Tag Archives: News

Tbilisi Hangout 010

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.

Happy National Day to our favorite organ traffickers!

In a press statement today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Kosovo on its 3rd National Day since becoming independent, saying “the United States is committed to your future and we are honored to be your friends and your partners.”

I am actually very surprised that this message was not at least tempered or did not include the ongoing references to the investigation and criminal proceedings against Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and others over accusations of war crimes and ongoing mafia activity during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.

(For full Three Kings coverage of Kosovo, click here.)

KLA fighters turn in their weapons to U.S. marines in 1999.

Actually, I shouldn’t be. Over the weekend, the head of the investigation, Dick Marty said in an interview with a Slovenian newspaper that Western countries knew all along about the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)’s activities, which included killing prisoners-of-war and civilians for organs, which they later trafficked on the black market. Continue reading

The most important things I forgot to talk about

Hey everyone, so after a busy week, I’m getting myself back into the blogging biz with a few things you may have missed.

Tans take time.

  • Mr. Saakashvili goes to Washington: Arriving Jan. 15 to participate in a memorial service for the late Richard Holbrooke, the Georgian president met with U.S. President Barack Obama for “more than 25 miutes” according to Saakashvili’s office. He also met with various other American legislators including  House Majority Leader John Boehner, which was quite an honor considering he has turned down multiple meetings with the U.S. President, and most recently declined to meet Chinese Premier Hu Jintao.
  • Russia’s North Caucasus Problems: Our friends at Evolutsia.net had a great piece on the two primary developments in North Caucasus: a tragic reminder of the struggle’s costs, and uncertain potential in the Kremlin’s new strategy. First, an suicide bomber at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, likely linked to North Caucasus militants, killed at least 35 people Jan. 24 and injured 168, reminding Russia and the world of the seriousness of its problems in the desolate North Caucasus. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s new envoy to the region, Aleksandr Khloponin, is beginning to get settled in. His ambitious plan to 400 billion rubles ($13.4 billion) to develop the devastated and underdeveloped region seems to have Russia headed on the right track, but Evolutsia and other Eurasia analysts worry that parallel — but not conjoined — economic and military efforts will still fail to address the problem. All the same, very few holistic approaches to impoverished regions beset by insurgencies have worked either (see Afghanistan).
  • Armenia and Azerbaijan shake hands again: The region’s two worst neighbors came back to the negotiating table yesterday (hopefully avoiding the Moscow airport) to discuss their ongoing dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hopefully, at least a symbolic agreement can be made that will cool down tensions that flared last summer, costing several lives and worrying the international community that all-out war might follow.
  • Three Kings and its partners are getting real: Last week we put out a survey to readers of English-language media on Georgia and the South Caucasus in preparation for a new media project of our own. If you haven’t gotten three minutes to fill it out yet, stop reading this and do so now at this link!
  • Even more important stuff: I’ll have more later today on the 13th casualty of Georgia’s participation in America’s wars and on the eviction of another 1500 Georgian IDP’s from the capital, Tbilisi.

Why you shouldn’t fear Russian militarization

As I eluded to in a post earlier this week, Russia is preparing to spend massive amounts of money modernizing and expanding its effective military over the next decade. The only problem is that no one, including the Russian president and the Defense Ministry, seem to think it will all actually happen.

Free nut shot

As reported by the Eurasia Daily Monitor, December has become a time for Russia to discuss progress and setbacks in the ambitious reform of its conventional forces. In each of the last three years, however, the case that has been made has been less convincing and the messages of the military brass more confusing.

First, on Dec. 24 last year, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave a less than convincing appraisal of Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, through whom the reforms are in theory being implemented, saying the ministry is “hard working” but it “makes mistakes” and it had carried out the president’s policy “on the whole.” Continue reading

EU holds firm on Chinese weapons embargo

Flag of the Chinese People's Liberation Army

Despite cracks in the NATO-EU’s de facto arms embargo on Russia and hints that the EU was considering lifting its ban on weapons sales to China, EU officials confirmed this week that such a move was not going to be considered.

EU officials cited human rights and  political pressure from China concerning the nomination of Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize as the primary reasons for the resumption of the embargo, although the EU’s foreign relations chief, Catherine Ashton, publicly supported lifting the ban.

What is interesting is that all of the justifications for not selling weapons to China are the same for not giving guns to Russia. Russia, however, has made significant political inroads with several European nations — particularly France, which authorized a French company, shipbuilder DCNS, to build four high tech helicopter carriers for Russia.

Nonetheless, China’s foreign track record and its booming, increasingly open economy argues in it’s favor: it hasn’t used military force outside its borders in decades and it is already too economically interdependent with EU/ NATO countries to confront them directly. So, other than last year’s quarrels with the Nobel Committee, why is the EU still not selling weapons to China?

Leaving aside the moral dimension, any change on the embargo could also harm EU-US relations.

Asked by EUobserver on Tuesday if the US is reconsidering its position on China arms sales, the State Department pointed to comments made by a senior US diplomat, John Hillen, in 2005 as still being relevant. Mr Hillen at the time said that lifting the embargo would “raise a major obstacle to future US defence co-operation with Europe.”

Well, that’s that.

All eyes on Kyrgyzstan to see if democracy improves or implodes

To preview Kyrgyzstan’s Oct. 10 parliamentary elections, Washington Diplomat Managing Editor Anna Gawel and I took a close look at the elections and the stakes for three superpowers involved in the Diplomat‘s October issue. Take a look!

As voters in Kyrgyzstan go to the polls in parliamentary elections Oct. 10, many will be watching intently for a sign of where this unstable yet strategic Central Asian nation is headed.

Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases and is a key link in energy trade and narco-trafficking routes. The country is also perpetually hobbled by ethnic strife, endemic corruption and streaks of authoritarianism. This past year alone, Kyrgyzstan has experienced bouts of upheaval that have all but wiped away hopeful memories of the so-called “Tulip Revolution” five years ago.

In April, a violent uprising toppled the autocratic regime of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, although his presence lingers in the bitterly divided nation. That bitterness came to a boil this summer when inter-communal violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan’s ethnically mixed south between minority Uzbeks and the majority Kyrgyz, killing at least 400 people — and possibly many more — while displacing tens of thousands.

When the ethnic fighting broke out in July, Roza Otunbayeva, the interim president, publicly requested that Russia send a peacekeeping force to help quell the violence. Interestingly though, despite Moscow’s penchant for inserting itself into the affairs of its former Soviet-bloc neighbors (most notably Georgia), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declined, saying his country would not become involved in “an internal conflict.”

To continue reading, click here.

Seatbelts, an invisible cross and mothers on the march: Three Kings news roundup


I must say that my favorite news of the week is that, according to the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network, a bill has made it to the floor in the Georgian parliament that would make wearing seatbelts obligatory (finally!). Drivers and front row passengers will be answerable to a 40 lari ($22) fine if they are pulled over and aren’t wearing them.

According to a 2009 study by the World Health Foundation, Georgia has 16.8 traffic-related fatalities per year per 100,000 people; by contrast the Netherlands has 4.1 road deaths per 100,000 per year according to the same study. Anyone living here can attest that far from the safety risks of war, crime or natural disasters — everyone in Georgia should be most afraid of cars, whether in them or near them. Imagine rally racing on an urban track.

If this bill passes and is actually enforced it will likely cause angst among the population, however. I would be willing to bet that less than half of the cars on the road in Georgia — and probably 30 percent of the taxis have working seatbelts. Although it may cause temporary economic hardship to some, it is definitely a good thing as the chaos on the roads is the most pressing public safety issue in Georgia.

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START clears first hurdle

The new START nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia quietly passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday with little opposition.

[A] wild card emerged when Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) told the hearing that intelligence agencies had, at the last minute, produced “some very serious information that directly affects what we’re doing here.”

He did not reveal the information, but later told the blog the Cable that it involved Russian cheating on arms-control agreements. [...]

A classified State Department report produced this year determined that New START was “effectively verifiable.” Another State Department report said that Russia had observed the “central limits” of the first START treaty, although it noted there were disputes over compliance.

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Why we believe in propaganda and other news

Settling into my third busy week back in Tbilisi after a two-week stint in the States, I’m back in the swing of things — translating, reporting and blogging.

While none of my articles have gone public yet, many articles written by other people have caught my eye.

A fabulous piece in Foreign Policy entitled “Call off the Great Game“ by Thomas de Waal has been emailed and posted around the clique of foreign journalists in Tbilisi. In it, he debunks some of lingering counterproductive misconceptions about the Caucasus and how the outside world could help stabilize this traditionally turbulent region.

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Saakashvili celebrates victory over Russia

Saakashvili meets with Georgian troops at the Krstanisi military base in February.

Saakashvili meets with Georgian troops at the Krstanisi military base in February.

Apparently I missed a rather odd weekend in Tbilisi.

Throughout the region, local journalists and politicians mark August 7-8 on their calendar for the usual stories and statements about the anniversary of the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. The political leaders of Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia snipe and grandstand and journalists write up something quick about where the two sides stand today.

I didn’t stay for the fireworks and instead marked the war’s birthday by trekking my way through Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park in central Georgia.

Surprisingly, what I missed in Tbilisi was, indeed, fireworks.

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