Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Russia launches "Kavkaz-2009" as OSCE monitors leave Georgia

Russia has launched its large-scale military exercises in the North Caucasus, which will last until July 6. According to the Russian defence ministry the military manoeuvres will involve approximately 8,500 personnel, up to 200 battle tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and 250 artillery systems of various types.  General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russia's land forces, has announced that the Russian troops deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will also take part in the exercises.

Georgia's deputy foreign minister, Davit Jalagania, has protested about the holding of the exercises, saying that "against the background of the explosive situation 'they] will only contribute to further tensions."

Meanwhile, the OSCE mission in Georgia has today wrapped up its operations there - seventeen years after it was established with an initial mandate to facilitate settlement of the South Ossetian conflict, Civil Georgia reports.

On June 16, following Russia's veto, UNOMIG also ceased its activities in Georgia, including the occupied region of Abkhazia.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Unstable Russia mulling new war with Georgia

In the Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina asks:

If Georgia is really planning to start a war, why is Russia going to such lengths to expel international observers who will be able to testify to the whole world how Georgia started the war?

The Akhalgori district is key to any future war in Georgia. In violation of all agreements signed by Moscow at the conclusion of the August war, Russia never withdrew its troops from Akhalgori -- territory that was previously under Georgian control and located only 30 kilometers from Tbilisi. If Russia starts a war, Akhalgori would be the obvious launching area. If, however, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili initiates the war, Akhalgori would be one of his first military targets.

Read it all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Open Letter to Mikhail Khodorkovsky

This is a guest post by Jeremy Putley

Mikhail Borisovich,

On the occasion of your birthday on 26 June I send to you my congratulations and respectful greetings.

Today, by coincidence, is International Day in Support of Torture Victims. The United Nations General Assembly selected June 26 to honour the day in 1987 when the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect.

The convention was created to reaffirm that the equal and inalienable rights of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

I believe in the inevitability of human progress. My experience of life has shown to me that there is an overwhelming tendency for the state of humanity to improve over time. Perhaps you will agree that this is so. Indeed, there is nothing new in this idea. Sometimes the trend reverses. The coming into power of the present regime in Russia was such an example.

Eventually, with the support of people of good will around the world it will pass away, just as other malignancies have come and gone in the course of human history.

The historical tendency for mankind to improve is the result of millions and millions of people making their individual efforts to make their conditions better, each day, and every day, during all of their lives. We see a result when we look at the world as it is now, because it has become a world in which the great majority of countries are governed under the civilising rule of law where people are not impeded from contributing their small or large improvements to the quality of human life. This world has convincingly shown a determination to throw off mistaken ideologies and to turn away from the leadership of wicked men. And it is by the small accretions of individual human progress that the world crawls to a better condition with the inevitability of plate tectonics – but not so slowly.

This is a simple, even trite, observation, and, as I say, it is not new – indeed, it is why people buy shares in companies, so that they can take part in their progress, as I do not need to explain to you in particular.

The efforts of the many thousands of people who have become active in support of human rights around the world – whether as members of organisations like Amnesty International, or as individuals – are visibly contributing to the improvement of the human condition. Your leading counsel, Yuri Schmidt, has reminded us that in Russia, with its long traditions of struggle to achieve the rights of mankind, there are the memories of honoured men to give inspiration – Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Bukovsky and Sharansky. I would add the name of the great Russian patriot Sergei Kovalev. It is now your experience to participate in the continuing effort to achieve a proper recognition in Russia of the vital importance of the rule of law, and justice under the law for all its citizens, in opposition to a procuracy which seems determined corruptly to obey the secret instructions of a corrupt hierarchy. The judicial proceedings against you and Platon Lebedev are a mockery of justice, and are seen as such around the world.

You could easily have avoided these abuses of justice, by leaving Russia. Because you are a true Russian patriot you decided to stay. This trial, in which you now play a leading role in the continuing fight for the fundamental rights of Russian citizens under the law, marks you as an historic figure. You are opposed by sinister men occupying positions of great power who are determined to succeed in the interest of preserving their influence and wealth. Because you have opposed them, the world can see them for what they are. This is already a partial victory.

Therefore, I send you my salutations and very best wishes on the occasion of your birthday, in the hope and expectation that the day will come soon when you will be set at liberty.

Yours very respectfully and sincerely

Jeremy Putley

Countering the smear campaign

At Maidan, the Ukrainian poet and translator Moses Fishbein writes about the Russian government's continuing smear campaign against Ukraine and the Baltic States:

I would like to remind Mr. Churkin that from 1939 to 1941 the USSR, whose successor today is the Russian Federation, was an ally of Nazi Germany.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on Yevkurov

Again at WoE, Paul Goble has a review of Russian press articles about the recent attempted assassination of Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and notes with reference to a piece by a North Caucasus specialist that

If the Russian powers that be could understand the nature of their opponents, they might be able to counter them. But the evidence at present is that Moscow and its local backers do not and are thus likely to continue to pursue policies that will fulfill Sukhov’s prediction that the war there “will not end.”
At Prague Watchdog, Andrei Babitsky also presents some reflections on this "comprehension" issue.

Medvedev: Russia is an organic part of the Muslim world

Via Paul Goble's Window on Eurasia blog:

In what many are certain to view as his response to US President Barak Obama’s Cairo address earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of the Arab League there yesterday that Russia is “an organic part” of the Muslim world and opposes Western efforts to promote democratic change in the Middle East.

“Islam,” Medvedev told his audience, “is an inalienable part of Russian history and culture, given that more than 20 million Russian citizens are among the faithful. Consequently, he said, “Russia does not need to seek friendship with the Muslim world: Our country is an organic part of this world” (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-23456.html).

Read it all.

Moscow intensifying anti-Estonia propaganda

In the wake of the opening of Estonia's 1919 Victory Monument, Moscow is doing its best to whip up anti-Estonian feeling among Russians.



Marko Mihkelson writes (tr. by Leopoldo, my editing):

As I was leaving [the opening ceremony] at midnight on Monday an Estonian diplomat said to me: "Let's see what the the Russian media will say about the victory monument to the war of independence. And as might have been feared, out came the story in all its propagandistic glory. To tell the truth, nothing else could have been expected from the official Russian television media (in this case ORT 1). The constant emphasizing of the SS-line, the Estonia-hating positions of Linter and Zarenkov, the manipulation of the Ganin assassination story.

Not a word, of course, about the War of Independence and its meaning in the history of the creation of the Estonian state. It just doesn't fit into the script of the Kremlin's "truth commission". Only a few days ago one learned that the FSB had ordered a documentary film on "Ukraine's fascism", the purpose of which is the international discrediting of Ukraine's authorities.

These news reports go to show that in the so-called "official" version the general stance on Estonia and Russia's other neighbours has not changed. Nevertheless, at the same time there are also signs of a certain improvement in  Estonian-Russian relations, which are not as emotional as those reflected in the Russian TV media.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Moscow trap

In the Moscow Times, Lilia Shevtsova writes about the efforts of Russia's elite to separate itself from the mass of the country's citizenry and establish its own private relationship of the privileged and wealthy with the United States and the West, while cutting the rest of the population off from Western influences by means of an orchestrated campaign of anti-Western and anti-American propaganda. Shevtsova sees this as a danger for President Obama - she suggests that when he visits Moscow next month, he may be walking into a carefully-prepared trap:

The White House has little chance of being able to cooperate with the Kremlin without making some concessions to the Russian elite. However, such cooperation promises to promote the current Russian system, which functions with the "besieged fortress" mentality in which Russia is surrounded by enemies. If Obama takes a value-based approach, his opportunities on security will be limited.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Victory Monument opened in Tallinn


Last night saw the formal opening of the Victory Monument on Tallinn's Freedom Square. The monument commemorates Estonia's victory in the Estonian War of Liberation - the defensive campaign of the Estonian Army and its allied White Russian Northwestern Army against the Soviet Western Front offensive and the Baltic German Landeswehr offensives in 1918–1920 in connection with the Russian Civil War.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Risk of Russian military intervention in Georgia? - 2

Jamestown analyst Pavel Felgenhauer is once again pointing to the possibility of a Russian intervention in Georgia this summer:

The most dangerous period within which a new full-scale war with Georgia might occur will be from July 10 until after President Barack Obama visits Moscow, while the invasion forces are already deployed and poised for action, under the cover of "Kavkaz-2009." If Russian forces go into action, their objectives will be decisive.

This is not quite clear, as according to most sources President Obama's Moscow visit is scheduled for July 6-8. Perhaps July 10 is a typo for July 1?

See also: Risk of Russian military intervention in Georgia?

Ingush president wounded

Ingushetia's President Yunus-bek Yevkurov has been wounded in an assassination attempt, AP reports.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Global Museum on Communism

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. now has a web site, the Global Museum on Communism.

The site is quite dependent on flash video, and on some systems the graphics can take a while to load, but the project is both ambitious and worthwhile, and represents a serious effort to chronicle and portray the history and the victims of Communism worldwide.

(Hat tip: Leopoldo)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Russia without the Caucasus - 2

Again at Prague Watchdog, a discussion of the choice that currently faces Chechens: either the Moscow-backed Islamism of Ramzan Kadyrov, or the genuine Islamism of Dokka Umarov. Is there really much to choose between them? And is a third alternative possible?

See also: Russia without the Caucasus

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Institutionalized lawlessness" - 3

Via Jeremy Putley:

Dear all,

I have just got information from Malika Zubajraev. She is in Grozny. She tells that the last info on Zubajr's whereabouts was a week ago. An unknown person called her number on Zubajr's request (in her words) to let them know that he was temporarily being located in Novosibirsk. Malika tells that she has been trying to contact Novosibirsk after that but was told that Zubajr had been already moved. There has been no information on his whereabouts since then and it is not known whether he was brought to Enisejsk (Krasnojarsk region) or not.

What is really worrying is that Malika told that she also received an official notification from Volgograd that she will be taken to account for "defamation" against LIU 15 colony. Tne letter is from May 22 and it is signed by the deputy head of UFSIN of Volgograd Zubov.

Best, Oksana[Chelysheva]

See also: "Insitutionalized lawlessness"
"Institutionalized lawlessness" - 2

Monday, June 15, 2009

Red lines in Georgia

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking on China Central TV:
However needless to say that we are ready to and will discuss with our partners all the issues related to the whole security situation in the Caucasus, the issues of both humanitarian and economic nature, being prepared to do this in any venues. The only thing is that we have some kind of "red lines". One of them I already mentioned- this is our decision to grant recognition. And the second one is our attitude to the present Georgian regime. It is our view that this political regime committed a crime and we shall have nothing in common with it. At the same time after elections that sooner or later will be held in Georgia we surely will be ready to resume deliberations on different issues if the Georgian people elect a new leadership capable of maintaining a friendly dialogue with Russia and with close neighbors of the Georgian state - peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Russia without the Caucasus

At Prague Watchdog you can read my condensed translation of a two-part article by the Russian publicist and LiveJournal blogger Mikhail Pozharsky on the subject of the possible separation of the North Caucasus from Russia.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Russia's defence ministry has announced that the Kavkaz-2009 military exercises will be held in the North Caucasus from June 29 until July 6. The exercises will involve more than 8,500 personnel, up to 200 battle tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and some 250 artillery systems of various types, the independent Georgian news and information service Civil.ge reports.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Driving it home

At Prague Watchdog, Usam Baysayev describes the experience of being stopped on a central Grozny thoroughfare by Chechnya's President Ramzan Kadyrov and given an on-the-spot telling-off for not giving way quickly enough to the President's car.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Russian general admits Kremlin prepared for August invasion of Georgia

In an interview published on the website of Ekho Moskvy, Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov, the deputy head of Russia's paratroop forces who commanded the paratroopers during the conflict in South Ossetia and and the invasion of other parts of Georgia, has confirmed that Moscow was preparing to invade Georgian territory long before August 8 2008.

From The Messenger:

"...General Shamanov was in command of the troops being sent in the direction of Abkhazia and I commanded those sent to South Ossetian and Georgia. As you know, we had regularly conducted trainings in those regions, our troops had gained considerable experience of the terrain. We had conducted trainings on those territories, exactly there, one week before and had only just left the area, which is why we could conduct the march to Tskhinvali much better than the central and regional troops. For us, this did not entail any sort of difficulty. We also dealt with certain other matters in a much better way, and this was noted by the leadership of the armed forces, the Head of the General Staff and the Defence Minister..." said Borisov in part of his interview, as quoted by the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

“We are hopeful that this additional confession made by yet another Russian aggressor, will help the international commissions come to adequate conclusions when they seek the truth about the 18-year undeclared war conducted by Russia against Georgia, the last episode of which took place on August 7, 2008,” says a special statement made by the Foreign Ministry on its official webpage on June 6.

Russia claims Umarov has been killed

Reuters reports an unidentified source in Russian law enforcement agencies as saying on Monday (via Interfax and Itar-Tass) that Caucasus Emirate leader Dokka Umarov has been killed by Russian forces "on the territory of one of the republics of the North Caucasus".

Axisglobe now says that according to Russian sources the body has not yet been identified,

In 2006 the Moscow-backed Chechen government claimed that Umarov had surrendered, though this proved to be erroneous.

On June 4 Russia's Channel One reported that President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting with FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov - the current situation in the North Caucasus was at the top of the agenda, and Bortnikov is thought to be under pressure to achieve results.

Update: Reuters (via Moscow Times) has Ramzan Kadyrov  saying that Umarov was severely wounded --  "too early to say" whether he was killed. 

Monday, June 08, 2009

Centre-right dominates in European elections

According to Deutsche Welle, the EPP (European People's Party) secured 267 seats in the 736-member European Parliament, while the Socialists secured 159 seats with 81 seats for the Liberal Democrats, who came third, followed by the Greens with 51 seats. 

Centre-right parties made large gains in Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Hungary Italy, Poland. Slovenia and Spain and Poland.

Estonian results:  Centre Party 2, Reform 1, IRL 1, Social Democrats 1, Indrek Tarand 1.  Centre Party will probably challenge or contest or demand a recount in an effort to get 3 seats.    This means that Tunne Kelam was re-elected and in another development, Mari-Ann Kelam will be in the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) again, replacing Marko Pomerants who has become a minister in the government.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

U.K. prime minister booed at D-Day ceremony

The U.K.'s Gordon Brown was booed by British war veterans at yesterday's D-Day ceremony in France, writes Iain Dale. Also, in his speech at the event Brown made a major slip, referring to Omaha Beach as "Obama Beach". Dale has posted the video.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Russia blames Poland for starting World War II

A few days ago the official website of Russia's Ministry of Defence published a 4,000 word article by a Russian military historian in which Poland was accused of not acceding of Hitler's demands, and thereby starting World War II, AP reports. The article, entitled  "Fictions and Falsifications in Evaluating the USSR's Role On the Eve of World War II," tells the story of how, before the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1 1939, Hitler demanded that Poland hand over control of the city of Danzig, and also the land corridor between Germany and the territory now known as Kaliningrad.

"Everyone who has studied the history of the Second World War without prejudice knows that it began because of Poland's refusal to satisfy the German claims," the article's author states. Although the item has now been removed from the Defence Ministry's site, it can still be read in Russian here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Finns protest against Putin

The Moscow Times has published a report on the case of Russian journalist Yelena Maglevannaya, who has asked for political asylum in Finland:

Maglevannaya [...] said she feared that her life was in danger in Russia after messages that she should be killed for her reports were posted on the web site of a nationalist group, the Russian Nationwide Union. She said a doctor at the prison where the Chechen inmate was incarcerated belonged to the nationalist group and had posted a photo of her on the web site with the headline, "Enemies Should Be Known by Face."

Finnish authorities have placed Maglevannaya in a dormitory for refugees, she said.

Repeated calls to the Finnish Interior Ministry, which oversees requests for political asylum, went unanswered late Monday afternoon.

More than 15 Russian journalists covering political issues have requested asylum abroad since Vladimir Putin assumed power nine years ago, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

"They can't stand the working conditions [in Russia]," Panfilov said.

Meanwhile, FinRosForum announces that a demonstration will be held on Helsinki's Kirkkokatu today between 12.00 and 14.00 to protest against the policies of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, who is on an official visit to Finland.

See also: "Institutionalized Lawlessness"

Monday, June 01, 2009

EU: S.Ossetia Polls ‘Illegitimate’ [civil.ge]

EU: S.Ossetia Polls ‘Illegitimate’

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 1 Jun.'09 / 13:52

European Union said it “does not accept the legality of the ‘elections’,” held in breakaway South Ossetia on Sunday, and “nor its results.”

“The holding of such elections is illegitimate and represents a setback in the search for a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia. The EU reiterates its firm support for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders,” the EU Czech Presidency said in a statement on June 1.

The breakaway region’s central election commission said that three parties – one officially backing the South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, and two others uncritical to him – cleared the 7% electoral threshold and secured seats in the 34-member parliament.

Party of Unity, according to the local election commission, received with over 46.3% and secured 17 seats; People’s Party – up to 22.6%, amounting to 9 seats and the Communist Party - 22.2% with 8 seats.

“Fidibasta” – Fatherland Party, which described itself as “a constructive, not radical opposition,” received 6,37%, failing to secure seats in the breakaway region’s parliament. The party has claimed widespread violations and intimidation of voters. The party has also questioned official voter turnout of over 80%.