Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Russia Tries to Find ‘Georgia Link’ in the Moscow Metro Blasts

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On March 29, 39 people were killed in twin suicide bombings on the Moscow Metro, for which Russian officials have already blamed terrorist groups operating in the North Caucasus. Two days later, on March 31, in two interconnected attacks, car bombs were detonated outside the headquarters of the local ministry of internal affairs and the federal security service (FSB) in Dagestan, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus, which took lives of eleven people.

After the metro bombings, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on his security forces to “scrape from the sewers” those responsible. Shortly after the attacks, several hypothetical statements were made by high-ranking Russian officials attempting to establish a Caucasus link as well as a possible connection to terrorist networks outside Russian borders.

On March 31, Russia’s Interfax news agency published an interview with Secretary of the National Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev. In the interview entitled “Revenge Awaits Everyone,” Patrushev talked about possible forces behind the terrorist attacks. He said “all leads are being examined,” including those suggesting that blasts had been organized by terrorists from the North Caucasus. Although Patrushev asserted that “some progress has already been made,” apparently more work has to be done before everyone who was implicated in the terrorist acts, including those who “ordered, financed, and trained” the terrorists, are brought to justice. “Retribution awaits everyone,” he concluded.

Talking of the leads, he singled out the North Caucasus and linked “the terrorist groups operating there” to the “international terrorist organizations.” After the Interfax journalist asked Patrushev if he believes that the terrorist blasts in Moscow may have been organized from abroad, the Russian official answered: “For example, there is Georgia and the leader of that state, Saakashvili, whose behavior is unpredictable. Unfortunately a number of countries provide him with assistance, including military assistance. We say that it is unacceptable. He once already started war. It cannot be ruled out that he may start again.”

After making his political argument, Patrushev talked about “the information” that, allegedly, Russia had that “some Georgian intelligence officials maintain contacts with terrorist organizations in the Russian North Caucasus. We should examine this lead as well in connection with the terrorist acts in Moscow.”

Patrushev’s statement is not new. A few months ago, on January 14, 2009, Russian media reported Russia’s deputy minister of internal affairs, Colonel General Arkady Edelev, as saying that “foreign instructors are preparing terrorist groups on Georgian military bases to carry out terrorist acts in the territory of the Russian Federation.” In early January, the Dagestan section of the FSB named Georgia among foreign states “funding guerrilla groups in Dagestan” and in October 2009, Russia’s director of the FSB Alexander Bortnikov himself blamed the Georgian intelligence for “helping Al Qaeda emissaries to transfer terrorists to Chechnya and weapons to Dagestan.” During his illegal visit to the occupied Georgian city of Tskhinvali in September 2009, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Georgia of “preparing terrorist acts and provocations against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

But the Russian accusations transcend the Saakashvili presidency and go back to the period when Eduard Shevardnadze was Georgia’s president. After Putin repeatedly blamed Tbilisi for “harboring Chechen terrorists” in 2001 and 2002 and ordered the bombings of the Pankisi gorge and adjacent areas in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, the Bush Administration launched a multi-million train and equip program to assist Georgia’s security and military forces.

Nonetheless, the situation is different now since Russia is apparently attempting to directly link the Georgian state to instigating trouble in the North Caucasus and elsewhere across Russia. Moscow would probably like to check international reaction before it makes any new moves.

The Georgian government should demand from the Russian Federation to present verifiable evidence and a detailed account of Georgia’s “terrorism activity” that Russia claims it has so that the international community could see where the truth lies. The international community’s closer engagement and more alert attitude toward the deteriorating situation in the Caucasus could positively influence Russia’s behavior and shield Georgia from Moscow’s wrath. And lastly, the United States should consider significant security measures, including a presence on Georgian soil, to avert the situation spiraling out of control into a new conflagration in the Caucasus.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Violating the 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, Moscow Treats the Occupied Georgian Regions as Russian Provinces

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

The leader of the Russian occupation regime in Georgia’s Abkhazia region is once again on a trip to Moscow. Sergei Baghapsh left on March 23 and this time will spend an entire week in Russia. According to a brief notice on his website, Baghapsh is scheduled to “have meetings in the government of the Russian Federation” to discuss “the issues of prospective development of Abkhaz-Russian cooperation in a number of directions, including those of socio-economic, communication and defensive character.” During his previous trip to Moscow, Russia imposed on him ten new “agreements” aimed at strengthening the Kremlin’s military and political presence in the Caucasus.

Russia has long gone beyond the occupation of Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, and its policies are now directed toward a de facto annexing of them to the Russian Federation. And this is more than mere violation of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement.

Contrary to the terms of the ceasefire accord between Russia and Georgia, Moscow is increasing its military grip over the occupied regions. Brokered by President Sarkozy, then-Chair of the rotating European Union presidency, the six-point ceasefire agreement obligates Russia to “withdraw [its troops] to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities.” Not only Russia has not complied with its international obligations, but even worse, has dramatically beefed up its military presence in those territories. On top of this, it has recognized the two provinces as independent states and established military and naval bases there.

Political, social and demographic dimensions of Russia’s presence in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali cannot be underestimated either. Moscow had apparently requested—and Baghapsh seems to have acquiesced—that Russian nationals be given preferential treatment in terms of buying land and real estate in Abkhazia. A short while ago, Russia switched telephone codes in Abkhazia from Georgian to Russian, and just a few days ago gave a Russian identification code to the Sokhumi airport in Abkhazia.

In the meantime, Russia immediately rejected as “camouflage” Georgia’s Strategy on Occupied Territories: Engagement through Cooperation, a policy paper which has found approval both in Brussels and Washington.

Recognition of Abkhazia and “South Ossetia,” which is tantamount to the recognition of Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests,” has already been endorsed by Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru, a tiny island nation in Micronesia. Recently, Sudan’s outgoing ambassador to Russia also came out in favor of the recognition. On February 28, Russian media reported him as saying that his successor to the ambassadorial position “should continue work on the establishment of diplomatic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Strangely enough, while Russia’s closest military allies in Eurasia within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, show no intention of recognizing the Russian-created “reality” and continue their support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Moscow is luring nations in Latin America, Africa and Micronesia to gain international recognition of its sphere of influence. Kazakhstan for example, currently chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has repeatedly stated that it “has no intention to reconsider its position on Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

The same position is shared by other nations in Russia’s and Georgia’s neighborhood. Although Baghapsh lately expressed his desire to join the Russia-Belarus Union, this on all accounts requires Belarus’s consent. That Minsk is not planning to acknowledge Georgia’s disintegration and that Moscow “understands this position” was confirmed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin during his recent visit to Belarus. “Normal relations of Belarus with the Western community are worth upholding this position,” Putin reportedly said on March 16.

According to the Russian Kommersant newspaper, Moscow plans to give Abkhazia three billion Russian rubles (101.5 mil USD) for socioeconomic purposes in 2010-12 and a little more to Tskhinvali for economic rehabilitation. Interestingly, the allocation of the funds is charged to the ministry of regional development of the Russian Federation, which takes care of the economic development in Russia’s regions. This is more proof that Russia is treating Abkhazia and Tskhinvali as if they were Russian regions. In the same article, Kommersant also claimed that the sums being given to the occupied Georgian lands are insignificant compared with what Russia has purportedly paid to Venezuela ($2.2 billion), Nicaragua ($1.0 billion) and Nauru ($50 million) for the recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

On February 26, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based analysis center with worldwide acclaim, published a comprehensive account on the situation in Abkhazia. The paper, entitled Abkhazia: Deepening Dependence, highlights all alarming trends in Moscow’s treatment of the Georgian region, which has gone beyond mere occupation. The ICG calls on Moscow to “implement fully the terms of the 2008 ceasefire agreements… and withdraw from previously unoccupied areas.” It remains to be seen what the world community and first and foremost the European Union, as the guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, will do to make Russia comply with its international obligations.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yes They Did

By Jiri Kominek

It’s all but official. US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet in Prague on April 8 to sign a treaty reducing US and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

The historic signing could be cause for champagne toasts all around, to the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again”, particularly for Russia as it reasserts its long-term economic and political influence in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

Nuclear disarmament aside, Western and local diplomatic sources say the main reason for the Obama-Medvedev Prague summit will be to discuss the ongoing 26 billion USD international tender announced by Czech state-owned utility CEZ in 2009 for the construction of two additional blocs at its Temelin nuclear power station, scheduled for completion in 2020.

Hospodarske noviny, a leading Czech business daily citing well-informed CEZ sources reported on February 18 that the utility would accept bids from the Russian-Czech Atomstroyexport-led consortium, Westinghouse of the US and France’s AREVA.

During the past two weeks, however, some Czech media have been reporting that Russia’s Atomstroyexport and its “Czech” partners have made the most progress in securing the Temelin tender, whose winner should be announced by the end of the year.

Atomstroyexport has promised that if selected by CEZ to complete Temelin, it will outsource 50-60 percent of the work via Czech companies including its consortium partner, local reactor builder Skoda JS.

The problem is that Skoda JS was sold to the Russians in 2004 through a series of byzantine-like transactions via a bizarre web of offshore companies while members of the Czech government watched and collected a toll fee.

Local media citing both Western and local diplomatic sources confirm that the White House is not throwing in the towel and will put all of its weight behind US contender Westinghouse, possibly pitching a 50/50 JV deal to Medvedev.

Czech media reported in October 2009 that the true purpose of US Vice-President Joe Biden’s Prague visit had more to do with Temelin than with the Anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense shield.

Hospodarske noviny wrote last October that the primary purpose of Biden’s mission was to meet with CEZ CEO Martin Roman and promote Westinghouse as the prime contractor for Temelin.

Apart from the financial value of the Temelin project, the Obama Administration has recognized that the US, pre-occupied with other parts of the world has all but forgotten about CEE, and through its neglect provided Russia a carte blanche in filling the void.

Russia has never left CEE, and in fact has become increasingly intertwined economically, particularly on the energy front with companies such as Gazprom and Lukoil making tremendous headway with the region’s corrupt politicians regardless of party affiliation; mercenary lobbyists and senior civil servants; and dubious local private equity companies. Just ask Gerhard Schroeder, Vaclav Klaus and other statesmen in the region.

This coupled with the fact that Czech public tenders, when the government bothers to announce them, have a strange way of appearing rigged, with their outcome almost always pre-determined long before any competition is announced.

The situation has escalated to the point where in mid-March, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Prague launched a public anti-corruption campaign challenging Czech political parties to pledge to combat the problem within three months following end-of-May general elections.

Westinghouse, for its part, has also been stepping up its marketing efforts, promoting the low cost and safety benefits of its AP 1000 Pressure Water Reactor. What other sweeteners are brought to the table remain to be seen.

Apart from the 26 billion USD price tag, the Temelin tender represents a great deal more. CEZ is the largest utility in CEE, active in over 10 countries including a massive expansion drive into Turkey’s lucrative energy sector and a likely bidder for Poland’s first nuclear power plant.

The Slovak government headed by Robert Fico, whose pro-Russian, anti-democratic leanings are no secret, awarded CEZ a 5.2 billion USD no-bid contract in May 2009 to construct a new reactor bloc at the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant together with Skoda JS.

CEZ is also planning to construct a number of natural gas-powered plants in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and elsewhere in the region. Awarding the Temelin contract to Atomstroyexport could secure CEZ brownie points with the Kremlin and help secure favorable gas prices from Gazprom.

All bets are on regarding when the Obama team, which chanted “Yes We Can” en route to the White House in 2008, realizes, somewhere between the Prague summit and the end of 2010, that Russia managed to successfully re-consolidate its former satellites through politically-loaded economic deals; at which time they will have to admit: “Yes They Did”.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Will Georgia Recognize the Circassian Genocide?

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On March 20-21, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi hosted the conference: Hidden Nations, Enduring Crimes: The Circassians and the Peoples of the North Caucasus Between Past and Future. Organized by the Jamestown Foundation and Ilia State University’s International School for Caucasus Studies, the two-day event brought together representatives of Circassian communities, as well as think-tanks, policy and research institutions and academia working on Caucasus-related issues. Several members of Georgian Parliament also attended the conference whose culminating part was the signing of an appeal by the Circassian participants to Georgian Parliament to recognize the massacres and deportations of Circassians orchestrated by Tsarist Russia in the North Caucasus as genocide.

No doubt, if Georgia agrees to recognize the mass killings of Circassians as genocide, it will infuriate Russia and risk further worsening the already-strained Russo-Georgian relations. But could the recognition benefit Tbilisi in some other ways which could outweigh the Russian ire?

The recognition issue has quite a history of its own. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 1994 statement acknowledged that “resistance to the tsarist forces [in the 19th century] was legitimate,” but he did not recognize “the guilt of the tsarist government for the genocide.” A few years later, the leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea sent appeals to the Duma “to reconsider the situation and to issue the needed apology.” In October 2006, the Circassian public organizations of Russia, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and several other countries where ethnic Circassians live in large numbers sent the president of the European Parliament a letter with a request to recognize the genocide against the Circassian people. There has been no action taken so far.

It appears the issue is now closely linked to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which are opposed by many Circassians on the grounds that the city of Sochi and large swaths of land in the northwestern Caucasus are their ancestral habitat saturated with Circassian blood. Their protests have taken different forms; from appeals to governments and international human rights and environmental organizations to organizing public awareness campaigns in printed media and on the Internet. Some enthusiasts have launched the website No Sochi 2014 with a countdown to the 150-year anniversary of the Circassian genocide in 2014 – a time when the Sochi Olympics are scheduled to take place.

Hundreds of thousands of Circassians and other ethnicities were killed and many more were deported to the Ottoman Empire by Tsarist Russia when the latter expanded to the Caucasus from the late 18th century to 1860s. Georgian writer of the 19th century Alexander Kazbegi has dedicated some of his novels to the Circassian tragedy.

Among those affected by Russia’s expansionist policies were Muslim Abkhaz as well. Living along Georgia’s Black Sea coast in the south Caucasus, Abkhaz, related to the Circassians by language but historically and culturally closely linked to Georgians living on the same land, had been Islamized after the Ottomans conquered western Georgia in the 16th century. Many Abkhaz deported from Abkhazia to the Ottoman Empire found shelter in Ajara, another Georgian province where a mainly Muslim Georgian population lived by then.

Since the Russian invasion in August 2008 and the subsequent occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, Tbilisi has intensified its efforts to engage with the North Caucasus more productively. A parliamentary inter-faction contact group has been created in addition to the establishment of Georgian Public Broadcaster’s (GPB) First Caucasus TV channel to reach out to the audiences in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in the former Soviet space. Georgian Parliament has already appealed to “the republics and peoples in the North Caucasus” to underline the importance of “cordial relations” between “Georgia and its Caucasian brothers.” Although the First Caucasus has been taken off the French Satellite Eutelsat, allegedly under Russian pressure, GPB hopes it will be able to shortly return its Russian-language channel to the satellite in one way or another. Russian dissidents and human rights activists have been visiting Tbilisi more often than ever before, which apparently has a North Caucasus linkage given their role in exposing flagrant violations of human rights there.

A possible recognition of the Circassian genocide might be logically put in the aforementioned Georgian activities, which could strengthen the image of Georgia as a defender of “the Caucasus cause” in the eyes of not only Circassians but other ethnic minorities in the North Caucasus too. But if Georgia wants to achieve more than a PR success, it might be prudent to consider other additional measures as well: Georgia should act in concert with other nations, most importantly those where Circassian diasporas reside; mass deportations of Chechens and Ingush as well as other ethnicities by Soviet dictator Stalin in the 1940s and ethnic cleansings of Georgians from Abkazia and Tskhinvali must be closely linked to the Tsarist atrocities in the 19th century since they constitute virtually the same imperialist policy; and lastly, the scheduled Sochi Olympics must be closely tied to the Circassian and environmental issues as well as to the illegal Russian occupation of Georgian lands.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A New Russian Invasion of Georgia: Is It So Unrealistic?

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On March 13, 2010, the Georgian television channel Imedi TV aired a mock news broadcast pretending to report on a new Russian invasion of Georgia sometime this June. Although the bogus newscast was preceded by a disclaimer that it was fake, it nonetheless created a lifelike feeling among Georgians and made headlines in Georgian, Russian and Western media. A decision by producers not to make an announcement regarding the report’s phoniness in the form of running crawl gave the broadcast its “real time” sense.

Video: Click Here

Before presenting our own conclusions on the purpose of the mock TV broadcast, it is important to first look at the sequence of events of the staged invasion as it occurred in the TV producers’ own imaginations:

1. The elections are held (Georgia is indeed in the run-up to the local elections scheduled for May); the pro-Russian opposition loses and stages rallies to contend the election results.

2. A group believed by the opposition to represent the government, but seen by the authorities as Russian spies, opens fire on the demonstrators; several people are killed and many more wounded.

3. Outraged, the opposition appeals to the international community to intervene and help in getting rid of “Saakashvili’s tyranny”.

4. The leader of the Russian proxy regime in Tskhinvali (a.k.a South Ossetia) Eduard Kokoity is attacked in an ambush; the Kremlin claims it has evidence that Georgian security forces were implicated in the attack.

5. Pro-Russian Georgian oppositionists arrive in Tskhinvali and accuse President Saakashvili of being behind the terrorist attack.

6. Russia mobilizes its military forces in the occupied Georgian territories as well as the North Caucasus

7. In response, Georgia mobilizes its military in the proximity of Tskhinvali and later announces full mobilization to defend the capital, Tbilisi.

8. Georgia’s pro-Russian opposition announces the creation of the “people’s government” and calls the Saakashvili regime illegal and anti-constitutional.

9. The Russian president orders military intervention to help oust the “terrorist Saakashvili” and calls on Georgians to collaborate.

10. After the full-scale Russian invasion starts, heavy fighting is reported near Tbilisi, but “some Georgian army units defect to the enemy side.”

11. President Saakashvili is announced to have been attacked; he is either dead or severely wounded.

12. The role of the international community, in the bogus video producers’ scenario, is mostly that of a passive observer and is limited to occasional statements without any concrete action. President Obama’s critical reaction to the Russian invasion is the only exception.

The show was harshly criticized by Georgia’s pro-Russian opposition figures, opposition in general, and by the ruling party as well, but from very different perspectives. Nino Burjanadze, the former speaker of the Georgian parliament, who now leads the pro-Russian opposition in tandem with Zurab Noghaideli, Georgia’s former prime minister, was reported by Georgian media as saying, “The government’s treatment of its own people is outrageous.” Some oppositionists even demanded that Imedi TV be closed. In the meantime, the ruling party, United National Movement, requested “explanations” from the television channel. The leader of the parliamentary majority faction, Petre Tsiskarishvili, showed a particular dissatisfaction with the concluding episode, in which “several army units defected to the Russians.” The leader of the Georgian Church, Patriarch Ilia II, called the show “immoral” and “an affront on the Georgian nation and its army.” The Russian foreign ministry issued a special statement, condemning “the Imedi TV’s action as irresponsible first of all vis-à-vis the Georgian public” and accused it of “causing concrete damage to the security and stability in the region.” The Russian foreign ministry’s spokesman Andrei Nesterenko was quick to link President Saakashvili to the production of the program. John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, expressed concern and warned that “these types of reports do not help Georgia’s security.”

Commenting on the fake newscast, President Saakashvili called it “unpleasant” but entirely “realistic.” He said: “It could have been done differently. Although the viewers had been warned that the show was fictitious, the appropriate notice must have been on display all the time.” On the other hand, he added, “the reportage was very close to the real state of affairs.”

Video: Click Here

High-ranking Moscow officials as well as Russia media outlets close to the Kremlin have long accused Georgia of rebuilding its military forces in order to take back by force the Russian-occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Some, as Russia’s deputy minister of internal affairs, have even alleged that Georgia is harboring terrorists and has plans to undermine security in the North Caucasus. Others, like Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov and Permanent Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin have several times expressed their dissatisfaction with deepening U.S.-Georgia partnership, claiming that it goes against Russia’s national interests.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that Moscow itself is strengthening its military and naval presence in the occupied territories, has enacted the law easing the use of force abroad, has been trying to delegitimize the Georgian government, and, at the same time, is forging ties with Georgian oppositionists in a obvious bid to establish a support base in Tbilisi.

Interestingly enough, one day before Imedi TV showed its fake report, the Russian Internet publication published an interview with the Russian military expert Zaur Alborov. In the interview, which was promptly reprinted by “official website” of the occupational regime in Tskhinvali,, Alborov called for “a preventive [Russian] military operation to demilitarize Georgia by force.” The objectives of the operation, in his view, must be “arrest or liquidation of the leadership…of Georgia’s military and security forces…irreparable damage to the forces of the adversary…elimination or capture of the armament of Georgia’s armed forces and destruction of Georgia’s military infrastructure.” And this is just one characteristic example of belligerent views expressed by Russian experts and politicians.

Apparently, Imedi TV’s bogus newscast is based on the knowledge of all of this, reflecting the sentiments voiced in Russia. On the one hand, admittedly, the Georgian television’s show was awkwardly presented and the sequence in the scenario it subscribed to could just be a vague imagination. On the other hand though, there was a real Russian invasion two years ago and given its failure to produce regime change in Georgia and thwart the country’s pro-Western orientation, any new invasion to “finish the job” is highly probable if permissible international and domestic conditions are created by Moscow. The bogus newscast could also be seen as a warning by the TV channel whose producers might have some additional and highly confidential knowledge with which ordinary citizens of Georgia are not familiar.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan standoff the first of many?

By Greg Shtraks

On March 12, Uzbek officials announced the closing of the Kara-Suu-Avtodorozhnyi checkpoint, a major crossing area in the disputed Fergana valley. Ostensibly, the closure was due to road repairs on the Uzbekistan side, but there is little doubt that the move was another turn in a continuing downward spiral that has characterized the relationship between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over the last three years. There are a variety of reasons why Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations are strained, but the two main culprits, like so many other conflicts throughout the world, are energy and water disputes. The problems started two years ago when Uzbekistan cut off gas to Kyrgyzstan in the middle of the winter. However, things have escalated since Bishkek’s announcement of a new hydroelectric power plant. Many observers of Central Asia have noted that the troubling permeation of conflicts stemming from these two issues have poisoned several bilateral relationships in the region.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the only states in Central Asia with no oil or natural gas deposits. This unenviable distinction has resulted in attempts by both Dushanbe and Bishkek to increase their substantial hydroelectric potential through the construction of new dams. Tajikistan’s Nurek Dam, built in 1980, is the highest in the world but doesn’t provide nearly enough electricity to power the entire country. For years, the Tajiks have been working on the construction of the Rogun Dam across the Vakhsh River, but persistent opposition from Uzbekistan has stymied any progress. For instance, in 2004 Russia’s RusAl signed a $2 billon deal to help the Tajiks finish the dam, but the deal was called off in 2007 supposedly due to the inability of Russian and Tajik engineers to agree on the dimensions of the project. There has been widespread speculation, however, that RusAl received implicit orders from the Kremlin to use stalling tactics in order to preserve the fragile equilibrium in the Russia-Tajikistan-Uzbekistan triangle. Russia is the only country to whom Uzbekistan sells its natural gas and Moscow was unwilling to fracture its special relationship with Tashkent despite the lucrative contract for RuSal.

The current Uzbek-Tajik dispute has similar origins. Bishkek has recently begun the construction of a big hydroelectric project called Kambarata-10N on the Naryn River. Uzbekistan, of course, argues that the completion of the dam will cause irreversible damage to Uzbek agriculture, namely the water-intensive cotton cultivation. However, unlike the Tajiks, Kyrgyzstan holds a trump card—last August’s deal allowing Russia to construct a second military base in the Ferghana valley. Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry blasted the decision as being insensitive to the fragile political situation in the valley (only 20% of the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is formally demarcated), but could do little to prevent the deal from going through. Russia, as usual, is playing its own geopolitical game as it strives to keep up with the United States, which has recently declared that it too will be constructing a new military base in Batken. (the U.S. insists it is only a “Center on Terrorism Prevention”). If it wasn’t for this competition, Moscow would likely have relented to Tashkent’s pressure, but the Kremlin figures that the implications of a U.S.-dominated Kyrgyzstan are too severe.

According to David Alix, the director of the International Water Program at Green Cross, water disputes can lead to increased cooperation between communities and states. However, this postulate applies only to agricultural and thirst-quenching scenarios. When energy and hydropower enters the equation, the formula becomes far more volatile. It is likely that we are only seeing the tip of what will be a very large iceberg. Last April’s summit meeting on the Aral Sea, which included the presidents of all five Central Asian states, ended with an empty declaration that has done nothing to resolve the accelerating destruction of a major ecological system. It seems that multilateral cooperation among Central Asian states has little prospect for success. The problem is three-fold: first of all, international treaties are very unclear on water-sharing issues; secondly, Central Asia has weak multilateral connections and no regional mechanism capable of resolving water disputes; thirdly, the geopolitical game between Russia, the U.S., and China in Central Asia makes it difficult to find a reliable partner to arbitrate these arguments.

Still, if any solution is to be found, then Russia, the U.S., Kazakhstan, and especially China will have to play a role. A war in Central Asia is in no one’s interest and Uzbekistan has already warned of using “military methods of intervention” if Kyrgyzstan goes through with the completion of Kambarata-10N. Not only would this severely destabilize the region, but would also set a terrible precedent for other areas in which water disputes are becoming increasingly commonplace (not the least of which is China itself). The first and most obvious step would be to reassure Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that their energy security does not depend on the whims of Razman Kadyrov. This can be done by applying pressure on Tashkent, but also by guaranteeing energy provisions from Russia, Kazakhstan, and China in case the Uzbeks do cut off their supplies. Only such a guarantee would make it feasible for downstream countries to hold veto rights over hydroelectric projects upstream. Secondly, the SCO could enlarge its mandate to include an arbitration court that would hear arguments on water-sharing issues. A number of SCO member states have had trouble resolving water disputes and a mechanism for resolving these problems could go a long way in strengthening the organization. Last, but not least, borders must be demarcated. This wouldn’t prevent national disputes from evolving into local hostilities, but it would limit the occurrence of instances such as the one that has led to the closing of the Kara-Suu-Avtodorozhnyi checkpoint.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Liberal Development: Georgian Response to Putin’s Agenda

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On February 26, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili delivered his annual state of the nation address in Georgian Parliament. In sharp contrast to the speeches of previous years, he devoted a lot more of his time to his country’s internal development than to Russia and other foreign policy issues. The message the Georgian leader apparently wanted to deliver to his domestic and international audience was that the future of Georgia depends on how successfully its liberal experiment proceeds. This could also be viewed as Tbilisi’s response to Russian Prime Minister Putin’s indefatigable attempts at isolating Georgia internationally and destabilizing it internally. Georgia’s civil society has too discovered original ways of counteracting Putin’s anti-liberal and irredentist agenda.

Georgia’s best achievements under President Saakshvili so far have been institution-building and liberal economic reforms. Its police, security forces and army are not only modeled after the West but seem to be the only ones in the post-Soviet space (with the exception of the Baltic nations) to be enjoying full autonomy from the Russian security apparatus. Georgia’s liberal economic policy, embedded in the Economic Liberty Act, has found recognition internationally and further upgraded the nation’s index of economic freedom to the 26th position this year, according to the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal; a remarkable achievement for a non-E.U., non-Anglo-Saxon country and a powerful reason for foreign investors to bring their capital into Georgia.

In his address, Saakashvili mentioned the word development and its equivalents some fifty times and the word liberal ten times in a bid to raise domestic and international confidence. “Only by building a liberal economy will we be able to fully ensure the sustained recovery of our nation. Only in this way will we create a society of boundless opportunities, free of corruption and bureaucratic pressures. Only then will we be open to economic development. This will make Georgia more attractive, for both Georgian and foreign investors.”

But it is not only through a liberal economy that the Georgian government hopes the country will become a better place to live. A "strong educational system and the right infrastructure remain the main priorities” as well. The education system was marred by rampant corruption before the 2003 Rose Revolution and the first phase of the reform was aimed at creating a fair, transparent and competition-based mechanism through the introduction of the nation-wide examination process for higher education. The second phase of the reform will now focus on secondary education through comprehensive certification procedures for both students and teachers.

The Georgian parliament has recently finished the transformation of the second channel of Georgian Public Broadcaster, which now gives detailed and unabridged daily accounts of press conferences, statements and public speeches of every single political party. Although all major national TV channels run talk shows with daily appearances of representatives of the opposition and the ruling party, the second channel’s newfound appeal is truly extraordinary since it has now become a publicly-owned tribune of free speech.

One part of Georgia’s civil society that would like the reforms to run even deeper and faster has found its own ways to push forward the liberal agenda. A dozen of creative enthusiasts led by Tamara Chergoleishvili will soon inaugurate yet another liberal publication. According to the editors, Tabula, a bilingual Georgian-English weekly magazine is designed “to amplify liberal voices in Georgian political debates…and [to not only] analyze and comment on public policy but to change it, to move it [in a] liberal direction and to confront challenges to liberty, create intellectual leadership on major issues as well as on thought frameworks for decision-making.”

The editors of Tabula have an ambitious dream to develop their magazine into a Georgian Economist, but their dream is no more ambitious than the Georgian government’s quest to establish and preserve a liberal democracy in the Caucasus, at the doorstep of Putin’s Russia, which has already placed Georgia at the top of its sphere of influence agenda.

Ukraine: New Government Confirmed, Constitutional Challenge Ahead

by Tammy Lynch

It's official. Ukraine's parliament on Thursday morning announced that a majority coalition had been created. The coalition consists of President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn's eponymous bloc, and the Communist Party.

However, because these groups fall seven votes short of a majority, they also included individual deputies from the two remaining blocs in their coalition for a total of 235 members.

As discussed in Wednesday's blog below (Troubling Signs in Ukraine as New President Flouts Constitution), this procedure for creating a majority coalition violates Article 83 of Ukraine's constitution.

Yanukovych, Lytvyn and their allies did not appear concerned with the potential constitutional questions surrounding their move, however, as they then confirmed Mykola Azarov as Prime Minister with 242 votes.

Both the Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense Bloc and the Bloc of [now former PM] Yulia Tymoshenko stated they will challenge the coalition's formation in the Constitutional Court.

In 2008, the Court gave its official interpretation of Article 83, which states that a coalition is created only through "a coalition of parliamentary factions."

The justices wrote:

Thus, members of the coalition of deputy factions may be only those People’s Deputies of Ukraine who are members of deputy factions that formed the coalition. Affiliation of People’s Deputies of Ukraine with a respective faction plays a decisive role of deputy factions in the process of formation of the coalition of deputy factions. Namely, pursuant to Article 83.10 of the Constitution, a deputy faction which members constitute the majority of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has the rights of a coalition of deputy factions in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

Will they say the same thing this year?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Troubling Signs in Ukraine As New President Flouts Constitution

By Tammy Lynch

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s parliament passed a blatantly unconstitutional law allowing its deputies to form a majority coalition and government made up of individuals without regard for parties or blocs. The move sends worrying signals about new President Viktor Yanukovych’s intention to honor the law and respect the nascent democracy he inherited. The law also allows for an increased level of political corruption in a country already drowning in it.

The new law, which passed with 235 of 450 votes, was immediately blasted by numerous political leaders. Acting Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called the move an “undemocratic” attack against all of Ukraine.

Third-place presidential election finisher Serhiy Tyhypko (and Yanukovych’s former 2004 campaign manager), called the law an unconstitutional “political raid.” And he is correct. The new law, which amended the Law on the Regulation of Parliament, unabashedly contradicts Article 83 of the Constitution of Ukraine. This article clearly states that majority coalitions must be formed by “a coalition of parliamentary factions.” The just-passed law ignores that constitutional requirement.

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko and others have their own reason to be worried about Ukraine’s nascent democracy. The country’s recent democratic strides have developed partially thanks to Article 83, which was introduced in 2004 with the support of Western organizations, and created the basics of a European parliamentary system.

The system rests on parties and blocs. As such, individuals may not split from their parties/blocs to join majority coalitions. And they may not refuse to join a coalition if the majority of their bloc is in favor. They must remain within the party/list on which they were elected.

Moreover, only a parliamentary coalition of factions can nominate a prime minister, who then nominates a cabinet. The system is designed to discourage individual deputies from trading their support in return for financial or professional gain.

This vote trading was the norm in Ukraine prior to 2004, and while it still exists significantly on many individual votes, Article 83 (generally) has ensured that a majority is created based more on political, party and personal considerations than on financial needs. In essence, it’s much harder to buy or intimidate an entire bloc than it is to pick off individual deputies one by one from around the edges.

This means that, while Ukraine’s parliament is unquestionably as corrupt as ever, parliamentary control has not been consolidated in the hands of the politician with the richest allies, most ruthless “enforcers” or most powerful office. A leader cannot simply buy a coalition to do their bidding.

So, why did the new president decide to do an end-run around the constitution?

Prime Minister Tymoshenko’s majority coalition was dissolved on March 1. The constitution allows 30 days for the creation of a new coalition before new parliamentary elections can be triggered. Yanukovych faces the possibility of losing seats in any election.

But, perhaps more important for Yanukovych, one day after the majority dissolved, parliament voted no-confidence in Tymoshenko’s government. The now acting Premier immediately went on leave, as did most of her cabinet, leaving the country without the force responsible for domestic policy. In essence, nobody is minding the store. Yanukovych desperately needs a new coalition to name a new government.

“Desperate” may be the operative word. Clearly, even some of Yanukovych’s former allies view the law as a huge error.

Serhiy Tyhypko predicted serious losses for Yanukovych as the result of this move. “It’s amazing how stubbornly the team of Viktor Yanukovych is making the same mistake,” he said. “In 2007 they tried to create a constitutional majority by using political corruption and getting individual lawmakers involved. … this option… will cost the Regions Party more than the early election.”

And Western Media Failed to Notice

One of the biggest disappointments of the new law’s passage has been the utter confusion and misreporting by the Western, English-speaking media.

Several media outlets, for example, reported that Ukraine’s constitution had been amended to change Article 83. It wasn’t. Yanukovych and his allies simply ignored the constitution, while passing a law on regulations.

The BBC, meanwhile, suggested that the change would help usher in a new government, without mentioning the lack of constitutionality. In fact, the law could allow a new government. But, it will be a wholly illegitimate government formed in violation of the constitution. What better ammunition can be provided to opposition forces? That’s if, of course, the Constitutional Court doesn’t overturn the law.

The Epoch Times reported that the parliament had “tweaked the constitution.” This is entirely untrue, of course. The constitution itself was untouched because to amend it would take 300 votes – which Yanukovych does not have.

Even the usually reliable Reuters reported that lawmakers had “loosened rules on the formation of coalitions on Tuesday,” without a mention of the constitutional requirements of coalition formation. Instead the agency predicted the rules would “ease” Yanukovych’s attempts to form a new government.

True, this could happen. But at the same time, this move could spur a major court challenge and protest rallies, as the law helps unite the opposition against the new president. Tyhypko may be correct – the unlawful move may represent only a pyrrhic victory.

Regardless, any government formed now will be a government formed using pre-2004 tactics. Those tactics were far from democratic at that time and are far from democratic now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Russian Leader Meets Burjanadze: What is on Putin’s Mind?

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On March 4, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin received one of the leaders of Georgia’s pro-Russian forces Nino Burjanadze. The ex-speaker of the Georgian parliament went into opposition of President Saakashvili after her demand to include some Soviet-type politicians on the ruling United National Movement party list during the spring 2008 parliamentary election campaign was decisively rejected by Saakashvili’s supporters in Georgian Parliament.

Before leaving for Moscow on March 3, Burjanadze spoke to reporters at the Tbilisi airport: “This is [a] very important visit, I am going there to defend the interests of my country and my people…The position of [Russia] is important for Georgia’s unity, for Georgia’s democratic and sovereign development…I am occupied by big politics; while others are occupied with mayoral elections and the authorities are occupied by carrying out black PR campaign against the opposition, I am doing big politics.”

Burjanadze who had led three-month-long rallies in the spring of 2009 aimed at President Saakashvili’s liberal government’s resignation follows the footsteps of her comrade, another champion of the pro-Kremlin cause in Georgia, ex-prime minister Zurab Noghaideli, who already secured Putin’s audience and favor in late December 2009 and concluded a pact of friendship with Russia’s ruling United Russia party.

During his meeting with Burjanadze, Putin underscored that “by relying on those people who want to have normal relations with Russia we will be able to restore the pre-crisis level of our relations.” Putin apparently meant not only the pro-Russian political figures in Georgia but also representatives of Georgian intelligentsia who, he hopes, are nostalgic about the Soviet past.


Big politics or not, Burjanadze, the leader of the party Democratic Movement-United Georgia, hardly raised the issue of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At least, this is the conclusion one can draw from the comments she made after meeting with Putin. "I participated in this meeting not to talk about the past, but to try to find solution for the future. It's up to historians to talk about the past.”

With the Russian premier at the center of Burjanadze’s Moscow trip, she also met with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian Duma and other high-ranking officials in the Kremlin establishment. Noghaideli and other oppositionists in Georgia’s pro-Russian spectrum hailed Burjanadze’s decision to engage with the Russians “without ultimatums.” At the same time, they were prompt to remind the public that Burjanadze had changed her previously held conviction that “dialogue with Russia was possible only after it meets certain preconditions.” Irakli Alasania, another Georgian oppositionist declined to comment on Burjanadze’s visit while representatives of the ruling party and the parliamentary opposition as well as the pro-Western figures in the non-parliamentary opposition subjected the ex-speaker to harsh criticism.

Putin, purportedly, firmly in charge of the Kremlin’s Georgia policy, seeks to achieve several objectives. First, he wants to isolate President Saakashvili with whom he vows he will have no relationship. Second, he wants to show the international community, especially the Europeans, that engagement with Georgia is not only possible but desirable by circumventing the sitting government in Tbilisi; the pressing issues of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity could be successfully avoided by the Kremlin if it dealt with some “prominent” Georgians instead of the Georgian government. Third, Putin wants to dodge international criticism that Russia is not doing enough to settle the dispute with Tbilisi; he can now show the West that he is engaged in dialogue with Georgian oppositionists (and at least with some portions of Georgian society), that he has opened the border with Georgia through the Larsi checkpoint, and that he will make good on promises of future change (such as resumption of airline flights, the lifting of embargos on Georgian products, etc.) if Georgians behave and stop talking about their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Nonetheless, the major aspect of Putin’s Georgia strategy is his bid to establish a reliable base of support among the Georgian public via granting favors to the pro-Russian oppositionists and their followers. The support is badly needed whether he succeeds in ousting the Georgian government by peaceful means, or resorts to military force to achieve the same objective.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hard Questions Loom as the Russo-Georgian Border Crossing Opens

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On March 1, the Russo-Georgian border opened after months of speculations and rumors about the benefits and disadvantages the unblocking of the passage would bring to Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and the Europeans involved in the settlement of the Georgian-Russian standoff.

The only legal border crossing between Russia and Georgia at Upper Larsi-Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains had been closed for almost four years as part of punitive measures imposed by Moscow on Tbilisi in 2006. Other measures implemented to change Georgia’s foreign policy orientation and force it to return to the Russian orbit included the closing of all types of railroad, maritime, air and postal communications with Georgia as well as the embargo on all Georgian products.

Now that the border is open, some pressing questions emerge. Should the opening of the border crossing checkpoint be seen as a step to détente between Moscow and Tbilisi? Does Tbilisi allowing the passage to become operational find itself in a better position or the measure should be seen as a miscalculation on its part? What are the political risks Tbilisi is facing now?

See Video:

One part of the border calculus is Armenia. Its interest in the operability of the Georgian-Russian border is both well-founded and well-documented. Russia’s only ally in the Caucasus, which also manages to have friendly relations with Georgia, Armenia has pushed hard for the reopening of the border, seeking economic benefits from the cheapest transportation corridor to the Russian Federation through Georgian territory. Tellingly, a day before Larsi became operational, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan paid a visit to his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in the Black Sea city of Batumi. Although Sargsyan was not escorted to the top-notch border crossing facilities near the Georgian town of Kazbegi, made possible with America’s generous financial and technical support, he used his no less impressive Batumi experience to praise the burgeoning Armenian-Georgian ties and the steps the two countries take to meet each other’s interests.

On its part, Georgia is very interested in having good relations with Armenia. Tbilisi has never made it secret that its readiness to open the border with Russia is dictated by its desire to help mitigate Armenia’s problems stemmed from the latter’s landlocked geography and relative isolation.

See Video:

Georgians also point to the fact that Russia’s decision to unblock the border is “an indirect acknowledgement” by the Kremlin that “the economic embargo has suffered a political fiasco.” Besides, speaking to the press on March 2, the Georgian president’s spokesperson underscored that “having a closed border…is more dangerous than a legally open border.”

Nonetheless, the parties’ expectations and calculations significantly differ. Unlike the EU representatives who see the move as a “first step” toward normalizing the Russo-Georgian relations, Tbilisi has repeatedly stated that normalization is possible only after Moscow fully implements the 2008 ceasefire agreement, withdraws its troops from occupied Georgian territories and denounces its recognition of Abkhazia and “South Ossetia” as independent states.

While Georgia has a “package” approach in its relations with Russia, the European Union would be happy even if some modest steps are taken by the two sides, which could be seen as thawing the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. The EU’s view is apparently shared by Russia since the latter, feeling that it should do something – or at least pretend that it is doing something – has lately expressed willingness to engage with Georgian public and the Georgian Church and has even started talking about lifting the economic embargo and reintroduce airline flights. On the other hand though, there are no diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow; the Russian leaders refuse to recognize President Saakashvili’s government and, Georgia and the Georgians mean two very different things to the Kremlin. On its part, Tbilisi says it would never allow having three Russian embassies on Georgian soil – in Tbilisi, Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.

As far as the negative consequences are concerned, Tbilisi is downplaying the possibility that the opening of the border might harm the Georgian population in the Kazbegi district bordering on Russia. Arguing that all appropriate measures have been taken to provide security on the spot, Tbilisi calls “unfounded” some Georgian politicians’ fears that Moscow might use the legal passage to send its spies into adjacent Georgian regions. Tbilisi officials have also claimed that the legal status of the border crossing (whether it is closed or open) would mean little to nothing to the Russians should they decide to invade Georgia once again. As a matter of fact, the Larsi passage as well as its extension, the Georgian Military Road, leading to the Georgian capital Tbilisi was avoided by the Russians during their military aggression in 2008. It is difficult to prove to what degree this was an issue of military expediency, geography, and political calculation.

Although arguably the opening of the border does not seem to be increasing the probability of new military invasion from the north and would apparently have little if any influence on Georgia’s domestic security, political risks for Tbilisi are more than obvious. One such risk could be the Kremlin successfully selling to the West its narrative that it is capable of restoring relations with the Georgians without first settling the outstanding sovereignty and territorial issues with Tbilisi. That would only distance the West from the Georgian-Russian dispute, making Tbilisi even more vulnerable.