In case you’re not already watching, Georgian journalist, blogger and professor extraordinaire Mirian Jugheli and I have been hosting a weekly show on Google Hangouts that streams live to YouTube every Wednesday at 20:00 Tbilisi time (GMT +4).
If you’re into Georgian and Caucasus news, I strongly recommend you check it out and comment on the page live while we’re going to get involved.
The show is also now broadcast on radio GIPA FM 94.3 in Georgia Thursday nights at the same time. If you miss both times, it’s no big deal, you can watch the show anytime on YouTube. Check it out!
Also, like us on Facebook for reminders when to tune in and for extra links and materials about what we’re talking about each week at this link.
In this month’s issue of Investor.ge I reported on a couple of bits of news — first, the transfer in owner ship of Georgia’s main cargo port, Poti.
Flipping the Poti port has been one of the government’s major development goals, and is a key to increasing Georgia’s potential as a logistics and transit hub for East-West goods trade. APM Terminals, a subsidiary of the Maersk Group bought the port earlier this year and it says it has already begun to assess its renovation plans aimed at increasing its safety, efficiency and cargo capacity.
All good news, but they have a long way go to. Read more below.
Since acquiring an 80 percent share of the Poti port earlier this year, APM Terminals now plans to invest $100 million on upgrading the port facilities, and is eyeing additional investment projects in the region, company officials said.
APM Terminals, part of the Moller-Maersk Group, announced that it had acquired an 80 percent share of the Poti Sea Port in April, and officially took over from UAE-based RAKIA, in May.
APM Terminals’ Senior Vice President and Head of New Terminals, Peder Sondergaard, said APM intends to “add value” to the port, meeting the demand for a “high-quality port infrastructure in the Black Sea.” In the same press release, he also said APM would be investing $100 million in the port facilities over the next five years.
RAKIA continues to operate the Poti Free Trade Zone (FTZ), which occupies about 100 hectares adjacent to the port. RAKIA, which bought the zone in 2008, hopes to develop it into a major logistics and industrial center, pledging a $200 million investment.
APM Terminals’ Vice President for Business Development, Hans-Ole Madsen said in an interview with Investor.ge that the first stage of APM’s development plan has already begun, with engineers surveying the port’s existing equipment and determining which terminal cranes will be updated and which will be scrapped.
Check out my latest piece in the Faster Times on how Armenian bloggers have used the long-forgotten “virtual community” Live Journal, long-forgotten in the U.S., as a new media tool to fight the power!
When the Live Journal “virtual community” first came online in 1999, it basically operated as a venue for whiny American middle-schoolers to overshare, write bad poetry and meet pedophiles. At least that’s how I saw it. I was in middle school at the time.
Ten years later, after Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and iPhones apps seemed to have successively killed off the first generation of blog platforms and social networks, I was stunned to find that not only was Live Journal not extinct, but was in fact an influential vehicle for grass roots activism, social discussion and independent news sharing in Armenia — a country lacking in all three.
Armenia is rated “partly free” on democracy and “not free” on the status of its freedom of the press by Washington-based pro-democracy NGO Freedom House. According to internetworldstats.com little over six percent of Armenia’s population uses the internet, while most turn to exclusively pro-government broadcast media for information. But for Armenians, seeing isn’t believing.
Kids play with light-up swords in Yerevan's central Republic Square.
Last week I got a story in the Times about Armenia after spending a few days down there and getting a good look into its political situation and the implications of its bid to normalize relations with Turkey. And I thought Georgia was in a pickle, Armenia really is stuck. Here’s what ran last week.
TBILISI, Georgia - Although the process has been slow, the historic bid to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia announced in April has potential to shift regional power balances by giving Armenia an opportunity to wrest itself from dependence on Russia.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in retaliation for Armenia’s support of an ethnic Armenian secession movement in neighboring Azerbaijan.
A donkey grazes in front of the Akhtala Monestary in near the town of Alaverdi in Northern Armenia.
If the Turkish border reopened, landlocked Armenia would have greater access to trade through ports on the Mediterranean and Black seas, and would be less dependent on transit through Russia.
“Armenia is a weak country, and it is surrounded by countries that are either countries that are not friendly or were not friendly up until very recently,” said Masha Lipman, political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.
“So Armenia found itself with Russia as it’s chief protector, but I don’t think this will last for a long time. I think Armenia, like others, can diversify now,” she said.
2.) A father and daughter pause at the eternal flame at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial to the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan, Armenia. Turkey's failure to recognize the Armenian Genocide has been a major point of contention in negotiations to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia.
In April, diplomats from Turkey and Armenia disclosed that two years of secret diplomatic talks had produced a tentative framework for a package of sweeping reconciliation measures, including a reopening of the border and a bilateral commission to investigate what Armenians have called genocide by the Ottoman Empire, which preceded modern Turkey.
Despite overall thawing relations between Washington and Moscow, U.S. President Barack Obama announced in a statement that the U.S. will hold firm to the Bush administration’s interpretation of the of the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 – that Russia invaded Georgia unprovoked.
The joint statement with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev covered a wide range of issues and was overall constructive in tone. However, it did highlight disagreement in a few key areas — Georgia being key among them. Obama reiterated that the United States will not recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia as independent states and maintains that disagreements persist between Washington and Moscow on the “causes and sequence of military actions” leading to the all out five-day military conflict between Russia and American ally, Georgia.
One person overjoyed by this news is Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. In his country he has been accused by the growing opposition of starting an unwinnable war with Russia through reckless military action against the separatist province of South Ossetia.
Saakashvili and the U.S. State Department have held firm to the narrative that Georgia moved its forces into the province in order to counter artillery bombardments on Georgian villiages by rebel forces and to halt a Russian incursion that was already underway. This version has many critics. Numerous journalists on the ground in at the time of the conflict as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had military monitors in place in South Ossetia, have said that they saw the opposite and that the Georgian claims lack evidence.
No one should be surprised at this move. Despite his desire to “hit the reset button” on relations with Russia, Obama would be putting the United States in an awkward position to admit Georgian wrong-doing in the August War despite how rational and factually sound that might be. In the end this is likely no more than a symbolic gesture keeping the United States from totally losing its relationship with the Caucasus nation, without necessarily strengthening it — the administration has not given any clear indication it wants Georgia in NATO.
Obama appears to be prepared to allow this issue to be a stalemate while the U.S. and Russia can press ahead on other collaborative issues. In the end, no one totally lost face, and the situation is no more resolved today that it was yesterday.
the three-way chess game in the Caucasus continues …