Sunday, June 12, 2011

In a Reversal, Obama Administration Pressures Georgia on Russia's WTO Accession

Despite the repeated public statements underscoring the Obama administration's commitment to the principle of non-interference in the on-going Russian-Georgian negotiations regarding Russia's WTO accession, it turns out that Washington tried to pressure Tbilisi at least on one occasion quite recently.

The Cable writes that, according to "a senior GOP Senate aide," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk [see photo on the right courtesy of], "while briefing senators before a recent congressional trip that included a stop in Georgia, asked those senators to pressure Georgia to move toward acceptance of Russia's membership in the WTO." Moreover, according to the aforementioned senior aide, "It was odd to hear Ambassador Kirk behind closed doors urging a group of senators to pressure Georgia to 'be reasonable' while, we understood, the administration was saying publicly it would stay out of a Georgia-Russia issue."

Survey of the relevant news reports in the Georgian media over the past couple of months allows one to conclude that the group of senators briefed by Ambassador Kirk included Republican senators Jon Kyl, Mike Crapo, Ron Johnson, and Jeff Sessions. According to, the U.S. senators met with the Georgian government officials in Tbilisi on April 18, as part of their five-country tour, which also included Ukraine and three Baltic states.

It should be recalled that previously the Obama administration officials emphatically insisted that they have no intention of mediating the Russian-Georgian talks or forcing the Georgian side to achieve the agreement with Russians. In early March, the Senior Director for Russia at the National Security Council, Michael McFaul, who has been recently nominated to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Russia, told The Cable: "There are definitely issues remaining between Russia and Georgia regarding trade relations that have to be addressed. There is a process underway. I don't want to prejudge it because we're not involved in it." Furthermore, according to The Cable: "McFaul was firm that the United States would not insert itself into the effort to help Russia and Georgia come to an agreement on the issue. 'We're not going to do that,' he said. At the end of the day this is a bilateral issue, not a trilateral issue.'"

Similar sentiments were expressed by another senior administration official to The Cable in late October of last year: "This is a bilateral issue between Russia and Georgia, this is not a trilateral issue that we are supposed to solve somehow." The same senior administration official clarified that the Obama administration had no intention of exerting influence on Georgia on this issue and that Washington would not offer incentives or disincentives to Tbilisi.

However, the news coverage accompanying the meeting of U.S. and Russian presidents on the sidelines of the G8 summit in France on May 26 suddenly revealed completely different picture. Not only much of the meeting was devoted to the discussion of the Russia's WTO accession, but also, according to a senior administration official, President Barack Obama has been personally engaged with this issue for months. In particular, the official told the ABC News that apparently President Obama came up with the idea of Switzerland acting as an honest broker between Russia and Georgia with regard to Russia's WTO accession-related negotiations. It turns out that President Obama secured President Medvedev's agreement regarding Russia's participation in Swiss-mediated talks with Georgia in November on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization in Yokohama, Japan, whereas President Saakashvili acquiesced at the NATO summit in Lisbon the same month.

The fact that the U.S. Trade Representative tried to convince some Republican senators to pressure the Georgian government to compromise with Russia suggests that the Obama administration reversed its position on this issue. Given the central importance of Russia's WTO accession for the continuation of the seemingly stalled "reset" policy, this reversal should not come as a surprise. It will remain to be seen what outcome this tacit pressure will produce.

Although the Georgian side is often falsely accused of politicizing the Swiss-brokered negotiations both in Russian and Western media, Tbilisi's demands have actually nothing to do with the insistence on the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia's demands remain unchanged and they include the fulfillment by the Russian side of the obligations included in the 2004 bilateral accession protocol and the resolution of the custom administration issues along the Russian-Georgian border. None of these are insurmountable. With the modicum of good will and some creativity they can be resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties. For instance, the customs regime on the Abkhazian and South Ossetian sections of the Russian-Georgian border can be administered by the third party on Georgia's behalf (view advocated by Damon Wilson, Director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council) akin to the arrangement currently in place on the de facto borders of Moldova's separatist enclave of Transdnistria, which is carried out by the European Union. However, considering the attitudes prevailing in the Kremlin at present it is probably highly unrealistic to expect any sign of flexibility from the Russians on these issues. Meanwhile the next round of the Swiss-mediated Russian-Georgian talks, which was originally scheduled to start on June 2, has been postponed for "technical reasons" at the request of the Swiss government.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Georgian Foreign Minister's Interview Sheds Light on Georgia's Negotiating Positions at the Geneva Talks

This past Friday, March 4, 2011, marked the conclusion of the fifteenth round of the multilateral negotiations in Geneva between the government delegations from Georgia, Russian Federation, European Union, and the United States, with the participation of the representatives of the separatist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As was widely expected, no progress has been achieved on the most important issues, including committing Russia to a non-use of force pledge and allowing international security mechanisms in the breakaway regions. In general, since the EU, OSCE and UN jointly initiated the talks two months after the Russian-Georgian war in October 2008, the Geneva negotiations have been characterized by continuous stalemate with occasional bouts of theatricality orchestrated by the Russian side with support from its Abkhazian and South Ossetian proxies, which usually amount to demonstrative walk-outs and other attempts to obstruct the fledgling process. Although devoid of any practical impact, the Geneva negotiations are important for the American and Western diplomatic establishment only for the sake of maintaining some sort of dialogue between the sides that otherwise have no other channels of diplomatic communication. [NOTE: At present Georgia and Russia have no diplomatic relations. Geneva talks is the only forum, where Russian and Georgian diplomats meet face to face.] In other words, it is a classic case of "negotiations for the sake of negotiations."

About a week before the fifteenth round of the Geneva talks, on Thursday, 24 February, 2011, the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigol Vashadze [photo on the right courtesy of] gave an exclusive interview to the Russian Service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in which he highlighted some of Tbilisi's negotiating positions. Here is the selected verbatim recap of Vashadze's answers to questions by the RFE/RL journalist Irina Lagunina:

Q: What will the official Tbilisi present at the fifteenth round?

A: You know, Georgia exhausted its limit of initiatives. The last that we did was that on November 23 of last year, the President of Georgia gave a speech at the European Parliament in which he took upon himself and on Georgia the legal obligation not to use the force against the occupation forces and occupation regimes. This was appropriately documented in the legal sense. We sent letters in which we confirmed that we undertook legal obligations to all international organizations, including those that are co-hosts of the Geneva negotiations, to European Union because European Union is a co-host of Geneva talks, to the President of the United States of America because the United States of America is a full-fledged participant in the Geneva talks. In other words, we documented our obligations appropriately.

Now it is time for the Russian side to act. They should take upon themselves the same obligation that they will not use force against Georgia. There are military plans for such a war. You know, there is an absolutely hysterical campaign aimed at the militarization of the occupied territories. In response to Georgia's November 23 initiative, Russia deployed in the occupied territories quite dangerous not only for Georgia but also for the entire region offensive weapons, including Uragan [Uragan 9K57 Multiple Launch Rocket System], Smerch [Smerch 9K58 Multiple Launch Rocket System], S-300 [S-300 Surface-to-Air Missile System], and Tochka U [OTP-21 Tochka U Mobile Tactical Ballistic Missile Launch System]. This last one, as you know, can be equipped not only with the conventional warhead, which is dreadful in and of itself because it is comprised of 50 cassette [cluster] bombs, but also with the nuclear warhead. Why would Russia need Tochka U in the South Caucasus is not quite clear at all.

Q: But Russia presents itself at the talks as the moderator and not as one of the parties to the conflict.

A: Irina, this is precisely why the negotiations are paralyzed. On the one hand, Georgia and the United States are asking, demanding, insisting, begging, convincing Russia so that it would look at things as they are. On the other hand, there is an attempt to play out a "groundhog's day," as with Afghanistan, as with the so-called socialist camp and other attributes of the 20th century. In other words, they put in front of us these clowns, these occupation regimes and then they tell us to talk to them. Although there were many attempts to talk with them since 1991, which is when the occupation of these regions of Georgia actually began. Russia categorically refuses to talk with Georgia, to recognize Georgia as a sovereign state, to recognize our territorial integrity, to recognize the legally and democratically elected government, and the legally and democratically elected President. At the last round of negotiations the talks ended at the fifteenth minute, when the delegations of Georgia and the United States demanded from Russia to undertake commitment not to use military force. That happened during the meeting of the first working group. In the second working group Russia declared that the refugees will never return to their places of residence and will never get back their houses.

Response to Oliver Bullough

On February 14, 2011, the Georgian news portal published my response to Oliver Bullough [see photo on the right courtesy of], whose article "Letter From Tbilisi: Toward a United Caucasus. A New Georgian Gamble in the Caucasus?" appeared on the website of the Foreign Affairs magazine on December 23, 2010. I am reposting it here in its entirety:

Response to Oliver Bullough

February 14, 2011

by Alexander Melikishvili, Freelance Research Analyst

Judging by the very appearance of Oliver Bullough’s vastly simplistic and transparently biased interpretation of Georgia’s recently launched array of policy initiatives vis-à-vis the North Caucasus (“Letter From Tbilisi: Toward a United Caucasus,” Foreign Affairs, December 23, 2010), the quality standards at the Foreign Affairs sadly continue to disappoint.

For many centuries now the volatile areas around the world have a habit of attracting rather diverse mix of thrill-seeking adventurers of all kinds and walks of life. In recent centuries this set of colorful characters ranged from Alexandre Dumas and Lev Nussimbaum to Sir John Chardin and Odette Keun. Of course, mentioning Bullough in this company is undoubtedly giving him too much credit, but these are difficult times that probably merit certain leniency as well as charity.

Bored with the Welsh Marches, in comes this self-styled “Rory Stewart” of the Caucasus, who is clearly convinced that he is qualified not only to admonish the Georgian government for its “provocative and potentially destabilizing” overtures towards the North Caucasus but also to urge the West and more specifically the Obama administration to do something about it. Curious indeed. However, let us proceed in examining the most problematic aspects of his essay in an orderly manner.

The reiteration of fallacies should begin with the often heard Russian complaint of Georgia’s alleged “betrayal” of its former imperial master. Apparently Bullough is highly susceptible to the Russian interpretation of the historical events, including the fateful signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783, which is conveniently presented as the selfless, humane and noble deed and not as anchoring of imperial ambitions and interests in the Caucasus that lasted in one form or another to the present day.

Bullough is obviously unaware of the fact that the Russian Empire subsequently violated the terms of the aforementioned treaty by disrupting the Georgian monarchic line, co-opting the oversized and fractious Georgian aristocracy and systematically destroying any vestiges of Georgian sovereignty symbolic or otherwise. In other words, Georgia became another territorial acquisition in the seemingly relentless expansion of the Russian Empire by land. Paradoxically by then Georgian statehood withstood multiple Muslim yokes and yet it was the “fellow Christians” from the north, who put an end to it. Under the Russian imperial rule Georgians distinguished themselves by serving Tsars with erstwhile zeal and exceptional loyalty. The equestrian statue of Georgian Prince and General of Russian Army Pyotr Bagration(i) that still stands in downtown Moscow ought to be an adequate reminder of this service. However, the collapse of the Russian Empire drastically changed the geopolitical circumstances surrounding Georgia and if it were not for the Bolshevik reoccupation and subsequent seven decades of servitude under the Soviet rule who knows where Georgia’s westward reorientation would have led? Bullough simply fails to comprehend that Georgia’s yearning for Euro-Atlantic integration is not some sort of bizarre idée fixe of the current Georgian government but it reflects genuinely broad national consensus.

However, the weakest point of Bullough’s argument is in simplistically interpreting Georgian government’s decision to introduce a visa-free regime for the residents of the North Caucasus as yet another example of Tbilisi’s thoughtless poking of the Russian bear. As I already wrote elsewhere, in simplifying travel procedures for the North Caucasians Tbilisi primarily seeks to cultivate the good will towards Georgia among them. The same purpose is served by the growing educational exchanges as well as by the relaunch in January of the First Caucasus News television channel, which is run by the veteran British journalist Robert Parsons.

The mentioning of Georgian natural gas imports from Iran is clearly intended to fuel Western suspicions about Georgian government’s regional policy, as the Georgian analyst David Iberi aptly notes in his criticism of Bullough’s piece here. In his monumental ignorance Bullough fails to mention that Iran is, by far, not the most vital source of natural gas for Georgia. Georgia receives the bulk of its natural gas from the neighboring Azerbaijan. If he were to do some most basic fact-checking before writing his screed, Bullough would have also discovered that NATO member Turkey last year increased its gas imports from Iran by 50 percent.

What is also striking about Bullough’s piece is that the author completely neglects to mention the systematic manner in which the Russian government alienated the population of the North Caucasus. Amidst the rising xenophobia targeting the dark-skinned “people of Caucasian nationality” in Russia proper, the North Caucasians have long become the second class citizens of the Russian Federation. So much so that after the introduction of the visa-free travel to Georgia a joke took root among the North Caucasians that at least now the anachronistic propiska or record of place of residence stamped in the Russian passport finally offers distinct advantage of visa-free travel to Georgia as opposed to many disadvantages and discrimination that a holder of such passport would experience once he or she ventures into the Russia proper.

Another sign of intellectual dishonesty is evident in the omission of the conferral of the Russian citizenship en masse on the residents of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which violated the international law, as is duly noted in the EU-sponsored report on the August 2008 war.

In a typical zero-sum fashion Bullough makes rather provocative claim that any expansion of Georgia’s influence over the North Caucasus will invariably result in the weakening of Russia’s grip over this volatile region, which, he asserts, could result in ethnic conflicts there with all the consequences for the “outside powers.” What he forgets is that the Kremlin’s hold on the North Caucasus has always been rather tenuous. The policy of installing Putin loyalists and hoping that they will somehow manage the local affairs has proven to be disastrously misguided and ineffective. The widespread corruption, police brutality, rising unemployment and near total neglect from the federal center in Moscow created fertile conditions in which the insurgency that was once primarily circumscribed to Chechnya has now spread to the other North Caucasian republics. It is hard to imagine that Tbilisi’s peaceful “soft power” initiatives would make matters worse there and yet Bullough seems to be adamant about such doom and gloom scenarios. After the most recent attack on the Domodedovo Airport, Russians are more openly asking the questions about what they received in terms of basic security after more than ten years of Putinism.

Bullough contradicts himself when he grudgingly recognizes that Tbilisi is gradually restoring the status of the cultural and economic capital of the Caucasus region (both North and South) that it once held while at the same time resisting and even fearing this process.

Finally, Bullough naively overestimates the influence Washington now wields over Tbilisi. With the new round of Iran sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council and the new START treaty signed and ratified, the “reset” with Russia must now be propelled by Russia’s entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Here, however, Georgia suddenly finds itself in possession of a unique leverage because the WTO membership can only be granted by the unanimous consent of all member-states. Georgia is a WTO member and for a number of legitimate reasons, including the unilateral Russian trade embargo imposed on Georgia since 2006, Tbilisi has shown no willingness to give a green light thus far. Thus, if Russia were to enter the WTO in 2011, as per President Barack Obama’s personal promise to President Dmitri Medvedev, Tbilisi would have to be offered something significant in return. What that might be is anybody’s guess and there are those, who speculate that Tbilisi might demand defensive weapons from the West, but be that as it may, clearly Tbilisi is in a better negotiating position than Washington. In this context, certainly Washington will be less likely to dictate anything to Tbilisi, especially when it comes to Georgia’s policy vis-à-vis North Caucasus, which is poorly understood here anyway.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Response to Walter Russell Mead's Blog Post "Georgia in the Crosshairs"

On October 28, 2010, the post entitled "Georgia in the Crosshairs" appeared on the blog of prominent American historian Walter Russell Mead [photo on the right courtesy of Pew Research Center website] at the website of The American Interest magazine. Apparently Mead recently traveled to Georgia, where he read lectures and had meetings in academic and government circles. Mead's previous blog posts on Georgia you can find here and here. Here is my response to Mead, which was also posted on his blog:

This post proves and exemplifies the frequent fallacy committed by Western social scientists with pompous academic credentials, who think they can become experts on Georgia and the Transcaucasus region after just one or two visits. The American nationalist, revisionist historian Walter Russell Mead is no exception to this rule. Of course, it would have been much better for him to stick to what he knows how to distort and embellish the best – namely the history of Anglo-American accomplishments. But academic figures of his stature are often characterized by such oversized egos that they are sure that their reputation is unassailable. The response below only partly aims to dispel this egotistical self-perception. It is largely intended to rebut some of Mead’s most ostentatious claims and factually incorrect observations.

In Mead’s highly amateur hodgepodge of facts, myths, truths, half-truths, unexamined assumptions and sweeping generalizations disguised as an authoritative crash course on Georgia, particular emphasis is placed on the incompetence, unpredictability and impulsiveness of the Georgian ruling elite as personified by the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. To recap Mead’s argument – bad decisions by the Georgian government produced “trust deficit” in European capitals and Washington and now Tbilisi is destined to linger in the dangerous geopolitical limbo, wherein it has no choice but to exercise “strategic patience” and to conduct modest foreign policy entirely subservient to American interests in the Caucasus region and vis-à-vis Russia. This, Mead argues, will hopefully, at some indefinite point, lead to closer relationship (but no membership) with European Union and perhaps better chances (but highly unlikely) at being considered for NATO membership. What a bright perspective indeed.

First of all, since the August 2008 war blaming all of Georgia’s misfortunes on the Georgian government has become a favorite pastime of many European and some American analysts, observers, experts as well as government officials. Pointing out real and perceived drawbacks of the Georgian decision makers in reality masks the inability and unwillingness of the American and European political establishment to do anything about Russia’s aggressive policy towards those post-Soviet countries that lean in the Western direction. Growing strategic dependence on Russia in Afghanistan further complicates and actually precludes any meaningful Western response in this regard. The result of this sad state of affairs has been the marked increase of Russian influence across the post-Soviet space.

Ukraine is the best case in point because anyone, who is even remotely familiar with current developments in that important country, has plenty to worry about because the Kremlin-friendly government of President Viktor Yanukovich has been systematically eroding the democratic achievements of the Orange Revolution. Moreover, following direct orders from Moscow Yanukovich now began to develop relations with world’s rogue authoritarian leaders as evidenced by the recent visit to Kyiv by the virulently anti-American leader of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.

In Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, the contours of the unequal and awkward Russo-American geopolitical condominium are beginning to materialize. Regardless of flowering rhetoric of official pronouncements, statements and speeches to the contrary, at the center of the American approach (because reactive positioning cannot be called policy) to Kyrgyzstan remains the uninterrupted operation of the Manas Transit Center. However, it is an open secret that the Kremlin exerts significant influence over Kyrgyz political circles and any decision on Manas will be taken only with Moscow’s approval. The success of the parliamentary model in Kyrgyzstan, which is espoused by the Obama administration, is far from assured considering Russian determination to keep American influence there checked at all times.

This brings us to Georgia. It is clear that in the context of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy with Russia, Georgia has become an inconvenient ally. The current U.S. approach to Georgia is predicated on the repetition of the familiar mantra of respect to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which does not really oblige Washington to do anything to change the untenable status quo there. This approach can be otherwise crudely summed up in a pithy American expression – words don’t cost a thing.

To be sure, in exchange for the generous diplomatic and financial support from Washington, Tbilisi, as a stalwart American ally, does what it can. Georgia’s contribution to the fledgling mission in Afghanistan is certainly appreciated by the U.S. and NATO officials, but apparently disregarded by Mead, who never mentions it in his meandering screed. Similarly the close bilateral cooperation in the counter-proliferation area that yielded the arrest and transfer to the United States of Amir Hossein Ardebili, one of the key Iranian arms dealers responsible for procurement abroad of weapons and dual-use items for Iranian armed forces, also somehow escaped Mead’s attention. It should be noted here that the Iranian government exerted significant pressure on Georgia to release Ardebili, but Tbilisi refused and risked angering Tehran. As a matter of fact, this individual was of such importance to Tehran’s clerical regime that during the official visit to Iran last year the Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze reportedly apologized to the Iranians for the Ardebili affair. Perhaps Mead would learn a thing or two by reading the most comprehensive and richly detailed account of the Operation Shakespeare, which was compiled by the investigative reporter John Shiffman and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in September.

Second, with no apparent knowledge of the developments preceding the August 2008 war Mead asserts that Georgia pursued “reckless and aggressive policies toward Russia in the summer of 2008.” Had he read the relevant parts of the report prepared by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (more frequently referred to as simply Tagliavini Report for the name of the Swiss diplomat, Heidi Tagliavini, who chaired the mission), he would have known that the Russian-Georgian war was preceded by the pattern of escalating tensions in which the Georgian-populated villages in South Ossetia were subjected to the increasing small arms fire and shelling by the South Ossetian separatist paramilitary forces.

Moreover, in the unlikely chance Mead would want to venture to examine the events that transpired in the spring of 2008, he will discover that with some support from Germany and active participation and mediation of the then Georgian Ambassador to UN, Irakli Alasania, the Georgian side approached the Abkhaz with the proposition that envisioned the partition of the territory of Abkhazia in return for the recognition of its independence. However, due to the pressure from Russia the Abkhaz rejected the partition proposal, which envisioned the reintegration of the Georgian-populated Gali region into Georgia in exchange for Tbilisi’s recognition of Abkhazia’s independence.

With regard to the warnings from the Bush administration not to antagonize Russia, Mead ought to consider the official visit to Georgia by the then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in July of 2008, less than a month before the beginning of hostilities in South Ossetia. Just as the Georgian airspace was being violated by the Russian aircraft, Secretary Rice casually assured the Georgian President: “We always fight for our friends.” In hindsight not the best choice of words given the extremely charged atmosphere on the eve of the conflict in which misperceptions and misinterpretations could have happened easily. In general, the deliberations on the American side prior, during and after the August war are meticulously described by Ronald Asmus in his seminal study A Little War that Shook the World.

Third, Mead expresses concern over the Georgian government’s decision to introduce the visa-free regime for the residents of the North Caucasus partly because he is concerned for the safety of the American expats living and working in Georgia and partly because such a move would irritate Russians. What Mead fails to realize is that the aforementioned decision serves Georgia’s long-term national interests in that volatile region. The best way to promote people-to-people interaction is to have a visa-free regime. The improvement of relations with the North Caucasian neighbors, over time, will have a positive impact on Georgia’s image among them. Developing good neighborly relations with the North Caucasian republics is of utmost importance to Georgia. Tbilisi remembers all too well what the neglect of this region produced in the early 1990s when, on the wave of separatist conflicts in Georgia, the North Caucasus region was permeated by the anti-Georgian sentiments. In presuming that all North Caucasians willing to take advantage of the visa-free regime are rebels or are somehow connected to them Mead commits another ignorant mistake, which actually borders on ethnic prejudice, the kind that is popular in certain Russian circles.

Fourth, by the time the doors of NATO may finally open for Georgia in accordance with the Bucharest summit commitments, the alliance may cease to exist altogether. Mead would hopefully benefit from reading about NATO’s inconsistent enlargement policy, diminished internal cohesion and inadequate military spending in this article.

The problems within NATO are manifest and they go beyond the apt typology of “Old” vs. “New” Europe introduced by the former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, they are perhaps the most painfully manifested in disagreements over Afghanistan and mandatory defense expenditures. Another area of constant tensions within the alliance is represented by the topic of contingency planning. For many representatives of “New” Europe in the alliance, who began to feel uneasy over Article V (collective defense) in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war this issue became extremely important. The Baltic States in particular felt defenseless and they insisted and belatedly received some assurance in the form of military exercises, which were most recently held in Latvia last month. Similar concern by Poland had to be allayed by the deployment of the Patriot missile battery and limited U.S. contingent there, which serves very little military purpose, but has tremendous political and symbolic significance.

Irrespective of what will be decided at the approaching Lisbon summit, in the context of the global economic crisis some NATO member-states intend to significantly reduce their military expenditures as part of the austerity measures. The recently brokered Anglo-French defense agreements are basically creative cost-cutting mechanisms, which make sense between the two highly compatible military force structures. However, it is easy to see in the medium- to long-run that unsustainable social welfare systems of European NATO members will invariably lead to more defense cuts to the detriment of the alliance. Therefore, while searching for external security guarantees will remain a top priority for Georgia, NATO may not be the only available option.

Finally, perhaps the only thing about which Mead is right is in pointing out that the Georgians should learn to be far more circumspect with regard to voicing their preferences between the Democratic or Republican parties. The Democratic Party has a long memory and in many ways the current Georgian government is still wrongly viewed by many party insiders and heavyweights as the neoconservative experiment closely associated with the Bush administration and its democracy promotion in the post-Soviet space. Overcoming this bias will not be easy, but it is not impossible. Georgians are not that beholden to illusions as it may seem at first glance by Mead. Many centuries of survival against the overwhelming odds taught them to be pragmatic and to balance the interests of other, more powerful players. Most recent confirmation of the latter was the official visit to Tbilisi by the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki this past Wednesday.

To Mead there is only this left to say – thanks for nothing. Your demagogic admonition to Georgia, its people and its leaders can be summed up in the following funny and bitter title of the article, which appeared on August 25, 2008 in the popular American satirical magazine The Onion: “U.S. Advises Allies Not To Border Russia.” Such advice is not worth a dime and you ought to keep it to yourself.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Georgia's New Threat Assessment Document Identifies Russia as a Main Threat

NOTE: This article was published in the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor today.

On September 2, 2010, the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, signed Order No.707, which approved the adoption of the Georgia’s Threat Assessment Document for 2010-2013. In accordance with Article 61 of Georgia’s General Administrative Code, the aforementioned document replaced the previous Threat Assessment Document for 2007-2009, which was adopted by the Presidential Order No.542 on September 24, 2007. The examination of the unclassified 7-page portion of the new threat assessment document provides unique insights into the global, regional and local threat perception of the current Georgian government.

According to the Preamble, “the Threat Assessment Document for 2010-2013 [hereafter referred to as TDA] represents the fundamental conceptual document that identifies the threats facing Georgia and analyzes the scenarios of their possible development, their likelihoods and results.

TDA is based on the broad understanding of security that entails not only the assessment of the military-political threats but also of the socio-economic and terrorist threats as well as natural and technogenic catastrophes. The understanding of the aforementioned threats is necessary for the proper execution of government policy aimed at neutralizing the threats facing Georgia."

TDA is divided into the following five parts: I. Military threats, II. Foreign policy threats, III. Transnational threats, IV. Socio-economic threats, and V. Natural and technogenic threats and challenges.

The first part –Military threats– opens with the doctrinal statement that rules out the conduct of foreign affairs based on the politics of force as “posing a threat to the fundamental principles and norms of the global community.” Furthermore, the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008 and subsequent Russian occupation of Georgia’s breakaway regions “made it clear that for the sake of its narrow interests the Russian Federation is willing to openly confront the fundamental principles and norms of international law, which represent the cornerstone of contemporary international relations.” It follows then that Russia’s continued occupation of the separatist territories “poses a direct threat to Georgia’s sovereignty, statehood and represents the most important factor of political, economic and social destabilization.” Therefore, “failure to comply with the international obligations of the ceasefire agreement by the Russian Federation, absence of international peacekeeping forces in the occupied territories, and the increasing militarization of the occupied territories increase the risk of provocations and create a possibility of new military aggression.”

The main aim of the policy of the Russian Federation vis-à-vis Georgia is “to disrupt the realization of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice and to compel Georgia by force to return to Russia’s orbit.” In this conceptual context the ultimate objective of the August 2008 military aggression “was not the occupation of Georgia’s territories or international recognition of the marionette regimes, but the removal of the pro-Western government of Georgia because the Russian ruling political elite considers independent and democratic Georgia a significant threat.” The failure to achieve that overarching objective and the unwillingness of the Russian ruling political elite to reconcile with the status quo “increase the expected threats and risks from Russia.”

The situation in the occupied territories is a significant source of risks. “The lawlessness dominating the occupied territories and the existence of illegally armed and criminal groups of the marionette regimes there negatively affect Georgia’s national security and increase the risk of provocations and incidents, especially in those areas immediately adjacent to the occupation line.”

Another important security challenge is represented by the existence of the conflict zones in Georgia’s neighboring countries. The possibility of spillover from those conflicts into Georgia represents a “challenge to Georgia’s national security” because “the transition of the regional conflicts to a more intensive phase and possible resumption of hostilities, along with other challenges, will cause a humanitarian crisis that will produce large refugee flows and will increase the danger that informal armed formations may enter the country along with the refugees.” Other harmful consequences of such developments also include “the increase in contraband and other types of transnational organized criminal activities” and “the deterioration of the regional security environment,” all of which “will threaten the transportation and energy projects existing in the Caucasus.”

The second part –Foreign policy threats– proclaims outright that the Russian Federation “spends significant resources in the international arena to carry out an anti-Georgian information and diplomatic campaign” with the purpose of “derailing the transformation of Georgia into a state based on Western values.” Thus, the main objective of the aforementioned campaign is “to create the image of Georgia as a non-democratic and unstable state with aggressive aims.” TDA predicts that the Russian Federation “will continue an intensive and widespread anti-Georgian information and diplomatic campaign” in order to “hinder Georgia’s integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures.”

With the purpose of undermining Georgia’s statehood and territorial integrity the Russian government expends considerable political and financial resources on efforts aimed at achieving international recognition of the independence of Georgia’s occupied territories. TDA soberly admits that “despite the fact that the ‘independence’ of these regions was recognized only by Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru, the Russian government continues an active campaign on the international arena to legitimize the occupation of Georgia’s territories and to undermine the international legal status of Georgia’s sovereign territories by recognizing the marionette regimes.”

Equally noteworthy is the emphasis on “the demographic manipulations in the occupied territories,” which are recognized as “containing a threat to Georgia’s national security.” In particular, “the creation of supporting conditions for settling Russian citizens will extend the occupation and significantly complicate the de-occupation process.” In this regard, especially alarming “are those legal steps that are currently taken by the marionette regimes to give residence and private property rights in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the citizens of other countries” and “construction of so-called military settlements and reconstruction of military infrastructure that will encourage the arrival and settlement of the families of Russian military officials in the occupied territories.”

Georgian national interests are also threatened by the absence of international engagement in the occupied territories. Russia “expends exceptional efforts in order not to allow international engagement in the occupied territories, whereas it is precisely fully-fledged international engagement that represents a significant mechanism for achieving practical results in establishing security and stability in the occupied territories.”

The recap of the remaining parts of the TDA reveals that it is closely modeled on similar programmatic documents of Western countries and most importantly the National Security Strategy of the United States. Part III (Transnational threats) makes mention of the threats posed by non-state actors, including international terrorist organizations and transnational criminal entities. This category of threats also includes cyber warfare. In this regard TDA notes that “during the August 2008 war the Russian Federation in parallel with land, air and sea attacks carried out concentrated and massive cyber assault on Georgia,” which demonstrated that “the use of computer technologies to carry out cyber attacks represents a real threat in the globalized world.” The lawlessness in the occupied territories represents another significant transnational security challenge. Among the types of criminal activity there “the illegal transit of components of weapons of mass destruction, illegal trade in weapons and narcotics, production and distribution of counterfeit currency, and human trafficking” pose particularly grave risks.

Finally, Part IV (Socio-economic threats) mainly discusses the threats to Georgia’s sustainable economic development posed by the global financial crisis, while Part V (Natural and technogenic threats and challenges) focuses on examining the ecologically dangerous developments in the occupied territories, challenges posed by Georgia’s location in the seismically active zone and such technogenic risks as chemical spills, accidents at hydroelectric power facilities, and emergencies on main pipelines.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Is Part of the Georgian Opposition Financed by Georgian Organized Crime?

NOTE: The following article was published in the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor (EDM) on June 30, 2010 (Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume 7, Issue 126). This version of the article is enhanced with direct hyperlinks embedded in the text, which, due to the EDM format limitations, could not be incorporated in the original:

On June 22, the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau published an article by Andreas Förster entitled “Georgian Mafia Planned a Coup,” in which it was stated that part of the Georgian political opposition received funds from Georgian organized crime networks in Europe to foment unrest in Georgia with the aim of toppling the government of Mikheil Saakashvili. Förster’s main claim was that the street protests and four months-long occupation of downtown Tbilisi by the increasingly disorganized and unhinged opposition in the spring and early summer of last year were at least partly financed by the Georgian criminal groups operating in the EU. The article relied solely on the 66-page investigation report released recently by the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt or BK).

Based on the transcripts of intercepted phone conversations between Georgian criminals residing in Germany and Austria, which were collected over the course of a year-long investigation that culminated in Operation Java in March, Austrian investigators concluded that the main objective of the pan-European Georgian criminal cartel, led by criminal authority and so-called “thief-in-law” Lasha Shushanashvili, was to destabilize the political situation in Georgia by providing support for violent demonstrations organized by the opposition. Furthermore, with the purpose of overthrowing the current Georgian government, President Mikheil Saakashvili and Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili in particular, the criminal organization attempted to collude with corrupt high-ranking officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. However, the BK report makes no mention of the specific opposition groups that allegedly received funds from Georgian organized crime in Europe, which should not be surprising, considering the sensitive political nature of such allegations.

According to the BK report, the main liaison between Lasha Shushanashvili’s criminal organization and the Georgian opposition was the owner of a Georgian restaurant in Vienna. In an exclusive interview with the Georgian branch of Voice of America, a prominent German investigative journalist and expert on organized crime in Europe, Jürgen Roth, identified Rudiko Goguadze as the restaurant owner. Goguadze is a former prominent Mkhedrioni member whose extradition to Georgia in the late 1990s in connection with ordering the assassination of Georgian businessman and then-President Eduard Shevardnadze’s nephew, Nugzar Shevardnadze, was denied by the same Austrian government that also granted him political asylum. Roth stated that Goguadze played the role of chief intermediary, received money from Georgian organized criminal groups in Europe and sent it to their affiliates in Russia. From there, part of the funds were then sent to Georgia via the Moneytrans system of expedited wire transfers to finance an unknown segment of the Georgian opposition.

More importantly, the BK report states that Goguadze maintained a close personal connection with fugitive and former Minister of State Security of Georgia Igor Giorgadze, who has been residing in Moscow under the putative protection of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) since 1995, when he fled Georgia in the aftermath of the botched assassination attempt on Shevardnadze. Despite the Georgian government’s repeated extradition requests and the fact that Igor Giorgadze has long been placed on Interpol’s international wanted list, Moscow granted him political asylum in 2006 and continues to harbor him. (For more information on Igor Giorgadze’s involvement in Georgia’s politics, see here.)

Operation Java (see footage of detentions by the Spanish television here), which was carried out on March 15 simultaneously in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France and Italy, struck a significant blow to Georgian organized crime in Europe (often mistakenly referred to in the European media as the “Russian mafia,” a common reference used to describe any type of organized criminal activity conducted by individuals from the post-Soviet space). Apart from Rudiko Goguadze, the Austrian police arrested other prominent Georgian criminal figures - Zaal Makharoblidze (aka Glekhovich) and Gocha Antipov (aka Alfason). Operation Java yielded more than 80 arrests, including 17 in Germany, 24 in Spain and 45 in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland. Although in Barcelona the Spanish police arrested Lasha Shushanashvili’s brother Kakhaber Shushanashvili (On the right on the photo above. On the left is his accomplice and confidant Khvicha Pilia. Both were detained during the Operation Java in Spain. Photo courtesy of National Police of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Spain), who is thought to have controlled the so-called obshchiak, or collective funds, and directed criminal activities in other countries, the chief culprit Lasha Shushanashvili managed to escape in Greece. The chief Spanish anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Salinas cited the lack of cooperation by Greek law enforcement authorities as the main reason for Lasha Shushanashvili’s escape. Throughout Operation Java, the Europol actively cooperated with the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs and, as Roth stated, the Austrian Interior Minister Maria Fekter openly expressed her gratitude for her Georgian counterpart Vano Merabishvili's cooperation.

On June 24, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze stated that the Georgian government was well aware of the contacts between the “marginal groups” within the opposition and Georgian criminal organizations based in Europe. Therefore there was nothing surprising in the BK report. Although speculations about the illicit connections between the individuals close to opposition circles and the Georgian mafia abroad circulated in the Georgian media before, the publication of the BK report marks the first time this clandestine interaction was identified by European law enforcement agencies.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Article on the Atlantic Council's Website is Redacted after a Major Faux Pas

On Tuesday, June 8, 2010, the article entitled "Georgia Drifts Away from the West" by Matthew Czekaj, a research associate with the Atlantic Council's International Security Program, appeared on the New Atlanticist Policy and Analysis Blog of the Atlantic Council. It was an undoubtedly interesting read because it dealt with the uncomfortable subject of tensions in the U.S.-Georgian relationship, which are at least in part caused by Tbilisi's recent overtures towards Tehran. Particularly compelling was the following passage:
In an effort to extenuate the Georgian-Iranian partnership, Tbilisi was quick to declare that the relationship with Teheran would be strictly economic, and would not extend into closer political or foreign policy cooperation. Moreover, Georgia claimed that it had personally discussed its strategy for Iran with the United States, and thus no one should be surprised by this partnership agreement. Yet, Tbilisi's assertions are highly dubious.

In fact, according to an Atlantic Council source in the National Security Council, the Georgians never approached the United States government regarding Iran. If they had, Saakashvili would not have so ecstatically endorsed the Turkish-Brazilian plan for reprocessing of Iranian nuclear fuel on May 18.
The highlighted portion above was especially intriguing because it directly suggested that some members of the Obama administration's hypertrophied National Security Council were definitely displeased by the Georgian government's initiatives vis-a-vis Iran. Several days later the article disappeared from the Atlantic Council's website altogether. Clicking the hyperlink only gave an automatic message saying that the page was missing. Then the article reappeared with the Editor's note, which states as follows: "This is an edited version of a previous copy of this article, which contained a factual error." The "edited" version of the passage above, which you can find here, reads as follows:
In an effort to extenuate the Georgian-Iranian partnership, Tbilisi was quick to declare that the relationship with Teheran would be strictly economic, and would not extend into closer political or foreign policy cooperation. Moreover, Georgia claims that it has discussed its strategy for Iran with the United States, and thus no one should be surprised by this sudden outreach.

Yet, Saakashvili’s diplomacy seems very much out of step with the United States, having, endorsed the Turkish-Brazilian plan for reprocessing of Iranian nuclear fuel.
As can be clearly seen by the comparison of these two passages, the mention of the NSC source is omitted entirely. One can only surmise that apparently the mention of the NSC staff in such a sensitive context was deemed important enough to necessitate this redaction.