Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Spain does Moscow's bidding

In an unprecedented act of subservience by a democratic Western state to the authoritarian Moscow regime, the Spanish authorities have extradited Murat Gasayev to Russia. The BBC notes that

Spain's El Pais news website reports that Mr Gasayev's extradition took place without any anti-torture guarantees.

Russian prosecutors say the police investigation established that in June 2004 Mr Gasayev took part in an attack on the interior ministry building in Nazran, in the Russian republic of Ingushetia.

Lessons for the intifada

With the probable approach of a third intifada, in which Hamas-led forces once again, in defiance of international law, press Palestinian civilians into  service as human shields, using homes, schools and community centres as rocket launching pads, Michael Weiss, in a guest post at Harry's Place, asks whether the Hamas movement has seen the fundamental error that prevents it from achieving success, It needs, he suggests, to learn a lesson not from the Arab but from the Jewish past:

Palestinians lack a viable political program that places statehood, peaceful coexistence, and socioeconomic wellbeing at the fore, where these interests don’t require academic specialists to decipher them. Call it Fatah without the kleptocracy, or social democracy with teeth. In searching for such a program, or at least the philosophical underpinnings that precede it, Palestinians might take a lesson from an unlikely tutor: 19th-century Zionists. Was there ever any problem Diaspora Jews faced that they thought could not be solved by the temporary salves of charity and favorable international publicity? What the early Zionists came to realize was that without first addressing the integral political crisis of the Jewish nation, the cultural and humanitarian concerns would never be adequately resolved. For today’s Gazans, an ambulance driver who swears upon the Protocols of the Elders of Zion may serve a proximate physical need, but can he really serve a long-term national interest?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Stalin message

In the Telegraph, Anne Applebaum writes about the message that is sent to the rest of the world by the Putin government's elevation of Stalin to the status of hero. Excerpt:

Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

Desiring death

Comments by Hamas representative Fathi Hamad:

"For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life."

(Al-Aqsa TV [Hamas], Feb. 29, 2008).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chechens in officially sanctioned protest against Budanov's early release

Reuters reports that some 200 people have held an officially sanctioned protest in central Grozny against the early release of Col. Yuri Budanov, a Russian officer jailed for the murder of a young Chechen woman. The report says that many of the people taking part in the protest belonged to organizations loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov, including the "Ramzan" local public organization.

Sjón - 3 poems

[the translations are my own]

A glass of water

I held
the glass and
looked into it.
The human eye
that lay on the bottom
looked at me
accusingly.

And I
who only asked for water.

(from Madonna [1979])

the hungry man’s astronomy

insatiable moons
follow him home
both by day and by night

they hover above the rooftops
sneaking a quick snack

winter-summer-spring-and-fall

their favourite food
pizza with iceland moss
and ice cream

they are what they eat

(from myrkar fígúrur [1998])

lithograph

marie curie and edvard munch lived in paris at around the same time

munch was interested in new discoveries and went to visit
the curies’ research laboratory on rue lhomond in the 5me arrondissement

marie was alone there and showed the painter how she and pierre
were wrestling with radium, and then gave him afternoon tea

in the lithograph munch sent her as a thank you present
the woman scientist sits among the equipment with her hand under her cheek

the angle of vision is oblique and in the bottom right hand corner you can see
the back of pierre’s neck as he sits at his desk writing in a book

marie curie looks into the light and has the same hairstyle as
edvard munch’s sister in the painting “death in the sickroom”

the picture has been lost – to dream it foretells the dreamer’s death

(from söngur steinsafnarans [2007])

See also in this blog: Sjón - 2 poems

an icelandic economist in soho

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sjón - 2 poems

Two poems by the contemporary Icelandic poet Sjón (Sigurjón Sigurðsson), in my translation:

the stone collector’s song

I remember the thirst and the darkness
I remember one-way streets
I remember closed alleys
and you

you pointed to a cellar door
there used to be a pub there
which we visited
a lot

here it is you said comfortingly
your stone collection
it isn’t
lost

on the shelves behind the bar
waits the iceland spar
all my
stones

sulphur – pyrite – opal
and jasper – dear friends!
none of you have I
forgotten

and up there on the ceiling hang
the obsidian sacks
heavy with
anxiety

*

gallstones
that is the poem I sing
as I squat under house-walls
when the winter denies me shelter

family life

after doing the washing-up the man stumbles
across a reindeer
that is lying under the coffee table
ruminating

it notices him
and rears up in fright

starts running out of the parlour
along the passage
where it jumps
over a pair of sandals
and a woman’s shoe.

he chases it into the bedroom

the beast creeps
under
the double bed

he gets down on all fours
watches it
join the herd

it grunts
elegantly

and the man disappears

(from söngur steinasafnarans [2007])

See also in this blog: an icelandic economist in soho

Amundsen: "secret alliance" between FSB and Islamist armed groups

From a recent (Dec. 4) Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty  interview with Norwegian public figure and human rights activist Ivar Amundsen, on the current situation in Chechnya and the North Caucasus:

Natalya Golitsyna: Do you share Akhmed Zakaev’s opinion voiced recently at the ‘Caucasus seminar’ in London that ‘Russia has a vested interest in the instability in the Caucasus’?

Ivar Amundsen: Yes, I do. I think that this constitutes part of its policy in the Caucasus. Zakaev has also mentioned a very important point by saying that today Russia is losing its grip on Chechnya. This might sound paradoxical because Russia claims to have won the guerilla war in Chechnya. During the first Chechen campaign in 1994-1996 which claimed the lives of over one hundred people the Russian population of Chechnya numbered around three hundred and fifty thousand people. At the time ethnic Russians constituted a majority in Grozny. Since the second war which started in 1999 and which is still ongoing judging by the state of emergency still in force in Chechnya, the Russian population of Chechnya has gone down from about three hundred and fifty thousand to seven-eight thousand people. In other words, almost 98% of Chechnya’s civilian population have left the republic and the control over the situation in Chechnya is maintained by the army alone. This is what Zakaev meant when he spoke about Russia’s losing its grip on Chechnya. Today Ramzan Kadyrov is getting bolder and bolder in his aspirations to independence. There is another striking fact. There is an odd and secret alliance (a conspiracy even) between the FSB and the armed groups of Islamic fundamentalists hiding in the Chechen forests. Their leader Doku Umarov has proclaimed the setting of a new Islamic state – an independent Caucasus Emirate. According to experts, this move which could destabilize the situation in the Caucasus is being overseen by the FSB – in order to hamper as much as possible any solution to the Caucasus dilemma. 

Via chechnya-sl

Moscow admits Georgia death toll 162, not 2,100

In another - possibly surprising - volte face the Russian government has admitted that the results of an official investigation show that 162 civilians were killed in the fighting during the August war, and not 2,100, as it has consistently claimed in the past, Bloomberg reports.

See also in this blog: Moscow admits it prepared for August war

Support for Israel

At Harry's Place, Gene takes issue with the Telegraph's defence correspondent Sean Raiment for asserting that Israel is "addicted to violence", when its sole aim is to defend the lives of its citizens against indiscriminate attack:

–If the UK had been subjected to days of constant rocket fire by, say, the Irish army, making ordinary life impossible in large parts of the country; if the British government had repeatedly warned of the consequences if it continued; and if it the British military had finally responded by attacking Irish military installations, would you accuse the UK of being “addicted to violence”?

–Do you really believe that all, or even most, of those killed in the targeted Israeli attacks are civilians? I don’t think even Hamas is claiming that. Of course it doesn’t trouble Hamas to locate its installations in highly-populated areas. And if Israel really wanted to “slaughter” civilians, I can assure you– the death toll would be many times higher.

–Finally there’s that lovely word again: disproportionate. Would you be satisfied if Israel responded by launching a barrage of more-or-less random rocket and mortar fire at neighborhoods in Gaza. That, after all, would be a “proportionate” response.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Americans in the gulags

Reviewing a new book by Tim Tzouliadis in the TLS, Adam Hochschild discusses the dark and little-known fate of those American citizens, mostly of a left-wing persuasion, who in the 1930s tried to escape the Great Depression by emigrating to the Soviet Union. Excerpt:

Even though the conservative Ambassador of tiny Austria was able to save the lives of more than twenty Austrian left-wingers by sheltering them in his basement, US officials, contemptuous of the Americans who had come to Russia out of naive idealism, did virtually nothing. Yet they could have saved many lives if they had tried, for Stalin was shrewd enough to want to please a valued foreign trading partner. Again and again, the diplomats turned aside those begging for help, generally with the excuse that there was no proof that the prisoner involved was a US citizen. This was literally often true, for when Americans arrived to work in the Soviet Union, the Russians usually confiscated their passports – the better to exert control, and also to acquire a stash of US passports they could later doctor and use to send Soviet spies abroad.

Moscow admits it prepared for August war

On December 24, Russia''s President Dmitry Medvedev gave a year's end televised interview in which, among other things, he changed the Kremlin's standard account of the beginning of the recent war with Georgia, the version which has been current ever since the events of August. Whereas before the conflict was portrayed by Moscow as a totally unprovoked and unforeseen attack, Medvedev now for the first time admitted that Russian forces had been preparing for the war in advance. Speaking in the traditional language of Moscow state propaganda, Medvedev said:

“We of course were assuming that not everything was OK with our neighbor’s [referring to Georgia] brains – though we did not expect it was to such degree,” Medvedev said in an interview with Russia’s three main television stations.

“Taking into consideration that they [Georgians] were preparing for that [military actions] – I has once spoken about it – at some point I felt, that our Georgian counterpart [referring to President Saakashvili] simply stopped communicating with the Russian Federation. Before that he was requesting: let’s meet, discuss, have negotiations in Sochi; but then he just walked away from communication. At that point I started to suspect that he had decided to carry out forceful action,” Medvedev said in the interview.

“So, of course, we were preparing for that,” he continued. “And I think that as a result of those preparatory measures, which were carried out [by Russia], losses of the operation were minimal. The Russian army has destroyed the Georgian military infrastructure. At the same time [the Russian army] avoided actions, which could have been of inhuman nature.”   

Not surprisingly, Georgian government representatives were quick to point out that this amounted to a remarkable concession on Moscow's part. The Georgian interior minister called it a "Christmas present", while the foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, described it as a "plea of guilty":

“Of course Russia was preparing and then carried out aggression against Georgia,” Vano Merabishvili told journalists on December 25. “It is difficult to hide this information. After foreign journalists, including through our assistance, disclosed disinformation disseminated by some so called foreign experts and foreign observers and after the entire world has seen that Russia was getting ready [for aggression against Georgia], Russia simply had to admit it and this is yet another fact that Georgia has become a victim of a pre-planned aggression.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

UN-SANTA

In Forbes, Claudia Rosett has a dream of Christmas Yet To Come:

Summoning all 192 member states to a resort complex in the South Seas, the U.N. convened its now-famous conference on "Santa Modalities." There, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77-plus-China, Cuba's envoy argued that Santa was an imperialist relic of the colonial order.

Pakistan's delegate, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged that the U.N. take immediate measures to end Santa's selectively religious and ''xenophobic'' overtones. Emissaries of Zimbabwe, Iran and Cameroon moved for emergency action. The secretary-general himself declared a Santa crisis and wrote a series of impassioned op-eds, explaining that the cause of world peace and progress required a U.N.-modified Multilateral Santa.

Read it all. (via Leopoldo)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Budanov parole request upheld

Rian.ru has the story. So does the BBC, but at present under the misleading headline "Chechen girl strangler 'released'" (should probably be "Strangler of Chechen girl 'released'').

Season's greetings

IMGP1978

Season's greetings from Jussi, David and A Step At A Time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Berlin Philharmonic offers virtual concerts

Starting from today, it's possible to hear the concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic in its Digital Concert Hall, either as a live stream or as video-on-demand. The first live concert is on January 6, with a programme of works by Dvorak and Brahms conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Tickets can be bought for the live events: for the opening concert the price is 5.5 euros, and for subsequent live events it will be 9.90 euros.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A European lesson to be learned

At Maidan, Halya Coynash examines the historical background of antisemitism in Ukraine, and asks some difficult questions:

In western countries the stereotype of French brave opponents of Nazism is widespread, while Poles and Ukrainians are often accused of collaboration and anti-Semitism. There are historical reasons, as well as fairly cynical manipulation. The unequivocal fact gets forgotten that it was the French authorities, and not just isolated individuals, that were implicated in the Holocaust. Nor do people take into account the fact that by helping Jews a Pole or Ukrainian risked not just his own life, but his family’s also. Against the background of vague and extremely unfair accusations levelled at a whole nation, or significant part of it, I fear it is not realistic to expect recognition of any kind of collective responsibility for the Holocaust. Poles found it in them to apologise for a specific crime, yet is it reasonable to expect them to feel collective guilt for the crimes of individuals when Poles themselves suffered so terribly? 

Advocating a strictly pragmatic and open approach to the process of uncovering the truth in this "black hole" of European complicity and responsibility, Coynash notes an additional problem which shows itself
in the unrelenting barrage of propaganda and lies with an unmistakably Soviet odour issuing mainly from Russian-language media outlets, though very often repeated by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the reasons that these tactics are effective highlights another fundamental problem. New information about the War is constantly being dug up by European researchers however this largely adds detail to a basically clear and universally recognized picture. This is not the case in Ukraine where basic information about WWII continues to be highly coloured by the position of those presenting it. There is no point in shouting that we are being maligned if we are not prepared to be remorselessly objective ourselves. Stereotypes have a number of apparent advantages: they’re easy to remember, require little painful mental effort and usually save time. Very often it’s a cut and paste job – the same words year in, year out. Problems arise, at least for those who have nothing against hearing the truth, when reality changes and the words apparently describing it don’t.

The television warrior

Prague Watchdog writes about the international satellite channel soon to be operated by the Chechen Broadcasting Company.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

EJM

On Wednesday a new museum will open in the Estonian capital,Tallinn, Postimees reports. Eesti Juudi Muuseum is devoted to the history of Estonia's Jewish minority, which dates back to the early 19th century. The museum has four sections -- a permanent exhibition, an archive, a reading room and a virtual branch on the Internet at the URL http://eja.pri.ee.

A special feature of the museum will be a presentation of the story of the renaissance of Jewish community and religious life - which was repressed during the Soviet era - from 1988 to the present day. There are exhibits connected with the activity of youth and student organizations, antisemitism, the struggle for exit visas to leave for Israel in the years from 1967 to 1988, and the contribution made by Estonian Jews in the fields of education, science, art, sport and business in Estonia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Russian troops remain in Perevi

U.S. Senator John Kerry, speaking in Tbilisi today:

“My judgment is that Georgia as a sovereign country needs to be upheld and respected. And the agreement that the Russians have signed up to needs to be upheld.

I think we need to get the focus back from discussions of the August events and how they may unfolded to the realities of what is happening on the ground today and what we need to do to go forward in the interests of protecting the [human] rights and finding an appropriate accommodation that respects the law and the sovereignty.”

Also via Civil.Ge:

The Georgian Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the Russian forces deployed a 500-strong unit in Perevi after retaking the village.

It said that the Russian troops dismantled its checkpoint in Perevi and moved back from the village early on December 12, but returned back eight hours later.

“At 5pm [local time on December 12] one platoon of the Russian occupying forces and one armored vehicle returned back into the village, which started to retake positions there,” the Georgian Interior Ministry said. “Starting from today morning [on December 13] Russian occupying forces were increasing number of its troops and military hardware in the village. At about 9am local time, the Russian occupiers deployed in the village several dozen of paratroopers with six combat helicopters. A mountain rifle battalion was also deployed.”

“The occupiers have threatened to open fire and demanded from the Georgian police to leave the area,” it continued. “In order to defuse tensions, the Georgian law enforcement officers have left Perevi, where over 500 Russian servicemen are currently deployed. OSCE observers, as well as the French, Romanian and Lithuanian ambassadors in Georgia have witnessed this new case of occupation of the village.”

“The Georgian Interior Ministry assesses this fact as a pre-planned provocation, which aims at renewal of the military confrontation,” the statement reads.

On December 12, after the Russian troops pulled back from the village, the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) welcomed the move and head of the mission, Hansjörg Haber, said: “The Russian forces in South Ossetia have for a long time refused to dismantle this checkpoint, in spite of clear evidence that it was situated to the west of the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia. But the insistence of the EU Presidency and of the EUMM on the ground has borne fruit.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Halonen "not invited" to Oslo

The Finnish daily Ilta-Sanomat reports that Finland's President Tarja Halonen did not receive an invitation from ex-President Martti Ahtisaari to celebrate his award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10.  President Halonen's press secretary is quoted as saying that if the president had received an invitation, she would probably have attended the ceremony.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Through the looking-glass

In Standpoint, Jonathan Foreman, son of the exiled American film-maker Carl Foreman, discusses deep-seated and long-lasting Anglo-American misunderstandings, but concludes that even if the new U.S. President may not show much in the way of Anglophile inclinations, there is none the less hope for a relationship that is mainly based in the paradoxes of a creative kind of wishful thinking:

In general, both Britons and Americans expect the other to be more like them. This can deepen the shock when they encounter some cultural differences they might not even be aware of if they were visiting a European country whose language they didn't speak fluently. This doesn't in any way diminish all the many profound things our two nations have in common. It's like the differences people encounter within their own family. On the other hand nobody appreciates America like a Briton who loves it, and no one loves Britain more than Anglophile Americans. Thank goodness, there are plenty of both.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saakashvili: Russia's real agenda

At CIF, Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili wonders why Russia refuses to take part in an international probe into the South Ossetia conflict, and argues:

Responding firmly to the Putin-Medvedev government implies neither the isolation nor the abandonment of Russia; it can be achieved in tandem with continuing engagement of, and trade with, Russia. But it does require holding Russia to account. Moscow must honour its sovereign commitments and fully withdraw its troops to pre-August positions. It must allow unrestricted EU monitoring, and accede to the international consensus that these territories are Georgian. Such steps are not bellicose; they are simply the necessary course to contain an imperial regime.

We all hope that Russia soon decides to join the international community as a full, cooperative partner. This would be the greatest contribution to Georgia's stability. In the interim, we should make sure that we do not sacrifice democracies like Georgia that are trying to make this critical part of the world more stable, secure and free.   

The majority of the comments by (mostly) pro-Putin Russian posters speak for themselves.

Role of KKE in Greece events

It's perhaps worth noting that yesterday's demonstration on Omonia Square in central Athens was called by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), and not by the "anarchists" referred to by much of the world's press. At least one expat commentator interviewed on the BBC today alluded to the possibility that a left wing coup is being prepared in Greece.

Chechnya: caught in the crossfire

Prague Watchdog's weekly review (in my tr.), compiled by Andrei Babitsky, looks at the plight of civilians in Chechnya today, caught in the ongoing conflict between Islamist mujahedeen and the Moscow-backed, hostage-taking, ex-guerrilla forces of Ramzan Kadyrov. Yet in spite of everything, life in the republic goes on.

Breaking the chains - Generacion Y

Via Harry's Place: At Generacion Y, Yoani Sanchez describes a visit to the offices of the Cuban interior ministry for questioning about an upcoming meeting of Cuban bloggers. She encapsulates the message she was given by interior ministry officials like this:

We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your rapprochement and contacts with counter-revolutionary elements. This totally disqualifies you for dialog with Cuban authorities.

The activities planned for the coming days cannot be carried out.

We, for our part, will take all measures, make the relevant denunciations and take the necessary actions. This activity, in this moment in the life of the Nation, recuperating from two hurricanes, will not be allowed.

Generacion Y is remarkable for candidly reflecting daily life in Raul Castro's Cuba - a land that in some respects is uncertainly turning to the West, but where the government is still locked in most of the totalitarian reflexes of the past, and where ordinary people are still held hostage in conditions of state-imposed poverty and information control. The blog - published both in English and in Spanish - provides a much-needed antidote to the false revolutionary romanticism of Cuban government supporters like the American actor Sean Penn. For a critical dissection of the attitudes and sentiments of the latter, see this post by Marc Cooper.

Friday, December 05, 2008

St Petersburg Memorial office raided by police

HRW reports that the office of the Memorial Research and Information Center in St. Petersburg was raided by masked men armed with batons on the morning of December 4. The raiders cut the phone lines and barred the three staff members present from leaving the office.

The men, who had a warrant signed by the Prosecutor's Office, included police, special forces and members of the investigative committee of the Prosecutor's Office. They conducted a search of the office that lasted more than seven hours and seized the organization's computer hard drives and other materials, including 20 years of archives on Soviet repression and gulags.

Basic question

MEP Tunne Kelam, on the dangers of doing "business as usual" with Russia:

There remains a basic question to be answered: What is the reason to assume that both strategic partners are sharing the same goals, not to speak of the same values?

In his memoirs, former external relations commissioner Chris Patten speaks of a fundamental difference – while Europe wants stable, well-off neighbours, Russia does not.

Mr Patten writes: "Russia wants weak neighbours and a sphere of influence inhabited by dependent supplicants". Since August 2008, the latter approach is being demonstrated not just by declarations and diplomacy but by military actions.

The effect of the EU's feebleness in handling Russia is as bad for Russia as it is for us.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hudson scholar faces trial in Russia for illegal "extremist" writings

In an echo of the Soviet era, Andrei Piontkovsky, a Hudson Institute Visiting Fellow, has been summoned back [from Washington, D.C.] to his native Russia, accused of violating a law that that has widely expanded the scope of illegal "extremist activities." So-called extremist acts now include "abasement of national dignity" and "slander of a public official."

http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=5896&pubType=HI_PressReleases

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

NATO-Georgia Commission statement

http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20065

an icelandic economist in soho

By Sjón

(my tr.)

orange tents
sprout up
around the pub

and he wonders
if the flies that seek  his beer
are real

*

the world’s economy is governed by a giant baby
that extends between the oceans

when it cries the shares fall one after the other

like snow buntings
over snow
in a snowy winter
like snow buntings
over a snowy winter
on snow
like snow
over snow buntings
in a snowy winter
like snow
over a snowy winter
on snow buntings
like a snowy winter
over snow buntings
on snow
like a snowy winter
over snow
on snow buntings

and the change in his pockets grows lighter

*

the gust of wind
that crosses the square
and is meant for him alone

it opens the tent flaps
so that the listening device
comes into view

and he wonders
if the girl at the cash desk
isn’t  a bit mechanical in her movements

Antisemitism in Norway and the Nordic countries

At Harry's Place, guest blogger Ben Cohen examines

the claim, documented by the scholar Manfred Gerstenfeld and others, that antisemitism, frequently blended with anti-Zionist tropes, is alarmingly prominent in Norway and the other Nordic countries.

Soviet origin of modern conflicts

In NRO, former New York Times correspondent and Foundation for Defense of Democracies president Clifford D. May writes about the history of the Taliban, noting that

Afghanistan has been in a state of turmoil for almost 30 years, since the Soviet invasion of 1980. “People here are used to violence, Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, says. “But they also have been traumatized by violence.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Estonia in the world

At Marko Mihkelson's blog, the English text of his recent Baltic Times interview on the subject of Russia and the EU. Excerpt:

Estonia has often been criti­cized for its inadequate integra­tion of Russian speaking resi­dents into greater society, how do you respond to these claims?

I think that the Estonian inte­gration process has been more or less successful. You have to take into account the different factors which have influenced both the pretext and outcome of this very difficult process. This includes the heritage of Soviet Union but also the recent identity building in Putin's Russia. Both of them are not very much helping to create greater society But we are passionate.

Integration does not only mean how many non-citizens are left in the country By the way, this number has lessened in Estonia by four-fold since 1991. More important than this is the elementary loyalty to the coun­try you live in. This is our main aim today, to promote positive thinking among Russians in Estonia.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Rice to India

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to travel to India on Wednesday, Reuters reports, possibly cutting short her attendance at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels today.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

War Commission: Saakashvili testimony

Via Civil.Ge (November 28):

    • MP Paata Davitaia, the commission chairman told the President in the beginning of the hearings: Mr. President you know that the Russian aggression did not start in August, it started long before that; why Georgia failed to avert the conflict?
    • Saakashvili responded: Before answering to your questions, I want to say that setting up of this commission was a historic event;
    • The aggression is ongoing… I am telling this to those foreigners as well who want to forget what has happened here; the Russian troops are still standing about 30 km away from Tbilisi;
    • Democracy was our response to this aggression; the government was instructed to cooperate with the commission; you have listened to many officials… you have listened to many lies and many truths;
    • The major question asked both within and outside Georgia is whether Tbilisi carried out military actions in early August with an aim to regain control over Tskhinvali and other areas which were not under our control; you know that this question is in the center of debates; Russia is spending huge amount of money for information campaign to discredit Georgia…; this campaign has achieved certain results;
    • In fact this question is an attempt to distract attention from major issues:
    • I want to tell in respect of this question – did we carried out military actions in the begiing of August with an aim to regain control over Tskhinvali and those areas which were not under our control in South Ossetia? – I was saying it openly previously and I state it now, that yes we decided to carry out military actions in the Tskhinvali region; it was a difficult decision, which would have been taken by any responsible democratic government to protect the security of its citizens;
    • This decision was unavoidable for two reasons; we have learnt that thousands of Russian soldiers and military hardware was on the border and we have incontrovertible evidence that these troops started moving inside Georgia;
    • The Georgian-controlled villages were under heavy shelling;
    • In these conditions, question should not be whether Georgia carried out military operation; there is no need to ask this question, because yes we did that;
    • The question is the government of which country would have acted otherwise in those conditions;
    • This is a territory of sovereign Georgia;
    • It is impossible to intrude into own territory; we fought for the protection of our country;
    • Key is the following questions: was it Georgia or Russia, which carried out military operation on a sovereign country’s territory? Was it Georgia or Russia which pulled out from the conventional arms treaty? Which country crossed the border with hundreds of tanks? Which country distributed illegally passports [in breakaway regions]? Which country refused to accept the German Foreign Minister’s peace initiatives? Who was claiming that 2,000 civilians were killed in Tskhinvali, the allegation, which was denied even by the Russian authorities later? Which country refused to allow EU monitors in the conflict areas?
    • These are real questions, which need to be answered;
    • In February, 2008 my meeting with Putin was difficult, because Putin told us openly: we will have bilateral ties with Georgia, we may think about allowing you to export your wines to Russia, but as far as Abkhazia and South Ossetia are concerned, we will respond in this regard to the west and to NATO and our response in this regard will be a reaction to Kosovo; It was very cynical statement by Putin; when we came out from that meeting, I asked Davit Bakradze [now the Parliamentary Chairman], who also attended that meeting, what was his impression; Bakradze responded to me: Putin seems to be threatening with war; that was my impression as well;
    • Then I met with Medvedev and he told us that he wanted to improve relations between the two countries; I was somewhat optimistic after that meeting; we then sent him a letter with new proposals [over Abkhaz conflict resolution]; but their response on this letter was negative;
    • I tried to call President Medvedev on August 6, but they refused to arrange the conversation;
    • The commission chairman then asked if he though that his “aggressive rhetoric” against Russia contributed to Moscow’s unwillingness to normalize ties with Tbilisi; the chairman asked Saakashvili about his “Liliputin” remarks -  a mocking reference to Putin's diminutive height. 
    • Saakashvili responded: Have you ever personally heard from me saying Liliputin? I have never, neither privately nor publicly said that; This is a myth promoted by those people who do not want to see real problems in Russian-Georgian relations;
    • We were telling our western partners: if there is massive targeting of our civilians, that would have been a red line for us; we were requesting them: please talk with Russia; we were telling everyone that situation was very tense; unfortunately this international involvement was too late; turning a blind eye by some of our partners was a bad signal for some people in the Kremlin and that was also one of the factors of what has happened in August;
    • Everything that was going on before August did not become a source of an appropriate [international] reaction, unfortunately;
    • Our goal was to avert a large-scale confrontation – that was our immediate goal; a long-term goal was restoration of our territorial integrity, including under the possible well-disposed neutrality;
    • Our reaction could have really been late and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told you about it yesterday; but we were double-checking those information which were coming from various sources [about the Russian military convoys entering into Georgia];
    • Then he was asked by a commission member from the Christian-Democratic Party: Mr. President on the one hand you and other officials, that testified before the commission previously, are saying that situation was getting worse, but on the other hand all the officials are saying that they did not expected Russia’s full-scale military intervention;
    • Saakashvili responded: I want to be self-critical about it, because we did not fully believe that such thing was possible; even western leaders did not believe that such thing could have happened;
    • But these provocations were reoccurring for years already; usually fire was opened in our direction, we were then returning fire and the situation was then getting calmer – that was usual scenario happing year after year; so when this provocation started in August we though it could have calmed down after certain period of time;
    • I canceled my planned visit to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games [in the evening of August 7], where all world leaders were gathered; I wanted to go there to meet them;
    • Timing chosen by Russia for the aggression was perfect; it is already snowing in the Caucasian mountings in the late September; August is a perfect time for conducting air strikes; weather was perfect for warfare in August; Russia has always staging its provocations in August; by the way Russia started war in Chechnya in August;
    • Most of the world leaders are on a holiday in August and U.S. President Bush was in Beijing this August; so it was a perfect time for huge power for its dark deeds; but at the same time we had this type of situation in previous years as well;
    • The decision to do something with Georgia, I think was taken by Moscow sometime in 2001 and the decision to carry out military operation against Georgia, I think, was taken by Moscow after Kosovo and ahead of the NATO Bucharest Summit;
    • Saakashvili was asked why Georgia did not formally scrapped the Russian peacekeeping operation; the President responded that such a move would have been perceived by the western partners as a provocative act by Georgia; we have been discussing this issue with our western partners, raising the issue for replacement of the Russian peacekeepers with international forces; there was some progress in this regard and one of the factors of launch of military actions by Russia could have been that progress as well;
    • I think it was a correct tacit that we were following fully our commitments undertaken under the agreements [in frames of decade old peacekeeping and negotiating formats];
    • Saakashvili was asked with whom the Georgian authorities consulted internationally before taking decision to launch military operation;
    • Saakashvili responded: Decision was taken by us on our own and we were not taking any permission from anyone;
    • The first person with whom I tried to contact was President Medvedev; the second person we tried to contact was the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special envoy Yuri Popov [who was in Georgia at that time]; but they [Russians] refused to have contacts with us;
    • In the evening on August 7 I called the Polish and Lithuanian Presidents, as well as NATO Secretary General; as far as I know Foreign Minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, was in touch with the officials from the U.S. Department of State;
    • It took time for our partners to figure out what was going on; but time was very precious for us;
    • On August 8 after a phone conversation between Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Lavrov, I was told by the U.S. side that the Russians had said their goal was ‘to totally destroy Georgia’;
    • But eventually active involvement of the international community diminished Russia’s room for maneuvering;
    • We are facing a propaganda machine of the authoritarian country [referring to Russia]; they have tradition of Soviet-old propaganda machine; even during the Holodomor [1930s Great Famine in Ukraine] that machine was working; even the New York Times at that time was saying that it was not a hunger at all [the New York Times published in early November an article questing the Georgian version of events on the war’s start];
    • Georgians carried out a late-night attack on sleeping town of Tskhinvali and Russians intervened to save South Ossetians from these barbarous Georgians – this is a typical [Nazi propaganda minister Joseph] Goebbels’ propaganda style;
    • Starting from 2004 Tskhinvali was no longer an ordinary town; Russia decided at that time to turn Tskhinvali into its military base; Russians distributed firearms among almost all the male population of the town;
    • Tskhinvali was well-protected; civilians were evacuated from the town at that time and it was in fact a military base; almost entire civilian population was evacuated in early days of August; 
    • I ordered the chief of army to stop Russian military convoy; to suppress the firing positions and to protect civilians while implementing these goals;
    • Our goal was not to capture Tskhinvali; our goal was to save people in Tskhinvali and in the Georgian-controlled villages;
    • It is not right to divide Tskhinvali from other settlements in the region; concentration of civilians was much higher in the [Georgian-controlled] villages, than in Tskhinvali; it was one entire war theater; our army was instructed to protect civilians;
    • It was not possible to evacuate civilians from the Georgian enclaves without suppressing firing positions in and around Tskhinvali;
    • Number of victims would have been much higher if not our army; we would have new Srebrenica;
    • The statement [about launch of restoring constitutional order] by [MoD senior official] Mamuka Kurashvili was total foolishness; he was not authorized to make that statement; Kurashvili apparently aimed at showing off himself by making that statement; this term ‘restoration of constitutional order’ is a Russian-style expression, which was used in Chechnya; we are not using that type of expressions; 
    • We are committed to resolve conflicts peacefully; but as the August events showed we should be ready to fight for our country if it is needed;
    • The commission chairman told President Saakashvili: the Russian news agencies are already reporting that as if during your ongoing testimony you have admitted that Georgia started the war;
    • Saakashvili responded: We have admitted that we did not surrender to the enemy and we have admitted that we resisted the enemy; the Georgian authorities have decided to carry out military operation to resist the Russia’s full-scale attack on the Georgian population; we took that decision and this decision – although it was very difficult – was the one, which would have been taken by any democratically elected government to protect its population;
    • Then President Saakashvili requested the commission members to take a ten-minute break;
    • After the session resumed, Saakashvili continued: the Georgian army was instructed not to engage with the Russian peacekeepers; but it was almost impossible to distinguish between peacekeepers and militias, because they were acting as one;
    • I confirm that in those days the Russian peacekeepers’ positions were used to launch attacks [against the Georgian villages]; we have warned for many times the Russian peacekeepers against it; 
    • In general I am satisfied with the Georgian army; our army fought heroically and stopped the advance of the Russian army before the international community actively intervened;
    • 95% of combat capable army of the Russia Federation was fighting against Georgia;
    • You know there are some allegations that Georgia started and then Russia reacted… but months are needed to mobilize and to deploy such number of troops [he was suggesting that Russia was in advance prepared for the war and it was not a reaction to the Georgian moves];
    • Georgia is aspiring towards the alliances, where problems are resolved peacefully;
    • But of course I am not satisfied with everything [in the army and in the reserve troops]; you know that the staff of the Georgian armed forces has been reshuffled; and Zaza Gogava [former chief of army staff and now chief of border police] himself was not satisfied with everything;
    • He then said that Georgia was implementing infrastructure rehabilitation projects in the Tbilisi-controlled areas of South Ossetia and in upper Kodori Gorge; he said: Why would we have carried out those works if we were planning the war?
    • Senior Russian officials were visiting Yerevan during the war in Georgia trying to convince Armenia to help them in stirring up tensions in Samtskhe-Javakheti region [populated by a large group of ethnic Armenian population]; but Russians have failed to do that;
    • Saakashvili was then asked to specify his earlier remarks at the hearings, when he said that Georgia could have acted more promptly, before August 7; Saakashvili responded: From the military point of view we could have acted more promptly and before [late August 7], but even today it is difficult for us to confirm to the international community that we were acting in response to the Russian aggression and you can imagine how Russia would have justified its aggression if we acted preemptively.
    • When asked whether he though Georgia was defeated or not, Saakashvili responded: Defeat and victory are assessed after the end of a battle – Georgia’s struggle is not yet over, our struggle continues; we have saved the most important thing – the statehood; overthrow of the Georgian government, total control of the entire Georgian terriotry, pipelines and destruction of the Georgian army were Russia’s goals and these goals have not been accomplished; but it will be impossible to talk about a serious success unless Georgia’s territories remain under occupation;
    • When asked whether the August war delayed or not restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, Saakashvili responded: This issue is not as simple; if previously Russia was acting as a mediator, today everyone recognizes that Russians are occupiers and whatever inconvenient this truth might be for the world, that is the fact. This is a new reality for Georgia; if the Georgian statehood is survived we will restore our territorial integrity; that is why on the one hand it [restoration of the Georgian territorial integrity] became more complicated, but on the other hand it became easier, because everything became clearer and obvious now;
    • The Sarkozy agreement was not ideal;
    • I have signed ceasefire agreement, which envisages pulling back troops back to the lines they held prior to August 7; this is the first stage and the next stage is to totally get rid of them [the Russian troops] from here;
    • He was asked about the statement made by Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, about Saakashvili allegedly saying that he would have relocated the capital of Georgia from Tbilisi to Sokhumi in August, 2008. While answering this question, Saakashvili said, that Tbilisi had been offering Abkhazia to distribute powers and an issue of announcing Sokhumi “as a federal center” could have been an issue for negotiations. He also said that it was not an issue “for open discussions.”
    • When asked why Erosi Kitsmarishvili was appointed as Georgia’s ambassador to Russia, Saakashvili responded: We all make mistakes; he was appointed under the recommendation of the Foreign Ministry;
    • When a commission member MP Levan Vepkhvadze of the Christian-Democratic Party asked Saakashvili about Kitsmarishvili’s remarks that during the first meeting between the Georgian President and then Russian President Putin in 2004, Putin said that Russia was ready to start discussions over South Ossetia, but not about Abkhazia, Saakashvili responded: You quote that person [Kitsmarishvili] as if he is a classic literature author; I do not know where that person has read about it, maybe in Alia or Asaval-Dasavali [the Georgian tabloid newspapers];
    • Responding to Kitsmarishvili's other allegation that some of the senior Georgian officials were wrongly perceived that U.S. “gave a green light” to Tbilisi to launch the military operation, Saakashvili said: We did not ask for a green light from anyone. We were telling our friends that Russia was conducting these provocations, which were completely out of any sort of framework;
    • In June I have sent a letter to Medvedev telling that we were ready to consider Russia's economic interests here and to legalize Russisan peacekeepers in Abkhazia, but beyond the Kodori river [outside the Gali and Ochamchire districts], we were offering setting up of a joint administration and free economic zones in [Gali and Ochamchire]; it was not at all Abkhazia's carve-up deal; this proposal would have delayed the final resolution of the conflict, but it would helped us to return part of our displaced person [in Gali and Ochamchire districts]; but even this proposal was rejected by Russia; I have not made that letter public at that time, because we were in the process of negotiations; but the information about that letter was leaked in the Russian press and I was very much criticized here in Georgia about offering such a proposal to Russia;
    • We are in talks with Russia in frames of the Geneva process; but do not ask me to agree on Russia having one embassy in Tbilisi [Russia and Georgia cut diplomatic ties after the war] and at the same time embassies in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi [Russia has recently appointed its ambassadors in Abkhazia and South Ossetia];
    • We should continue our Euro-Atlantic integration;
    • When asked if he thought whether the war hindered Georgia’s NATO integration, Saakashvili responded: one of the strategic goals of Russia’s aggression was to undermine Georgia’s NATO integration; but all the members of NATO, even the most skeptical members, including Germany, are saying that Georgia will become NATO member despite the war;
    • He also said on the matter that the most important was to have a membership mechanisms and it was not important whether it would be a Membership Action Plan or something else
    • With the deployment of the EU monitors and with the Russian economic crisis, resumption of hostilities is now less likely than it was two months ago; but threat still persists and we should continue search for our security guarantees;
    • It was a five-hour test for me [referring to the commission hearings]; I was preparing for these hearings; questions were not easy, but that’s how it should be.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Georgian interior minister's testimony

Georgia's interior minister, Vano Merabishvili, giving testimony to a parliamentary commission on the events which led up to the August war (via Civil.Ge) :

  • In early May Russia said that it had increased number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia up to 2,400; but according to the information that we possessed, the number of their troops was in fact 4,000 at that time;
  • 545-strong paratroopers unit from Pskov and Novorossiysk divisions were also deployed in Abkhazia’s Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli districts;
  • In April-June Russia deployed the following weapons in Abkhazia and South Ossetia: three BUK [NATO specification SA-11 Gadfly] ground-to-air air defense systems; forty D-30 howitzers, ten units of GRAD rocket launchers; up to twenty air defense guns; 120 anti-tank rockets and two Mi-24 combat helicopters; these are documented information and we think that there could have been even more weapons brought into the breakaway regions at that time;
  • Russian troops in Abkhazia significantly increased number of their checkpoints;
  • At least 400-strong unit of the Russian Railway Forces were deployed in late May – the move aimed at repairing the railway in Ochamchire obviously for transportation of military hardware close to the administrative border;
  • SU-25 and SU-27 fighter jets were also deployed in the Bombora airfield [close to Gudauta in Abkhazia]; this process of deployment weapons and arms in Abkhazia was continuing in following weeks;
  • Large-scale military exercise of the Russia’s 58th army started in North Caucasus in June – it was the largest drills in last 20 years in the region;
  • Minister Merabishvili, during his presentation, showed the commission members two aerial photos of, what he said was, a military base in Tskhinvali – one shot in July, 2007 and another one in August, 2008. Merabishvili told the commission members: compare these two photos and you will see that the one taken last year shows almost empty base and the recent one shows that it is already constructed… and this construction was taking place just in front of the international observers' eyes [OSCE had its military observers based in Tskhinvali]; Merabishvili then presented two separate aerial photos of, what he said was, a military base in Java; he said that the same situation was in Java and that Russians were in hurry to construct military installations in Java as well;
  • Merabishvili presented to the commission members an audio recording of two phone intercepts between the two South Ossetian militias, which is Tbilisi’s key evidence to back its claim that Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali was a response to the Russian military incursion.
  • Merabishvili said: I’ve leant about this intercepts 15 minutes after the second phone conversations took place at 3:52am local time on August 7. Our employee, who was part of a mobile surveillance team based in Gori at that time and who knows Ossetian, was listening and monitoring those conversations;
  • I have immediately informed the members of the National Security Council about it. I had no doubts that it was the launch of aggression;
  • When asked why the Ministry produced these evidence over a month later, Merabishvili responded: the file was lost among 4,000 intercepted files after the mobile surveillance team had to pull out from Gori. We were looking for this particular recording for a long time;
  • After Russian armed forces started entering Georgia via the Roki tunnel, the authorities made a decision to deploy armed forces in the conflict zone to protect the population and stop the enemy; our troops started movement in direction of either Tskhinvali or Gori about 12 hours after those phone conversations were intercepted;
  • The Russian military convoy entering into South Ossetia via Roki tunnel was moving slowly; you know technical conditions of their military hardware are poor; the first Russian military convoy reached areas close to Tskhinvali at 10am local time on August 8; 19 armored vehicles were destroyed at Gupta by the Georgian bombers;
  • The key goal was to stop the movement of Russian military convoy at least near Java; the second task was to evacuate peaceful population and this was impossible through the bypassing road, as it was constantly shelled; the key goal of our entering Tskhinvali was to save the residents of the Didi Liakhvi Gorge and suppress the firing positions in Tbilisi.
  • I have personally seen it from the village of Nikozi, that shelling of our villages was carried out from the positions located in and around Russian peacekeepers' base in Tskhinvali;
  • We had no other option at that time than to launch the operation; I think that we even were a bit late in this regard; if we would have launched the operation a day earlier the outcome could have been different; but at the same time, taking into account the scale of the Russian military intervention, even the start of the operation a day earlier by us could not have helped;
  • Minimal number of troops were involved during the operation inside Tskhinvali and only several tanks were used there; mainly the interior ministry’s and the defense ministry’s special purpose units were involved in the Tskhinvali operation;
  • Within hours after the launch of the operation the Georgian forces took over the South Ossetian-controlled villages and heights around Tskhinvali;
  • The first Russian jet that was downed during the operation became a victim of the South Ossetian friendly fire; then the Russian television stations covered this fact as if the Georgian jet was downed;
  • Up to 15 planes have been destroyed by the Georgian forces; [Irakli Gogava, a former chief of staff of the armed forces, told the commission that Georgia short down 19 Russian aircraft];
  • A total of 40,000 Russian soldiers entered into the Georgian territory throughout the entire period of conflict; total of 3,000 armored vehicles of various types were involved in the operation;
  • Merabishvili presented to the commission members a video showing, what he said was, launch of Tochka-U short range ballistic missiles from the Java district in direction of the Georgian town of Gori and surrounding areas. Merabishvili said that potential buyers of those missile systems from Syria and Iran were attending the launch of those rockets in Java; this launch of missiles was type of a demonstration for those potential buyers;
  • On August 9-12 the Kodori Gorge was shelled, including from strategic bombers; over 600 shells fell down in the Kodori Gorge; the upper Kodori Gorge was well protected area and not a single person died there as a result of bombardments;
  • But maintaining control over Kodori Gorge became impossible after the Russian troops entered into the Samegrelo region from Abkhazia besieging the upper Kodori Gorge; I took a decision and ordered the Interior Ministry forces – about 300-400 – deployed in Kodori to retreat from the area; they retreated only after the local population was evacuated from Kodori;
  • Russians were ready to intervene into Georgia from other directions as well; I personally saw the Russian military convoy consisting of at least 50 armored vehicles of various types standing on the Russian side of the border at the Larsi border crossing point; the convoy was seen from the Georgian side of the border; the Russian military unit was also deployed at the Dagestani section of the Georgian-Russian border and were ready for intervention through the Dagestani-Georgian road; we have exploded that road as the chance of their intervention from that direction was higher;
  • A total of about 5,000 Georgian policemen and 70 armored vehicles were involved in the military operation;
  • 14 Georgian policemen were killed during the hostilities and 8 more policemen during various incidents that took place after the war in the areas close to the breakaway regions’ administrative border. 227 Interior Ministry employees were wounded during the war;
  • When asked whether it was possible to avert the war, Merabishvili responded: the only way to avoid this war was more active position of the West and their pressure on Russia;
  • In the beginning of August I still considered that the probability of a large-scale military confrontation stood at only 10%;
  • At this point I possess no information indicating on an anti-state activity of any Georgian senior official;
  • When asked if Russia had allies within Georgia, Merabishvili responded: Russia has a minimal foothold in Georgia and it has been confirmed during the war. There were people in Georgia on which Russian occupants have influence, but these events showed that Georgia is a real state; although every local resident in Borjomi and Imereti knew where our tanks were hidden, Russian have not learnt that information;
  • Although small threat existed in Adjara – I mean those people who were ex-Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze’s allies, but this minor threat was tackled immediately. Fortunately, a threat of this kind was minimal in Samtskhe-Javakheti [a region populated with a large group of ethnic Armenians];
  • Russian intelligence services have intensified their operations ten fold during and after the war; their activities are obvious, especially in the so called buffer zones;
  • When asked whether another Russian aggression is expected, Merabishvili responded: re-occurrence of what has already happened is less likely in the nearest future; the current Russian military presence in South Ossetia is not sufficient for carrying out a large-scale military operation, but these forces can carry out a small scale operation.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The pull of propaganda

The Kremlin seems unable to resist the pull of its own propaganda - the "female Baltic sniper" has been resurrected from the days of the Chechen wars to serve again in the context of the Georgia conflict.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lawyer: politician in Russia behind Politkovskaya murder

Via BBC:

"During the investigative stage, the prosecutor general stated that [the person who had ordered the killing] was someone big and horrible abroad," Mr Musayev was quoted as saying by Russia's Ria Novosti news agency.

The judge reversed his earlier decision to hold a closed-door trial

"But in court we can see in the indictment [conclusions] that this someone is not so big and horrible - it is a politician based in the country," the said.

Mr Musayev added the indictment mentioned Ms Politkovskaya's articles as a motive for her killing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ingushetian civil war

The BBC's Richard Galpin notes that

The arrival of a new leader of Ingushetia who is a battle-hardened soldier and veteran of the Chechen conflict may sound ominous.

But the top opposition politician Maksharip Aushev holds out some hope that Yunus-Bek Yevkurov could improve the situation.

"The former leader Zyazikov was 100% to blame (for the situation). The first thing (new leader Yunus- Bek Yevkurov) did was to invite us to meet him and he said he plans to stop the human rights abuses and tackle corruption. At the moment we see no reason not to trust him."

So far there have not been any signs of change and the violence and abuses have continued.

"We will give [Mr Yevkurov] a maximum of three months," Mr Aushev says.

"We will support him if things change, if not it will go back to the situation as it was before."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Holodomor Remembrance Day

Today, the fourth Saturday in November, is the official day of remembrance for people who died in the Holodomor - the famine that took place in Soviet Ukraine in the 1932-1933 agricultural season - and political repression.

Polonium trail

Alex Goldfarb, quoted in the Times:

“These two people [Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun] are playing games because they know that their bluff will not be called. They want to create a positive PR effect and make it appear as if they are ready to cooperate with the investigation.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kesayeva: Beslan terrorists were Russian federal agents

from Ingushetiya.org [my tr.]:

Ella Kesayeva, co-chair of the Voice of Beslan NGO [representing the interests of the victims of the Beslan attack], has made a statement about the identity of the terrorists who four years ago seized a school in a North Ossetian town. According to her, “the so-called Beslan terrorists were agents of our special services – UBOP [Unit for Fighting Organized Crime] and FSB.” Kesayeva says that this is attested to by the details of the biographies of individual participants in the school seizure which were published in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper on Thursday.

According to the official investigation, which is now in its fifth year, the terrorist group consisted of 32 fighters. The case file on the Beslan terrorist attack contains information on each identified terrorist. The identities of most of the terrorists were established by means of their fingerprints. All of them had at different times been registered with the North Caucasian regional UBOP and UFSB, were on the federal wanted list, had been detained, arrested, and some even convicted.

However, Kesyaeva notes that in the column marked “Conviction” all the Beslan terrorists are for some reason entered as «Not convicted on the basis off Clause 1, Article ch.1. 24 CC RF “. “This means that either a deliberate decision was taken not to institute criminal proceedings against these people or that such proceedings were terminated. Both on the same pretext –- “no crime has been committed”, she says.

"Thus, the criminals who really should have been held in a pre-trial detention centre or served time in prison, were in August 2004 able freely to form an armed gang and commit the attack on the Beslan school," the Voice of Beslan representative believes.

She says that there can be only one explanation for what took place: the so-called Beslan terrorists were actually agents of the Russian special services -- UBOP and FSB. This is attested to by the details of their biographies which have been published in Novaya Gazeta.

According to her, the people who are in a position to explain the matter are Deputy Interior Minister General Mikhail Pankov, and former deputy director of the Federal Security Service, General Vladimir Anisimov. Both of these men, says Kesayeva, took an active part in the counter-terrorist operation in Beslan as a senior “consultants”, and both oversaw the creation of the intelligence network in the Caucasus.

However, despite the insistence of the victims of the Beslan terrorist attack, neither has been summoned to court to testify.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Politkovskaya trial closed to public

Via RFE/RL Watchdog:

Holding the trial of three men accused of helping in the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya behind closed doors is being done only to keep the media away, says a lawyer involved in the case.

Update (November 21): the trial has now been suspended.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Russian Defence Minister Warns Against Georgia’s NATO Integration [civil.ge]

http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19981

Russian Defense Minister Warns Against Georgia’s NATO Integration

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 18 Nov.'08 / 19:23

Further increase of Georgia’s military potential and its NATO integration may trigger even more serious conflict than the August war, Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian defense minister, said in Ankara on November 18.

“We are concerned about the Georgian leadership’s efforts to increase its military potential and to drag the country into NATO. This action can provoke more serious conflict than was seen in August,” Interfax news agency reported quoting Serdyukov.

Tbilisi Responds to Western Media Reports on War’s Start [civil.ge]

http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19977

Tbilisi Responds to Western Media Reports on War’s Start

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 18 Nov.'08 / 15:10

The Georgian government released a statement late on November 17 in an attempt to counter some of the recent western media reports questioning Tbilisi’s assertions about the war’s start in August.

The English-language statement mainly addresses an article published by the New York Times earlier this month.

“Several controversial recent reports have questioned the validity of well-documented Georgian claims that Russia initiated the hostilities,” the statement reads. It says that ahead of the second round of Geneva talks on November 18, “it is now more necessary than ever to highlight independently confirmed accounts of Russia's military and political aggression in the days and months leading up to full-scale war on August 7, 2008.”

The statement says that it aimed at debunking “the inaccurate and incomplete accounts in several respected media outlets, and to underscore the need for a full-scale, unbiased investigation of the war and its causes.”

One of the key issues addressed in the New York Times article was whether or not the Georgian villages were shelled late on August 7 before the Georgian forces started shelling of Tskhinvali. A unilateral ceasefire was ordered by President Saakashvili at about 7pm on August 7. At 8:30pm on August 7 the Georgian Interior Ministry reported shelling of the Georgian village of Avnevi and later the Ministry also reported that the village of Prisi was also shelled at 10:15pm. According to the senior Georgian officials President Saakashvili ordered the military to suppress the South Ossetian firing positions at about 11:30pm.

The NY Times said it its article that according to the monitors, however, no shelling of Georgian villages could be heard in the hours before the Georgian bombardment. “At least two of the four villages that Georgia has since said were under fire were near the observers’ office in Tskhinvali, and the monitors there likely would have heard artillery fire nearby,” the newspaper said based on the OSCE observers’ accounts.

The Georgian government said in its statement on November 17 that this assertion contradicted an August 8 OSCE Spot Report. Spot reports were series of routine reports done by the OSCE observers, which were describing situation on the ground.

The Georgian government’s statement cites the August 8 spot report: “The temporary unilateral ceasefire ordered by President Saakashvili at around 19:00 hrs on 7 August was stable and also observed by the South Ossetian side for some hours until fire reportedly was exchanged again at around 22:00 hrs.”

The report, seen by Civil.Ge, then continues: “Shortly before midnight, the center of Tskhinvali came under heavy fire and shelling, presumably also from GRAD systems and artillery stationed outside the zone of conflict. The Mission’s Tskhinvali Field Office has also been hit and its three remaining international staff took shelter in the basement.”

In the initial version of the statement, which was released on November 17, the Georgian government claimed those three OSCE monitors who were in Tskhinvali at that time could not have heard mortar shelling against the Georgian villages in question – Avnevi, Kurta, and Prisi – “since these towns are located more than 10 kilometers away.” While the villages of Avnevi and Kurta are relatively far from Tskhinvali, the village of Prisi, according to other OSCE spot reports, is “about 2km east of Tskhinvali.”

In the modified version of the statement, which was posted on the government’s website later on November 18, this section involving distance of the villages from Tskhinvali was omitted.

Instead, the modified statement reads: “Due to the distance and the mountainous terrain, the three OSCE monitors who were in the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali during that time would have been unable to hear mortar shelling against the Georgian villages in question.”

The Georgian government’s statement also says citing OSCE officials' recent statements that with only three monitors in the area, the organization did not have the necessary manpower to verify or dismiss accusations of the ceasefire violations.

Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, who holds the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship said at a news conference in Moscow on November 12 that the small contingent of OSCE monitors in Tskhinvali was not in a position to determine how the war started.

“It's not my job to make the judgment on who started the war, or how it actually started,” RFE/RL reported quoting Stubb. “The OSCE isn't an intelligence service. Our instruments are, unfortunately, very limited.”

The NY Times also reported citing accounts by OSCE monitors that they observed at 3pm on August 7 deployment of the Georgian artillery and rocket launchers in the vicinity of the breakaway region.

The Georgian government said in the statement that this movement of troops and weapons was made in response to two earlier events. In particular, the statement reads: “At 2:00 pm on Aug. 7, two Georgian peacekeepers and eight civilians were killed after a checkpoint in Avnevi was shelled from Khetagurovo [the South Ossetian-controlled village]. The OSCE has confirmed the exchange of fire in this area, and intercepted phone calls by separatist militia confirming the Georgian fatalities. At 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 7, Georgian officials received intelligence that Russian regular army forces had entered Georgian territory and that other troops had been put on high alert.”

The Georgian government’s statement also responds to an editorial piece, which appeared in the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune (both owned by the New York Times Company) on November 11, which says: “The inescapable conclusion is that Saakashvili started the war and lied about it.”

“Such assertions portray an incomplete version of the story and omit critical context that includes years of political and military provocations,” the Georgian government said.

These provocations, it said, included “the scale of destruction caused by Russian shelling; mass evacuations of civilians from South Ossetia beginning on Aug. 2; military maneuvers and large deployments of Russian troops to the Georgian border; Russian violations of Georgian airspace and bombings of Georgian territory; and Russian construction of large military bases in Tskhinvali and Java.”

Meanwhile, in the Georgian Parliament some lawmakers have expressed concern over, as they put it, signs of “losing information war.”

“Georgia was obviously had an upper hand over the Russian Federation in the information war during [the August war] and for a certain period of time after those events. But, this trend has actually changed within past two” MP Giorgi Targamadze, the leader of parliamentary minority, said at the parliamentary session on November 18.

He called on the Georgian Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council and the President’s administration to intensify efforts “for neutralizing the anti-Georgian propaganda.” MP Targamadze also added that Georgia “should not let Russia to portray itself in the European media as an innocent wolf.”

 

See also: Post-U.S. election Georgia myths

Monday, November 17, 2008

Radical roots

At Prague Watchdog, Alexander Vasilyev examines the theory and practice of the brand of Sunni fundamentalism known as Salafism in the context of the current situation in the North Caucasus.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Definition

LGF has a discussion of the question: What Is Fascism?

Perevi - 2

http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19968
S.Ossetian Militias Pull Out of Perevi
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 16 Nov.'08 / 12:47

South Ossetian militias, who entered into Perevi last week, have pulled out from the village, located at the breakaway region’s administrative border, the Georgian media sources reported citing locals from the village.

EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) confirmed that militias had left. A mission spokesperson told Civil.Ge on Sunday that “small number” of Russian troops were back into Perevi and they were now manning the checkpoint there.

French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, welcomed the South Ossetian withdrawal from the village and said at a news conference in Washington, as quoted by AFP: “This reassures me that [Russia’s President] Medvedev is a partner with whom we must maintain a dialogue."

As far as November 15 shooting incident at the Abkhaz administrative border is concerned, in which one Georgian policeman was killed, EUMM spokesperson said monitors were still investigating what had happened there. He said monitors were “concerned” about the shooting incident, calling on all sides “to show restraint.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Perevi

BBC:

The European Union Monitoring Mission, whose 225 monitors have been in Georgia since 1 October, to patrol the so-called buffer zones around the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is keeping a close eye on the situation around Perevi.

A mission spokesman noted that the presence of the [South Ossetian] militia was a violation of Georgian sovereignty. He said he feared an escalation of tension.

The EU wants its observers to have access to the breakaway regions, but Russia has repeatedly refused to guarantee that.

Western leaders have condemned the presence of Russian troops in Georgian areas - both in the buffer zones, where Russian troops were present until mid-October, and in the breakaway regions themselves, where Russia is maintaining nearly 8,000 troops.

They have also condemned Russia's recognition of the two regions as independent states.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post-U.S. election Georgia myths

In Forbes magazine, Georgian-American writer Melik Kaylan looks at the recent post-US election "media noise" on the Georgia conflict, prominent examples of which include the curiously belated November 6 New York Times article by C.J. Chivers and Ellen Barry, and the BBC's November 8 report, both of which sought to propagate the message that Georgia had invaded first. As Moscow continues its expensive media campaign aimed at undermining Georgia's international reputation, Kaylan pours some much-needed cold water on some of the wilder speculations that are currently doing the rounds as a result:

If Georgia invaded first, Russia was provoked, Russia could not but respond, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a trigger-happy maniac, we should back off from confrontation with Moscow, this is no incipient or even full-fledged Cold War casus belli to test Obama, he can press the refresh button and the new world will pop up as a tabula rasa.

In the G.W. era this would fall under "faith-based" as opposed to "reality-based" reasoning. The Times and BBC can lay out their dream narrative all they want, but it's unlikely that Obama--as sober and intentional a politician as it's possible to wake up to with a hangover--will buy into it. Biden certainly won't.

Either way, they won't have a choice as Ex-President Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev ply their brutalist imperial course. Medvedev made his sentiments clear when he delivered his Moscow State of the Union speech sans any single reference to the U.S. election results. Meaning: Russia acts unilaterally no matter what happens elsewhere.

And Georgia? I have publicly defended Georgia's actions in this space, and others and I count Georgian President Saakashvili as a personal friend. Nothing has changed. Here's the real continuum of events, as I can best decipher them, that led to Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 when the hostilities escalated into full blown conflict.

First off, I cannot dispute the OSCE and the Times reports that the Georgian attack resulted in civilian casualties. I certainly never thought the Georgians carried out precise bombardments and I don't think they're capable of it. Neither are the Russkies.

I also believe the Georgians radically upped the confrontation--in effect, they attacked first. But they did so because they knew about the column of Russian tanks coming in through the Roki Tunnel that connects North and South Ossetia, that is, connects Russian territory to the breakaway region. A Russian invasion was in progress. The Times report addresses this glancingly toward the end:

"Neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary, as Mr. Saakashvili insists.

"Georgia has released telephone intercepts indicating that a Russian armored column apparently entered the enclave from Russia early on the Aug. 7, which would be a violation of the peacekeeping rules. Georgia said the column marked the beginning of an invasion. But the intercepts did not show the column's size, composition or mission, and there has not been evidence that it was engaged with Georgian forces until many hours after the Georgian bombardment; Russia insists it was simply a routine logistics train or troop rotation."

This is disingenuous. It makes no sense that the Russkies had some 200 fully armed, fueled tanks halfway into Georgia within two days, as a spontaneous and unplanned response to aggression. They're not that efficient. Both sides knew what was going down.  

In addition, Kaylan notes:
The Georgians were always way down on the list of priorities for a fumble-prone White House. Saakashvili was never Washington's irreplaceable ally, at any rate never enough to keep the Russians at bay. Putin knew it. It may be a brave new post-Bush world, but he still knows it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

WoE short items

Window on Eurasia has published some short items about recent developments in the post-Soviet space which, as the blog's author says, merit attention.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Kristallnacht concert

Tomorrow, November 9, is the 70th anniversary of the Reichskristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired pogrom throughout Germany and Austria in which more than 91 Jews lost their lives, more than 1,000 synagogues were damaged and some 7,500 Jewish businesses were ransacked and looted.

The British violinist Daniel Hope has organized a concert in Berlin to commemorate the victims of Kristallnacht. From Daniel Hope's website:

I came across Gilbert’s book recently, and while I knew about the “Reichskristallnacht”, it wasn’t until I read the book that the historical consequences of that night’s events became clear to me. The horrifyingly meticulous description of the violence against the Jews was utterly overwhelming. Since then the question as to what I would have done in such circumstances has begun to haunt me.

“Reichskristallnacht” took place 70 years ago and yet its consequences are still reflected in today’s society. Situations that require civil courage, individual or collective, continue to arise, whether it’s an individual attack on a defenseless fellow human being or the brutality of groups such as rightwing radical skinheads. Remembering the 1938 pogroms is a much-needed symbolic action in our society today. It echoes a call to all civilized people never again to ignore unacceptable violence by inaction.

For Hope, whose family was forced to flee Berlin and the Nazis, the event has urgent political importance as well as obvious personal significance. Throughout his career, Hope has advocated – both in live performance and with recordings – the music of the so-called “Entartete” composers – those composers deemed “degenerate” and subsequently destroyed by the Nazis.

Friday, November 07, 2008

U.S. candidates hacked

Via Newsweek:

On Aug. 20 the Obama campaign got its briefing from the FBI. The Obama team was told that its system had been hacked by a "foreign entity." The official would not say which "foreign entity," but indicated that U.S. intelligence believed that both campaigns had been the target of political espionage by some country—or foreign organization—that wanted to look at the evolution of the Obama and McCain camps on policy issues, information that might be useful in any negotiations with a future Obama or McCain administration. There was no suggestion that terrorists were involved; technical experts hired by the Obama campaign speculated that the hackers were Russian or Chinese.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tent in the city

In its weekly review of events in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, Prague Watchdog discusses the future visit of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi to Chechnya's capital city of Grozny.

Pre-emptive strike

RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, on Medvedev's missile announcement:

Speaking to the French AFP news agency, the respected Moscow-based defense analyst Aleksandr Goltz called the move "an attempt to inflict maximum damage on U.S.-Russian relations." Goltz went on to call the move "a cardinal change" in Moscow's posture toward Europe.

"I have no rational explanation for why this came less than 24 hours after the election of a new US president," Golts said. "Even in Soviet times they refrained from such harsh reactions."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A changing military

Roger McDermott, on Medvedev's Ambitious Military Reform Plans (excerpt):

Russia has announced its most ambitious, systemic military modernization program since the collapse of the USSR, scheduled to deliver a more efficient and combat-ready military by 2020. These plans betray breathtaking confidence. They will include 955 Borey-type submarines, armed with the Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile; ground-based modernized Topol-M ballistic missiles that will completely replace conventional Topols; modern tanks for the army (for instance, the T-80 Chernyy Orel [Black Eagle]); air defense systems (the S-400 surface-to-air missile system); and fifth-generation Russian fighters (series deliveries of the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose Su-35 fighters are due to begin in 2011) (Izvestia, October 20).


Perhaps even more ambitious are the plans to upgrade all units and subunits to the category of permanent combat readiness units (at the moment the ratio of combat to general readiness units is one to five). There is little public discussion of how these plans may be negatively affected by the sliding price of oil and the economic crisis currently faced by Russia, which until recently has been played down by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. There are elements of these reforms, however, that have been underestimated by Western commentators and are worth noting. They are a result of Russia’s experience in the war with Georgia in August: the shift to a brigade-based organization and a rapid reaction system that takes existing airborne troops and remolds them to provide more rapidly deployable troops from each military district. Taken together, these reform plans suggest that the Kremlin envisages using conventional warfare to resolve future crises.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Georgia "shock"

http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2373490

The secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, testified that Russia had used about a third of its combat-capable land forces in the operation against Georgia, and "neither we nor any foreign intelligence service had any information about Russia's expected full-scale invasion and occupation of a large part of our territory; it was a shock and a surprise." According to Lomaia, it was known that several thousand Russian troops were on the border of South Ossetia during the Kavkaz-2008 military exercises and had apparently begun moving in on August 7; but the Georgian leaders believed they had enough troops to deal with such a force (Civil Georgia, October 28). Apparently, the Georgians did not notice a statement by General Yuri Netkachev that the number of troops involved in Kavkaz-2008 exercises (8,000) "was officially underestimated" (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 18).

The yacht case - 5

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23579423-details/Veteran+KGB+spy+revealed+as+Deripaska%27s+right-hand+man/article.do

Friday, October 24, 2008

Russia deploying 2,000 extra troops in S. Ossetia

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LN513347.htm

The yacht case - 4

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/24/mandelson-labour

European commission officials who worked for Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, issued a misleading statement about the history of his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire, the Guardian has established.

Mandelson's officials in Brussels, where he served as trade commissioner before returning to a role in the government earlier this month, said the two men met "at a few social gatherings in 2006 and 2007", but had never discussed aluminium, the main source of Deripaska's wealth.

However, Mandelson and Deripaska were seen together at a Moscow restaurant in October 2004, after he had been appointed trade commissioner, but before he formally took up the post. A journalist spoke to both men and their companion, German Gref, who was then the Russian economics minister, and the event is also described in the blog of Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Mandelson's former adviser and close friend.

The statement by the European officials is understood to be based on information provided by Mandelson himself. It is unclear why the business secretary has not corrected it to reflect the earlier meetings. The disclosure that the two men had met earlier is likely to fuel Conservative demands for an investigation into the relationship between Mandelson and the Russian oligarch.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The yacht case - 3

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article4994456.ece

It is against the law to accept political donations from foreigners but the Electoral Commission, which polices party funding laws, may refuse to get involved because no donation was made. The Labour MP Tony Wright, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee, also said he saw no need for an investigation - unless it was an internal Tory one - because no laws had been broken.

But the Labour backbencher Denis MacShane, who suggested that Mr Osborne may have broken the law by acting to facilitate what would have been an unlawful donation, made the first move to force an inquiry.

This afternoon, Mr MacShane wrote to Mr Osborne saying that there were likely to be questions for the Electoral Commission to investigate and asking him a series of questions about the events in Corfu and his own role in them.