Wednesday, April 30, 2008

International Support for Georgia

Civil Georgia has published a series of statements from international figures and organizations on the present crisis (the full text of each statement may be read by going to the Civil Georgia site):
EU statement:
"The EU is seriously concerned about recent developments in the Georgian conflict areas, particularly regarding the latest decision of the Russian Federation... to establish official ties with institutions of the de facto authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia without the consent of the Government of Georgia. The EU calls on the Russian Federation not to implement its decision." Full Text

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary General:
“I am deeply concerned by the actions Russia has taken to establish legal links with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia... The Russian steps undermine that [Georgia's] sovereignty. I urge the Russian Federation to reverse these measures, and call on the Georgian authorities to continue to show restraint.” Full Text

Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State:
We are very concerned about the [Russian] presidential decree that was issued... The United States is absolutely committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia. We believe that there should be an effort to carry out the plans that the Georgians have talked about to try and deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Obviously, the people of those regions need to have a good life and Georgia needs to provide for them. But we are very concerned at the steps that have been taken and we have made our views known to the Russian Government. Full Text

The U.S. Department of State statement:
"This step challenges Georgia’s territorial integrity and would not be in keeping with Russia’s status as a “facilitator” of the peace process." Full Text

Julie Finley, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE:
“This move, coupled with Russia’s recent lifting of CIS sanctions that opens the possibility for military assistance to Abkhazia, has significantly increased tensions in an already volatile region... Russia is supposed to be facilitating a peace process in Georgia but is instead openly siding with the separatists, calling into question Russia’s facilitator role. We urge Russia to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, to repeal the April 16th instructions, to play a constructive role in accordance with its commitment to act as a facilitator to the peace process, and to work with Georgia to encourage the Abkhaz and South Ossetian leaders to engage on Georgia’s new proposals for a peaceful settlement of the conflicts as a basis for finding a way forward.” Full Text

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian President:
“One possible interpretation is that the refusal, the opposition to giving MAP by some [NATO] members, some allies, was perceived [in Moscow] as a green light to proceed with this rather dangerous step… The Russian decree we think is provocative, counterproductive and ultimately wrong... We think that this kind of decree should be withdrawn or revoked.” Full Text

Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania:
“Such actions destabilise situation and threaten security and stability in the whole region. I urge Russia to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and to continue dialogue with Georgia’s government in Tbilisi... I encourage EU governing bodies and EU Member States to have and state their clear position regarding Russia's actions.” Full Text

Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden:
“News that Moscow will be taking a number of measures to establish closer ties with the Georgian areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is deeply disquieting… If measures are now taken that create the impression that this [Georgia’s] territorial integrity is in fact being violated - and with the aim of actually integrating these areas with Russia - it may have serious consequences. A political conflict in the immediate neighbourhood of the future winter Olympics is not in anyone's interest - least of all Russia's.” Full Text

Alexander Stubb, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister:
“I urge all parties involved to refrain from any unilateral actions which could further destabilize the already tense situation. I call on the parties to look for ways to build confidence and engage in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflicts.” Full Text

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman, Christina Gallach:
"We are concerned about these unilateral decisions, we have always supported Georgia's territorial integrity.. We have always believed that this type of conflict must be resolved through dialogue." Full Text

Sir Brian Fall, the UK Special Representative for the South Caucasus:
“The proposed package of Russian unilateral measures relating to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia, would only increase tensions in the region.” Full Text

Statement by the Bureau of the South Caucasus Delegation of the European Parliament:
“These steps undermine the principle of territorial integrity of Georgia, as stipulated by all relevant UN resolutions and question Russia’s role of the impartial moderator in the peace process. We are convinced that such steps will only increase tensions in the region and we hope that Georgia remains stable despite any provocation, as well as the UN becomes aware of negative consequences of Russian military presence there.” Full Text

NATO Warns Russia

From the BBC:
Nato has warned Russia that its recent troop build-up in Georgia's two breakaway regions undermines its neighbour's territorial integrity.

Russia's moves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia were raising tensions in the area, a Nato spokesman said.

Russian troop buildup in Georgia

The Russian defence ministry has announced that it is building up troop contingents in the secessionist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. AP reports.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cyber attack

RFE/RL, on the mass cyber attack which peaked on Monday, hitting its broadcast services and making them inaccessible to the outside world:
The attack, which started on April 26, intially targeted the website of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, but quickly spread to other sites. Within hours, eight RFE/RL websites (Belarus, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tatar-Bashkir, Radio Farda, South Slavic, Russian, and Tajik) were knocked out or otherwise affected.

The "denial-of-service" (DOS) attack was intended to make the targeted website unavailable to its users, according to RFE/RL's Director of Technology Luke Springer. "The way this is normally done is by flooding the target website with fake requests to communicate, thereby using up all [the website's] free sources and rendering the site useless to all the legitimate users," Springer said.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prodi to Gazprom?

According to a report in the English-language edition of Kommersant newspaper, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller could offer outgoing Italian prime minister Romano Prodi a top post in the South Stream gas pipeline project when he meets Prodi in Rome today.

However, Mr Prodi has turned down the offer, Reuters says.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Just a note: Dr. Hans-Ludwig Niederberger, the Grangemouth site director employed by Ineos, the UK industrial chemicals company at the centre of the current labour dispute, is based in Cologne, Germany. Ineos has interests in the Russian Federation, among other countries.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

About Bout - III

According to a recent report, Bout also left traces in Belorussia between 1996 and 1999, when the Russian arms dealer traded with the Lukashenko regime in what appear to have been Belorussian ventures connected with exporting arms and weaponry abroad.

Meanwhile, Bout's wife has said in an interview for the London Times newspaper that her husband is a "poet", not a "the lord of war".

See also: About Bout
About Bout - II

Monday, April 21, 2008

Russia shoots down Georgian plane

A Russian fighter jet has shot down an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft over Georgian territory, the BBC reports.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

About Bout - II

Yulia Latynina has some caustic commentary on the Kremlin's support for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout,who is currently is being held in Thailand on suspicion of plotting to sell Russian-made Igla shoulder-fired missiles to Colombian drug cartels:
Bout was poised to sell a mere 100 of these missiles to drug barons, who had been planning to use them to shoot down U.S. helicopters foolish enough to fly over their plantations.

To his credit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement on Friday that the country would take all necessary measures to ensure that Bout's rights are not violated.

Bout was arrested on March 6 -- more than a month ago -- but Moscow's offer to help the international arms dealer came last week. In the age of instantaneous communications, such a slow response could only mean that some other method was used to establish a connection with authorities -- money, for example. When the problem of a Russian citizen arrested abroad can be resolved by a phone call, the result is seen right away. But when these issues are decided with cash payments, this is a more complicated process. Negotiations are delicate, and you have to work out how the money will be transferred. All of this takes a lot of time.

And the juiciest part of the Foreign Ministry's statement is that Russia has no plans to press charges against Bout. The power ministries have to account for all Igla missiles in their stock, and state arms exporter Rosoboronexport has a strict monopoly on the the trade of Igla and similar weaponry. This system of tight control was instituted to prevent black market sales to terrorists.
See also: About Bout

Mart Laar on Georgia and Russia

The Estonian member of parliament, writing in the Financial Times, sees echoes of the 1930s in Russia's ongoing annexation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
According to Mr Putin's "instruction", Russia will open "representations" in the two territories to protect the interests of Russian citizens there and to foster co-operation. Russia will claim that it has many citizens to protect in the two Georgian territories, after it illegally distributed its passports to anyone remaining after the civil wars and ethnic cleansing of the 1990s.

"Those who cannot learn from history," said George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, "are doomed to repeat it." In 1937, Hitler agitated for the rights of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia; in 1938, he annexed Sudetenland into the Reich, purging it of non-Germans. In Abkhazia, most Georgians, Armenians, Estonians, Greeks and Russians - perhaps 500,000 in all - are already gone. Russia recognises Georgia's international boundaries, but its actions belie its words.

Russia's "representations" will be less than official consulates, although consular services will be offered from offices in neighbouring bits of Russia. "Representation" is a euphemism to soothe western fears that Moscow may recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in tit-for-tat retaliation for western recognition of Kosovo. However, in Moscow's insidious gambit, the "representations" will be among the final steps toward annexation of the two Georgian territories.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blundering Peacocks

The BBC's Mark Mardell speculates about the likely impact on Europe of the new leaders of Italy and France respectively.

Hat tip: Leopoldo

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sphere of Influence - 2

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:

General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads Russia's General Staff, attracted widespread attention at home and abroad when he said in Moscow on April 11 that "Russia will take unambiguous action toward ensuring its interests along its borders. These will not only be military measures, but also steps of a different character," Russian and international media reported. He did not elaborate but nonetheless "intrigued half the world," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on April 14 (see Part II). The daily argued that "Baluyevsky and whoever writes his lines" are simply playing into the hands of those abroad who "accuse [Russia] of behaving aggressively and disrespecting its nearest neighbors." The paper noted that any "harsh tone from Russia facilitates consolidation among political forces and the public in Ukraine and Georgia, lending strength to proponents of NATO membership." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that "NATO is waiting for Moscow to explain what kind of measures it intends to take. As of April 13, no public explanations have been provided. Neither was there any confirmation or denial of media reports that President [Vladimir] Putin, speaking at the NATO summit in Bucharest, questioned Ukraine's right to statehood and threatened to annex the Crimea." The newspaper argued that "if Russia wishes to delay NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, it should withdraw its threats and change its tone. It should call on Kyiv and Tbilisi to expand cooperation in the areas where this is possible, and concentrate on discussing disputed issues without any excess publicity." The paper noted that "regardless of geopolitical constructs, Ukraine and Georgia will remain our neighbors. Thus, in taking any steps at present, we should think about the future of Russia's relations with these countries." On April 14, "Izvestia" wrote that four countries with which Russia has problematic relations are in the process of changing their ambassadors in Moscow, namely the United States, Great Britain, Estonia, and Ukraine. PM

- - - - - -

Russian human rights activists are calling on police to be vigilant in connection with actions that radical nationalists plan to take on April 20 -- the birthday of Adolf Hitler, reported on April 14, citing Interfax. The website reported that immigrants are already highly anxious in anticipation of possible attacks and ready to "administer justice." noted that for 20 years -- since the 1980s -- radical nationalists have attempted to mark Hitler's birthday with public actions and that a large number of attacks by skinheads on people from the Caucasus and Central Asia and other foreign citizens, as well as the desecration of Jewish establishments, usually take place on that day. Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, said that one radical nationalist organization has already announced plans to carry out mass actions on April 20. "Since 2002, in Moscow institutes of higher learning where foreign students study, they have been permitted to miss lectures and also advised not to leave their dormitories," Brod said. "Institutes of higher learning in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod have adopted this practice." According to, various diaspora groups have vowed to dispense their own justice in response to the inaction of the Russian authorities in preventing racial violence. It quoted Brod as saying that radical immigrant websites are full of calls to mark April 20 with violence. JB

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sphere of Influence

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on April 8 that Moscow wants a permanent military presence at planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lavrov argued that "in all the many proposals [on missile defense], we are interested only in two things: the permanent presence of our officers and reliable technological means of monitoring" the sites. During his recent summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin referred to a possible permanent presence at those sites if "a global missile-defense [system] with equal democratic-style access to managing such a system" does not come to pass. Russia does not appear to have publicly stressed the issue of a permanent presence before, but Lavrov said on April 8 that it is a sticking point in negotiations over Washington's plans to station a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. He argued that it is important for Moscow to see "second-by-second" where the radar is directed and what is happening at the interceptor base. In an apparent effort to split Washington from Prague just days after a U.S.-Czech agreement on the radar site was announced, Lavrov warned that Czech or Polish resistance to the Russian demand would "devalue" recent assurances given to Russia by the United States on missile defense. He complained that officials of the two countries, which were occupied by Soviet forces for decades, "don't even want to hear" about a permanent Russian presence at the sites (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, March 7 and 20, and April 4, 2008). Lavrov mocked the U.S. offer of "reciprocity" in arranging occasional inspections of the sites by Russian officials based in Warsaw and Prague, saying that Russia has no intention of establishing its own bases in those countries or near the United States. Asked if Russia might set up military sites of its own in Cuba or Venezuela in response to the U.S. plans, Lavrov replied that Russia would rely on unspecified "military-technical measures" instead. PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov's demand on April 8 for a permanent Russian presence at planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic came after the latest round of Russian-Polish consultations in Moscow failed to bridge differences, news agencies reported. Witold Waszczykowski, who heads the Polish negotiating team, told Poland's PAP news agency that Lavrov's demands are "too far-fetched." Referring to a possible permanent Russian military presence in Poland, Waszczykowski said that "we had that here already [in tsarist and Soviet times]. Such a solution will not be repeated." He added that the proposed missile-defense "installation could be accessible to visitors or inspectors, but we don't think there is any need for a permanent presence of Russian monitors there.... In addition to that, we have to establish a sort of mutual regime, with Polish inspectors having the right to inspect some Russian installations." Czech officials have repeatedly rejected the idea of any permanent Russian presence at the radar site, although they, too, would be willing to consider occasional visits by Russian officials. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra told the daily "Hospodarske noviny" recently that "we are willing to negotiate about Russian inspections, but definitely not in the form of a permanent presence of Russian soldiers in the Czech Republic." Some European observers suggested that Russia is keen to keep up its political momentum after the April 2-4 Bucharest NATO summit. Russia was widely seen to have used energy and political leverage over Germany, France, and some other Western European states to ensure their opposition to U.S. and Eastern European support for granting Membership Action Plans (MAP), an important step on the road to full NATO membership, to Georgia and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 4, 7, and 8, 2008). PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on April 8 that Moscow will do all it can to prevent NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in order "to avoid an inevitable serious exacerbation of our relations with both the alliance and our neighbors." He repeated Moscow's long-standing arguments that NATO enlargement is rooted in "Cold War logic," that much of the Ukrainian public is opposed to NATO membership, and that the pro-Moscow leaderships of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions oppose Georgian membership. Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin wrote in the April 7 issue of the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that "all countries seeking to join NATO have to hold a referendum first. The decision has to be made by all Ukrainian citizens. Would they be prepared to send their boys to certain death in Iraq or Afghanistan for the sake of Atlantic solidarity?" "The Moscow Times" commented on April 9, however, that "Russia's main argument against NATO enlargement is that it would threaten its security. That is nonsense, and Russia knows it." The paper added that "the Kremlin has found that behaving like a spoiled child gets results: the right to influence developments in former Soviet countries. In other words, Russia is being allowed to reassert its sphere of influence -- a concept that should have been superceded by that of 'Europe Whole and Free,' which the entire European Union appeared to have embraced when communism collapsed." The daily stressed that "the crux of the matter is Europe's lack of political will to forge a unified stand toward Russia. This has led the Kremlin to pursue a classic 'divide-and-rule' strategy by tempting some big European countries into bilateral agreements -- particularly on energy issues -- that preclude a common EU position" (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 17, 2008). Alluding to the Western European objections to MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine, Polish President Lech Kaczynski commented on the eve of the NATO summit that West Germany was allowed to join NATO in 1955 even though it claimed to represent, but did not control, all of Germany. The Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita" pointed out recently that Germany did not hold a referendum in 1990 on NATO membership for the former East Germany, where strong pacifist and anti-American sentiments might have led to a rejection of NATO accession. PM

Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin, the head of the State Duma's Defense Committee, said in Beijing on April 8 that military cooperation plays an important role in Russian-Chinese relations, Interfax reported. He noted that "the total number of events at which key subjects in Russian-Chinese military cooperation are discussed is 30 to 35 a year. Chinese specialists are trained at Russian Defense Ministry academies. Direct ties between the respective military services [and] military academies...are improving." Zavarzin added that joint exercises and inspections take place along and near the two countries' common border. His remarks follow recent reports that Russian arms sales to China dropped by 62 percent in 2007 because China's industrial capabilities are beginning to approach those of its neighbor, and because it seeks more sophisticated technology than Russia is willing or able to offer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2008, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2007, and March 12, 2008). PM

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The world without America

Commenting on Jamie Glazov's recent FrontPage interview with Ahmed Zakayev, JR Nyquist writes:

According to Zakayev, al Qaeda is “a global provocation, designed to clash the Islamic world with the Western world, thus weakening both sides as much as possible. Those who capitalize on that are Russia, China and their allies in the totalitarian camp.” Zakayev is almost certainly correct.


For those who curse the United States and Israel, who embrace various conspiracy theories, I offer this caveat. Do you want Russia and China to dominate the world? Would you trust the heirs of Mao Zedong and the disciples of Felix Dzerzhinsky to keep the peace, to maintain freedom, to further global prosperity? Do you want the legacy of Ivan the Terrible and the first Ch’in Emperor?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pivoting on a dime

RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, on the mood swings on Day 3 of the NATO summit in Romania:

NATO appeared to have caved in the face of Russian pressure.

By lunchtime on April 3, everything had changed.

Rumors had been swirling through the cavernous corridors and vast halls of Bucharest's Palace of Parliament all morning that something was in the works.

By the time NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer addressed the media in the early afternoon (hours later than scheduled), it appeared that Georgia and Ukraine would get more than they hoped for.

There would be no MAP at this time, that was true. But there would be what sounded like a pretty firm commitment of eventual membership. Not a firm commitment for MAPs -- but actual membership. All the key players who famously opposed the MAP this time around were on board, including Germany and France.

Moreover, NATO foreign ministers have been instructed to assess Kyiv and Tbilisi's progress in December 2008 and have authority to issue formal MAPs as early as then -- provided the progress was sufficient. It would all be in an official protocol by the evening, we were told.

The mood in the Georgian and Ukrainian delegations pivoted on a dime, from bitter disappointment to unexpected elation. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine had "broken the sound barrier." Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili called the announcement a "geopolitical coup."

One top Georgian official, speaking on background, told my colleagues from RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the decision was even better than getting a MAP. They would be admitted to NATO after all. The only question was when.

One can't help but wonder whether this was what was supposed to happen all along. Given German and French objections, few expected Georgia and Ukraine to get MAPs here in Bucharest. I expected them to come no sooner than at NATO's 60th anniversary summit next year.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Yelena Tregubova

Via RFE/RL's Newsline (April 2 2008):
Yelena Tregubova, the former "Kommersant" reporter and author of the best-selling book "Tales Of A Kremlin Digger" who fled Russia after an explosion caused minor damage outside the door of her Moscow apartment in 2004, told the Reuters news agency on April 2 that Britain has granted her political asylum. Reuters quoted Tregubova as saying from London that she applied for asylum because her life would be in danger in Russia due to opposition to her critical writings about the Kremlin under President Putin and that her asylum application was approved by Britain's Home Office. As noted on April 2, in a BBC television interview in July 2007, Tregubova accused the Russian leadership of practicing censorship and thereby violating the Russian Constitution. Tregubova also said that when officials from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office came to London and interviewed self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky about the radiation poisoning death of former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, they tried to get Berezovsky to give them her address. JB