Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Five Years After the Five-Day War, Everyone’s Learned Their Lessons

01g South Ossetia 2010


Russia and Georgia’s clash over South Ossetia happened five years ago, but today it feels like an age away. Much has changed since then in Georgia and Russia, as well in all the countries that were indirectly involved in the conflict. Georgia was the first post-Soviet republic to engage in a direct military clash with Russia, certainly an extraordinary event. Georgia changed politically since then, with a new government coming to power last fall. The five-day war didn’t topple Mikhail Saakashvili, as many in Moscow hoped it would, but it did seriously mar his moral and political image. Little by little, Saakashvili’s government abandoned its pro-reform policy and turned into a repressive régime that wanted only one thing… to remain in power at all costs. When a strong political rival appeared three years later, it turned out that Saakashvili’s chair was much shakier than many thought.

Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream, which won the parliamentary elections last fall, promised to examine the causes of the military conflict and the role of Tbilisi in it. Some members of the current Georgian government said that the government made gross mistakes, but Georgia is unlikely to do a U-turn on its attitude toward the war. The war did major damage, and if a leading politician tried too abruptly to change the idea that Georgia was a victim in the events, the political consequences might be unpredictable. It’s unclear whether anyone should do this at all, although such a positive change would be of truly revolutionary importance for relations with Russia and a breakthrough in relations.

The new Georgian authorities are grappling with many problems. However, most predictions agree that the Georgian Dream will easily win the presidential election in October and that Saakashvili’s United National Movement is losing weight. Firstly, Georgia still heavily depends on the West, which sees Georgian Dream’s attempts to restore political order as a persecution campaign, even if there may be very serious reasons behind it. Therefore, the government should move slowly and act prudently. Secondly, people heaved a sigh of relief when the previous government’s pressure eased, but they soon became aware of drawbacks in the new democratic rule. Georgians are heatedly discussing their problems, and political life is in full swing, but there are few practical results so far. Furthermore, with the United National Movement discredited and no other serious political forces in the country, the government is in a dangerous position, with no opposition to keep it in check. Life without opposition corrupts, as we know from history. Nonetheless, it looks like Georgia learned its lesson and is unlikely to act opportunistically again.

The West took a warning from the Georgian example. The August 2008 war put an end to the idea of NATO’s eastward expansion, which the West hasn’t discussed since, at least not in practical terms. Only a major change in American policy would bring this issue back in focus. However, so far, events have gone in the opposite direction. NATO’s extensive development, which masked the lack of a strategy in the 2000s, gave way to attempts to adapt the bloc to the more practical tasks at hand. These tasks have very little connection with the Caucasus, and the bloc is no longer enthusiastic about the post-Soviet space as a whole.

The five years after the South Ossetian war were a time of quest for Russia. Many saw the defeat of Georgia as a major landmark and a psychological resurgence after more than 20 years of geopolitical retreat. At the same time, it became clear that Russia wouldn’t pursue an expansionist policy to regain the losses it sustained after the dissolution of the USSR, which the West and some neighbouring countries feared would be the case. Moscow is gradually abandoning the post-imperial mentality rooted in the Soviet collapse and related feelings in favour of a new vision of itself and its interests in the neighbouring countries. The Customs Union idea proposed several months after the war was a major improvement on all previous plans. It focuses on economic expediency and the logic of mutually beneficial integration rather than reunion for the sake of reunion.

Russia’s most controversial postwar move was the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the five years since, Russia hasn’t convinced any major country to do the same, and it’s unlikely to succeed any time soon. Moscow had to make the decision because the situation was rocky and they needed to stabilise the state of affairs. Nevertheless, it hasn’t resolved the problem. It only put the political and diplomatic conflict on ice, and it’s a fact that what’s frozen sometimes melts. A final settlement will come only when we find a solution that suits all sides, which means that aggravation is still possible, even though the status quo is stable and no one wants an escalation.

One can describe the South Ossetian war, which is deeply rooted in the dissolution of the USSR, as the closing page in a long chapter. The global financial crisis, which broke out a month later, put into question the results of an era that began in the 1990s and was a time of triumph for the West and its market ideology. It also engendered processes that have made things even more problematic. The Arab Spring, which began two-and-a-half years after the South Ossetian war, further complicated matters. There’ll be many more such events before a new world order emerges from the chaos. Russia paid a high price for being a lead actor in 20th-century history. It had its share of shocks and would rather be a spectator from now on, unless a new play develops in direct proximity to its borders.

01 Fyodor Lukyanov RIA-Novosti8 August 2013

Fyodor Lukyanov



Editor’s Note:

The above is far different from the narrative that’s still bruited in neocon and interventionist circles. They claim that Georgia was the totally-innocent victim of Russian neo-imperial aggression. Such wasn’t so… indeed, they’re the most disgusting apologists for AMERICAN neo-imperialism. Since 1991, American neocons and interventionists have been drunk on their ”victory” in the Cold War. Factually, the Cold War ended in 1987, after the Reykjavik Summit, not the 1991 implosion of the USSR, which was something else altogether (and had nothing to do with Socialist vs Market ideologies, in any case). America has run riot… showing all concerned that the leading elements of the USA are greedy, self-centred, and violent; they’re incompetent, uncivilised, uncultured, and indecent, not fit for the role of a “world leader”. That’s true of both the Right and Centre in American politics (there’s no Left in the USA… the last Leftists were FDR and Henry Wallace).

We see the moral bankruptcy of the trend in the USA (and the West, in general) that’s been regnant since the time of Slobberin’ Ronnie. “Might makes right” has run rampant in the USA… “Greed is Good”, “The race goes to the swiftest”, and “You earned it” sum up its evil credo. It’s Social Darwinism (actually, a misnomer, as it owes everything to Spencer, not Darwin) writ large. America’s become a McMansion… glitzy on the outside, cheap softwood plyboard inside (with the termites busy at work). It’s time to put things right… but shall we? That’s up to YOU…

If we don’t, the consequences will be dire… I’m not advocating chaos and bloodshed, I’m predicting that it could happen if we don’t scrap our present neoliberal Rightwing arrangements… that’s two very different things…



Sunday, 20 January 2013

Patriarch Ilya of Georgia to Meet Putin in Moscow



According to sources in the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the First Hierarch of the Church of Georgia, Catholicos Patriarch Ilya Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili, will meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 23 January. Patriarch Ilya, who left for Moscow on Sunday, is visiting Russia to receive an award from International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations (IFUOCN) {editor: a paper “rotten borough” organisation with no real existence). IFUOCN grants awards annually to political and religious leaders, as well as public figures, for contribution to “strengthening the unity of the Orthodox Christian nations”. The award ceremony will be at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on 22 January.

Archpriest Giorgi Zviadadze, a Church of Georgia spokesman, told journalists in Tbilisi on Sunday before the Georgian Church delegation left for Moscow, “A meeting of the Georgian Patriarch and the Russian Patriarch [Kirill] with President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for 23 January”. President Putin sent greetings to Patriarch Ilya, who marked his 80th birthday this month and the 35th anniversary of his enthronement in December, and said in his message that Patriarch Ilya’s leadership of the Church of Georgia was “exemplary” and his contribution to strengthening of Orthodoxy in Georgia “invaluable”. Putin went on to say, “We highly appreciate your warm relations with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church (sic). Your personal efforts, your calls for peace, love, creativity, accord, and unity have largely contributed to maintaining multi-century ties of friendship and mutual understanding between our peoples during a difficult stage of history. I’m sure that fruitful spiritual, cultural, and humanitarian dialogue will become a reliable foundation for further development of relations between Russia and Georgia”. Mikhail Shvydkoy, Putin’s special envoy for international cultural relations, conveyed Putin’s greetings during his visit to Tbilisi on 11 January, when he attended events in the Georgian capital marking Patriarch Ilya’s birthday and enthronement anniversaries.

21 January 2013 (MSK)

Civil Georgia


Editor’s Note:

Here’s the 64,000 Dollar Question… is Ilya going to meet Nino Burdzhanadze in Moscow? If he meets with her, shall it be open or covert? Now, that’s something worth knowing. The so-called Georgian Dream coalition only agrees on one thing… the toppling of Saakashvili. Ivanishvili has no political experience… he’s a rich “empty suit”. Georgian Dream includes factions that range from former communists to pro-Western Free Market lickspittles such as Ivanishvili. It simply is too amorphous to last… that’s why I believe that Ilya’s going to meet with Burdzhanadze in Moscow. She’s the only Georgian leader with any real ability and cred. This trip is proof that Langley’s efforts to make Georgia a reliable American lapdog have failed. Remember, Fathausen went to Georgia a while back… it appears that his mission was in vain (after all, he’s in thrall to the worst Russophobic elements in the US Republican Party).

We’ll see… Georgia’s in flux… and the USA is about to lose its only reliable ally in the former Soviet space. Shall Saakashvili survive? On the other hand, shall he end as an embittered second-rate émigré professor at a third-rate American college (with a “fellowship” at one of the K Street stink-tanks)? Time will tell us… I’d bet on the latter outcome…


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

American Lickspittle Saakashvili Conceded Defeat in Parliamentary Elections in Georgia


On Tuesday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili conceded defeat in the Georgian parliamentary election for his United National Movement (UNM), adding that his party would go into opposition. He went on to say in a special address acknowledging the victory of the opposition Georgian Dream in the 1 October election, “As the leader of the UNM, I declare our party will go into opposition. For me, there were fundamental unacceptable views held by the Georgian Dream coalition. There are big differences between us, and we think that its views are false. However, democracy works that way, the majority of the Georgian people have decided this, so, we respect their choice”.

2 October 2012



Editor’s Note:

I’d say that there isn’t anything to cheer about in the Georgian election yet. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the leader of Georgian Dream, is an oligarch who holds much of the country’s wealth (some sources say up to 50 percent)… the proportion of the country’s GDP that he holds personally is far above John D Rockefeller Sr’s 1 percent of the American GDP in 1900 (which was a gross stash and hoard in itself).

Therefore, I’d say that Georgia might have gone from the frying pan into the fire. Ivanishvili may be MORE of a lickspittle to the Americans and EU, as his main preoccupation is his wealth, not the welfare of the Georgian people. I’d wait to see the reaction of people such as Nino Burdzhanadze. Langley knew that Saakashvili was on the way out, and it didn’t want Burdzhanadze in charge of the parliament for some reason (she was pro-American at one point… has she changed her spots?). Ergo, it put up Ivanishvili, who has no political experience or connections (beyond those that all of the Affluent Effluent has). That is, was the Inside the Beltway crowd using an obliging oligarch to rid itself of an increasingly-irritating liability? After all, the K Street commandos did support Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden at one time, didn’t they?

The only qualification that Ivanishvili has is his wealth… which blinds the Mammon-worshipping and money-grubbing Americans. They don’t realise that if Ivanishvili doesn’t deliver on real change (that is, abolish Saakashvili’s Neoliberal pro-oligarch/anti-people “reforms”), he’s out, too. Oh, yes… Vova’s in the wings… he be patient… the fruit WILL drop from the tree in due course.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Georgia Opposition Celebrate Election “Victory”


Thousands of opposition supporters flooded the centre of Georgia‘s capital of Tbilisi to celebrate as exit polls put their Georgian Dream coalition ahead in Monday’s crucial parliamentary elections. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who leads Georgian Dream, said in a speech broadcast on an opposition TV channel, “We’ve won! The Georgian people have won!” However, with the official results yet to be announced, the opposition’s celebrations could prove premature. President Mikhail Saakashvili, who leads the ruling United National Movement (UNM), admitted on state television that Georgian Dream was ahead in the vote in Tbilisi, but said his coalition was winning convincingly in the provinces, saying, “But this doesn’t mean we’ll split the country between Tbilisi and the regions. We’re all citizens of Georgia and we must stand side-by-side”.

The atmosphere among the growing crowd on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square is euphoric, with chants of “Georgia.” Policing is virtually non-existent, although a drone is hovering above the crowd. However, the run up to today’s voting has been fraught with tension and fears of violence. Early on Tuesday, opposition media claimed Special Forces officers forcibly removed ballots from a number of polling stations in central Georgia’s Khashuri District. Maestro TV said officers “used tear gas and fired rubber bullets” at one polling station as they removed a ballot box in order to “rewrite” the results. The channel showed a crowd of opposition supporters heading toward polling stations in the district. Transparency International Georgia, an NGO that monitors political corruption, later confirmed the reports.

Levan Chochua, a middle-aged Georgian Dream supporter on Freedom Square warned, “There’ll be trouble if Saakashvili tries to steal the vote. Saakashvili says we’re for Russia, but we’re just for a normal life. He’s built a façade of European democracy in the centre of Tbilisi, but most people never see all this”, as he gestured at the impressive buildings that ring the square.

These elections saw Saakashvili face his most serious political threat since coming to power in 2003 as the result of a revolt against a régime led by former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The polls took on particular importance in the light of a law passed in 2010 that transfers the majority of the president’s executive powers to the prime minister. The law comes into force from 2013 when Saakashvili’s second term ends. Whoever wins Monday’s polls will be able to appoint the prime minister. Saakashvili’s UNM enjoyed a healthy lead in opinion polls until last month, when opposition channels aired explicit footage of male inmates at a Tbilisi jail being sexually assaulted with broom handles. The videos triggered large protests across Georgia and widespread anger at Saakashvili and the UNM and saw a reported groundswell of support for the opposition.

Dark Days

American-educated lawyer Saakashvili, 44, attempted to portray Monday’s elections as a choice between continued “modernisation” and a return to what he dubbed the “dark days” of the 1990s, when the former Soviet republic lay within Moscow‘s sphere of influence. Ivanishvili, 56, and his supporters accused Saakashvili of running a dictatorship and say his policies have brought Georgia… a country of 4.5 million that’s an important transit route for oil and gas to the West… to the brink of disaster, not least by leading it into a ruinous 2008 war with its vast neighbour, Russia. Whilst staunch American-ally Georgia earned plaudits from the World Bank for its far-reaching business reforms, the opposition says it’s done nothing to alleviate poverty, and that the true number of unemployed is far above the official figure, which hovers around 15 percent.

However, critics say Georgian Dream is little more than a rag-tag alliance of parties with very little in common and that Ivanishvili will be hard-pressed to suppress the more nationalist and xenophobic elements of his coalition should it come to power. Saakashvili painted his ultra-wealthy rival, who made much of his money in Russia in the 1990s, as a Kremlin stooge seeking to “return Georgia to Russia’s imperial space”. Ivanishvili has dismissed these allegations as “laughable”. Like the UNM, Georgian Dream also states NATO and EU membership among its priority policies, although the coalition also pledged to improve relations with Russia.

Post-Poll Fears

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the elections are a “litmus test” of Georgia’s democratic credentials. American and European officials called for transparent and peaceful elections, and over 400 poll observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are in the country. Nevertheless, monitors warned last week that the build-up to the crucial polls were “confrontational and rough”. Thomas De Waal, a Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told RIA Novosti, “These elections are the first serious test of Georgia’s capacity to hold a democratic election process which can lead to a peaceful transition of power at the ballot box. If the country can manage to absorb a two-party system without open confrontation it will be a big step forward”. The head of Georgia’s influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilya Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili, also urged honest elections, and carried out a pre-election blessing of Tbilisi last week.

From Penguins to Politics

Ivanishvili backed Saakashvili in the aftermath of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, even funding, he said, the new president’s inauguration. For years, the businessman showed little interest in being directly involved in politics, preferring instead to finance charity projects and breed penguins at his mansion in western Georgia. However, the enigmatic tycoon dropped a bombshell into Georgian politics last October when he announced that he would use some of his vast fortune of 6.4 billion USD (200 billion Roubles. 5 billion Euros. 4 billion UK Pounds)… equivalent to around half the country’s GDP… to create an alternative to the UNM, which has been in power for the past eight years.

The authorities responded by stripping him of his Georgian passport in 2011 after revelations that he’s also a French citizen. Ivanishvili said that he’ll take advantage of a law allowing EU nationals who have lived in Georgia for more than five years to hold public office to become prime minister if his opposition coalition triumphs at Monday’s polls. He said that he’ll leave office after “one or two years” if his bid for power is successful. Ivanishvili refused to vote at Monday’s polls in protest at what he said was the authorities “distortion” of the constitution, and said that the law on EU nationals was approved especially for him to rescue Georgia’s international image.

Ties With Russia

Georgia has had no diplomatic relations with Russia since 2008, when it fought and lost a five-day war with its powerful neighbour over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Russia subsequently recognised the sovereignty of South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia. However, a mere handful of countries have so far followed suit. Whilst Russia hasn’t backed either side at the polls, there’s great personal antipathy between Saakashvili and President Putin, who said in the aftermath of the South Ossetia conflict that he would like to “hang him [Saakashvili] by the balls”. Last week, EU military monitors said that Russian troops were building up at the administrative border with South Ossetia and that a Russian helicopter had briefly landed on Georgian-controlled territory. Moscow said the helicopter had touched down in Georgia “by mistake”. A major military exercise carried out last month by Russia in the North Caucasus also unsettled Tbilisi, although Moscow says the drills were planned well before the announcement of the 1 October elections.

2 October 2012 (MSK)



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