I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Winston Churchill

Oct 27, 2008

EU: Most Russian cease-fire allegations overblown


Most Russian claims that Georgia is violating a cease-fire agreement in the breakaway region of South Ossetia appear to be inflated, the head of the European monitoring mission there said Friday.
Russia should provide more details if it has evidence that Georgia is breaching the deal, Hansjoerg Haber said.
A war erupted in August when Georgia launched an attack to regain control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.
Russia withdrew its forces from parts of Georgia according to the terms of an EU-brokered cease-fire, and the EU sent more than a 200-member mission to monitor the situation.
But Moscow has complained that Georgian troops have failed to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist province, and have instigated shootings against Russian forces.
"In general, the observation is that such reports are overblown," Haber told reporters. "There may have been isolated shootings, but no major incidents have been registered."
If Russia and its allies in South Ossetia have evidence of Georgian wrongdoing, they should end their refusal to allow the EU monitors into the breakaway region so they can investigate, Haber said.
"We are pleased to come over to their side of the administrative boundary and inspect what has happened there," Haber said. "We invite them to invite us."
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the 225 EU monitors of turning a blind eye to Georgian troops' failure to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"We don't get any details from the Russians, we just get general allegations," Haber said.
Asked specifically about allegations that Georgian special forces were in areas near South Ossetia, Haber said that some lightly armed units were there, but said their presence was "commensurate and adequate" for policing the region.
Georgia, meanwhile, accused Russian forces of destroying a bridge leading into Abkhazia in order to isolate ethnic Georgians living there. Russian troops demolished the bridge between Gali, in Abkhazia, and Zugdidi, in Georgia proper, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
The bridge was one of the last remaining border crossings into Abkhazia, Utiashvili said. Most of Gali's citizens are ethnic Georgians.
Russia's Defense Ministry was not immediately available for comment Friday. But the defense minister for Abkhazia's de-facto government blamed the bombing on Georgia.
Russia, meanwhile, appointed ambassadors to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations after the war and plans to keep 3,800 troops in each region a much bigger presence than before the war.
Georgia straddles a key westward route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region, and has become a focus of competition between Russia and the West for regional clout.
Associated Press writer Matt Siegel contributed to this report from Tbilisi, Georgia
source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/oct/24/eu-most-russian-cease-fire-allegations-overblown/

Oct 23, 2008

Separatist bans operation of OSCE in South Ossetia

23.10.08 10:44

Leader of the South Ossetian separatist regime Eduard Kokoit has taken a decision to ban any kinds of activities of the OSCE representatives at the territory of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

He said that none of missions would be able to operate at the territory of the South Ossetia, which had been registered in Georgia; the OSCE mission had lacked moral rights to operate within our territory, because they had known about expected aggression and had done nothing for preventing it.

source: http://rustavi2.com/news/news_text.php?id_news=28434&pg=1&im=main&ct=0&wth=

Oct 22, 2008

Humanitarian catastrophe in Tskhinvali Region

22.10.08 16:33

Humanitarian catastrophe occurs in Tskhinvali Region. There is a serious deficiency of medicines and food for the population. The nearby villages are being assailed by beasts, specifically by wolves. For distracting the local population's attention from the problem provocations are being planned.

The Russians do not seem to intend to help resolving the problem. The occupants are basically concerned with clearing the road, connecting Akhalgori and Tskhinvali, and the territory for constructing a military base.

source: http://rustavi2.com/news/news_text.php?id_news=28426&pg=1&prior=2&ct=0

Questions for Mikheil Saakashvili / NY Times

Published: October 17, 2008
source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/magazine/19WWln-q4-t.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Did you watch our presidential debates? It sometimes seems like the one subject the candidates agreed on is the necessity of supporting your country, a former Soviet satellite state that has recently been warring with Russia. I was personally very surprised that the candidates were so passionate about Georgia. Of course, John McCain has been many times to Georgia and knows it firsthand. Obama said absolutely all the right things.

How often do you talk to the candidates on the phone? Pretty often. And I think they are very competent.

Why are American politicians so interested in Georgia? First of all, democracy is a strategic interest. And second, there are energy issues. If Russia shuts off central Asia and the Caspian Sea from Europe, the European allies of the United States will be totally dependent on Russian gas and energy.

Why is our friendship with you worth it if it causes a rift between the U.S. and Russia? Look, the rift with Russia is not connected to Georgia. It is connected to values. Russia has become very authoritarian. It doesn’t accept free speech or real elections anymore.

What is it with those Russians? The more insecure you are, the more prone you are to create crises.

Do you think Putin wants to kill you? Well, killing me makes no sense because Georgia already has a Western-educated political class.

Have the Russians made any attempts on your life? President Medvedev has called me “a political corpse” publicly several times. Putin told several Western leaders, “I want Saakashvili’s head.” If they want my head, for me it’s more funny than troubling.

Are you connected to the C.I.A.? No. I told President Bush two years ago that I am sick and tired of trying to convince Putin that I am not a C.I.A. officer. I said: “Mr. President, can you tell him I am a C.I.A. officer? Maybe he will take me more seriously.”

For all your lofty talk about democracy, last November you shut down the opposition television station in Tbilisi. The interference with Imedi TV was an exception, not a rule. This action was taken during mass riots when Imedi TV started to incite overthrow of the democratically elected government. It should be noted that the government did pay damages.

You studied law at Columbia and came to power through the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003. What sort of salary do you earn? When I became president of Georgia, they brought me money, and I said, “What is this?” They said, “It is your monthly wage.” It was roughly $40. I said: “Well, excuse me, I cannot survive on that. Give me some salary.”

You got a raise? It is up to $6,000 a month, plus all expenses. We’re still a poor country.

How would you describe Georgia in general? It’s spontaneous, it’s open-minded, it’s a little bit chaotic. It’s about wine and beautiful landscapes. It’s about good food.

What kind of good food? Like khinkali. It’s a big dumpling — with juice inside and meat.

It sounds fattening. Well, it should be a little bit fattening. President Bush loved it. Every time I call, he says, “I’m still on my bike, trying to lose the eight pounds I gained in Tbilisi.”

Do you think Georgia will be accepted into NATO in December, when the next vote is scheduled? It’s the $100 million question. I was reassured by Senator Obama, who said that we should have a NATO Membership Action Plan. Whether we get it, we’ll see.

What do you think of Sarah Palin? When she was nominated, she called me. She was lively, she was interactive, she was engaged.

Can she see Georgia from her front porch? No, we are looking in different directions. With the most powerful binoculars, I cannot see Alaska.


Oct 20, 2008

Russians killed in Ingushetia

By Charles Clover in Moscow

Published: October 20 2008 03:00 | Last updated: October 20 2008 03:00

Three Russian soldiers were killed and as many as 10 were injured when rebels ambushed a military convoy in Ingushetia, one of the worst incidents so far in an increasingly brutal conflict between the central Russian government and Islamist militants in the region.

Up to 10 militants attacked a convoy of vehiclesin a forest, said Pavel Belyakov, Ingushetia's deputy prosecutor. Attacks against Russian government forces in the region, which is part of the Russian federation, have become more organised and more frequent since the conflict with Georgia in August.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for yesterday's raid, the worst since September 17, when four government troops died in a similar ambush. A Chechen rebel website, kavkazcenter.com, identified the attackers as mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors, and claimed the Russian death toll was closer to 50. Russia's interior ministry denied this.

The growing conflict in Ingushetia comes as Russia's military has begun a restructuring, in the wake of the Georgia conflict, to transform itself into a lighter and more agile force.

While the Russian campaign was successful in Georgia, the war exposed a lack of modern equipment, and a top-heavy military bureaucracy.

General Nikolai Makarov, head of Russia's general staff, said that military officers' pay would rise in the next three years as reforms reduced their number by about 50 per cent. Many senior military officers earn less than the national average wage of 16,000 roubles per month ($600, €450, £350). Gen Makarov told a television station that under the new rules, a lieutenant would earn at least 70,000 roubles per month within three years, making the profession's pay more competitive. Soon, he said, the available pool of recruits for the officer corps would be half of what it was in 2001, due to falling birth rates, and the higher salaries were necessary to attract talented people to serve.

The accompanying drastic cuts in the army, particularly the officer corps, have caused tensions between uniformed military and the civilian ministry of defence.

Russia's senior generals prefer the tactics of mass mobilisation and huge numbers of cheaper, mass-produced armaments to a less numerous, better equipped and more professional force. The move to reform the gigantic military also comes as the Kremlin seeks to heal the rift with the west that followed the war in Georgia.

The BBC yesterday reported that Sergei Ivanov, a deputy prime minister, had said that the Russian Black Sea fleet would pull out of its base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in 2017, when the lease on the base expires, if Kiev demanded it.

Tension over the base rose during the war with Georgia after Kiev sided with Tbilisi in the conflict.

source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/39e721b4-9e40-11dd-bdde-000077b07658.html

More in Russian


Oct 15, 2008

Improper Signalling from the Western Europe in Georgian Crisis

Recent conflict in Georgia left much space for evaluation and analysis. These events turned out to be absolutely unexpected for western leaders. Russia’s step - invading into sovereign country, occupying parts of its territory and declaring there independence was something that western leaders thought could have happened in 19-20th centuries, but deemed unacceptable for world of 21st century. Most probably West considered such a scenario having the same chance as an gigantic asteroid falling on the planet earth and probably that was why it took west so long to respond to this challenge. Besides the nature of this response left an impression that it was made without any clear strategy or plan. Initially EU leaders talked about imposition of economic sanctions, exclusion of Russia from G8 and preventing it from WTO membership. However later on they found these proposals to be unfeasible and eventually EU just expressed “concerns” several dozen times and “deep concerns” a bit fewer times that seems quite weak measure in the given circumstances.

Actually why this crisis was allowed to happen was improper signaling. It is important to understand that Russia is not a typical European country sharing values of liberal politics. Russia is a country with difficult background, present and maybe even future. Geopolitical location and cold climate has always been natural defensive fortress for Russia, therefore an empire that emerged in 15-16 centuries had tremendous potential. It gradually expanded its territories for the last three centuries reaching the peak during Soviet times. However after the collapse of Soviet Union Russia lost direct control over surrounding states (countries of Former Soviet Union), but for last 17 years still retained indict control over them.

Improper Signalling from the Western Europe in Georgian Crisis

I have been to "buffer zones"

Story by Rusudan Tsiskreli

photos: Goga Chanadiri

Yesterday 14 of October I visited the villages that just one week ago were in "buffer zone".
I saw Karaleti, Tkviavi, Tedznisi, Megvrekisi and Ergneti.
In Karaleti, Tkviavi and Tedznisi many houses across the main road are burned. All are robbed. Locals, who did not leave their houses, said that this was mostly done by Ossetian militias. Russians never interfere. But after Russians left Gori, they started preventing looting in buffer zones too.
First of all, after passing Gori we entered Karaleti, which was so frequently mentioned in news. Burned houses across the road... In the center there was building where just several flats were burned. Window frames were missing. People were looking out of the windows, looking at the workers on street and at us. In front of building were lieing several metal window frames and workers were installing them back to their places.
We drove off from Karaleti to Tkviavi. There we saw EU monitoring mission from france in front of burned house. The owner of the house, an old man had been being interviewed by monitors. Many neighbours gethered around, everybody wanted to gain more attention to their problems - burned or looted houses. We continued our way to Ergneti.
Megvrekisi and Ergneti are complitly burned. In Ergneti is our block post. Just in the middle of the village. In 500 meters are russians and ossetians are located. There are still bombs and ours are exploding them. We heard a sound. We meet several men and one woman there.. they are left houseless. They don't complain.... woman told us how her husband was killed but absolutely without emotions. Seems they lost ability of expressing feelings. Men were sitting in the street by their lorry even joking. "We live like Gipsys. Here in car we have sleeping bags and sleep here."
Then we drove to Megvrekisi. There people had returned. Most houses were burned or bombed. We met several people there. We were told story about one old ossetian woman, who was married to a Georgian in this village. Ossetians killed her brutally and her corpse remained in her yard.
Then some neighbors burred her in her own garden. We saw the grave.
People were complaining, they need more attention from government. Waiting for the commission to count their loses. They are trying to save left harvest. Some of them live at neighbors places which have survived, others - in the ruins of their homes.
We met 103 years old woman. Her house was complitely burned, she lost everything except her hope and sense of humor. Her youngest son told us his story. He studied in Tbilisi, afterwards he moved to Tskhinvali, where he got house and made a good carrier. In the 91-92-ies' war he lost everything and went to Tbilisi as a refugee. According to his words at that time the attitude to refugees in Tbilisi was good. Everybody tried to help, but it changed after Abkhazia war, when in east Georgia came up to 300 000 refugees. After some time in Tbilisi, he moved back to village Megvrekisi, he managed to build a new house, but now he lost everything again. He was telling his story without emotions, as he was telling not his own but someone other's story. They suffered too much to have a luxury of emotions.
Afterwards he took out of ruins hidden bottle of vine, gathered some grapes and apologized that can't serve us better according to the traditions of hospitality. He had to look up for glass in neighborhood. Only one glass could be found.
We drank to their health. After we gave some warm clothes, which we took with us, to them. It was clear that they were much richer then we before war. Their houses were big and very nice. It was clear even by ruins, but now they were thankful even to our modest help.
Young man said that his garden of apples had survived, but he has no boxes, nothing to gather the apples in. In other villages we saw boxes but their apple gardens were bombed. People try to collect survived potatoes and onion. Even if it is very dangerous. There are many unknown unexploded mines around... 4 caws had been exploded on them already.
Few people didn't leave village during the Russian occupation.
They said that they were hiding all time or in cellars either in the gardens. Several people, who were suspected having a relation to our forces were executed. The most part of the population escaped when the Russians entered through the gardens and forests. They walked to the village Igoeti, which is approximately in 45 km away. After they were picked up and moved to Tbilisi or Kakheti refugee camps. They learned who was alive and who died only when they returned.
We left village Megvrekisi and drove to Tkviavi - a big village which was almost deserted during occupation and people had just returned. Here many houses survived, but most of them were robbed. So they returned to empty houses... but still some of them remain homeless. Here people are complaining more then in Megvrekisi, seems they still have power to complain. Everybody was asking how government is going to help them. Who remained in village during occupation say the same story...
Ossetians were behaving like animals and at first russians were not preventing them to do so. Afterwards Russians started preventing looters and executing them. But it didn't help much. Most of the gardens were bombed, too few harvest survived.. people are sitting outside of burned and looted houses and discussing who is guilty. Opinions are very different.
We visited house of f0rmer governer of this region Mikhail Kareli. His father remains there. House is not on the main road, and in the neighborhood it's the only burned house. Kareli started with fighting against smuggling and finished by becaming the only chief of smugglers. But in neighborhood everybody is loyal to him - it is Kareli's neighborhood, everybody there are having relative ties.
In the yard I saw many boxes, so needed in Megvrekisi...
We left village on sunset. It was such beautiful sunset in black, burned fields...
When we drove through Karaleti, work there had been finished. New, white, metal frames installed in the backround of the black from fire wall

Oct 10, 2008

Satelite imagery describing the damage as of 10-19 August

source: here

Russia only partly fulfils Georgia ceasefire: France (10 Oct.'08)

By Margarita Antidze

GORI, Georgia (Reuters) - Russia has not fully complied with the terms of a ceasefire in Georgia, France's foreign minister said on Friday, casting fresh doubt on whether frozen EU-Russia partnership talks will resume soon.

Russian soldiers and tanks pushed into Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and adjacent "buffer zones," as part of a massive counter-strike in August to crush an attempt by Georgian forces to retake South Ossetia.

Moscow pulled out of the buffer zones this week, before an October 10 deadline set out in the French-brokered ceasefire. But Georgia says the Kremlin has not fully complied because Russian soldiers remain inside the two separatist regions.

Asked in the Georgian town of Gori, near South Ossetia, if Russia had honored the ceasefire deal, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters: "I think so, but partly."

"This is not complete. This is not perfect. It's just the beginning. This is not the end," Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said in a tent camp for Georgians displaced by the fighting.

After a tour of the buffer zone vacated this week by Russian forces -- where human rights groups say hundreds of ethnic Georgian homes were wrecked after the ceasefire came into force -- Kouchner took a swipe at the Russian military.

"It's always very sad to see houses destroyed and people coming back and discovering their belongings in desperate state," said Kouchner, speaking in English. "It was not a good march of the Russian army. Not at all.


In a statement released in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed Russian forces had withdrawn from areas outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"This withdrawal will, we hope, allow internally displaced people to return to their homes and contribute to the normalization of living conditions," he said.

EU foreign ministers could decide next week whether to restart talks on a strategic partnership treaty with Russia that the 27-member bloc has put on hold until it is satisfied Russia has complied with the ceasefire deal.

Kouchner said he did not know if this would happen and pointed to differences among EU members. "Some are not in agreement. There are people supporting Russia, and there are people fighting against Russia," he said.

Kouchner and EU observers will present the findings of his trip at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday which will prepare a possible decision two days later by European leaders to restart the talks.

Moscow says it is now in full compliance with the ceasefire and that it will keep a total of 7,600 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it has recognized as independent states, to protect them from further Georgia aggression.

The Kremlin said it was morally obliged to enter Georgia to prevent what it called a genocide by Georgian forces.

Western states said its response was disproportionate, but analysts say the European Union's reaction has been tempered because Russia supplies a quarter of Europe's gas and is a major trade and investment partner.

"It seems that the Russians are keeping their word," an official with the EU's French presidency said early on Friday.

But diplomats in Brussels said others, including Britain, Poland and the Baltic nations, argue the EU should wait.

"Giving the green light is a very important moment in terms of the signal to Russia about how we feel about how things have ended up," said one EU diplomat.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Russia/idUSTRE4973IZ20081010