Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pressing Issues Remain as the Zone of Russian Occupation Slightly Shrinks

By David Iberi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Leader of Opposition Party Attacked in Kyrgyzstan

By Erica Marat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yanukovych’s New Best Friend – Hugo Chavez

By Taras Kuzio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

International Investigation Into Osh Violence Begins

By Erica Marat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Georgia Expands Its Outreach to the North Caucasus

By David Iberi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nationalist, Pro-Russian Parties Prevail in Kyrgyz Elections

By Erica Marat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russians Control Yanukovych

By Taras Kuzio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clinton Endorses Georgia’s Integration with the West

By David Iberi

On October 6-10, 2010, a high-level Georgian delegation headed by Prime Minister Nika Gilauri held important meetings in Washington, DC with top-level representatives of the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress. The central event of the five-day visit was the omnibus meeting under the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership that was co-chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The two sides also held separate closed-door sessions of the four earlier created working groups on the topics of: democracy; defense and security; economic, trade and energy issues; and people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

In her opening remarks, Clinton underscored the significance of “the vital friendship between [the two] countries,” which “stands on a foundation of shared values and common interests” and reiterated the United States’ longtime “commitment to enhancing Georgia’s future as a prosperous and secure member of the Western family of nations” and to strengthening “Georgian security and democracy.” Gilauri, for his part, underscored Georgia’s achievements in modernizing its institutions, economy, infrastructure and society, and streamlining its education system as well as energy and transit capabilities.

The world’s most powerful nation’s support for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as NATO membership is essential as the Caucasus country is struggling to end the Russian occupation of parts of its territory and with that, Moscow’s role in shaping its destiny. “We continue to call on Russia to end its occupation of Georgian territory,” the State Secretary said, “withdraw its forces, and abide by its other commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreements.” Incidentally, she was the first top-level U.S. official to publicly qualify in early summer 2010 Russia’s illegal presence on Georgian soil in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia as occupation and request their removal. Furthermore, Clinton expressed U.S. support for Georgia’s State Strategy on Occupied Territories, and expressed readiness “to undertake activities that reinforce these important objectives.”

Analysts and political commentators have paid close attention to what the U.S. State Secretary had to say regarding Georgia’s defense needs. “[W]e continue to support Georgia’s efforts on defense reform and improving defense capabilities, including NATO interoperability and Georgia’s contributions to ISAF operations in Afghanistan.” As seen by at least some analysts in Tbilisi, Clinton’s endorsement of Georgia’s right to self-defense might herald a reversal in U.S. policy ostensibly refraining from providing lethal weapons to Tbilisi other than those needed for Georgia’s expeditionary forces in Afghanistan.

Touching upon Georgia’s contributions to war efforts in Afghanistan, Clinton thanked Tbilisi for maintaining nearly 1,000 troops in Helmand Province that serve “shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Marines” as well as soldiers from other NATO member states.

Praising Tbilisi’s achievements in strengthening democratic institutions and eradicating corruption, Clinton once again called Georgia “a role model for many other countries seeking to replicate the success that Georgia has had.”

The sentiments voiced by Clinton and Gilauri during their remarks at the Charter meeting as well as the congenial atmosphere that permeated the U.S. and Georgian delegations’ speeches were duly reflected in the State Department’s Factsheet issued after the talks. They also show that the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership has gone a long way since the signing of the Charter “between [the] two democracies” in January 2009.

Georgia has been a crucial U.S. ally in the Caucasus in an immediate proximity to Central Asia’s hydrocarbon riches, Russia and Iran. Many in Georgia believe that a closer American engagement with Georgia would contribute to a more secure and peaceful Caucasus and an unimpeded flow of Caspian and Central Asian energy sources to European and world markets. Besides, Georgia’s significant achievements in building modern democratic institutions as well as the ongoing reforms in education and other spheres of public life need more support and endorsement, including through financial injections, so that Tbilisi can become more attractive for other actors in the region and beyond. There are several incentives that could help those goals to materialize from establishing an American university in Georgia to signing a Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and its Caucasus ally.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Secretary General’s Visit Rekindles Hopes in Tbilisi

By David Iberi

On October 1, 2010, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, paid a one-day visit to Georgia. He met with President Mikheil Saakashvili, Foreign Minister Gregory Vashadze, ministers of defense and Euro-Atlantic integration and opened a NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.

Rasmussen expressed a hope that the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon will reiterate the pledge the Alliance made more than two years ago that “Georgia will become a member of NATO,” cautiously adding though, “after it meets all necessary criteria.” Although he called on Moscow to fully implement the provisions of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement, Rasmussen was prompt to note that “it was his clear intention” to improve ties between NATO and Russia, leading to strategic partnership. “If we succeed in developing strategic partnership between NATO and Russia,” the secretary general said, “then it will also improve Georgia’s security situation.”

Despite a set of almost unbearable punitive measures that Moscow started to impose on Tbilisi ever since Georgia decided to join NATO after the 2003 Rose Revolution, and then the full-scale military invasion in 2008, President Saakashvili’s government shows no signs of succumbing to Russian pressure and abandoning its stubborn pro-Western course. Saakashvili characterized Rasmussen’s visit as “extremely important” and reiterated that the NATO membership remained “a top priority” for the Georgian government. “There is one thing Georgia can never compromise on – that’s the issue of freedom and freedom of choice,” the Georgian president said during his press conference with the NATO secretary general.

Almost simultaneously with Rasmussen’s visit, bad news came for Georgia from war-torn Afghanistan. A roadside bomb killed four Georgian soldiers from a 1,000-strong military contingent fighting alongside the Alliance forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. This heavy loss has underlined the magnitude of sacrifice Georgia makes as it advances along a tortuous path toward a Euro-Atlantic integration. Expressing his condolences, Rasmussen added, “I highly appreciate you dedication to our common security, which is a testimony of strong partnership between Georgia and NATO.”

On October 6, there will be yet another test for Georgia, as its delegation, headed by Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and First Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Bokeria, will hold several important meetings in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top-level U.S. officials within the framework of the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership – a document aimed at deepening “friendship and partnership” between the two countries.

Analysts in Tbilisi believe that the atmospherics at the meetings as well as the concrete plans that will be designed for the future will portray how much the United States is dedicated to a secure and democratic Georgia that is fully integrated in Western institutions. As the United States seeks to reset relations with Russia – and now NATO appears to have started just the same – amid fears of the Iranian nuclear program and other outstanding threats such as international terrorism, a level of dedication toward a small country in the European periphery will showcase if Washington is really serious about not sacrificing Georgia for improved relations with Moscow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kyrgyzstan’s Free Mass Media Intensifies Political Competition

By Erica Marat

Free and diverse mass media have been playing a key role in election campaigns over the past few weeks. Competing political parties have sought to run ads and announcements in major media outlets. By doing so, they have significantly changed their campaigning methods by trying to send the most effective message to stay on top of the competition for the October 10 parliamentary elections.

As a result, televised debates, print interviews and interactive online discussion have flooded national mass media outlets. This freedom of expression contributes to and increases uncertainty about the outcome of the elections, in which 29 parties will compete.

Although most political parties’ programs are similar and are clustered around one or several personalities, the Kyrgyz public can still learn more about competing forces. Interactive websites like allow voters to see a detailed comparison of what each political party promises. Kloop blog, on the other hand, details each political party’s electoral list.

In effect, freedom of speech is at its high in Kyrgyzstan. Never before were mass media outlets so free of government pressure and propaganda during the pre-elections period in Kyrgyzstan, let alone the Central Asian region. In such an environment political forces are indivertibly forced to formulate the most effective message. Political parties are also responsible for being different from competitors in order to be included in the news cycles in national media.

The message of avoiding falsification of election results and reducing corruption in the government has become central to most parties’ campaigns. Promoting economic development is another important issue in which political parties seek to be different. Finally, inter-ethnic reconciliation has been slowly, if not reluctantly, adopted by major political parties.

Competing political forces have avoided using black PR as an instrument against opponents. Thanks to growing popularity of social media, politicians are unable to exercise full control over their image. For this reason, most stay away from attacking others in order to avoid retaliation. Using media to attack opponents might end up being a counter-productive strategy, said one Kyrgyz politician to Jamestown. According to him, by criticizing others one might end up boosting the popularity of those politicians and losing one’s own credibility.

In the meantime, some major newspapers have run a disclaimer that their material is financed by political parties in order to separate campaign ads from original reports, a practice that has been rarely exercised in previous elections.

Furthermore, investigate journalism is becoming more popular as well. Newspapers like Delo Nomer are once again turning into the most reliable source of investigative reporting, helping the public understand corruption practices taking place among top officials.

On the flip side, with such an uncontrolled media environment, ethno-nationalists politicians and activists have also found an outlet. In the wake of the June ethnic violence, some Kyrgyz-language newspapers propagated nationalist views. Indeed, if those propagating ethno-nationalism manage to gain seats in parliament, it will be yet another exercise of democracy in Kyrgyzstan.