Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Russia to keep troops in Georgia

Russia to keep troops in Georgia

Russia says it will keep 7,600 troops in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after withdrawing from the rest of the country.

On Monday, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from positions within Georgia, taken up during the recent conflict, by mid-October.

But President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that military bases be maintained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia also says it has established formal diplomatic ties with them.

The move followed a decision - condemned by the US and EU but defined as "irrevocable" by Moscow - to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said troops were expected to remain in the two regions "for the foreseeable future".

"Russian troops will remain on the territory of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on request of their leaders in parliament," Mr Lavrov said from Moscow.

"They will be there a long time. This is absolutely necessary, so as not to allow a repeat of armed actions," he added.

Mr Lavrov said that both regions should also be able to participate in talks on Georgia scheduled for next month in Geneva with "fully fledged" places.

Russia is expected to sign formal agreements on troop deployment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia over the coming days.

International observers

Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that some 3,800 men would be positioned in each breakaway region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had already indicated that Moscow intended to maintain a military presence in the regions, but Mr Serdyukov's statement provides the first specific breakdown of troop numbers.

On Monday, Mr Medvedev pledged to withdraw troops from the rest of Georgia on condition that the EU would deploy at least 200 observers, along with 220 other international monitors to ensure the security of the two breakaway regions.

Under the deal, Russia will pull out within 10 days of the deployment of EU monitors.

Russian troops are present in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in so-called buffer zones around these regions and near the strategic port city of Poti.

Fighting between Russia and Georgia began on 7 August after the Georgian military tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia by force.

Russian forces launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Also on Tuesday, South Ossetia's Prosecutor General Taimuraz Khugayev said that investigations had confirmed that more than 500 people had been killed during Georgia's attack last month, according to Russian news agency, Interfax.

Russia initially suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict. Independent observers say they have been unable to confirm such high figures.

Are you in the region? Do you agree with Russia's decision? Send us your comments using the form below:

In most cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Phone number (optional):
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/09 12:12:27 GMT


Saturday, September 6, 2008

US delivers aid to Georgian port

US delivers aid to Georgian port
A US Navy warship carrying humanitarian aid has arrived in the Georgian port of Poti, where Russian troops are still deployed.

The USS Mount Whitney is the third US ship to deliver aid to Georgia since its conflict with Russia last month, but the first to dock at Poti.

Poti was bombed by Russian forces when they entered Georgia, and several ships in the port were sunk.

Russian said such a large warship was not suited delivering aid.

The USS Mount Whitney, flagship of the US Sixth Fleet, is the latest of three vessels sent by the US to deliver blankets, hygiene kits, baby food and other supplies to Georgia after its brief war with Russia.

"I can confirm it has arrived in Poti. Anchoring procedures are still ongoing but it has arrived," said a US naval official quoted by the AFP news agency.

Russian checkpoints

Following the conflict, Moscow withdrew most of its forces, but thousands of Russian troops remain on Georgian soil in what Moscow says is a peacekeeping role.

Russian forces are still deployed at checkpoints around the port of Poti.

Two previous deliveries of US aid to Georgia were taken to the Georgian port of Batumi, south of Russian-patrolled areas.

Russia on Friday questioned the sending of such a sophisticated US warship to Georgia.

Moscow said it might contravene international conventions and was hardly suited to delivering humanitarian aid.

In the past, Moscow has warned that humanitarian aid shipments could be used to camouflage Western naval build-up in the Black Sea.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/05 10:36:33 GMT


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Putin Accuses U.S. of Interference

State Dept., European Agency Deny Allegations Over Decision Not to Monitor Election

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 27, 2007; Page A10

MOSCOW, Nov. 26 -- President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the U.S. State Department of engineering the recent decision by Europe's principal election watchdog group not to monitor Russia's parliamentary elections this coming Sunday.

Earlier this month, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced that it would not observe the Dec. 2 elections, citing "delays and restrictions" imposed by the Russian government.

In the latest of a string of harsh accusations directed at Western governments, Putin on Monday described the decision as an attempt to undermine the vote's legitimacy. He warned that Russia's already strained relations with the United States could be affected.

"According to evidence we have, this was done on the recommendation of the U.S. State Department, and we will take this into account in our intergovernmental relations with that country," said Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg. "Actions like this will not foil elections in Russia. Their goal is to make the elections illegitimate. But they will fail again to attain this goal."

The monitoring group, an arm of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), dismissed Putin's charge as "nonsense."

"The decision did not follow the recommendation or request of any government," said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Warsaw-based organization, in a telephone interview. "It was taken by the ODIHR director after consultations with elections experts. . . . This is not a decision that had any political aim."

"There was no State Department meddling in the process," said department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that American diplomats who met with OSCE officials delivered a message that only the OSCE could make the decision.

Last week, Putin said that "jackals" trained by "Western specialists" could attempt to seize power by organizing street protests such as those that ushered in pro-Western governments in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine.

Hundreds of protesters were detained by police at demonstrations in Russia over the weekend, including Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and Putin critic. He was sentenced to five days in jail for taking part in an illegal march in Moscow.

On Monday, President Bush expressed deep concern about the Russian actions. "I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them," Bush said in a statement.

"The freedoms of expression, assembly and press, as well as due process, are fundamental to any democratic society," he said. "I am hopeful that the government of Russia will honor its international obligations in these areas, investigate allegations of abuses and free those who remain in detention."

The German government called Monday for Kasparov's release. "This makes his participation in the decisive phase of the Russian parliamentary elections on December 2 impossible," said government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm, speaking at a news conference. "The German government believes it is necessary to immediately release him."

Opposition leaders here accuse authorities of not tolerating dissent as they clear a path for an overwhelming victory Sunday by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Putin is heading the party ticket. The Kremlin says it is merely enforcing Russian election laws and that in any case some opposition figures are in the pay of foreigners.

The assertion that the United States was behind the election monitors' decision came from Alexey Borodavkin, Russia's permanent representative to the OSCE in Vienna. At a meeting of the group's permanent council, Borodavkin said it was suspicious that Christian Strohal, director of the OSCE's monitoring group, was in Washington just before the group decided not to go to Russia.

Strohal, an Austrian diplomat, and OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, a French diplomat, were in Washington to attend an Organization of American States meeting on election observation. The two diplomats also had bilateral meetings with State Department officials.

"I can say that there was no attempt whatsoever to influence in any way the decision which ODIHR eventually took," said Kyle Scott, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the OSCE, at an OSCE council meeting, responding to Borodavkin's allegation. Scott's remarks were posted on the mission's Web site.

A spokesman for the OSCE, Mikhail Evstafiev, said in a telephone interview Monday that de Brichambaut nodded in agreement after Scott spoke.

Officials at the monitoring organization first complained that Russia delayed issuing any invitation to observers, limiting their ability to prepare. Russia then cut the number of observers it would allow to 70, compared with 450 long- and short-term observers at the last parliamentary elections in 2003.

The group said it decided not to participate after Russia failed to issue visas even for a scaled-back observation mission.

Russian officials insist that all of Russia's obligations as an OSCE member were met and that the dispute over issuing visas to observers was caused by the monitoring group's failure to complete the proper paperwork.

A delegation from the OSCE's parliamentary assembly will observe Sunday's elections, as will a variety of other observers, including monitors from other former republics of the Soviet Union.

Cheney's VIsit to Georgia: an Articel in the Wall Street Journal

Cheney's Trip to Caucasus Could Presage a Tougher Russia Policy
September 2, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to Georgia and Ukraine this week in a trip that could help lay the groundwork for stiffer Western responses to last month's Russian incursion of Georgia.
[Dick Cheney]

The trip also illustrates important foreign-policy differences between Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, amid growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

But whether Mr. Cheney will succeed in rallying the world to Georgia's cause -- or rallying U.S. voters to Sen. McCain's hawkish views on Russia -- remains uncertain.

Many U.S. allies in Western Europe remain wary of escalating tensions with a resurgent Russia, and thus could be reluctant to grant Georgia and Ukraine membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or kick Russia out of the Group of Eight leading nations, as Sen. McCain advocates. As a result, some friendly countries in the region are questioning the West's ability to protect Georgia and its neighbors.

And even though Sen. McCain appeared to get a bump in polls in the wake of the Russian-Georgian clashes, many U.S. voters already are weary of prolonged conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public could conclude that more defense commitments aren't worth the potential price and side with Sen. Obama, whose responses to the Georgian crisis have emphasized diplomacy and consensus-building.

Mr. Cheney -- who was scheduled to depart Tuesday on a tour that also includes stops in Azerbaijan and Italy -- is expected to stress the depth of U.S. interests in Georgia and its neighbors, both for his overseas audience and his domestic one.

The Bush administration views the countries as bellwethers for the democracies growing up in Russia's shadow, and also as an indispensable corridor for shipping oil and gas from the Caspian basin -- a key to loosening Russia's grip on the region's energy supplies.

"I think the overriding priority...in Baku, Tbilisi and Kiev will be the same: a clear and simple message that the U.S. has a deep and abiding interest in the well-being and security of this part of the world," John Hannah, Mr. Cheney's national-security adviser, said at a briefing last week.

As part of that effort, the vice president could have a highly visible public meeting with U.S. military personnel who have been distributing humanitarian supplies in Georgia.

In private meetings, the vice president also will be sounding out Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and other officials about how the U.S. and its allies could help strengthen economic and military capabilities. (See related articles on page A20).

In the past, the U.S. has been careful not to go too far in military assistance in the region. For example, the U.S. avoided training and equipping Georgian armored units, even as about 100 U.S. military personnel in Tbilisi prepared Georgian troops for service in Iraq. "It was part of a policy aimed at not being too provocative" with the Russians, says a U.S. military official with knowledge of the region. "We intentionally never touched their tanks or artillery or attacked aviation."

Now that policy might be ripe for reconsideration, many experts say. An initial step could be to increase the number of U.S. military trainers in Georgia, some say.

More broadly, Mr. Cheney also appears to be exploring possibilities for security arrangements for the region in light of Russia's new assertiveness.

"Russia's actions in recent weeks have clearly cast grave doubts on its intentions, its purposes, and its reliability as an international partner," a senior administration official said. "They merit and demand a unified response from the free world -- one that...provides a long-term strategic framework going forward that will responsibly protect and advance our interests and values in the months and years ahead."

Still, some experts say the apparent reluctance of European NATO powers such as Germany to get more deeply involved in protecting Eastern Europe could lead to the establishment of a new security framework with many former Soviet satellite countries such as Poland and the Baltic states, as well as with the U.S. In addition to helping protect new democracies, beefed-up security understandings could help convince investors that the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey energy corridor will remain viable for shipping oil and gas.

Part of Russia's intent in its incursion, some experts say, was to send a message to the energy-rich countries of the Caspian region that it can shut off the Georgia shipping route any time it likes.

But Bush administration officials say Russia's disproportionate response in Georgia shows that it would be willing to abuse its power as an energy supplier to Western Europe too. That makes the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey corridor even more important.

"This is a major factor for why we should be concerned about Georgian independence," over and above concerns about the Russian incursion, said John Bolton, Mr. Bush's former United Nations ambassador. "The fact that [Mr. Cheney] is going to both Azerbaijan and Georgia tells you that's very much on his mind. If you can't start [energy shipment] in Azerbaijan and put it through Georgia, there aren't many places you can send it to" other than Russia or Iran.

Write to John D. McKinnon at john.mckinnon@wsj.com

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Georgia-Russia Conflict Changes The Energy Equation

Georgia-Russia Conflict Changes The Energy Equation
Bruce Pannier
Georgia's gas pipelines survived the conflict unscathed, but not all energy exports did.
Officials at the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline announced last week that the pipeline is fully functional and work has started to refill it. But in the weeks since the pipeline stopped working due to a fire along the Turkish section, much has changed along the pipeline's route due to the Georgian-Russian conflict.

There are fears that the conflict between Russia and Georgia may threaten existing and planned Caucasus energy routes seen by the West as vital supply corridors that avoid Russian territory.

Russia's military campaign this month in Georgia was a reminder that there is always a risk in running energy supply routes through this volatile part of the world -- a fact that is hitting home with potential investors in planned Caucasus natural-gas or oil pipelines.

When the conflict started on August 8, concerns immediately were raised about the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which pumps nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day from Azerbaijan to Turkey's Mediterranean coast, where most of the supply is then shipped to Europe. Georgian officials reported several times during the conflict that Russian warplanes had tried but failed to bomb the pipeline.

However, Russian forces did destroy one key bridge on a Georgian railway line, disrupting oil exports to Georgia's Black Sea ports.

Pierre Noel, an energy expert at the European Council, points out the strategic difference for Russia between the two export routes. The Russians, Noel says, "always want people to believe they have a limited agenda, so they bombed the railway that brings Azeri oil to Georgia, and BP has been forced to stop its shipments of Azeri oil to Georgia by rail because the bridge has been bombed. But they wouldn't bomb a pipeline which is not directly linked to supplying Georgia." That, Noel says, would give the West justification to accuse Russia of aggression against the West or the region beyond Georgia itself.

"I think they wanted to create the strong perception that they were dealing with a limited set of problems, which are...Georgia-centered. Bombing BTC would have been too open an aggression, an act unrelated to the issue at hand," Noel says.

Jennifer DeLay of the "FSU Oil and Gas Monitor," a publication of the Edinburgh-based Newsbase Group, says Russia didn't need to damage the pipeline to show who's in charge in the Caucasus. "The pipeline itself was not bombed, of course, but the bombing did come awfully close," DeLay says. "My personal belief is that the Russians have put themselves into the position to be able to have some measure of control over the pipeline even if they have not hit it directly."

For now, the BTC pipeline looks secure for exports to Europe, albeit under the increased watch of Russia, as is the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline that runs along nearly the same route as the BTC. But the big question now concerns plans for future pipelines.

The United States and European Union have been supporting construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline to bring Azerbaijani and, more importantly, Turkmen and Kazakh natural gas to Europe -- eventually more than 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Nabucco is scheduled for completion in 2013, but no work has been done so far in laying the pipeline.

Nabucco also faces competition from the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline project that runs nearly the same route as Nabucco and targets essentially the same consumer market. Given the outcome of the Georgian-Russian conflict, potential investors will have to consider which of the two pipelines is more likely to be built first.

The answer at the moment seems to be South Stream. Since hostilities eased in the Caucasus, Russia's Gazprom has managed to conclude a deal with key Caspian gas supplier Turkmenistan. The details of that deal are unclear, but it appears Ashgabat has agreed to sell even more gas to Gazprom. But in the end, just having those supplies may not be enough. Noel says that Russia's image in Europe has suffered from the military action in the Caucasus -- and that could spur a change in European energy policies.

"You can make the point that Russia has always met its contractual commitments, that it's been an extremely reliable supplier at least to Western Europe over the past four decades, which is true," Noel says. "But at the same time the political perception is something else and now the political perception is that Russia is not a reliable supplier, [or] at least it's a politically problematic supplier.... This will again increase the legitimacy of energy policies aimed at substituting away from gas, not necessarily only from Russian gas but from gas itself."

Still, it may not come to that. DeLay of the "FSU Oil and Gas Monitor" says Europe and Gazprom simply need each other too much. "Gazprom needs Europe as much as Europe needs Gazprom -- more, in fact. I believe that European gas sales account currently for about 60 percent of Gazprom's total revenues. Losing that would hurt the company very much," DeLay says.

So Russia may have won a Pyrrhic victory in Georgia. Its dominance in the Caucasus is almost beyond question now, but its image is badly tattered.

As a concession to customers in Europe, the Kremlin may have to allow alternative pipelines to be built to avoid losing revenue from sales in the West. After all, Europe may now see diversifying away from natural gas as preferable to a future as a captive customer of Russian gas supplies. /// RFE/RL, 2 Sep

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Perception of Georgian Government in Russia

The news on political arena are developing very rapidly. As Dick Cheney is planning a visit to Georgia, the President of Russia has commented on this as a possible attempt of US in suppporting Georgia in military terms. There were already indications in the press about possible rebuilding of war power in Georgia.

The President of Russia has mentioned in his remarks that the US relations with Georgia should be reconsidered "because it has put Georgia in a very difficult position, caused serious destablisation and launched an aggression that ended in many deaths."

EU leaders decided at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Monday to freeze talks on a new strategic EU-Russia accord. Putin, the Prime-Minister of Russia has already commented on this decision, saying "Thank God, common sense prevailed. We saw no extreme conclusions and proposals, and this is very good".

Saakashvili, meanwhile, pointed to the moratorium on EU-Russia partnership talks as proof of Western solidarity behind Georgia. "Russia failed to break the unity at the heart of Europe," he told France 24 television.

The Russian foreign ministry said that "the intention to freeze talks about a new partnership agreement is a cause for regret." Medvedev had earlier criticised what he called the EU's failure to understand Russian motives for going to war in Georgia.
And he made the following remark during an interview which was broadcasted on Russian TV:"For us, the present Georgian regime has collapsed. President Saakashvili no longer exists in our eyes. He is a political corpse". Medvedev said in the interview broadcast on Russian television.

Medvedev sa d Moscow was ready to hold talks with the international community "on all sorts of questions, including post-conflict resolution in the region" of the Caucasus.

"But we would like the international community to remember who began the aggression and who is responsible for people's deaths," he said.

EU does not impose sanctions, but suspends agreement on Strategic Pact

As was expected, the meeting of European leaders was a mix of calls for severe sanction against Russia, and calls for more moderate actions in view of the fact that Europe is really dependent on oil and gas supplies from this country.

As a result, no sanctions are envisaged, but EU has decided to condemn Russia for recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, any discussions on the Strategic Pact between EU and Russia are postponed until full withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. You may find the text of the conclusions of the European Council Meeting here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/01_09_08_eurussia_statement.pdf
Watch the latest videos on YouTube.com