Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going Back revisited

The serial posts I wrote a few years ago about the time I spent in Moscow as a research student during the late 1960s and early 70s are still on the Blogger server. They can be accessed here and here. The last posts in each series come first - links to the earlier posts are listed at the bottom of the relevant pages. I think these accounts still give a fair reflection of what it was like living in the Soviet reality, even for a relatively short period of time.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Recent news from the Russian Federation suggests that in spite of evidence of superficial change, life in Russia remains at bottom much the same as ever - not only as it was in Soviet times, but even longer ago. For one thing, there are the same sudden anomalies of behaviour in a government which on the face of it seems mind-crushingly authoritarian, yet occasionally makes room for flamboyant, incongruous forays into the denunciation of past wrongs. Such, for example, is the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to the remote Magadan region on Russia’s Pacific coast, where he laid flowers at a memorial built to commemorate the victims of the Soviet Gulag prison camps, and described the whole era of Stalin’s deportations and purges as “a tragic page in our country’s history”.

Only a couple of days later, the United Kingdom’s outgoing Moscow ambassador Tony Brenton was describing to a British newspaper how he was personally made the target of a nightmarish, Gogolian campaign of intimidation when his car was

tailgated at high speed through the streets of the Russian capital by militant members of Nashi, Vladimir Putin’s zealous youth movement, who went on to harass him in shops and restaurants and intimidate his family.

In the long interview, Ambassador Brenton says that during his period of tenure the British Embassy “has come under a greater barrage of bugging and espionage from the Russian secret service than at any time since the end of the Cold War.” Describing some of the bugging methods used, he alludes to some curious details:

Sir Tony – who will next week be replaced by Anne Pringle, Britain’s first female Ambassador to Russia – denied rumours in Moscow that his two cats were regularly checked for bugging devices. The suggestion may seem fanciful, but the Soviet KGB once successfully implanted a listening device into a US ambassador’s dog.

It’s the promotion - even in theory - of cats and dogs to the rank of intelligence officers that is so quintessentially Russian. I would submit that in no other country of the world could one expect to discover such things.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Appeal for international military tribunal on Chechnya

On Chechnya-sl, Norbert Strade has translated the text of a recent appeal by Akhmed Zakayev, chairman of the ChRI Cabinet of Ministers:

Appeal by the Government of the ChRI

CHECHENPRESS. Publications and Media Department. 26.09.08

CHECHENPRESS received by e-mail the following appeal by the Government of the ChRI to the EU Headquarters, the President of the General Assembly of the UN, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the International Criminal Court and leaders of democratic countries.

Ladies and gentlemen!

The Government of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, which is obliged to democratic values and considers human rights, the rights of nations and peoples to be fundamental achievements of civilization, addresses itself to you with the following:

- Taking into account the inhuman suffering of the Chechen people during the entire period of its history when it was under the control and influence of the Russian Empire in its different political manifestations (the USSR, the Russian Federation), such as the repeated deportations and the incessant military actions during the last 14 years, which demanded more than 200,000 lives, including 40,000 children, according to authoritative international non-governmental organizations;

- taking into account the zeal and the readiness for self-sacrifice of the Chechen people in the name of achieving freedom and independence, a convincing proof of which is the substantial support by the citizens of the ChRI for the Resistance forces, despite the fact that they thus subject themselves to terror from the side of the Russian military formations and special services;

- taking into account the numerous and unpunished war crimes committed by the occupation forces on the territory of the ChRI;

- taking into account the unquestionable right of the Chechen people to national sovereignty and independence, not only within the framework of the declarations of the United Nations "About the Rights of Nations and Peoples", but also according to the decision of April 18-20, 1990, by the supreme body of power in the USSR, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (whose legal successor is the RF), which defines an unequivocal treatment of the rights of the Autonomous Republics: "In the case of a union state leaving the USSR, an Autonomous Republic which is part of this union state has the right to determine its future independently", a statement which precisely was the justification for the Russian authorities in their decision to recognize the independent statehood of Abkhazia and South Ossetia;

- taking into account the unquestionable fact that Russia acknowledged its military aggression against the ChRI in 1994, Russia's defeat in this war and the signing on May 12, 1997 of the "Peace Agreement" between the RF and the ChRI, in which the sides determined that the peoples of the RF and the ChRI are ending their century-old conflict and that the relations between the subjects of this agreement from now on and forever will be based on international law and that the application of the armed forces will be categorically excluded from the solution of disputes;

- and finally, taking into account the existence of attempts by the RF side to take revenge for the lost war of 1994-1996, the incessant military operations and punitive actions, as a result of which thecitizens are suffering, as well as in view of the irreconcilability of the Chechen people with the conditions of the occupation, which are aggravated even more by a feeling of desperation over the absence of truth and justice with regard to the war criminals who committed war crimes in the Chechen Republic during the last 14 years, and furthermore in view of the alienation between the sides in the military conflict and the impossibility for the Chechen population to live in freedom and without fear in its historical native land, we request the creation of an international military tribunal for the Chechen Republic.

The Government of the ChRI believes that the absence of juridical and political consequences of Russia's terrorist policy in the North Caucasus only discredits the entire world system of democracy and provides totalitarian regimes with a feeling of impunity and omnipotence, visible evidence of which are Russia's latest actions against sovereign Georgia.

Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the ChRI Ahmed Zakayev


PACE session to focus on Georgia-Russia war [civil.ge]

PACE Session to Focus on Georgia-Russia War

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 28 Sep.'08 / 18:17


The August war in Georgia will be the main focus of the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE), which opens in Strasbourg on September 29.

The debates will be held in two parts: on September 30 and on October 2.

A group of 24 members of PACE submitted a request for the reconsideration of the credentials of the Russian delegation to PACE “on the grounds of serious violations of the basic principles” of the Council of Europe.

Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Mikheil Machavariani, who is a member of the Georgian delegation to PACE, told journalists before departure to Strasburg that it was not yet possible to predict the outcome of the request and whether the credentials of the Russian delegations would be suspended or not.

As part of the run-up to the debates, an ad hoc committee will paid a fact-finding visit to Georgia and Russia. The group called for an international probe into the events that led to the war.

Meanwhile, on September 24, Foreign Ministers of Council of Europe member states met in New York on the sideline of the UN General Assembly to discuss Georgia-Russia war and its consequences.

This informal meeting was initiated by Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, who is now a chairman of the CoE’s ministerial committee.

The Swedish Foreign Minister said in the report submitted to the ministerial committee that as far as South Ossetia and Abkhazia are “integral parts” of Georgia “the military actions undertaken by Georgian forces during the conflict thus concerned Georgian territory” and should no way be seen “as an aggression towards the Russian Federation.”

“It is furthermore clear, that since it contravenes International law when a state uses military force to protect its citizens in another state, the Russian large-scale military actions in Georgia can not be justified as self-defense,” Carl Bildt said.

Russia acted like a colonial power

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that when Russia invaded Georgia last month it acted like a colonial power, Reuters reports.

We have recently witnessed systematic provocations and finally military aggression of a powerful country, a permanent member of the Security Council, against its small neighbor with the aim to carve it up," Karel Schwarzenberg told the U.N. General Assembly.

"This action was designed to create two tiny entities totally dependent (on) its administrative, economic and military structures. Colonial powers used to act this way." 

Schwarzenberg also suggested that Moscow had violated a fundamental principle of the U.N. charter and international law -- that disputes should be resolved peacefully and without resorting to military force, except in self-defence.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Domain name change

On September 25 the Ingushetian authorities closed down the Ingushetiya.ru web site, which was owned by Magomed Yevloyev,the Ingush journalist, lawyer and businessman who on August 31 this year was murdered, it is believed, on the orders of President Murat Zyazikov. However, the site immediately changed its domain name and switched to a server the United States. It can now be accessed at the new URL Ingushetia.org.

At Window on Eurasia,  with particular reference to a recent interview with Russian security and intelligence expert Anatoly Soldatov, Paul Goble demonstrates how Moscow is currently struggling in its attempts to control the Internet,

... senior Russian intelligence officials have repeatedly called on Western governments to reach an agreement with Moscow to close sites that the Russian government has identified as connected with extremism or terrorism. But to date, no Western country has agreed to do that.

Great Britain had been edging toward an accord, the Agentura.ru editor says, but backed away after the Litvinenko murder. And as a result, “it is possible to register in England, to put out a Russian Internet publication and no requests from the Russian side will be considered. Simply because there is no legal basis for this.”

As a result, Soldatov concludes, Moscow will not be able to continue its struggle with independent-minded Internet sites without the use of hackers, a conclusion that the experience of other Russian sites tends to confirm (www.forum.msk.ru/material/news/533859.html and www.compromat.ru/main/internet/filter.htm).

Friday, September 26, 2008

58th Army being transferred to Ingushetia

FinRosForum, citing a report in Nasha Abkhazia, writes that Russia's 58th Army, which played a major part in the recent invasion of Georgia, is being transferred from North Ossetia to Ingushetia, noting that the situation in Ingushetia is becoming more complicated and that there is a fear that after the end of Ramadan the Ingush will start an uprising.

SCB discussions

A couple of recent discussions on soc.culture.baltics connected with the recent controversies surrounding Estonian-Finnish relations can be found here and here. Although I don't post much to the newsgroup these days, I've contributed a few items during the past few weeks. A leading voice in several of the debates is that of Eugene Holman,a lecturer at the University of Helsinki, but there are many other posters with equally interesting points of view.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Time to Extend a Hand to Ukraine

Writing in the New Atlanticist policy and analysis blog, Alexander Motyl argues that it's in Europe's interests for Ukraine to join the European Union "both if and when it meets all the membership criteria". Excerpt:

If Brussels really believed in European values, soft power, and the like, it should be able to state, unflinchingly and immediately, that “Ukraine is European and, once rich and fully democratic, deserves to be within the EU.”

Of course, if Brussels—or, more specifically, such states as Italy, Germany, and France—don’t really believe in democracy, then indifference to Ukraine’s European aspirations makes more sense. But just a tad. After all, if old Europe’s ruling elites are primarily interested in hard power and geopolitics, then they should be even more interested in getting Ukraine on their side. As Zbigniew Brzezinski has often pointed out, an independent Ukraine is the best guarantee of Russia’s non-emergence as an
empire and, I might add, of the Cold War’s non-revival. That admonition may have seemed like a bit of hypothetical reasoning in the past, but the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 has surely demonstrated that Putin’s Russia is ready to reassert itself in the former Soviet imperial space and, thus, to threaten Europe’s geopolitical interests.

The good news is that the global economic crisis and the fall-out from the Georgian invasion have refocused Moscow’s attention on Russia’s domestic problems. That gives Ukraine time to get its house in order and accelerate its efforts to join Euroatlantic structures. That also gives Europe time to come to its senses and extend a hand to Ukraine. The bad news is that Ukraine’s squabbling political elites—and Yushchenko, alas, belongs to them—seem ill-equipped to do anything but squabble. And old Europe seems ill-prepared to do anything but kowtow to an authoritarian Russia. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Munich Agreement that made appeasement so
notorious a concept took place exactly 70 years ago, in September 1938.

The Russian Gas Deficit - is it Real?

The Russian Gas Deficit - is it Real?

Tunne Kelam’s  speaking notes in the  EP Baltic-Europe Intergroup on 23rd September 2008 in Brussels

Analysis by Boris Nemtsov (former Russian deputy Prime Minister) and Vladimir Milov (former Russian deputy energy minister).  Moscow, 2008-09-22

·         The position of Gazprom in Russia is unique.  In 2007 Gazprom earned 93 billion USD which is 7% of the Russian GDP (2, 5 times more than the Russian defence budget). 

·         Gazprom provides more than 12% of the volume of Russian industrial output and 16% of the value of Russian exports. 

·         Gazprom supplies provide for 40% of the Russian electricity production.  In other words, Gazprom is the energy heart of Russian industry.

Gazprom has become the most important personal project of Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has renovated the management of the company, not on the basis of professional abilities but on the basis of their membership of his Petersburg clan.  Prime Minister Kasyanov's attempts to reform the gas industry in 2002-2003 and to open it to competition were blocked by the Kremlin.

Putin also approved the decision to raise the price of gas for Russian customers.  Gazprom had lobbied for this move during the past 15 years, but unsuccessfully.  The Fradkov Government, however, decided in May 2007 to double the domestic price of gas by 2011 (from 64 USD for 1000 cubic meters to 125 USD). 

Management which is loyal to Putin has operated Gazprom for 7 years.  Its main "achievement" has been not to allow the company to fulfil its key job - to provide for a reliable supply of gas for Russian customers.  Gas production has, in fact, stagnated during all these years.  In 1999 it was 546 bcm, in 2007 - 548 bcm (in 2006 a record 556 bcm). 

Gazprom supplies for domestic customers have increased by 2% (from 2001 till 2007), while internal demand has increased by 18%.   In 2007, Gazprom supplied 307 bcm to domestic markets, while the unsatisfied demand is 132 bcm (increase of 72 bcm a year since 2001).  One third of Russian internal gas consumption has to be supplied through "non-Gazprom” sources. 

As for the domestic markets, Gazprom supplied 301 bcm (in 2001) and 307 bcm (in 2007).  At the same time, domestic demand was 373 bcm (in 2001) and has increased to 439 bcm (in 2007).  The gap between demand and supplies increased from 72 bcm (2001) to 138 bcm (2007).  This gap has been traditionally covered by supplies from Russian independent producers and by gas imports from Central Asia.   Now the Government has strictly curbed the potential of independent companies while the prices of Central Asian gas have skyrocketed.  As a result of this new situation, during the winter of 2007/2008, Gazprom almost totally exhausted its underground gas reservoirs.  

The stagnation of gas supplies for the domestic market can be explained only by the systematic lack of investments into the production of gas.  The new super-giant gas field lies in Yamal peninsula - 600 km to the north of functioning fields.  Gazprom obtained licences to exploit the Yamal fields, committing itself to start production of gas there by the end of 1990s.  Nothing really has happened.  Under the Gazprom chief Aleksey Miller, licences were extended by 8-12 years.  However, even the new terms are not being met.  

Nowadays, the costs of the whole project of starting production and transportation of gas from Yamal peninsula are estimated to be ca 200 billion USD - a sum which exceeds the Russian Stability Fund. 

On the background of general economic growth (GDP increase of 70% in 2000 - 2008), Gazprom production has not increased.  This leads Russia to the deficit of gas. 

Gazprom’s burden of debt has grown from 13, 5 billion USD (2000) to 61,6 billion USD  (2007).  This amounts to two thirds of the company's earnings.  The increasing debt burden does not allow Gazprom to make sufficient investments into gas production.  Default in the foreseeable future is not excluded. 

For the biggest state owned company, Gazprom's contribution to the Russian state budget is surprisingly modest.  Gazprom paid 7 USD taxes for every barrel of produced oil and gas while oil companies pay 40 USD per barrel.  

As a result of the policies of economic-political expansion, Gazprom lost control of 60 billion USD of its assets.  

Gazprom spent 14 billion USD to buy the oil company Sibneft   (this sum equals 3 year investments to the production of gas).  The economic result of this deal has turned out to be catastrophic - in 3 years Rosneft production fell by 11, 5%. ???

Lack of efficiency in running the company has exceeded the worst expectations.  Since 2003, the operational costs of the company tripled - from 4, 9 USD a barrel to 14, 8 USD. 


Alan Riley's analysis from October 2006.

/Riley is Research fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels/

·         The core issue - for the EU - is not the threat of a politically motivated gas cut off (as happened in January 2006) but that Russia, as a result of lack of investments, will not be in a position to produce enough gas to cover both Russia's domestic needs and the EU demand. 

·         Riley ( 2 years ago) - if no action is taken by 2010 the EU may be facing a deficit close to or even beyond its current Russian gas import level.  The decline of supply from the Russian gas fields is likely to make it increasingly difficult for Gazprom to meet its supply contracts ... which will lead to a significant supply crisis across Russia, the CIS and the EU. 

·         True, since 1968, when gas first flowed to Western Europe, Russia has been a reliable supplier to Western Europe.  However, the same cannot be said of supplies to Eastern Europe - at least 40 cuts offs have been identified since 1991. 

·         The gas deficit was identified by the IEA /International Energy Agency/ and Vladimir Milov /former deputy energy minister and president of the Moscow-based institute of energy policy/.   This deficit was already identified 2 years ago and is likely to grow above 126 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2010.  Current Russian exports to non-FSU Europe /non-former Soviet Union/ are ca 150 bcm.

·         It seems unbelievable that the country with the world's largest proven reserves /47 trillion cubic meters - 26% of the global proven reserves/ can be running short of gas.

·         During the first decade of the 21st century the supply deficit has become increasingly acute.  It arises from two interlocking problems.

1.       The run off from the existing super-giant fields in Nadym Pur Taz (NPT) region

2.       The lack of domestic investments in new fields. /Gazprom has not opened up any new giant fields apart from Zapolyarnoye, which is a Soviet legacy project and has temporarily reduced the impact of the decline of the NPT fields/. 

There has been no necessary investment to develop new super-giant fields.  Why?

Gazprom itself is heavily in debt - just the purchase of Sibneft added 38 billion USD to its existing debt. Also, whenever Gazprom does have extra revenue, it fritters it away in higher operating costs. 

The Russian financial system is weak and cannot provide financing on the scale necessary to develop super-giant gas fields. / The costs of developing the next super-giant filed in Yamal area are estimated to be 70 billion USD/ Gazprom's decision to develop the Shtokman field without a foreign partner will add significantly to these heavy capital demands.

Even where Gazprom invests, those investments are directed at foreign acquisitions and building export infrastructures, NOT on building and refurbishing domestic pipelines and opening up new fields.

While huge foreign investments will be needed to develop new gas fields, Russia is handicapped by its own policies which view foreign investors as a threat and do not provide room for open competition or for safeguarding investors' rights.  Russia's unwillingness to comply with contractual agreements is likely to act as a powerful deterrent to potential future investors.  The huge costs / 70 billion USD / of developing the Yamal super-giant fields are not likely to be covered even partially by foreign companies.

Another problem that has made foreign investors uncertain and hesitant is limiting their rights to 49% of shareholding.  /Cases of Shell and BP in Sakhalin in 2006/.  But the general hostility towards foreign investments forces Western shareholders in energy firms to accept much smaller percentages than the theoretical 49%.

The deficit was widened by the Gazprom decision to press on with domestic gasification, aiming at 60% regional gasification by 2008 and at building 12.000 km of new domestic pipe-lines. 

The aging of much of the Soviet legacy infrastructures.  Inefficient Russian compressors used to pump gas along the pipes cause an estimated loss of 42 bcm a year.  (IEA estimates).  58% of the pipes are more than 20 years old.  In harsh environments there is real concern of gas leakages from the aging infrastructures. 

Lack of alternative supplies has forced Gazprom to engage in a desperate rescue strategy - to purchase gas from Central Asia.  It must really be a desperate situation when the world's largest holder of gas reserves has to buy gas from abroad.   In 2006 Russia planned to increase its gas imports from Central Asia from 6 bcm (in 2004) to at least 60 bcm in 2009 that is at least tenfold.  To have such volumes really delivered seemed unrealistic two years ago. 

Potential consequences of the possible gas deficit. 

Russia itself will be most vulnerable to serious gas shortages. If Russia will cut foreign exports to protect domestic consumption Moscow will have to face dramatic cuts in foreign incomes (Gazprom provides 20% of federal tax revenues).  For example, increasing pensions will become highly problematic.  If the gas deficit will become even more significant, then cuts will strike at Russian industry which is (together with that of Ukraine and central Asia) the most energy-Inefficient in the world.  This could also influence negatively earnings from oil, minerals and metals and start a vicious downward spiral which would undermine the economic gains achieved since 1999. 

A longer shortage of Russian gas could throw several Central- and Eastern European countries into considerable difficulties both in respect of industrial production and in terms of the safety and comfort of their peoples.

The most dangerous consequence of significant gas shortages would be the effect on Germany.  In the EU’s largest economy, such shortages could cause widespread economic disruption which would have repercussions across the EU.  The sharp edge of this forecast is that the gas deficit will hit well before the NEP comes into operation and Shtokman  gas comes on stream.  As a result any gas shortage /whatever the formal contractual position/ will hit the most westerly EU states receiving Russian gas, first and hardest, and Germany as the biggest recipient hardest of all. For Germany there is an additional risk in the possible fall in value of German investments in Russia as the Russian economy will contract as a result of such gas shortages.  This underscores the risk of individual member states seeking bilateral agreements with Russia.  In fact, Germany has made a major strategic error.  It has made itself heavily dependent on Russian gas without having the corresponding power to force its Russian partner to liberalize its own markets, to permit free flow of foreign capital and to ensure the protection of the rights of investors that would ensure that gas will be available and will be delivered.                            

End of TK speaking notes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Europeans see Russia as security threat

Writing in the Financial Times, James Blitz notes that

The Russian military’s recent incursion into Georgia means that many more west Europeans now regard Russia as a greater threat to global stability than states such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, according to a survey for the Financial Times.

Bäckman protest

A group of Finnish and Estonian writers, cultural figures, scientists, journalists and politicians has sent the directors of Helsinki University a letter condemning Johan Bäckman, the author of a recently-published book which vilifies the state of Estonia. Via BNS:

The authors of the letter addressed to the rector, chancellor and dean of the law faculty recall that Backman on Monday presented in Tallinn his book "The Bronze Soldier: The Backdrop and Content of the Estonian Monument Debates," which among other things denies the Soviet occupation of Estonia and calls the corresponding viewpoint a Nazi myth.

They added that Backman predicts a speedy end to Estonian independence, speaks in favor of Estonia's unification with Russia and calls Estonia an apartheid state in both his book and his blog as well as in public appearances. He contrasts different ethnic groups such as Estonians, Russians, Jews and Russian Estonians, and distorts the Estonian history.

The authors note that at the presentation of the book Backman, diminishing the historical experience of Estonians, said it is time for Estonians to understand that there was no Soviet occupation. He supports his claim among other things by the Nazis' anti-Jewish propaganda spread by Nazi Germany in occupied countries during World War II, which he represents as the ideology of Estonians and the Estonian state, thereby labeling people who speak about the Estonian history and experience as disseminators of Nazi propaganda.

The letter notes that Backman lectures on sociology of law and the specific features of the Russian and Estonian legal policies at the University of Helsinki this academic year.

The signatories add that Backman's public statements are not a mere expression of opinion. In their words, questioning the existence of the Estonian state and declaring Estonia to be a part of Russia can be considered hostile propaganda against the state and the nation.

Backman as a lecturer on Estonian and Russian legal policies can be compared to a denier of the Holocaust teaching Jewish history at a university, they added.
"Would that, too, be possible at the University of Helsinki?" they asked.

The authors of the letter asked the leaders of the university how is it possible that the University of Helsinki considers it acceptable for subjects linked with Estonian and Russian law and policies to be taught by a person who disseminates hostile propaganda about Estonian history and present-day reality.

They also asked whether the university expects its teachers to be familiar with facts and whether it intends to take a position on the lecturer's statements.

Among the signatories were University of Helsinki researcher and noted columnist Iivi Anna Masso, journalist, writer and film director Imbi Paju, Finnish author Sofi Oksanen, journalist Stefan Brunow, Jewish Estonian historian and writer Elhonen Saks, and Jevgeni Krishtafovitsh, leader of Estonia's Russian-speaking youth association Avatud Vabariik (Open Republic).

Suvi Salmenniemi from the University of Helsinki, researcher Anna Rotkirch, leader of the free-thinkers' association Jussi K. Niemela, members of the European Parliament Lasse Lehtinen and Henrik Lax, writer Mikael Enckell, and Katri Vallaste from the Alexander Institute also signed the letter.

See also in this blog: Finnish Islamists back Russia


In an article which examines the available evidence of widespread damage and destruction left behind in Georgia by the Russian military, the Wall Street Journal's Melik Kaylan looks at the cultural vandalism which characterized the behaviour of the invasion force:

The full barbarism of Russian actions in Georgia may not emerge for years; much of the evidence lies behind the lines in terrain newly annexed by Russia. But some details are now beyond dispute. Alongside the various human atrocities, such as the bombing and purging of civilian areas, the invaders looted and destroyed numerous historical sites, some of which were profoundly revered by the Georgians as sacred building blocks in their national identity. This is especially true of the region around South Ossetia that served as a kind of cradle of early Georgian culture. The Georgian Ministry of Culture lists some 500 monuments and archaeological sites now mostly under Russian occupation and out of sight.

Ruslan Yamadayev killed

RIA Novosti reports that Ruslan Yamadayev, brother of ex-Vostok battalion commander Sulim Yamadayev, has been shot and killed in a car on Moscow's Smolenskaya Ploshchad.

Reuters has more here.

The Second Rose Revolution



September 23, 2008



63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 23 September 2008

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Distinguished delegates,

I thank you for the opportunity today to address this, the 63rd annual gathering of the General Assembly, at such a critical moment in the history of my own country and of the United Nations.

Sometimes, the most extreme tests of this institution’s towering ideals arise in small, even obscure places.

I come to you as the representative of one of those places, the country of Georgia, a land of fewer than 5 million, that last month was invaded by our neighbor.

Despite our small size, the legal, moral, political, and security implications raised by that invasion could not be larger in consequence.

Indeed, those issues cut through to the heart of the UN’s founding charter.

The principles enshrined in that charter included the inviolability of sovereign borders; the sanctity of human rights; the supremacy of international law; and the global rejection of armed aggression.

All of these principles were put to the test by the invasion, and now hang in the balance.

The invasion violated Georgia’s internationally recognized borders.

The subsequent recognition of the so-called “independence” of our two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia challenged our territorial integrity.

The ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of our people did violence to the very idea of human rights.

This General Assembly, therefore, faces a General Challenge.

We are called upon not just to respond to the particular question of one instance of armed aggression in a single place—but to define our attitude toward armed aggression in all places.

We are called upon to answer this momentous question:

Will this body stand up for its founding principles, or will it allow them to be crushed under the treads of invading tanks, under the boots of ethnic cleansers, under the immobilizing impact of cyber attacks, and under the pernicious tactics of violent separatism?

What would it mean for every member of this Assembly to defend the underlying principles of the United Nations?

First, we must each refuse to stand silent in the face of this armed aggression and assault on human rights.

Second, we must stand united and immediately adopt a non-recognition policy towards Georgia’s two breakaway provinces.

Together, we have both a moral and a legal obligation to protect international law and world order.

Third, we must ensure that all parties comply with the full terms of the existing ceasefire agreement.

And fourth, we must resolve to create a meaningful UN conflict resolution process that will peacefully reunify Georgia.

The bottom line is this: We must be ready to use the full power of international law and of our collective international institutions to uphold the historic balance of justice…

…And thus set in motion a series of actions to right these historic wrongs.

While this crisis poses grave challenges for the entire international community, it creates specific obligations on my own country.

I want to argue that the answer to this new assault on our shared values is not a closing-up—not a circling of the wagons—but rather a greater openness on many fronts.

As a democracy, we have nothing to fear.

As a democracy, we have an obligation to our own people and to the international community to be even more open and transparent.

For me and my government, this commitment translates into a series of specific actions on both the international and domestic levels. Allow me to explain.

First, I know that there are many people in the world who seek a clearer understanding of how this war started and who started it.

Rather than recite our case, let me repeat a simple invitation that I first made on August 17, standing next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

There should be an exhaustive, independent investigation of the origins and causes of this war.

Investigators must have unimpeded access to all officials, documents, and intelligence.

Georgia welcomes such an investigation. My government is ready to share every piece of evidence and provide access to every witness sought by investigators.

We call on the other party to this conflict to fully cooperate and not obstruct this investigation.

This is how democracies behave.

The truth must come out not only to clarify how events unfolded last month, but to help us answer the fundamental questions that this invasion has raised.

My government’s second initiative of openness involves developments within our own borders.

Whereas others waged this war with arms, we will wage it with values.

Georgia was attacked because it is a successful democracy in our part of the world.

Our response today is to make our democracy an even more robust.

That is why I am announcing to you four categories of expanded democratic initiatives:

First, we will strengthen the checks and balances of our democratic institutions, including granting greater independence to Parliament and to the judiciary.

Second, we will provide additional resources and protections to foster greater political pluralism, including by increasing funding for opposition parties and ensuring they have greater access to the airwaves.

Third, we will strengthen the rule of law by introducing enhanced due process, trials by jury, and lifetime judicial appointments.

Fourth, we will expand and deepen protections of private property.

And in everything we do, we will be transparent.

This morning, I was honored to learn that in Transparency International’s latest index, Georgia was one of a few countries that have risen significantly in the rankings over the past year.

Despite all the turmoil my country has endured, this proves the resiliency and irreversibility of our democratic commitment.

We will, in short, fight the specter of aggression and authoritarianism with the most potent weapons in our arsenal…

…Namely our commitment to ever-expanding freedoms within our own borders..

This amounts to nothing less than a “Second Rose Revolution.”

If our first revolution was about meeting a threat from within by reinventing a failed state riddled by corruption…

…Our second revolution must be even more focused, as now we face an even greater challenge, one that comes from the outside.

The success of the first Rose Revolution helped save my country.

The health of the international order could well depend on the outcome of the second Rose Revolution.

Countless people throughout the world were deeply moved and profoundly troubled by the invasion of Georgia—which began, with tragic irony, on the eve of that great celebration of peace, the Olympic Games.

On the most basic level, you responded with passionate humanity to the plight of ordinary Georgians under siege—

…To the sight of 80-year-old men and women driven from their village homes…

…To hundreds of thousands of innocent souls taking shelter from bombings…

…To a small country of less than five million being trampled by a neighbor 300 times its size.

You responded immediately by sending generous aid, by coming to Georgia, and by showing your solidarity.

Leaders from around the world, meanwhile, have been working tirelessly to negotiate and enforce a ceasefire.

I am especially grateful to President Sarkozy of France for his dedication to ensuring that the ceasefire is fully implemented, in letter and in spirit.

This means, as all parties have agreed, a full withdrawal of all military forces from my country, to the pre-conflict positions.

Your actions proved that the most potent response to this brutal invasion is to rebuild Georgia’s democracy and economy, making them even stronger than before.

And I want to make a special commitment to all of you who—during these especially difficult economic times—are helping fund Georgia’s reconstruction.

We will spend your resources wisely, well, and with full transparency.

The Georgia we rebuild will contribute to the prosperity and security of all our citizens, and to the entire international community…

…By providing stability in this part of the world, and serving as a model for democratic development.

Reconstruction will also ensure that Europe continues to benefit from true energy security that comes from diversification.

And everything that we do, will be done peacefully.

But today, we must ask a series of questions, the answers to which have grave consequences.

We have all wondered in recent weeks: Was this invasion an aberration—a misguided attempt to resort to the 19th century logic of brute force?

Or is it a sign of an ominous new trend, one that could upend the international order, eroding state sovereignty and the power of our common and hard-fought principles?

I believe that this question and others have not yet been answered.

Other still need to be asked.

Will we encourage violent and hateful separatism around the world, standing aside when state sovereignty is subverted?

Or will we draw a clear line, and defend the principles that uphold the international order, and declare—enough!

In the 21st century, we have better ways to protect the rights of ethnic minorities than with T-72 tanks and Su fighter jets.

We have developed a body of legal and political examples to accommodate minority demands within the context of national sovereignty.

After all, this is one of the great achievements of the United Nations and of the European Union.

Its foundation is the belief that democracy and prosperity provide room for all.

Are we ready to throw this all away?

And what of the use of brute force? Will we look the other way or reward the dispatch of tens of thousands of troops across the internationally recognized borders of another country?

Will we cover our eyes when ethnic cleansing occurs, as it has—over and over again for 16 years—in Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

In a world that struggles to reign in traditional forms of state violence, will we sanction new ones?

During the invasion of Georgia, we were witness to several terrifying new twists in waging war.

We saw proxy forces and militias cynically unleashed to ethnically cleanse the population of my country, operating without any restraint and outside any order.

We experienced the first, full-scale campaign of cyber-warfare—a campaign that aimed to cripple my country’s economy and our ability to communicate with the outside world.

It is profoundly distressing to see the technology that has woven our world together and helped bridge cultures being used to divide ethnic groups and to tear our world apart.

And today, when most of the world understands the existential threat posed by climate change and ecological destruction, we witnessed in Georgia a sickening campaign of “ecocide” as part of the invasion…

…When combat helicopters dropped fire bombs on old-growth forests in Borjomi—forests that formed our national center of tourism, recreation, culture, and water resources.

I believe that together, it is our solemn responsibility to deliver answers to these questions.

Let us resolve that we will carry to the world the right conclusions…

The invasion of our country provided an impressive demonstration of the power of global public opinion that can only arise when societies are open and free.

Ultimately, what stopped the tanks and troops from taking our capital was the international disapproval voiced by so many of you…

…By the free media, by courageous human rights groups, and by leading voices of the world’s conscience, from Natan Sharansky to Vaclav Havel.

Rhetoric, however, is no longer enough. Today we must act.

If words were sufficient, then something might have come from the many calls to peace—and the countless warnings—I myself have issued from this podium over the years.

No one has fought harder than my country and me to heal the ethnic rifts in Georgia and to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflicts.

No one has fought harder.

And we will continue this fight—to peacefully reunify my country, to stitch back together its beautiful, multi-ethnic tapestry.

Four years ago, I stood before you and implored the international community to help stop the mass and forced distribution of illegal foreign passports in the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

We knew then that this subversive tactic—combined with the ethnic cleansing that had driven most Georgians from these territories—would one day be used as a pretext for invasion.

And this is precisely what happened last month. It is also happening in other countries in our neighborhood.

In 2006, I brought to your urgent attention the attempts being made to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and I asked you then: “Would any members in this great hall tolerate such interference by another power on their own soil?”

I warned of the risk that—and I quote—“The Pandora's box of violent separatism and conflict will be unleashed not only in the Caucasus, but across many parts of our globe.”

Today, unfortunately, we stand at this very precipice—where the peace could yield to a pernicious new world order.

One year ago, I came to this hall with even more distressing news, of an illegal new military base being built in South Ossetia by those who hoped that arms and violence could triumph over the will of the people.

I noted that this dangerous escalation was taking place under the very noses of international monitors whose job it was to demilitarize the territory.

And I asked that these reckless acts be countered.

Our warnings continued in the months and weeks before the invasion.

We told anyone who would listen of the campaign that had been unleashed to slander Georgia and my government while blocking any meaningful negotiations with the separatists.

This was part of a calculated effort to weaken international support for Georgia and lay the groundwork for invasion.

We gave the international community details of a sharp military buildup by the purported peacekeepers that began this spring in both conflict zones, leading to armed attacks this summer by separatist militias.

Just before the land invasion began in the early hours of Aug. 7—after days of heavy shelling that killed civilians and Georgian peacekeepers—we urgently sought to refute claims that 2,100 South Ossetian civilians had been killed by Georgians.

This was the excuse used by the invader for what it called a “humanitarian intervention”—a profound perversion of the responsibility to protect.

This lie, subsequently debunked by Human Rights Watch (which estimates 44 dead) and others, was an attempt to conceal the true motives for the invasion.

Over the years, I also have spoken many times to you of the plans Georgia has developed, together with the international community, to peacefully reunify my country.

I talked of the urgent need to replace and transform the failed frameworks of negotiation and peacekeeping in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

I have held out—repeatedly and with genuine intent—my hand to our neighbor.

And just a few days before the invasion of Georgia, we continued to work furiously for peace.

The United Nations Secretary General had sent his special representative to Georgia to determine how to fix the broken process of conflict resolution, and we cooperated closely with him.

The German government had proposed peace talks for mid-August—talks my Government eagerly supported.

The Finnish chair of the OSCE proposed talks in Helsinki as well, in late July, to which we subscribed.

Unfortunately, the counterparties to the conflict turned their backs, repeatedly. They had other plans in mind.

Finally, on the eve of the invasion, my special envoy traveled in desperation, twice, to South Ossetia to plead for peace. His counterpart failed to come to the meetings. He cited a flat tire as the reason.

Within 24 hours, thousands of very full tires were rolling over the border of my country.

So words alone are not nearly enough.

Nor can words accurately convey the horrors of war.

It is difficult, if not impossible, ever to say that anything good could come of war.

The value of human life is incalculable, and we in Georgia grieve not only for our own lost sons and daughters, but also for our fallen neighbors.

Yet, the international community has emerged from the invasion of my country with something truly valuable—clarity.

We understand what has happened. We no longer can deny the motivations and intentions of those actors who instigated this war.

With clarity comes responsibility.

We no longer have reason for inaction.

So now each of us has a responsibility to act.

Despite the destruction created by the invasion - hundreds dead; nearly 200,000 displaced, according to the United Nations; our economy disabled - my government is putting our convictions into practice.

I promise to you that my government will implement, with all due speed, the new democratic initiatives that constitute the second Rose Revolution.

I promise to you that Georgia will soon be stronger and more democratic than ever before, and thus be in a better position to contribute to our collective security and prosperity.

But, for this to have any meaning, we must together defend the principles on which this institution is built.

We need actions, not words. Allow me to once again repeat the four commitments that I believe we must make.

First, we must each refuse to stand silent in the face of this armed aggression, occupation, ethnic cleansing and assault on a UN member state.

Second, we must stand united in rejecting the forced and illegal recognition of Georgia’s two separatist provinces.

Third, we must ensure that all parties comply fully with the existing ceasefire agreement.

And fourth, we must resolve to create a meaningful conflict resolution process that will peacefully reunify Georgia.

If we can accomplish these goals, then this institution will emerge from this crisis stronger than it was before.

If however, we fail to rise to the challenge, I fear that the violence and tactics that subverted state sovereignty in Georgia will spread to other parts of the world.

It is our collective responsibility to respond with conviction and resolve.

Georgia has made its choice and our democracy will emerge stronger as a result.

Together, we will find ways, as we have through the millennia, to ensure peaceful coexistence between all members of our multi-ethnic society, be they Georgians, Abkhaz, Ossetians or any other citizens of my ancient country.


Ingushetia "close to civil war"

According to Valery Borshchev,  a representative of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the republic of Ingushetia is close to a state of civil war.

"One part of the population is keeping quiet, but another part is taking up the fight. Fear creates rebellion, the federal government takes responsibility for that," the BBC quotes him as saying.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Marching in step

Window on Eurasia notes that

Sixty-nine years ago today, Soviet and Nazi German soldiers marched together in a military parade in Brest, just one month after Hitler and Stalin had concluded the non-aggression pact that made their countries allies, opened the way for World War II in Europe, and led to Moscow’s occupation of half the continent for 50 years.

That event and even more that alliance – which ended when Hitler invaded the USSR almost two years later -- are not things that most Russians are inclined to recall, especially because of the parallels such recollections invite between the policies of the Soviet government and those of the Nazi one.

Deadly parallels

In Helsingin Sanomat, Merituuli Ahola considers the marked similarity between 22-year old Matti Juhani Saari, the gunman who killed ten people at the Kauhajoki vocational college in western Finland today, and the 18-year old gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who in November last year killed six students at his school in Jokela, 50 km. north of the Finnish capital Helsinki. The points of similarity extend to details like the calibre of the automatic pistols used and the physical appearance of the two, including clothing and hairstyle.

Update (September 24): Finnish news reports say that Saari and Auvinen may have known each other.

From the past to the future

Writing in the Washington Post, Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili stresses that the West "cannot allow Russia's annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to stand. Nor can Moscow be permitted to continuously flout the cease-fire to which it has repeatedly agreed." He also underlines the importance of understanding how the recent conflict began:

For years, Russia sought to slander Georgia and my government while also blocking any meaningful negotiations with the separatists. This was part of a campaign to weaken international support for Georgia and lay the groundwork for invasion. As has been reported, Russia began a sharp military buildup this spring in both conflict zones, leading to armed attacks this summer by its proxy militias. Russia then started its land invasion in the early hours of Aug. 7, after days of heavy shelling that killed civilians and Georgian peacekeepers. At the time, Russia announced that 2,100 South Ossetian civilians had been killed by Georgians, thus forcing Moscow's "humanitarian intervention." This lie, subsequently debunked by Human Rights Watch (which estimated 44 dead) and others, was an attempt to conceal Moscow's true motives.

Marking the territory

In his weekly review of events in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, Prague Watchdog's Dzhambulat Are discusses how Chechnya, now forcibly identified with the personality of its ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov, has recently "become a part of Russia" - not only politically, but also culturally.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chronology of a murder

Via FinRosForum:

Magomed Yevloyev killed on the orders of President Murat Zyazikov

Ingushetiya.Ru has published the results of an investigation into the killing of the site’s owner, Magomed Yevloyev. According to the results of the investigation, Yevloyev was killed on the orders of the President of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov. [Translation after the cut.]


On 31 August 2008 at 11 am, Murat Zyazikov phoned the head of his security staff, his cousin Ruslanbek Zyazikov, and informed him that Magomed Yevloyev was on the same flight [from Moscow], and ordered him to kill Yevloyev.

Immediately, Ruslanbek Zyazikov took a black Ford Focus without government registration plates to the home of Kambulat Medov, uncle of Musa Medov, Minister of Interior of Ingushetia. Many people were at Kambulat Medov’s house to attend the wedding of his son.

Having arrived at Kambulat Medov’s house, Ruslanbek Zyazikov phoned Ibragim Yevloyev, head of security of the Minister of Interior. Ibragim Yevloyev came out of the house and sat into the car of Ruslanbek Zyazikov.

According to eyewitnesses, after five minutes, a red-faced Ibragim Yevloyev came out of the car and went back into the house, where the Minister of Interior, Musa Medov, was attending the wedding reception.

Ibragim Yevloyev whispered something into the minister’s ear, after which Musa Medov and Ibragim Yevloyev both rushed to the car of Ruslanbek Zyazikov. After 15 minutes, Musa Medov and Ibragim Yevloyev came out of the car of Ruslanbek Zyazikov and drove away from the wedding party without informing the hosts.

Musa Medov gave an order to Ibragim Yevloyev to put together a posse for killing Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of Ingushetiya.Ru.

Musa Medov then called in Akhmed Kotiev, head of police in Nazran, and gave him the task of identifying Magomed Yevloyev in case the latter did not identify himself inside the plane, and of faking an arrest. For this purpose, Akhmed Kotiev called in Dzhabrail Shankhoev, criminal investigator at the police in Nazran.

Ibragim Yevloyev called in his subordinates, suppressing the attempt of some of his staff to back out from being party to a crime.

One of his subordinates, Magomed Ozdoev, said that it was his day off and that he did not have a weapon, to which Ibragim Yevloyev replied that he will give him a weapon. Ibragim Yevloyev then took the submachine gun of the first policeman he came across and gave it to Ozdoev.

Another of Musa Medov’s security guards, Khavazh Aushev, was on sick leave at the time. Ibragim Yevloyev called him and told him he was needed in the arrest of a very important person. The Minister of Interior himself took care of other organisational matters.

After the capture of Magomed Yevloyev, the head of Musa Medov’s security staff, Ibragim Yevloyev, called from the car to the Minister of Interior and said, “We finished him off.” Musa Medov replied: “Throw him off at the hospital and then come quickly here.”

Many police officers and Interior Ministry officials saw how the killers, soiled in Magomed Yevloyev’s blood, went up to the cabinet of the Minister of Interior of Ingushetia.

According to Ingush custom, the blood feud will apply to all those who took part in the murder of Magomed Yevloyev. The list begins with the President of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Separate tables

The French government appears to be trying to negotiate a private bilateral foreign policy deal of its own with Russia. A report from Sochi, where the French prime minister Francois Fillon has had talks with Putin, points out that

Fillon flew to Sochi at a time when the European Union is reviewing ties with Russia. The EU condemned Moscow's intervention in Georgia, launched last month to crush Tbilisi's attempt to retake two pro-Moscow regions.

The new French line seems to be that if the provisions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy deal - which has already been condemned by the U.S., amoong others - are carried out, then there is nothing to prevent France from pursuing trade and energy deals which were held up because of the Georgia crisis. However, statements by Fillon suggest that France's efforts to resume "business as usual" with Moscow - a goal earnestly desired by Putin and the Russian leadership - go further than a deal between the two countries:
We wanted this meeting to take place at the original time because it's very important to strengthen the partnership between the European Union and Russia, and France and Russia," Fillon told Putin at their first meeting late on Friday.
It looks as though more dissension within the ranks of the European Union may now arise because of this, as several nations, including Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States have stated their opposition to such "partnership-strengthening" until Russian forces have withdrawn to the positions of before August 7, and the issue of EU and OSCE monitors' access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia - which are being illegally annexed by Russia - has been settled. Neither of these conditions looks likely to be fulfilled in the near future.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From email

"...Russian imperialism is longstanding and deep-rooted. Vladimir Palkin (Putin) is a worthy successor to Nikolai Palkin (Tsar Nicholas I, whose militaristic expansionism was so pronounced that it both earned him the name of Nikolai Palkin – Ramrod Nick – and led to the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856 in an attempt to check Russia’s insatiable appetite for territory and domination). Georgia had three years of independence after the 1917 Revolution before the Red Army reconquered it for the new Russian Empire (a.k.a. the USSR) in 1921 and then suppressed a revolt in 1924. With perestroika the natives became restless again leading to mass demonstrations for independence in Tbilisi which were suppressed bloodily in April 1989 as reported in Wikipedia thus:

'The Soviet detachment, armed with military batons and metal shovels, advanced on demonstrators by encircling them from all sides leaving only a narrow pathway to pull back. During the advance, the soldiers started to attack demonstrators with small metal military shovels, inflicting injuries both minor and serious to anyone who was struck. One of the victims of the attack was a 16 year old girl who tried to get away from the advancing soldiers, but was chased down and beaten to death near the steps of the government building, receiving blows to the head and chest. She was dragged out of the area by her mother who was also attacked and wounded. This particularly violent attack was recorded on video from the balcony of a building located on the other side of the avenue… Twenty people, mainly young girls and older women, were killed and over 4,000 were injured due to toxic gas and injuries received from violent beating by batons and shovels… On April 10, the Soviet government issued a statement blaming the demonstrators for causing unrest and danger for the safety of the public. The next day, the Georgian TV showed the bodies of the 19 women violently killed, demonstrating that extreme brutality was used by the Soviet soldiers, as the faces of the deceased women were hard to identify due to the facial injuries and blows to the head…'"

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Moderate Detente"

According to an article in today's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, President Dmitry Medvedev wants to introduce a policy of "moderate detente" in its relations with the West - especially with the United States.

The Kremlin does not intend to continue to escalate confrontation with the West in general and the U.S. in particular. In the near future a package of measures aimed at improving relations and the easing of tension in the dialogue between Russia and its key Western partners will be adopted. This is reported by several informed sources in the presidential administration and around it.

Dmitry Medvedev's decision to move to a policy of "moderate detente" in relations with the West is influenced by several factors. These include the very moderate reaction by the United States of America, and especially the European Union, to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Following the example recently set by Belarus President Lukashenko, the "package of measures" is likely to include "the alleviation of the lot of a number of Russian citizens who in the West are considered to be political prisoners." However, the paper notes, this leniency, if it is implemented, is unlikely to apply to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Also, "under no circumstances will Russia reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. and the deployment of military bases on the territory of these two new states". The article speculates on the future of Russian FM Sergei Lavrov, whose recent run-in with Britain's foreign secretary David Miliband drew attention to Lavrov's harsh and uncompromising attitudes and personality.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gates: 'We would stand by our commitments'


Rice to warn Russia

In a speech she will give before the German Marshall Fund today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will challenge Russia over its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the IHT/NYT reports:

“What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding Russia has taken a dark turn with the rollback of personal freedoms, the arbitrary enforcement of the law, the pervasive corruption at various levels of Russian society and the paranoid, aggressive impulse, which has manifested itself before in Russian history,” she will say, according to her prepared remarks, which were pointedly released in advance to draw added attention to them.

Despite such criticism, Russia appears increasingly determined to defy the United States and Europe and test their willingness to punish Russia for its dismemberment of Georgia. Mr. Medvedev signed the treaties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia during elaborate ceremonies in the Kremlin.

After routing Georgian forces in a five-day war, Russia recognized the independence of both regions, which had effectively though not formally seceded from Georgia after violent conflicts that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

So far only Nicaragua has joined Russia in recognizing the two as sovereign nations, as has Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza. Ms. Rice mocks Russia’s diplomatic efforts in her remarks. “A pat on the back from Daniel Ortega and Hamas is hardly a diplomatic triumph,” she says, referring to Nicaragua’s president.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

U.S. Congress: Russia should acknowledge illegality of Soviet occupation of Baltic States

Via Postimees:

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution which stated that Russia should acknowledge the illegality of Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, RIA Novosti's correspondent reports.

"The Congress asks the U.S. president and Secretary of State to call upon the Government of the Russian Federation to recognize that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pact for the succeeding years was illegal",  it says in the text of document.

- - - - -

Via email:

Text of the resolution:


2d Session

S. CON. RES. 87

Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.


June 9, 2008

Mr. SMITH (for himself and Mr. DURBIN) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations



Congratulating the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.

Whereas, on November 18, 1918, in the City of Riga, the members of the People’s Council proclaimed Latvia a free, democratic, and sovereign nation;

Whereas, on July 24, 1922, the United States formally recognized Latvia as an independent and sovereign nation;

Whereas Latvia existed for 21 years as an independent and sovereign nation and a fully recognized member of the League of Nations;

Whereas Latvia maintained friendly and stable relations with its neighbors, including the Soviet Union, during its independence, without any border disputes;

Whereas Latvia concluded several peace treaties and protocols with the Soviet Union, including a peace treaty signed on August 11, 1920, under which the Soviet Union ‘unreservedly recognize[d] the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounce[d] all sovereign rights . . . over the Latvian people and territory’;

Whereas, despite friendly and mutually productive relations between Latvia and the Soviet Union, on August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contained a secret protocol assigning Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence;

Whereas, under the cover of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on June 17, 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in violation of pre-existing peace treaties;

Whereas the Soviet Union imposed upon the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania a communist political system that stifled civil dissent, free political expression, and basic human rights;

Whereas the United States never recognized this illegal and forcible occupation, and successive United States presidents maintained continuous diplomatic relations with these countries throughout the Soviet occupation, never accepting them to be ‘Soviet Republics’;

Whereas, during the 50 years of Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, Congress strongly, consistently, and on a bipartisan basis supported a United States policy of legal non-recognition;

Whereas, in 1953, the congressionally-established Kersten Commission investigated the incorporation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union and determined that the Soviet Union had illegally and forcibly occupied and annexed the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1982, and for the next nine years until the Baltic countries regained their independence, Congress annually adopted a Baltic Freedom Day resolution denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and appealing for the freedom of the Baltic countries;

Whereas, in 1991, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania regained their de facto independence and were quickly recognized by the United States and by almost every other country in the world, including the Soviet Union;

Whereas, in 1998, the United States and the three Baltic nations signed the U.S.-Baltic Charter of Partnership, an expression of the importance of the Baltic Sea region to United States interests;

Whereas the 109th Congress resolved (S. Con. Res. 35 and H. Res. 28) that ‘it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the consequences of which will be a significant increase in good will among the affected people’;

Whereas Latvia has successfully developed as a free and democratic country, ensured the rule of law, and developed a free market economy;

Whereas the Government of Latvia has constantly pursued a course of integration of that country into the community of free and democratic nations, becoming a full and responsible member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization;

Whereas the people of Latvia cherish the principles of political freedom, human rights, and independence; and

Whereas Latvia is a strong and loyal ally of the United States, and the people of Latvia share common values with the people of the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress--

(1) congratulates the people of Latvia on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of that country’s November 18, 1918, declaration of independence;

(2) commends the Government of Latvia for its success in implementing political and economic reforms, for establishing political, religious and economic freedom, and for its strong commitment to human and civil rights;

(3) recognizes the common goals and shared values of the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the close and friendly relations and ties of the three Baltic countries with one other, and their tragic history in the last century under the Nazi and Soviet occupations;

(4) calls on the President to issue a proclamation congratulating the people of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of the declaration of Latvia’s independence on November 18, 1918;

(5) respectfully requests the President to congratulate the Government of Latvia for its commitment to democracy, a free market economy, human rights, the rule of law, participation in a wide range of international structures, and security cooperation with the United States Government; and

(6) calls on the President and Secretary of State to urge the Government of the Russian Federation to acknowledge that the Soviet occupation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and for the succeeding 51 years was illegal.

Fear and insecurity

Via the Telegraph:

The United Nations refugee organisation confirmed on Tuesday that while "destruction of buildings and houses is not as widespread as was initially feared", Georgians still inside the occupied territory were living in fear.

"There is still a great deal of fear among the people currently residing in these villages," a team of UNHCR officials reported.

"Beatings, looting and arson by marauding militias have created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity."

The Daily Telegraph on Monday confirmed the findings after travelling behind Russian military checkpoints to villages near the South Ossetian boundary.

Six and half and miles inside the zone, the few remaining inhabitants of the village of Tkviav remain terrified of paramilitary South Ossetian militias.

One man hiding in trees by the roadside warned that the area was still unsafe amid continuing robberies and assaults.

"It has been chaos here," he said.

"The Russians do not protect us. After their tanks went past the Ossetian militia came to rob and kill us. They murdered seven people here."

Closer to Gori, Georgians are slowly returning to villages. In the Karaleti area, right on the boundary of the buffer zone, up to 80 per cent of the population has returned, according to the UN.

But Nani Kharibegashvili, who stayed in Karaleti throughout the conflict, is still frightened.

"We still do not feel safe at night when the militia are out driving in their cars. Everyone stays inside and hopes they do not come," she said.

Her sister, Raisa, who has a daughter serving with Georgian military forces in Iraq, feels betrayed by the West.

"We have good relations with the West and the West should have done more to help us," she said.

A Russian soldier, guarding the Karaleti checkpoint, claimed that he was sympathetic to the plight of local Georgians.

"It is not up to me, it is our chiefs. We would like to help and we feel sorry for people frightened of the militias," he said.

The UN has estimated that 68,000 of 127,000 internally displaced Georgians have returned home under pressure to get the harvest in before winter.

Gas Pipe

From the IHT:

A section of bright yellow natural gas pipe commands center stage at the Venice Biennale's International Architecture Exhibition this year. Sixty-three meters long and 1.2 meters in diameter, it snakes down the Castello Gardens from the German to the Russian pavilion.

Gaasitoru/Gas Pipe is the exhibit of Estonia, and draws attention to the controversial project to construct a direct pipeline between Russia and Germany. The pipe would run along the Baltic seabed, which could have major political and ecological implications for neighboring countries.

But the Estonian exhibit also highlights the general issue of energy, which will probably be the biggest single factor in how the architecture of the 21st century develops

Saakashvili's Annual Address [civil.ge]

Saakashvili’s Annual Address

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 16 Sep.'08 / 20:59


Today my speech should have been my report on how we were implementing our program of Georgia without Poverty;

I wanted to speak about increased pensions and other social projects; about new projects in agriculture, as they were part of our [pre-election] promises;

But instead of that, now I am standing here as the president whose country was attacked by a huge aggressor, which tried to totally destroy Georgia;

At the same time I am the president of the nation that was not broken and which continues its struggle to achieve its goals;

We have been warning the world about this threat… about the maniacal desire of Russia to invade Georgia;

We have been doing everything to protect peace, which is the most important thing for us;

We have been offering peace plans to the separatists for the sake of peace;

We have done everything to prevent war;

But we have not done and will not do one thing – surrender to the enemy; the enemy will never see our backs;

The Georgian nation is a hero;

I want to stress the very important role of our Church;

I thank my people and promise my people that each and every day of my term in office will be in your service;

For the first time in our history the entire civilized world stood beside us;

This confirms that we have made the right choice in picking our allies;

I want to welcome NATO, which stood beside us; we understand that there is a long way towards NATO, but we clearly see this road and we will travel this road;

We always stood beside the United States because we have common values and the United States stood beside us when we needed it most;

By protecting our security we will protect the energy security of Europe;

This is a decisive moment and there is a long way ahead before final victory;

Do not believe those who say that we have won; but do not believe either those who tell you that we have been defeated;

Putin, who planned all this, knows that Russia has not won; Putin wanted to destroy Georgia’s democracy and Putin wants total control over Central Asian energy resources;

But Georgia will not be defeated;

Not a single dictator will be able redraw European borders;

The threat still exists and the enemy still stands in the middle of Georgia;

Our goal now is to take care of the victims and to rebuild the country;

Not a single person should be left without housing;

I assume responsibility for everything that happened before the war and for everything that is needed for the country’s reconstruction;

We now need peace and stability; we did not want this war;

We should now become united – as we did during the war – to rebuild the country;

In the next 18 months we should be in a situation better than before the war;

We at least managed to find a common language with the opposition on the major issues – unity of the country and continuation of democratic reforms;

The Anti-Crisis Council [with the involvement of some opposition parties] should have some executive powers;

In respect of another, small part of the opposition, I want to say:  do not forget that as never before Georgia needs our unity and our cooperation; I am as never before ready for cooperation;

Of course there are questions that need to be answered; I support the parliamentary group and parliamentary debates on these matters [what led to the war]; we are interested in answering all the questions;

Georgia’s response to Russia’s aggression will be more democracy, more freedom and more progress;

I want to announce a new set of democratic reforms, involving a stronger parliament, judiciary, more free media;

A constitutional amendment according to which the newly elected parliament will be able to pass a confidence vote in the new cabinet;

Increased funding for political parties;

The proposal will also involve cutting the president’s powers to dissolve Parliament and the details of this proposal will be worked out together with Parliament;

Debates should take place permanently on the public TV and we should create conditions for that;

We need a new wave of judicial reform aimed at a more independent and free judicial system; 

Judges will be appointed for life;

Creating strong guarantees for private property;

I am standing here because our nation is unbreakable;

We will definitely win, but the important thing is to maintain strong confidence;

The most important thing is to always remember that our strength is in our unity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Georgia death toll, more than half are civilians

Civil Georgia notes that

The officially registered number of Georgian citizens killed during active hostilities is 370, as of September 15, according to information posted on the Georgian Defense Ministry’s website.

The civilian death toll is 188; 168 Defense Ministry personnel are listed as dead and 14 from the Interior Ministry.

According to the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Welfare, the number of civilians killed in the war may change after the Georgian side gains access to and inspects the areas currently occupied by Russian troops.

Bryza on August 7

The NYT/IHT has published a new examination, by C.J. Chivers, Dan Bilefsky and Thom Shanker, of the evidence relating to the start of the Georgia war, which includes references to the statements of Captain Denis Sidristy and other testimony supporting the claim that the conflict was ignited by Russia on August 7. The Georgian authorities provided audio files of telephone intercepts along with English translations to the NYT, which made its own translation from the original Ossetian into Russian and then into English. The NYT report contains some interesting remarks by Matthew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state who coordinates diplomacy in the Caucasus. Bryza is quoted as saying that

the contents of the recorded conversations were consistent with what Georgians appeared to believe on Aug. 7, in the final hours before the war, when a brief cease-fire collapsed.

"During the height of all of these developments, when I was on the phone with senior Georgian officials, they sure sounded completely convinced that Russian armored vehicles had entered the Roki Tunnel, and exited the Roki Tunnel, before and during the cease-fire," he said. "I said, under instructions, that we urge you not to engage these Russians directly."

By the night of Aug. 7, he said, he spoke with Eka Tkeshelashvili, Georgia's foreign minister, shortly before President Saakashvili issued his order to attack. "She sounded completely convinced, on a human level, of the Russian presence," Bryza said. " 'Under these circumstances,' she said, 'We have to defend our villages.' "

Work for two pianos

It appears that the massive military attack on Georgia, which all the signs and background now suggest was planned by Russia's leadership long in advance, had several purposes. As some analysts have pointed out, not the least of these may have been the aim of the Moscow power elites to scupper the chances of any far-reaching modernization of Russia, a  process which a few Western experts had believed might ensue with the accession of Dmitry Medvedev to the presidency. In a new EDM article, Jonas Bernstein quotes and discusses some statements made by political analyst Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center in a  recent interview with TV/radio presenter Yevgeny Kiselyov. Shevtsova's main thesis is that Russia's "tandem leadership" has come unstuck because of its own anti-Western propaganda. Excerpt:

Kiselyov noted that in the wake of the five-day Russo-Georgian war, Medvedev and Putin had spent a lot of time meeting with Western politicians, journalists, and political scientists (he was apparently referring, among other things, to the fifth annual Valdai Club meeting). Yet while such meetings appeared to have been aimed, at least in part, at mending fences, Kiselyov pointed out that both leaders had also made a number of harsh statements and accusations aimed at the West, which would seem to undermine the goal of improving relations.

This contradictory behavior demonstrates how the system of power over which Putin and Medvedev preside forces them to “play two pianos at the same time,” said Shevtsova. “On the one hand, Putin, Medvedev, and the Kremlin elite are fully aware that further escalation of the confrontation with the West would be ruinous for that very power, for that very system, because it is a system of a class of rentiers who sell raw materials … to the West and survive that way; that is, they cannot afford a confrontation, much less a war, with the West,” she said. “And they obviously understand that they went too far and need to back off. That’s the performance on one piano. The second piano must play a different melody, namely, they are nonetheless consolidating Russia on the basis of anti-Western rhetoric; that is, they are … keeping the country under control by using the image of a besieged fortress. And everything depends on gamesmanship that consists of combining what would seem to be incompatible: to be an enemy of the West and simultaneously to show that we, in principle, do not rule out … negotiations and even a partnership with the West.”

According to Shevtsova, beginning at least in 2004 (when Putin moved to centralize political power in the wake of the Beslan hostage crisis), the Kremlin created a system that uses perceived outside threats as a way to mobilize society. “And now the architects who created a type of system that is consolidated on the basis of searching for enemies … have become slaves and hostages of that system, and this will be very difficult to halt,” she said. “In any case, they have now, it seems to me, taken an irretrievable step--I mean, in August 2008 [the attack on Georgia]. They have created a watershed between the old epoch, when there was hope for Russia’s integration with the West, and a new epoch, in which Western public opinion … regards Russia as an alien civilization.

The fires of Borjomi

The Washington Post has an article about the mid-August forest fires in Georgia's Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, which appear to have been started deliberately by helicopters from Russia's armed forces - even though the park is situated far from any conflict zone.

In the end, about 370 acres of the park burned, plus an additional 2,200 acres of a neighboring buffer zone. A government commission has been formed to investigate the causes and assess the damage, and Enukidze said he hopes international organizations will participate.

Telephone calls and e-mails by a reporter to Russian spokesmen seeking comment elicited no response.

Nana Janashia, executive director of the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, said it was too early to put a price tag on the damage. Park officials say the fires came during their best season in years and set them back significantly. The park's director, Toma Dekanoidze, estimated the cost to the economy could be as high as $700 million, including lost business for hotels and restaurants, and for local villagers who sell their produce, offer lodgings and work as hiking and horseback guides for tourists.

Monday, September 15, 2008

NATO: EU-Russia pact 'not acceptable'

The deal brokered last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been dismissed by NATO's secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as unacceptable, as it cedes too much ground to Russia, the FT reports:

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr de Hoop Scheffer complained that Russia, which has pledged to withdraw from buffer zones inside Georgia that adjoin South Ossetia and Abkhazia, is being permitted to retain a military presence inside the two breakaway regions.

This was, he said, in direct contravention of an earlier six-point plan from President Sarkozy that called for a return to the status quo before the conflict broke out. "If the Russians are staying in South Ossetia with so many forces, I do not consider this as a return to the status quo," he said. "The option of keeping Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not acceptable."

The new NATO-Georgia commission, first announced on August 19, held its first session in Tbilisi today.


See also in this blog: Sarkozy agreement = no deal

Sarkozy agreement = no deal - 2

Neighbourhood watch

By taking a swipe at Estonia on Finnish television on September 4 in the context of Europe's reaction to the Georgia conflict, Finland's president Tarja Halonen may have sparked the beginnings of what could become a long-awaited public debate in Finland about her country's role in the Cold War, and its relations with its next-door neighbours. In her YLE "A-Studio" television interview President Halonen said that Estonians were suffering from "post-Soviet stress", and gave an overview of current Finnish foreign policy, expressing relief that "there are countries in the EU that are not in a post-traumatic situation." That prompted a puzzled reaction from Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who remarked that “Estonia has never criticised, and will not criticise the foreign policy decisions of another EU country. It will also not evaluate the psychological state of mind of other EU countries.”

On Saturday, Finland's main daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a leading article headed "The long shadow of hypersensitivity in relations between neighbours", which discussed the very different ways in which Finland and Estonia relate to Russia, but argued that there was no sense in either state criticizing the other's approach - each had a right to its own way of dealing with the large and often threatening eastern neighbour. The article began with a reference to Finland's ex-president Mauno Koivisto, who during the early 1980s tried to introduce a new policy for dealing with the Soviet Union, one that would replace and build on the policy of the Kekkonen era. Unfortunately, the policy was so compliant with the wishes of the Kremlin that, as a commenter on the HS site has pointed out, had Koivisto's line been followed by the rest of Europe, Estonia and the other Baltic states would now be part of Russia.  

I began to visit Finland - exclusively on business connected with literary translation - during the early part of Koivisto's presidency, and I can still remember the atmosphere that prevailed in the country at the time. While a relative freedom in social, economic and cultural life was noticeable everywhere, so that if one wanted to, one could imagine oneself to be much further West in Europe, in matters that had anything to do with the Soviet Union, a grim, sarcastic silence and unwillingness to discuss Soviet-related issues were the order of the day. While there was certainly more freedom than there was across the water, in Soviet-occupied Estonia, it was impossible to ignore the constraints that existed in Finnish society where Moscow was concerned. Perhaps because most of my activity in Finland was related to literature and translation, I avoided some of the more intense disagreements that could have arisen between my points of view and those of my hosts. My background in Russian studies, and the time I'd spent in Moscow as a post-graduate research student, tended to interfere now and then, however. I can still remember one or two incidents. For example,at that time, Koivisto's Soviet Union policy included the long-established practice of returning Soviet defectors to the USSR. On a day when an anti-US and anti-Israel demonstration was being held in Helsinki, I happened to have conversation with a Finland-Swedish poet who much later on became a minister in the government of Paavo Lipponen. Incautiously, I mentioned the subject of Jewish refuseniks in the Soviet Union, and asked if Finland would also return them to Russia if they appeared in Finland. This provoked an outburst of violent anger from my interlocutor, and I decided not to raise any more such questions with him or with anyone else I met, as I was in Finland on an official invitation.

Many years later, I read about some of what had really transpired among Finland's media and opinion-forming circles during the 1960s, 70s and early 80s in Esko Salminen's Vaikeneva valtiomahti (The Silent  Estate?)  and felt that most of my suspicions were confirmed. Finlandization and "self-censorship" really were a important part of Finland's cultural and political identity in those decades after the Second World War. Now the Finnish politician Erkki Aho has reviewed a recent book by the historian and political analyst Juha Seppinen, entitled Neuvostotiedostelu Suomessa 1917-1991 (Soviet Intelligence in Finland 1917-1991) which deals with the subject of Finland's relations with Russia and the Soviet Union throughout most of the 20th century (I reached the link through Marko Mihkelson's blog).  The book also lists details of the meetings and contacts many Finnish politicians and public figures had with members of the Soviet security and intelligence services. 

Perhaps at least part of the root of the problem in Finland can be traced back to the Finnish Civil War of 1918, when the forces of the Social Democrats (referred to as the "Reds"), who were supported by the Bolsheviks in Russia, fought with the troops of the Conservatives (known as the "Whites"), supported by Imperial Germany. The degree to which this conflict permeated virtually all areas of Finnish life cannot be exaggerated. It even affected the most recondite literary circles: the Dadaist poet Gunnar Björling became involved on the White side, and hid a White telegraphist in his basement room in Red-occupied Helsinki throughout the entire four months of the war.

At all events, it seems ill-befitting for a Finnish president to criticize neighbouring Estonia in the terms that were used by Tarja Halonen. After all, Estonia was occupied because of its outspoken resistance to Soviet power, while Finland managed to escape such a fate (though it had around a tenth of its territory annexed) only by sacrificing moral and intellectual integrity.Perhaps the wisest course for politicians in both Finland and Estonia is to recognize that the present situation in both countries is in many respects the result of the past - a past which though it can't be undone, can none the less be recognized and discussed between them. And for the discussion to proceed calmly and productively the slinging of abuse, however "psychological" and mediated, won't contribute to the process. There also needs to be a wider recognition in the rest of Europe that the problems of the Baltic States and of north-eastern Europe as a whole are not local, regional matters, but rather the consequence of the deep and tragic divisions which shook the whole continent of Europe during the twentieth century, and for which Europe as a whole bears a degree of responsibility. Here, in the ongoing crisis caused by Russia's recent violation of the territorial borders of a sovereign state, NATO and the European Union have a major role to play in making such a debate possible. And perhaps by joining NATO and assuming the rights and duties that go with that, Finland can demonstrate conclusively, once and for all, that it really is a part of the alliance of Western nations.