Window on Eurasia Shorts for September 20 – Georgian Events
Some news items about events in and around Georgia during the last week which have attracted less attention than they deserve:
RUSSIAN BANK RESERVES HIT FIRST BY GEORGIA, THEN BY WORLD FINANCIAL CRISIS. Prior to the war in Georgia, the Russian Central Bank’s hard currency reserves had been growing approximately five billion U.S. dollars a week in 2008. In the six weeks since the conflict began, they have declined more than 40 billion, initially because of the war and more recently because of the world financial crisis (www.nr2.ru/economy/196838.html).
TWO GEORGIANS IN FIV E THINK TBILISI COULD HAVE AVOIDED CONFLICT. According to a telephone poll conducted by Georgian IPResearch in early September, 42.4 percent of 450 Georgians surveyed said that Tbilisi could have avoided the conflict if the Georgian government had acted differently. Three out of four said the international community had played a key role in stopping Russian aggression, more than 70 percent said the United States is the “most friendly” to Georgia or any foreign country, and more than four out of five said they expect NATO to extend a membership action plan (MAP) to Georgia in the near future
MEDVEDEV SAYS GEORGIAN WAR SHOWS NEED FOR MILITARY UPGRADES. President Dmitry Medvedev said that the performance of the Russian military in Georgia shows that the Russian army must be significantly upgraded both in terms of equipment and frequency of e exercises (www.rg.ru/2008/09/12/medvedev-armia.html). His statement comes on the heels of a series of articles by military commentators who have been sharply critical of the Russian army’s performance (www.rian.ru/defense_safety/20080910/151134340.html and
RUSSIANS, GEORGIANS DISPUTE WAR LOSSES. As is the case in almost all military conflicts, each of the sides says the other is understating its losses and overstating the number of casualties it inflicted. In this case, some Russian articles have suggested that as many as 3,000 Georgian soldiers died in South Ossetia, a number that is 20 times more than Tbilisi acknowledges (www.rian.ru/defense_safety/20080915/151263408.html), and Georgian sources say that the real losses of Russian forces were as much as five times greater than Moscow has said (grani.ru/War/m.141453.html). For a survey of the debate and the various figures being offered, see www.point.ru/daily/2008/09/15/17698.
GEORGIA PLANS TO BUY MORE FROM UKRAINE, LESS FROM RUSSIA. Valery Chchelashvili, the secretary general of GUAM, said that Georgia will purchase less from Russia and more from Ukraine, with the latter country moving from third or fourth place in terms of bilateral trade to first (grani.ru/Politics/World/Europe/Georgia/m.141364.html).
CIS DEFENSE GROUP CAN’T INCLUDE ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA UNTIL ALL MEMBERS RECOGNIZE THEM. Moscow may want to include the two states it has recognized to be included in the CIS Collective Security Group, but it cannot do so until all the current members of that organization extend diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to Nikolai Bordyuzha, the secretary general of that organization (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=167217). Bordyuzha’s statement raises questions about some of the provisions of the bilateral accords the Russian government has signed with these two republics.
TURKEY, IRAN EXPAND DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS IN CAUCASUS. Both Turkey and Iran have sought to expand their diplomatic presence and political leadership in the southern Caucasus in the wake of the conflict in Georgia, with Ankara presenting a new “stability platform” include most states in the region and Iran reaching out to the three states in the region and to Muslim republics within Russia (www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=177962 and www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/4509/).
GEORGIA’S AZERBAIJANIS DON’T SEEK AUTONOMY. Azerbaijanis represent the largest ethnic minority in Georgia, but they have been overwhelmingly loyal to Tbilisi. During and after the conflict with Russia, the leaders of this community repeatedly stressed that they, unlike other groups such as the Armenians of Georgia, do not have any interest in an autonomous formation
‘KOMMERSANT’ SAYS NATO DEFENDS SAAKASHVILI FROM INTERNAL ENEMIES. An article in Moscow’s “Kommersant” says that NATO is doing more to protect Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili from his domestic enemies than from his foreign opponents, a suggestion that appears intended to provoke discussions in NATO capitals about the Western alliance’s involvement with Tbilisi (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1027108). Meanwhile, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Washington has already decided to replace Saakashvili with Irakli Alasania, who, Zhirinovsky said, has been working for the CIA for a decade (www.vremya.ru/2008/171/4/212743.html).
CAUCASUS DIASPORA GROUPS IN TURKEY CONDEMN GEORGIA. Eighteen Caucasus diaspora groups in Turkey, which represent communities numbering some five million people in all, have denounced Georgia’s actions and welcomed Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Their declaration suggests they view Moscow’s move as a step toward the independence of their own homelands (www.kafkasevi.com/index.php/news/detail/1453).