Thursday, October 30, 2008

Georgia "shock"

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

The yacht case - 5

Friday, October 24, 2008

Russia deploying 2,000 extra troops in S. Ossetia

The yacht case - 4

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The yacht case - 3

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The yacht case - 2

From the Independent:

At the height of sanctions against Yugoslavia, SIS, the secret intelligence service, warned No 10 about a similar donation to the Conservative Party from a Serbian source. The concern of SIS at the time was that this could be used to compromise the party.

Now, the Conservative Party is already highly compromised by its unfortunate Russian connections. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is supposed to promote human rights, Tory MPs have, until very recently, been closely allied with the United Russia Party of Vladimir Putin.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Disinformation blues

At RFE/RL, Liz Fuller writes about the flagging Russian disinformation campaign currently directed against Georgia, but losing momentum and conviction day by day:

A Stratfor analysis...expressed skepticism, pointing out, first, that tactics such as suicide bombings are typical of the North Caucasus Islamic resistance, but not of a Christian culture such as Georgia's; and second, that the terror attacks the Georgians have perpetrated to date have been amateurish and inflicted only limited damage.

The analysis suggested the "Izvestia" story was pure disinformation intended both to discredit Georgia and to serve as a warning to the country's leaders not to risk any military or covert actions that could trigger a new Russian counterattack.

There is some circumstantial evidence out there suggesting that Georgian special forces may have acquired additional expert training in the use of explosives. Photographs from a computer reportedly seized in August 2008 when Russian troops expelled Georgian forces from the upper reaches of Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge and posted on a Russian website apparently show U.S. military instructors or contractors demonstrating to Georgian troops how to construct explosive devices. But it's not clear where or when the photographs were taken.

Assuming, however, that the photographs are genuine, it seems strange that Moscow has opted not to publicize them more widely in the context of its warnings of a purported nebulous Georgian terrorist threat -- unless the Russian leadership considers it pointless and counterproductive to raise the issue with a lame-duck administration in Washington, especially at a time when bilateral relations are still strained in the wake of the war in Georgia.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ossetian militiamen join Russian regular army

BBC Monitoring

Ossetian militiamen join Russian regular army - Georgian TV Text of report by private Georgian Imedi TV on 14 October

[Presenter] Ossetians will serve in the Russian army. Ossetian riot police which is well-known for its brutality has become a part of the Russian regular army. A "Kronika" camera has filmed notorious criminals on the perimeter of the Georgian villages of the Akhalgori [District].

Today they are already wearing Russian soldiers' uniform and are patrolling Georgian territory.

[Presenter] Moscow has confirmed the information, saying that Russia should control dangerous criminal groups in the [Georgian-Ossetian] conflict zone. [Our correspondent] Nodar Meladze will be speaking live about the danger the disguised Ossetian militiamen are posing to the civilian population [of the region]. Nodar, we are listening to you.

[Correspondent] The footage our viewers will see in the report was filmed in the vicinity of the village of Mosabruni. Hundreds of Georgians cross the place in the conflict zone every day. It emerged that members of a special purpose unit of the Ossetian separatists rather than Russian occupiers are checking documents of the residents of 56 villages. The so-called Ossetian militiamen are standing along with Russian troops on the checkpoints. Instead of their old uniform they are already wearing new uniforms of the Russian army and have new military ranks. In the name of Russian soldiers, fighters of the notoriously brutal Tskhinvali riot police are stationed on the perimeter of the Georgian villages. "Kronika" camera tracked about ten such fighters at the entrance to Akhalgori only. Those who had no time to change uniforms and continued to stand in the uniform of black masks [as heard], hid themselves as soon they saw the camera.

[Correspondent in Russian] Are there any Ossetians themselves in your battalion?

[Uncaptioned Russian servicemen in Russian] I cannot tell about the others but there are none in mine.

[Correspondent] I understand. And still there are [Ossetians here].

[Russian servicemen] Maybe. I do not know.

[Correspondent] Head of the checkpoint neither denies nor confirms that the Ossetian riot police joined the Russian army. However, Moscow did not hide the fact. The State Duma said that they prefer to control the most dangerous groups themselves so that armed people do not create problems for the Russian army.

[Russian MP Viktor Ilyukhin, speaking in Russian] it is better to put [them] in order, better to control [them] and govern them rather than leave them armed and, as they say, without control and management.

[Correspondent] Ossetian militiamen appeared in the Russian army through contract system. They have the lowest salaries and broad rights. By changing the uniform, their status changes too. Now they are no longer members of the gang formations but rather soldiers of the Russian army. Ossetian militiamen who are disguised in the military uniform are
basically working at strategic facilities, such as construction of military units on the territories adjacent to Georgian villages. At the moment Ossetian militiamen are building a new military unit at the entrance to Akhalgori.

[Correspondent] Russian military experts are saying that the Russian army stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be manned by militiamen and members of the Black Squad [as heard] in future although the military units will still be controlled by the Russians.

[Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer, speaking in Russian] It is quite legal to list them as contractors. There is no necessity to spend too much on them. They are ready to serve for less money. It is far more beneficial than bringing people from Russia. There is no need to build houses for them.

[Correspondent] Ossetian militiamen, [standing] at the Russian checkpoints in the vicinity of the Georgian villages, tend to hide, especially when international observers arrive. This is what happened when a Red Cross group arrived in Akhalgori. However, in this case the so-called militiamen had no time to hide their cars [video shows a car with Ossetian number plate].

[Correspondent] Moscow has officially confirmed reports that besides the villages adjacent [to the conflict zone], Ossetian militiamen will be stationed on the regular checkpoints that will be operating in the Java District and the villages of the Tskhinvali Region. Those in the capital of the Russian Federation are saying today that the regular army units that are due to be stationed in [Abkhazia's] Gali District, will presumably be manned by Abkhaz separatists.

UN court rules in Georgia's favour


Georgia had taken the unusual step of using a 1960s international convention outlawing racial discrimination to take Russia to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The provisional ruling was a surprise as observers had thought it likely that the court would say it had no jurisdiction in the case, as Russia has argued.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Georgia-Russia talks "collapse" (BBC)


Talks between Georgian and Russian officials on the recent conflict over Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia have collapsed, Georgian officials say.

They say the Russians did not attend an opening session of the Geneva meeting, mediated by the UN and the EU. Moscow has made no comment on the outcome.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on Iceland

Actions and statements from around the world about the crisis in Iceland continue to be characterized by excessive rhetoric and harshness. The Danish economic analyst Carsten Valgreen has said that Iceland will soon be "the Zimbabwe of the North Atlantic", presumably referring to Iceland's economic situation, and not to its excellent human rights record. Meanwhile, a tour of Japan by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra has been cancelled by the Japanese organizers, apparently on the grounds that they fear not enough Japanese concertgoers will attend the performances.

Iceland talks in Moscow

Icelandic officials are now in Moscow to discuss what has been publicized as a 4 billion euro loan. Yet Reuters and Icelandic press sources say that no government ministers are in the Icelandic delegation.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Iceland awash

From The Independent, February 10 2005:

The favourite theory doing the rounds is that Reykjavik is awash with Russian mafia money. Iceland, they reason, is precisely halfway between Moscow and New York, making it the perfect stop-off point for a Russian oligarch to launder the odd billion roubles. Plus, wasn't the Russian connection cemented by presidents Reagan and Gorbachev's choice of Reykjavik as their setting to end the Cold War?

Icelanders, naturally, assert that the Russian money notion is nonsense. But everyone knows where it comes from. Three years ago, a trio of Icelanders led by Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson sold a Russian brewing business he built from scratch from a disused Pepsi plant to Heineken for more than pounds 200m. Mr Bjorgolfsson, who, like most of his peers is in his late 30s, used his spoils to acquire most of Landsbanki through his company, Samson Global Holdings. He also has a 30 per cent stake in Actavis, the pharmaceuticals company set to float on the London Stock Exchange this year. Hence the theory that Icelandic companies are awash with Russian money.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Going too far

The present dispute between the UK and Iceland is turning into a melodrama in which some unwise statements and actions are being made on several sides. But while it's easy to crack witticisms about a "New Cod War", the implications of what is currently being said, done and discovered in connection with this falling-out are drastic enough.

Not that all of the statements are unwise. At a press conference in Reykjavík today, Iceland's prime minister Haarde made the perfectly reasonable remark that "Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, went much too far in his comments about Iceland yesterday."

Agreed: it's going too far when the government of one country more or less accuses the friendly government of another of economic terrorism.

But it's also going too far when the local governments of one country - even if it was due to their own negligence - are to all intents and purposes held to ransom by the failing economic system of another. And it's definitely going too far when a country that's a member of NATO announces that it intends to make an extraordinary financial arrangement with Russia that could, if certain conditions were met, conceivably overturn the whole of the strategic balance in Europe and the Western Atlantic.

It's probably going too far even to publicize the dispute at all, as the headlines continue to do.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Happy Thought

Happy Thought

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.


- R.L. Stevenson, A Child's Garden of Verses

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Disinformation targeting OSCE

In Georgia the Kremlin currently appears to be trying to use the same weapon of disinformation it has employed in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, arranging provocations - often dangerous ones, involving loss of life - in order to put blame on other parties in such a clumsy way that the credibility of the operation is severely reduced. Most recently these efforts have been aimed against the OSCE and its monitors. On October 3, an explosion in the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali killed at least 11 people, including Russian soldiers, and South Ossetian sources lost no time in putting the blame on the OSCE itself - the accusations were at once circulated by Russian media, prompting the outrage of the Head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia, Terhi Hakala:

She pointed out that spreading of disinformation about the OSCE mission "may be taken as a signal of unwillingness on the part of those responsible to work constructively."

"The spreading of untruthful propaganda about the Mission - which includes several previous entirely false accounts connected with OSCE staff and premises - is a serious matter, endangers OSCE personnel," she added.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Russia's heroes

1. Alexander Nevsky (2,011,766 votes)
2. Alexander Pushkin (1,781,863)
3. Fyodor Dostoevsky (1,678,083)
4. Peter the Great (1,511,367)
5. Vladimir Lenin (1,356,281)
6. Alexander Suvorov (1,271,345)
7. Catherine the Great (1,265,784)
8. Ivan the Terrible (1,216,812)
9. Peter Stolypin (1,165,377)
10. Alexander II (1,066,896)
11. Dmitry Mendeleev (1,044,897)
12. Josef Stalin (1,039,488)

Today, October 7, is the second anniversary of the murder in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Vanishing vendettas

Prague Watchdog's weekly review looks at the current stalemate in Chechnya, where centuries-old tradition is being ousted by a bizarre political regime which combines the old with the new in disconcerting and, for the moment, paralysing ways:

How many of Kadyrov’s blood feud enemies, or those who can be considered as such today, are merely sitting quietly in their corners, unable to decide on any action? Dozens, hundreds? No one will give you an exact figure, but any Chechen will confirm that there is no shortage of people who have reconciled themselves to Kadyrov or have even gone over to his side – the side of the man on whom it is possible to lay the blame for the death of one’s relatives (though not necessarily, as according to adat, guilt is apportioned depending on circumstances).

Whether the Yamadayevs will take their revenge or not it is hard to say. However, the hopes that Russian society has placed in the traditional Chechen way of life, which is thought to be capable of putting a stop to the Chechen leader’s bloody, arbitrary activism, are unfounded.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


"If people would remember that all religions are no more than representations of life, they would find them, as they are, the best representations, licking Shakespeare."

- R.L. Stevenson

Friday, October 03, 2008

Russia under pressure

Moscow continues to come under international pressure on the matter of its invasion of Georgia and annexation of parts of Georgian territory.

Russian media initially made much of the PACE decision on Wednesday not to suspend the voting rights of the Russian delegation in order to punish Moscow for its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, it is now clear that the decision was made in order to force Moscow to publicly comply with the conditions outlined in the PACE resolution: these include a demand that Russia must withdraw its recognition of the two separatist "republics", and if this is not done by the next session to be held in January, it is likely that PACE will vote to implement the voting rights suspension.

It also seems clear that the Kremlin may have miscalculated how the West would take the invasion. Even a Russia-friendly politician like the Estonian Social Democrat MEP Katrin Saks, who recently returned from talks with Russian leaders in Moscow, has said that the Kremlin, and much of Russian public opinion, was "shocked" by the Western reaction.

On Thursday, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, on a visit to Azerbaijan, said on Thursday that Russia will now "think twice" before repeating its actions during the Georgia conflict, AFP reports:

"The way Russia behaved in Georgia was unjustified," Negroponte said at a press conference during a visit to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

"We and Europe helped Georgia after that and we will continue. We think Russia will think twice before she behaves like that again," he said.

"The way this country behaves has nothing to do with the 21st century," he added.

"We call on Russia to implement fully the ceasefire negotiated by (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy," he said.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Saakashvili: Threat of Russian Aggression Persists []

Saakashvili: Threat of Russian Aggression Persists

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 2 Oct.'08 / 19:03

Russia has failed to achieve its major goals in Georgia and therefore the threat of Russian aggression still persists, President Saakashvili said on October 2 at a meeting with the command of the Georgian armed forces.

He said that Georgia did not want the war and “we had no plans to carry out such defensive operations especially in Tskhinvali and in South Ossetia.”

“But the enemy supposed that - after the embargo did not work, after provocations did not work, after internal destabilization did not work – it would be impossible to achieve its two major goals – to remove the present authorities of Georgia and to control the oil pipelines,” Saakashvili said.

“But everybody should remember that they failed to fulfill these two tasks. They failed to overthrow the Georgian government and they failed to take control of the oil pipelines,” he continued. “Therefore, everybody should understand that the danger still persists and at any moment the aggressor may launch new attacks, new aggression.”

Saakashvili also said that it was necessary to analyze “the unique” experience gained during the hostilities, as well as to reveal the weak and strong sides of the Georgian armed forces.

He said that the Georgian artillery obviously prevailed over the enemy and the aviation also worked well.

President Saakashvili also emphasized the weak sides of the armed forces, listing bad management system, communications, and flaws in training of officers among them. “The reserve forces also had a serious failure,” he added.

“We should revise this [reserve] system, as well as the call-up system,” Saakashvili said.

He also said that staff changes were made in the armed forces in accordance with the deserts revealed during the war.

“Our army has demonstrated more than enough training, dedication and professionalism,” he said. “However, 10 fold more is needed.”

The Georgian President pointed out that Georgia would continue to develop its armed forces.
“We do not plan to purchase new arms in the near future. We will spend most of our money on economic development; but we will also continue to train servicemen and improve their social conditions,” he said.

He also called on the armed forces to cooperate with the temporary parliamentary commission over the August events.

Saakashvili reiterated that Russia planned to take control over Tbilisi in August, but “at a last moment,” after the world “woke up,” Russia’s political leadership retreated. He said that August 12 rally outside the parliament has definitely contributed to it.

Georgian President pointed out that Russia suffered a great loss in the August war. “According to their own data, 2 thousand soldiers of the Russian armed forces have been killed, 17 air vehicles have been downed and other military hardware damaged.”

Another day

At Prague Watchdog, Dzhambulat Are devotes his weekly review to the recent slaying in Moscow of a Chechen politician and former military leader, and concludes:

There will obviously be no revolution in Chechnya because of the murder of Ruslan Yamadayev, let alone of his brother Sulim. To the Chechen man in the street these events are just the customary wrangling between clans about power and money.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

EU monitors enter "buffer zone", but ethnic cleansing continues

According to Reuters (reported by RFE/RL), the first group of EU monitors has entered the so-called "buffer zone" around South Ossetia. Russian troops initially blocked the way, but let the monitors through after about 10 minutes of negotiations, the agency report says.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL reports human rights workers as saying that ethnic Georgian villages inside South Ossetia are still being burned and destroyed by Moscow-backed forces.