Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Georgia’s Anti-Occupation Strategy Gains More International Support

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

As the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was visiting the United States to discuss with President Barack Obama relations between the two countries, the Office of the White House Press Secretary issued on June 24 the statement, “U.S.-Russia Relations: ‘Reset’ Fact Sheet.” In it, the Obama Administration outlined in several paragraphs the most important issues in the relations between the two countries. Pretty high on the broad discussion list was Georgia, over which the Obama Administration stressed it continues “to have serious disagreements with the Russian government.”

Even more importantly, the U.S. government for the first time openly qualified the illegal Russian presence on Georgian soil as “occupation,” called on Moscow “to end its occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and pressed for “a return of international observers to the two occupied regions of Georgia.” This announcement is important not only in light of the Medvedev talks in Washington but also U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s crucial visit to Georgia at the beginning of July. Her statements in Tbilisi will be examined against the wording of the White House “Reset Fact Sheet.” Incidentally, Moscow has not yet commented on Washington’s “occupation” clause.

Shortly after the White House document was made public, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili issued a statement expressing his satisfaction with the fact that the American government “officially described the presence of Russian troops in Georgia as occupation and our regions as Georgia’s occupied regions.” “The term ‘occupation’ is no longer [only] my term,” Saakashvili said, “it is [now] an internally established term, especially after yesterday.”

Ever since the Russian invasion of Georgia two years ago in August 2008 and the Russian recognition of the two occupied Georgian territories as independent states, Tbilisi pursued two major objectives in the international arena. At the first stage, it had to counter Moscow’s efforts aimed at enlarging the list of countries recognizing the forcible dismemberment of Georgia. And at the second stage, or possibly in parallel with the realization of the first objective, it sought international support to describe the Russian presence in Georgia as occupation.

While the first goal has proved to be relatively easy to achieve and Russia has virtually failed to advance its sphere of influence agenda – only Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru have volunteered to endorse it – the second goal has been more difficult to materialize and even Georgia’s closest partners have until recently been hesitant to designate Russia as an occupying power. But the May 30 local elections in Georgia in which the pro-Western forces gained a landslide victory brought about not only a further consolidation of Georgia’s internal democratic and nation-building achievements but a stronger international attendance toward Tbilisi’s outstanding security problems as well.

Two days after the elections, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a special resolution in support of Tbilisi. The document has openly qualified Moscow’s past and current actions against Georgia as acts of aggression and assessed “continuing presence of the Russian armed forces in the territory of Georgia and the activities of puppet entities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the illegal occupation of the respective parts of the territory of Georgia.”

Tbilisi hopes that the Lithuanian precedent will be used by other international actors sometime in the near future and many Georgian analysts see the White House statement as a step precisely in that direction. Georgia’s ultimate goal is, of course, to be recognized by Russia as a sovereign nation that can freely exercise its freedom of choice when it comes to both its domestic institutions and international alignment. Russia’s withdrawal of its troops from the Georgian territories is seen in Tbilisi as the single most essential step toward that kind of recognition.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming visit to Tbilisi will be closely watched both inside and outside of Georgia and her statements will show how far the United States government is willing to go at this stage in its demands that Russia end the occupation of the two Georgian territories.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Medvedev Tweets Live as He Visits Silicon Valley

By Erica Marat

As Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visited Apple, Twitter and Cisco headquarters during his visit to the United States, he began to ‘tweet’ live. Twitter is a social networking and blogging site used by over 100 million worldwide.

Among Medvedev’s first followers and promoters were U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

In his first Twitter post Medvedev allowed himself a small typo – showing that his tweets are spontaneous and friendly, truly reflective of his first impressions of Silicon Valley. Although Medvedev had tweeted before his visit to Silicon Valley, those posts were stiffer, probably prepared by his team of personal PR agents.

As Medvedev began tweeting, his followers on Twitter grew by roughly 10 new users per second, reaching 10,000 followers within a few hours. Given that Twitter is still struggling to gain its market share in Russia, Medvedev might as well be the chief promoter of this social networking sight.

Medvedev’s tweets are yet another reminder of his differences with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It is the president’s very own soft-power, aimed at charming Russia’s progressive youth who speak foreign languages, travel frequently, and refrain from joining the nationalistic anti-American crowd. These youngsters use US-invented Facebook to keep in touch with friends, as opposed to the homegrown Odnoklassniki network, often considered as backwards.

One representative of an IT company in Moscow told Jamestown that Medvedev supporters use Facebook and those of Putin use Odnoklassniki. While Facebook offers modern design, Odnoklassniki is a network, “where people post their pictures taken against carpet on the wall,” says a young employee of Livejournal, a large social networking company acquired by Russian investors.

During his visit Medvedev also met with Russian expats working in Silicon Valley. “Our Skolkovo must become a system that like a sponge will absorb variety of people and their ideas. But this should not be done by order from above,” tweeted Medvedev, addressing the concerns of some in Russia that his programs of modernization and diversification would be imposed in a Soviet style, rather than nurtured from below. It is no wonder support for Medvedev continues to grow.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Has Lukashenko’s Fortune Turned?

By Jiri Kominek

The latest “gas war” involving Gazprom, and this time Minsk rather than Kyiv, appears to have more to do with the Kremlin attempting to reign in the renegade Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukahsenka (Alexander Lukashenko) as a subordinate of Moscow than with unpaid gas bills.

While Gazprom began halting gas shipments to Belarus on June 21 over claims that Minsk owes $192 million USD in back payments, the following day Lukashenko ordered a gradual halt in gas shipments to the EU until the Russian gas giant pays $260 million USD in outstanding transit fees.

“This latest conflict is not about a few hundred million in gas fees, what we are witnessing is the culmination of a gradual decline in friendly relations between Russia and Belarus as the former appears to have had enough of Lukashenko who is successfully torpedoing their efforts to create a new Common Economic Space, in other words Moscow’s answer to the EU,” said Prague-based Russia expert Ondrej Soukup.

The relationship between Lukashenko and the Kremlin has been gradually declining over the past five years to the point where both sides cannot stand one another. There appear to be plenty of factors contributing to the Kremlin’s loss of patience with their man in Minsk. For one thing, Lukashenko’s relationship with self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the refusal to extradite former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev have not helped.

On more strategic matters, Lukashenko complicated the Kremlin’s efforts to integrate the former Soviet space along economic and geopolitical lines when he boycotted the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Moscow on June 14, 2009.

More recently, Belarusian officials chose not to turn up at the much touted and well-planned customs union summit in St. Petersburg on May 28 designed to forge closer economic ties between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Although it took a while, Lukashenko has finally realized that with the creation of a customs union and the Common Economic Space the lion’s share of economic and political power will shift to Moscow, leaving him marginalized. After all, the Kremlin has been pressuring Belarus to sell state-owned assets ranging from oil refineries to banks for some time.

Hair-brained schemes to import a few tanker loads of crude oil from Venezuela via Ukraine will not secure Belarus’ independence from its giant, energy-rich neighbor to the East. The days when Lukashenko and his cronies were able to profit from cheap Russian crude oil converted into gasoline at refineries in Mozyr and Novopolotsk and then shipped to customers in the EU appear to be over. So are the massive profits earned by him and his cronies from such arrangements that were then funnelled via a daisy chain of opaque offshore companies registered in Austria, Latvia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and elsewhere.

“Lukashenko will have no choice but to call elections very soon in which he will present himself as the champion of national interests standing up to the rich and oppressive men inside the Kremlin who seek to undermine the sovereignty of Belarus,” said Ondrej Soukup. Soukup then added, “The Kremlin, however, appears to have fallen into its own trap since through its past support of Lukashenko it succeeded in stamping out any political alternatives to the dictator.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

President Yanukovych and Separatism

By Taras Kuzio

At his ‘100 Day’ press conference, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said that he would not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as this violates international law. "I never recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. This would have been a violation of international norms and laws, the violation of conventions," he said.

"There are international norms and laws, and according to them, any violation of the integrity of this or another state is prohibited. We cannot support the process of the violation of territorial integrity in the world and recognize these entities," he said.

Yanukovych went further, adamantly stating, "I never accepted, you will not find in any of my interviews, and I never recognized the legality of actions that violated the integrity of the borders of a particular state. Did I clearly state this for you?" Perhaps President Yanukovych has a bad memory and does not remember that on September 2, 2008 he voted for draft resolution number 3083 ‘On the Recognition of the Independence of the Republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,’ and therefore "violated international law." The resolution failed to be adopted, as it was backed by only 167 deputies, 140 from the Party of Regions and all 27 Communist deputies.

National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) secretary Raisa Bohatyriova was expelled from the Party of Regions after she criticized Yanukovych for his support on Georgian separatism. Her answer came to a question I asked her at a Washington meeting whether she supported President Yushchenko’s defense of Georgian territorial integrity or Georgian separatism (see EDM, September 2, 2008).

On September 17, 2008 the Crimean parliament, dominated by the Party of Regions, successfully voted by 79 to 8 in favor of resolution number 11-5/08-ВР supporting the independence of both regions. Since the 2006 Crimean elections, the For Yanukovych bloc has dominated every coalition in the Crimean parliament, together with the Russian nationalist-separatist Sojuz and the national-bolshevik bloc of Natalia Vitrenko ‘Peoples Opposition’. ‘All 34 deputies from the Party of Regions voted for the Crimean resolution.

What is then President Yanukovych’s position on separatism, and can it be believed by Ukrainians, Western governments and international organizations? His 2008 position that the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be recognized is clearly in contradiction of his 2010 position that to take this step is a "violation of international law."

The president's contradictory positions are clouded even further over Transdniestr. On May 17, Medvedev and Yanukovych issued a joint statement over Transdniester, urging that the territory be granted ‘special status.’ In a break from international practice and the policies of three previous Ukrainian presidents, the statement refers to Transdniester and Moldova as separate entities, which represents a form of creeping recognition of the separatist region.

How then do we explain Yanukovych and the Party of Regions continuing shifts in foreign policies, whether over NATO membership or separatism? The only explanation is that the Yanukovych administration does not seek to undertake an independent Ukrainian foreign policy. President Yanukovych is therefore a departure from President Kuchma who, although not anti-Russian, was nevertheless not pro-Russian and (with NRBO Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin) pursued a pro-Western multi-vector foreign policy. Kuchma used to say that his foreign policy was neither pro-Russian nor pro-Western - but ‘pro-Ukrainian.’

What then is Yanukovych’s foreign policy? It is clear from his first 100 days in office that it represents the first occasion when a president has pursued a single-vector pro-Russian foreign policy where, like Belarusian President Lukashenka, he acts in the role of a ‘younger brother’. The only way to describe this is ‘Lukashenka-Light,’ as the only difference between Ukraine and Belarus’s pro-Russian single-vector foreign policies is that Yanukovych claims to seek EU membership. But, domestic semi-authoritarian policies that are being undertaken in Ukraine mean that EU membership will be impossible to achieve.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

UN Officials Claim Kyrgyz Attacks were Pre-Planned and Tied to Upcoming Referendum

By Jiri Kominek

As violence continues in and around the southern Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad between rival Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic communities evidence has surfaced which suggests that family members close to ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiev might have been responsible for a series of well-coordinated attacks that helped spark the ensuing conflict.

Reuters on June 15 quoted senior UN officials that the current inter-ethnic violence could have been sparked in Osh by five well-coordinated attacks by masked men carrying automatic weapons. The attacks appear to have targeted local Kyrgyz and Uzbek organized crime group hangouts and appear engineered to foment ethnic violence.

In a recorded telephone conversation between Janysh Bakiev – the brother of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiev – who controlled Kyrgyzstan’s security apparatus, and his nephew Maxim that was released on YouTube, the latter informs his uncle of plans to instigate violence designed to instill chaos and render the interim government ineffective, thus helping to pave the way for the return of the Bakiev clan.

During the recorded telephone conversation Maxim tells his uncle that as a result of the orchestrated attacks, the interim government would not be able to cope with the chaotic situation and would not be able to hold a constitutional referendum on 27 June nor elections later in the year. Furthermore he suggests the Bakiev clan cease control of the country during the ensuing chaos.

It appears that Maksim Bakiev, the deposed president’s eldest son who was arrested in England on June 13 by British authorities after landing in a small business jet at an airport near Farnborough perhaps felt he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by organizing the violent attacks.

Maxim was appointed as head of Kyrgyzstan’s Central Agency for Development, Investments and Innovations in late October 2009 by his father.

As head of the agency he had direct and uninhibited control over any and all foreign investment crucial to the economic welfare of the country and therefore acted as a gateway for financial kickbacks into Bakiev clan coffers.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government on May 4 launched a criminal investigation into private companies controlled by Maxim Bakiev that supplied jet fuel to the US military facility in Manas.

The US Senate also began its own separate investigation into allegations that Maxim Bakiev received $1 billion from the US government to continue supplying fuel to the military facility in Manas that serves as a crucial logistics hub to the US military operation in Afghanistan.

Despite receiving urgent requests from the interim government in Bishkek to intervene, Russia continues to show reluctance to deploy peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan for an apparent number of reasons including not having the logistical capacity or the funds to support such an operation on such short notice suggesting, if anything, that Moscow was caught off guard by recent events in Osh.

Russia also appears concerned over the political fall out over committing troops to a potentially protracted ethnic conflict where it could be perceived as being an invader and occupier.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moscow Reinforces Troop Levels in Kant Airbase in Kyrgyzstan

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

As interethnic clashes are intensifying in the troubled Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, the provisional government in Bishkek appealed on June 11 to the Russian Federation to send peacekeeping forces to help restore law and order in the southern part of the country.

The head of the Kyrgyz interim government, Roza Otunbayeva – who came to power in April, 2010 after a bloody uprising against Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the corrupt and inefficient leader of the impoverished country of 5.5 million – asked both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to send in Russian peacekeepers. Moscow has so far refused, saying that “there are no legal foundations” for the deployment of its peacekeeping troops, but is probably thinking of international mechanisms to legalize its engagement.

Apart from Otunbayeva, “more than 80 nongovernmental organizations of Kyrgyzstan” have “desperately urged” the Russian leaders “to immediately deploy Russian peacekeeping troops to restore peace.”

On June 14 though, Russian news agencies reported that assault troops based near the city of Ulyanovsk in Russia’s Ural region “allegedly” were flown on three military planes to the epicenter of the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad. “The number of troops is unknown and their goal is not clear either,” the Russian news agency Regnum said on June 14. Regnum was quick to note that “airborne troops from Ulyanovsk had also been deployed to the conflict zone in Georgia.” What the Russian news agency, close to the Kremlin, was referring to was of course the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.

As announced on June 14 by Natalya Timakova, the spokesperson of the Russian president, Moscow has already strengthened its military base in Kyrgyzstan by deploying additional troops there.

The same day, Russia summoned a meeting of the secretaries of national security councils of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprising seven post-Soviet countries including Kyrgyzstan, to discuss “the question of sending peacekeepers to Kyrgyzstan.”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist member of the Russian legislative organ, the state Duma, and a close Kremlin associate, argued in May that “in order to secure a peaceful future, Kyrgyzstan should voluntarily become the ninth federal district of the Russian Federation.”

Russia has a dismal record in terms of its involvement in peacekeeping operations across the post-Soviet space. In 1992-93 it forced the then-de facto Georgian government of Eduard Shevardnadze to request the Commonwealth of Independence States (in reality, Russian) presence on Georgian soil as “guarantor of peace and stability.” What happened on the ground though was contrary to Georgia’s expectations: Moscow did nothing to help the restoration of Georgian sovereignty and facilitate the return of Georgian citizens to their homes in Abkhazia. Instead, Russia did everything to make permanent the separation of different Georgian communities and then in 2008 resorted to a full-scale invasion of Georgia to undermine its sovereignty and bring it back to the Russian orbit. The Russian military presence in Moldovan territory likewise has no semblance of what peacekeeping operation should represent.

Today Russia seems to be contemplating a new “peacekeeping” mission in yet another post-Soviet country. In all probability, Moscow will try to now use the CSTO’s newly acquired status as international organization to deploy Russian troops to Kyrgyzstan under Chapter VI and VIII of the U.N Charter as it did a decade ago in Georgia through the CIS.

Kyrgyzstan badly needs international involvement but Moscow’s delayed response in dispatching Russian troops to the Central Asian country appears to be part of a larger calculated Russian plan to legitimize Moscow’s aspirations for a new sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space using the CSTO as the device for regulating its involvement.

Bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan’s South

By Erica Marat

What began as a spat between Kyrgyz and Uzbek youngsters in one of the local clubs on the night of June 10 turned into one of the worst bloodsheds in Kyrgyzstan’s history. Kyrgyz media report 37 dead and over 300 injured as a result of violence between local Kyrgyz and Uzbek population. But local NGO leaders think the number of causalities is much higher.

Sources suggest the June 10 spat was orchestrated by supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev who are interested in destabilizing the country. Should the upcoming referendum and parliamentary election scheduled on June 27th and October 10th, respectively, fail, Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government will be unable to claim legitimacy. As violence unraveled, Bakiyev (or someone acting on his behalf) has been actively tweeting about how concerned he is about the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Inter-ethnic frustration has been breeding in southern Kyrgyzstan for many years. Inter-ethnic spats are the reality of everyday life in most places in the region. Yet it takes greater political forces to instigate larger conflicts. The violence spread fast across Osh and the suburbs as rumors about Kyrgyz attacking Uzbek population spread. Cars and shops were set on fire, perhaps by “third forces” interested in fueling the conflict.

Increasingly, the June 10-11 tension in Osh and the nearby villages is reminiscent of the violence in the summer of 1990, when over 1,500 people died as a result of a civic clash between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Back then the Soviet leadership was hardly able to halt the conflict, even while imposing strict curfews and sending in troops. President Roza Otunbayev’s provisional government will need to use complex diplomatic and military methods to prevent escalation of tensions. But some military officials are not sure if the government is ready to fight against such decentralized outbreaks of violence.

It is, however, important not to confuse inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan with the north-south divide among political elites. The inter-ethnic confrontation between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has little to do with the representation of leaders from the south or north of the country. Often these are leaders from the south acting against the allowance of more ethnic Uzbeks to join the government.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is Gazprom Losing its Point?

By Jiri Kominek

A combination of factors, including technological advances, the global gas glut, and suppliers looking to do business elsewhere suggests that Gazprom’s days as the world’s largest gas supplier could be numbered, in addition to its position as the spearhead of Russian foreign policy.

In 2008, as world energy prices peaked, Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly accounted for 17 percent of global output. By 2009, however, energy companies in the US seeking to extract gas from shale rock, aided by technological breakthroughs including horizontal drilling and fracturing, have vaulted the US to the top in terms of global gas production.

As early as 2006, Gazprom targeted a number of markets including the US and said that by 2010 it planned on supplying 10 percent of the American gas market via liquified natural gas (LNG) transported by specialized tankers.

While shale gas currently meets 20 percent of US domestic demand for gas, this share will increase over time, further glutting the US market and forcing suppliers of LNG to look elsewhere including Europe.

For some time Gazprom management had been downplaying the impact that shale gas would have on meeting global demand for gas, particularly for Europe, the gas giants’ largest customer.

“We do not see the conditions for shale gas to have a serious impact on the European market”, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told journalists with confidence on April 9.

Some of Russia’s own gas experts, however, say that Europe’s shale gas deposits could eventually meet 47 percent of demand within the EU after it was learned that countries such as Poland posess substantial reserves.

By June 8, Gazprom management publicly conceded defeat to technological progress and announced that the company would consider entering the US shale gas market in a move designed to further diversify its resource base.

Shale gas is so successful in the US that experts believe it will render the domestic demand for LNG shipments down to zero over the next decade.

While Europe develops its shale gas potential in the medium to long term, in the meatime it can benefit from LNG from Qatar and elsewhere which experts say is 30-40 percent cheaper than Russian gas pumped through its vast network of pipelines.

As Sergei Aleksashenko, professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and former Russian deputy finance minister argued in Vedomosti on June 3, the current global gas glut makes LNG attractive since it is subject to spot prices while Russian gas pumped via pipelines is pegged far in advance to oil prices.

Aleksashenko further argued that Gazprom faces a number of serious problems currently and in the future including the fact that it has exhausted easily accessible gas fields in Western Siberia and will need to access large sums of capital as well as foreign technology to exploit the more remote Shtokman and Yamal fields. One method to change this, Aleksashenko argues, is privatization and competition.

China, along with other Asian markets, is another important factor that could undermine Gazprom’s efforts to dominate the global gas market. Joining the EU, China has also expressed great interest in exploiting shale gas technology while the Japanese look forward to receiving shale gas shipments down the road from Canada in LNG form.

Chinese President Hu Jintao officially opened a pipeline from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan last December which, by 2013, will meet half of China’s current demand. Central Asian governments have discovered it to be more advantageous to have more than one customer.

A year ago the Kremlin said wars could start along its borders including those with Central Asian neighbors in the coming decade in the bid to control global energy resources.

It remains to be seen how far the Kremlin will be willing to go as it slowly realizes that Gazprom, its tradional spearhead of foreign policy of late, is losing its point.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lithuania’s Support Can Galvanize Georgian Diplomacy

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On June 1, the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, passed a resolution towards Georgia that can be seen as a precedent for other countries and an opportunity for Tbilisi to reinvigorate its diplomatic efforts. Lithuania has long been one of Georgia’s strongest supporters in NATO, the European Union and other international organizations, but Vilnius’s most recent move heralds a new trend in how the international community is treating Georgia’s outstanding security problems and Moscow’s actions vis-à-vis its smaller neighbor.

Until now the emphasis has been on non-recognition of Abkhazia and “South Ossetia” – Georgia’s two regions that Russia unilaterally declared as independent. But the Lithuanian parliamentarians took it a step further and openly qualified Russia’s past and current actions against Georgia as acts of aggression such as “armed attack and invasion,” “bombardment, occupation and annexation,” “illegal mass conferral of citizenship and establishment of pseudo-state puppet entities in the occupied territory,” and gross and systematic violations of human rights, including ethnic cleansing, other crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

The resolution also stated that Moscow continues to be in gross violation of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia – mediated and signed by French President Nocolas Sarkozy then-rotating president of the European Union – and assessed “continuing presence of the Russian armed forces in the territory of Georgia and the activities of puppet entities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the illegal occupation of the respective parts of the territory of Georgia.”

The Lithuanian parliament’s resolution enumerated the “key principles” Russia has to follow to help restore “peace and security in the Russian-Georgian conflict zone. Among them are “withdrawal of the Russian armed forces from the occupied parts of the Georgian territory”... “return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in secure conditions... and “restoration of Georgia’s jurisdiction over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Tbilisi immediately hailed the resolution, and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze’s office issued a statement expressing Georgia’s gratitude to Lithuania “for such an active support of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity and open recognition of the occupation of Georgia.” Vashadze visited Vilnius shortly before the Lithuanian resolution was adopted. Chairman of Georgian Parliament David Bakradze, for his part, called Lithuania’s decision “a significant step” that can be followed by other countries in the future.

Prior to the Lithuanian move, on May 20, the European Parliament adopted a resolution “on the need for an E.U. strategy for the South Caucasus” in which it reiterated “its unconditional support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognised borders of Georgia, and call[ed] on Russia to respect them.” Although the European parliamentarians deplored “the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as contrary to the international law”, and called on Russia to honor “its commitment to withdraw its troops to the positions held before the outbreak of the August 2008 war”, they once again stopped short of calling Russia’s illegal presence in Georgian territories an act of occupation.

Lithuania is a member of NATO and the European Union and the resolution of its parliament has the potential to set a precedent for other countries in Europe and beyond, along with advancing Georgia’s interests within those organizations. But given the sensitivities characterizing the West’s relations with Russia, political analysts in Tbilisi believe that before any international organization openly call Russia’s illegal presence on Georgian soil occupation, it might be a better strategy for Tbilisi to encourage as many countries as possible to follow Lithuania’s suit by using bilateral diplomatic channels and public relations tools.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Secrets behind Saakashvili’s Spectacular Victory in Georgia’s Municipal Elections

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

On May 30, the Georgians went to the polls to elect their local municipalities, called sakrebolos, and for the first time, Tbilisi residents chose their mayor in a direct vote. Although a direct election of the capital city’s mayor deserves much attention, Georgians were occupied by more pressing questions while casting their ballots at the polling stations countrywide.

This past weekend represented the first round of elections since the Russian invasion in August 2008 and thus, they were a test both for Georgia’s democratic maturity and for the level of support President Mikheil Saakashvili’s modernization and westernization agenda enjoys among the Georgian public. It appears that this Caucasus nation of five million has made a vigorous step forward in both directions.

The results of the exit poll conducted by Edison Research and unveiled on national television shortly after the polling stations were closed at 8:00 P.M. on Sunday evening gave a decisive victory to Saakashvili’s ruling party, United National Movement (UNM), and its mayoral candidate Gigi Ugulava. With 59%, UNM is the clear leader followed by the Alliance for Georgia, a moderate non-parliamentary opposition amalgamation, with 17%, and the Christian Democratic Movement, a parliamentary opposition party, with 10%. Regarding the mayoral candidates, according to the same exit poll results, Ugulava won by 60% of the vote, while the Alliance for Georgia’s Irakli Alasania and the Christian Democrats’ Giorgi Chanturia gathered 17% and 10%, respectively.

A so-called parallel counting of the ballots conducted by New Generation-New Initiative (NGNI), a Tbilisi-based nongovernmental organization, showed slightly different—but essentially the same—results. In NGNI’s preliminary report, Ugulava has 56.2%, Alasania 16.28% and Chanturia 12.95%. As far as the political parties are concerned, NGNI gave 53.05% to UNM, 15.06% to the Alliance for Georgia and 14.95% to the Christian Democrats.

The Central Election Commission (CEC), Georgia’s electoral authority in charge of the election process, has yet to conclude the counting. According to the CEC, the voter turnout in the election amounted to 49%, which is an average level of participation in local elections in general. With 100% of the ballots counted in Tbilisi, Ugulava was able to capture 55.2%, followed by Alasania with 19.06% and Chanturia with 10.71%. By Georgian law, in order to become the mayor, 30% plus one vote is needed to avoid a runoff – a threshold that Ugulava has greatly exceeded on all accounts.

As far as the openly pro-Russian National Council—led by the former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, and its mayoral candidate, Zviad Dzidziguri—are concerned, it was a poor showing, as was widely anticipated by several public opinion polls conducted between March and May. According to the exit poll, the parallel counting and the interim results published by the Central Election Commission, the National Council and Dzidziguri have been supported by between 6 and 8% of the voters.

The international organizations that sent their observers to Tbilisi have hailed the Georgian ballot as fair and democratic. The head of the European Union Delegation to Georgia, Ambassador Per Eklund, told Georgia’s Imedi TV that the elections were “organized at the highly professional level,” and compared to the previous elections, “progress was evident.” He then added that the observers from his organization “found no violations.” Peter Semneby, the E.U’s special representative for the South Caucasus, for his part, said that “the elections were fair and transparent, meeting international standards.”

Claiming victory late on May 30, Ugulava expressed readiness to engage in “fruitful cooperation” with all opposition parties represented in the Tbilisi City Council. At least one mayoral candidate, Giorgi Chanturia from the Christian Democrats, has congratulated Ugulava on his victory.

The results of the Georgian vote show that President Saakashvili and his party enjoy broad public support despite, or rather due to, the radical reforms carried out in all spheres of Georgian life, be it privatization, liberalization of the economy or westernization of Georgia’s education system, public services, law enforcement and military. Saakashvili and his party’s strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty, freedom of choice and territorial integrity is a no less important reason.

As the election results show, the moderate opposition parties have performed much better than the anti-Western forces with close Moscow ties, such as the National Council, that either threatened a bloody “Bishkek scenario” or called for the adoption of the same pro-Kremlin policy as Ukraine did under its new president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Georgia will hold its parliamentary elections in 2012, and then presidential elections in 2013. The next two to three years will be decisive for the country’s leadership and general public in making their democratic gains irreversible and completing the westernization process. The Russian occupational forces in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions constitute an immense challenge for Georgia’s future as does the fierce Russian opposition to both Georgia’s internal transformation and Euro-Atlantic integration.