviser” to the Venezuelan Ministry of Education.

Both sides discussed the issues of democracy and freedom of speech, a discussion during which it would have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall. One can only muse at the thought of Chavez and Yanukovych discussing their unique contributions to building democracies and upholding free media in Venezuela and Ukraine.

Both, after all, have similar habits of saying one thing and doing another. Yanukovych has promised to punish those who will undertake election fraud in the October 31 local elections, while at the same time his political force is preparing to undertake massive election fraud. Is Yanukovych really unaware that the party that he led for seven years, and which is now led by loyalist prime minister Nikolai Azarov, controls a majority of officials in each election commission?

Yanukovych had strong words of advice for Western journalists, saying, “I think that you will have to undertake great effort to obtain truthful information about what is taking place in Latin America and Venezuela, especially, because there has been such a massive campaign of falsification and lies that it has become difficult to understand where is the real truth.”

No doubt Chavez will repay the compliment to Yanukovych when the West condemns the election fraud committed on October 31 in Ukraine and declares them to have not been free or fair.

Following the creation of a Ukrainian-Venezuelan working group, the first meeting of which will take place next month and the second in December in Caracas, Yanukovych is expected to visit Venezuela in the early part of 2011.

Chavez told Yanukovych that his country’s foreign policy was one of “friendship with all peoples and that “we do not want anybody to rule over us.” Perhaps Yanukovych did not understand the significance of this comment in the light of Ukraine’s reduced sovereignty to Russia since his election (see EDM, October 18).

Hetmanchuk concludes her blog by ridiculing the claim that Ukraine has a multifaceted foreign policy that balances different strategic partners, a claim made by Yanukovych during an official visit to Lithuania this month, as Chavez’s visit to Ukraine will only serve to undermine Ukraine’s strategic partnerships with the West. “In other words, it leaves us with only the option of greeting ourselves with the fact that Ukraine’s multivectorism is transforming itself in a banal way into diplomatic chaos.”

In the meantime, Ukraine’s new alliance with Venezuela could very well end up losing a lot more than it would gain economically,” energy expert Bohdan Sokolovsky told Hazeta po-Ukrainski.

Monday, October 18, 2010

International Investigation Into Osh Violence Begins

By Erica Marat

Four months after the ethnic violence in Osh and Jalalabad, an international investigation is to begin in southern Kyrgyzstan. Gathered and led by Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen, a group of seven experts will work on the ground to investigate the causes and consequences of the June 11-14 violence.

Anna Matveeva, a scholar from the London School of Economics, will be the lead investigator. Experts from Russia, Estonia, Turkey, Australia and other states are part of the assembly. For greater objectivity, no Kyrgyz citizen is working on the investigation.

“We are there to prevent the spread of rumors about what happened,” said Kiljunen to the media recently. Kiljunen was invited by Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva to conduct an impartial investigation shortly after June 11-14 violence. Although Kiljunen has been open to the media about his plans to lead the investigation, he made the announcement about his investigation only after the October 10 parliamentary elections. By doing so, Kiljunen tried to avoid destructive criticism on the part of Kyrgyz political leaders who have been launching attacks against international involvement in dealing with the aftermath of the violence. Earlier this year, several of Kyrgyzstan’s political parties spoke against the deployment of the 52-member OSCE Police Advisory Group.

At a press-conference in Bishkek, Kiljunen emphasized that this will not be a criminal investigation but rather targeted at finding the causes of the violence. According to him, the first report will be ready in late January 2011.

Between June 11-14 over 400 people died and over 400,000, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were forced out of their homes in the course of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek communities are slowly reconstructing their homes before the start of winter. But peace remains fragile in Osh and Jalalabad, with both ethnic majority and minority groups in southern Kyrgyzstan – both blaming each other for instigating fighting and infringing upon each other’s rights.

Kiljunen’s investigation will encounter numerous challenges, including skepticism among local law enforcement agencies and political leaders. The investigation is, however, vital for reconciliation efforts. If the investigation produces results which both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz populations recognize, international and local efforts to build stronger peace would receive a significant boost. Among other issues, Kiljunen’s group must address questions regarding Kyrgyz security officials’ courses of action during the first few hours after the violence began.

According to Jamestown observations, both Uzbek and Kyrgyz sides blame Otunbayeva’s government for failing to stop the violence during the first day. Also, both groups think that the real perpetrators of the violence have left the country. Kiljunen’s task will be difficult one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Georgia Expands Its Outreach to the North Caucasus

By David Iberi

On October 11, 2010, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed an executive order allowing the residents of the North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation to enjoy a 90-day visa-free regime when entering and staying in Georgia starting October 13. The waiver applies to all seven ethnic republics in the North Caucasus: Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adygea. Symbolism aside, Georgia’s latest decision aimed at “deepening dialogue” with its immediate neighbors to the north might have serious consequences for Tbilisi’s standing in the Caucasus and could as well be seen as part of a more ambitious strategy that is just taking shape and substance.

It was nearly a month ago on September 23 in New York when the Georgian president spoke before the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations and elaborated on his views of a peaceful and united Caucasus. “For too long, [the Caucasus] has suffered from division, injustice, conflict, colonization and violence,” Saakashvili asserted, “Today, however, change is possible. In fact, change is already taking place.” He then talked about his vision of a “free, stable and united Caucasus.” To be sure, the Georgian leader then made a direct connection between Georgia’s rapid modernization and its deepening ties with the outside world, including the Caucasus, against a background of Russia’s failed policies in its ethnically diverse North Caucasus region – “a region that is exploding,” in Saakashvili’s own words.

Georgia has had visa-free relations with three out of its four neighboring countries. With trade and people-to-people contacts burgeoning with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia stands as an exception for understandable reasons. Tbilisi severed diplomatic ties with Moscow after the latter started to annex the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008. But the establishment of a visa regime with Georgia had itself been a unilateral decision by the Kremlin almost ten years ago, in December 2000. Tbilisi had then felt compelled to take a reciprocal step.

Georgia significantly stepped up its engagement with the North Caucasus soon after the August war. A special body charged with a task to strengthen humanitarian relations with the indigenous populations across the major Caucasus ridge was created in the Georgian Parliament. In an apparent show of increasing confidence, in March 2010, the Georgian Parliament received an appeal by Circassian communities to recognize the massacres and deportations of Circassians orchestrated by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century as genocide. Georgia’s Public Broadcaster created a special Russian-language First Caucasus Channel to reach to the audiences in the post-Soviet space, including the North Caucasus. Although the channel was shortly removed from a French satellite under alleged Russian pressure, it is currently being renovated and its producers hope to resume satellite broadcasting soon. The number of students from across the Caucasus, including the North Caucasus, studying in public and private Georgian universities has dramatically increased over the past several years as well as think-tanks and academic institutions studying and researching the North Caucasus. Tbilisi’s visa facilitation policy seems to be the latest measure reinforcing the general trend in what could be called Georgia’s Caucasus strategy.

Nugzar Tsiklauri, a Georgian MP who is actively engaged in developing Georgia’s North Caucasus direction, told Israel’s 7kanal.com news agency in April 2010 that Georgia’s strategy was to help “create a friendly atmosphere toward the Georgian State in both North and South Caucasus and thus reduce the risks and threats emanating from Putinist Russia.” In the same interview, he also talked about a “democratic alternative” that Georgia was presenting to the peoples of the North Caucasus as a “rapidly modernizing, liberal, multi-ethnic, pluralistic, non-corrupt and transparent society.”

Apart from creating a “friendly atmosphere” and being seen as a “role model,” Georgia’s North Caucasus engagement strategy apparently has other objectives as well. Deeper ties with North Caucasus Muslim populations could help stability in Georgia itself; although the country is overwhelmingly Christian, it has a sizeable Muslim community, including Muslim Georgians, who would only hail good neighborly relations with the North Caucasus. Besides, Georgia has historically had close relations with all ethnicities across the Caucasus and although it is scientifically controversial, there is a pervasive popular belief among Georgians that most of the North Caucasians are related to them both ethnically and linguistically, and thus it is Georgia’s duty to champion the “Caucasus cause.” Several prominent Georgian writers and statesmen of the 19th and 20th centuries have helped inculcate that belief deeply into the Georgian psyche and public discourse, and many North Caucasians have only positively responded to it.

Lastly, against the backdrop of Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian lands, Georgia apparently seeks to secure a greater Caucasus-wide consensus on issues of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and hopes that a more intense interaction between Georgians and North Caucasians will play an instrumental role in it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nationalist, Pro-Russian Parties Prevail in Kyrgyz Elections

By Erica Marat

The October 10th election results have changed the political landscape in Kyrgyzstan. Instead of lauding the Ata-Meken party, which has been behind writing the current constitution that promotes a parliamentary system of governance, Kyrgyz voters have chosen the Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys parties that wish to reinstall strong presidential power. Overall, five political parties out of 29 were able to overcome the five percent threshold nation-wide.

During the electoral campaign period, Ata-Jurt was accused of instigating inter-ethnic hatred by highlighting that the Kyrgyz are a titular ethnicity and therefore have greater rights and responsibilities compared to ethnic minorities, as reported in a September 16 article. Despite public outcry about Ata-Jurt’s nationalism, the party gained 8.6 percent support, mostly in southern Kyrgyzstan.

No political party was able to rally enough support to gain a majority of seats, and therefore, at least three parties will need to align to form a coalition. It might take days or weeks before coalitions are formed but for now experts speculate that the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Respublika and Ata-Meken might join one block. Another scenario suggests that a strong pro-Russia coalition might emerge made of Ata-Jurt, Ar-Namys and Respublika.
In effect, Respublica got a trump card by gaining 7.4 percent of support and is, therefore, able to decide on its own partners. The party’s leader, Ombek Babanov, is likely to demand the position of prime minister in return for building a coalition with competitors.

Chances of Ata-Meken’s leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, becoming prime minister have drastically diminished, as the party, to its own surprise, gained the least support (5.8 percent).

Russia’s influence is obvious. Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov has made his strong relations with Russia a central part of his electoral campaign. His party was supported mainly by ethic Russians and those fearing renewed bloodshed, hoping that Kulov will install order. If he prevails in this political competition and is elected prime minister or becomes a security official, Kulov will pressure the United States to allow Kyrgyzstan closer monitoring of activity at the Transit Center “Manas”.

Leaders of all parties, except for Ata-Meken, were once part of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s regime. Ata-Jurt, in particular, is mostly composed of former loyal supporters of the Bakiyev regime.

Despite uncertain power configurations in the parliament, these were by far the most fair and democratic elections in Central Asia. The results were reflective of the people’s choice. Some cases of election fraud were reportedly detected in southern Kyrgyzstan, but the OSCE’s overall evaluation of the voting process was positive.

There is a great deal of surprise over the results in Bishkek, as most of the city’s residents did not expect Ata-Jurt to prevail. But there is also a general understanding that whatever the results are, they are legitimate and represent the nation’s will.

Russians Control Yanukovych

By Taras Kuzio

Imagine the Washington Post revealing the sensational news that the head of the Security Service detail guarding the newly elected US president is a Canadian or Mexican citizen. The ensuing scandal would be most likely grounds for impeachment. After all, the head of the presidential bodyguard would have access to every state secret coming though the hands of the US president and would be in a position to overhear most conversations as well as observe the president’s private life.

The files that such an intelligence officer would collect over the course of a five year presidential term would be a KGB (and FSB) officer’s dream. No foreign official would wish to reveal anything significant, out of fear it would slip back to Ottawa or Mexico city.

This is, however, the realm of fantasy. Now enter the real world of Ukrainian politics. On October 6, Ukrayinska Pravda revealed a real life scandal: the head of President Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential guard, Viacheslav Zanevskyi, is a Russian citizen. His photograph is revealed in the report and he is shown accompanying Yanukovych on the president’s visit to France (see Zanevskyi in the fifth photograph).

Russian citizen Zanevskyi’s unofficial title is “Head of the personal guard of the President”. “This is the ear and eyes who sees everything and hears everything,” Ukrayinska Pravda author Serhiy Leshchenko wrote.

Zanevskyi was hired as the head of Yanukovych’s guard in the summer of 2008 because the president did not trust the Security Service (SBU) or the Directorate on State Protection [UDO], the former ninth directorate of the Soviet KGB. This is an outcome of Yanukovych’s pathological fear of being attacked or even assassinated (see "Assassination Phobia Spreads in Ukraine," EDM, June 28).

It is also a product of Yanukovych’s close relationship with Russia, which supported Yanukovych overtly and covertly during the widespread 2004 election fraud. The Party of Regions, then led by Yanukovych, and Unified Russia parties signed a cooperation agreement in 2005. Russian political technologists with close ties to the Kremlin, such as Gleb Pavlovsky, worked illegally on Yanukovych’s 2004 campaign.

Zanevskyi accompanied Yanukovych throughout the 2010 elections, surprisingly without a peep of discontent from the UDO. Since Yanukovych’s election, Zanevskyi’s position has become a question of national security, and his continued presence as the head of the presidential guard is illegal. This was the reason, Ukrayinska Pravda noted, why Zanevskyi was officially appointed a “non-resident presidential adviser”.

The question, Ukrayinska Pravda asked, is who then is paying Zanevskyi’s salary and expenses? These cannot come from the state budget because he is a “non-resident” (i.e. not legally on the state payroll).

Zanevskyi remains a senior instructor in the Russian Academy of Bodyguards. His earlier clients were the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, Oleksandr Lebed, and Russian oligarchs.

Zanevskyi is a frequent contributor to the Russian Academy of Bodyguards’ internet forum, where he presents himself nonchalantly as the “head of the personal guard of the president” (not as a “non-resident presidential adviser”). On the Russian Academy of Bodyguards Forum, Zanevskyi discusses the “correct” course of foreign policy that Ukraine should follow - which of course is “non-bloc” and does not include NATO membership.

Ukrayina moloda, drawing on inside sources, revealed that Zanevskyi has a Ukrainian diplomatic foreign service passport. Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship.

Ukraine, of course, is not the US. The scandal and impeachment that would have happened in Washington will never happen in Kyiv. Yanukovych and the presidential administration have ignored the scandal and have not commented on it.

The only possible conclusion is that Russia makes demands to Yanukovych that, in return for political and financial support, it will obtain influence over cabinet appointments in the security forces and education. While SBU chairman Valeriy Khoroshkovsky is busy searching for Western spies, he is ignoring, or helping to facilitate, Zanevskyi’s transfer of state secrets to Russia.