Some news items about events in and around Georgia during the last week which have attracted less attention than they deserve:
LITTLE PROGRESS AT SECOND ROUND OF GENEVA TALKS. The second round of talks among Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia took place in Geneva but made little progress on the topics slated for discussion: the armistice regime, security arrangements, the return of refugees, and human rights. Indeed, the participants had to meet informally because Tbilisi rejects seating the Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives as equals, a step that Georgian officials believe would constitute a kind of de facto recognition of the independence of the breakaway republics (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19982 and
MEDVEDEV SAYS MOSCOW WON’T DEAL WITH SAAKASHVILI… In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia is “ready to build relations with Georgia but not with the current regime [there].” That would be “a red line which [Russia] cannot cross. In other comments, he said that there has been “distorted coverage of events in the Caucasus in Western countries, first and foremost in the United States” (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19969).
… WHILE OBAMA MAKES ‘FRIENDLY’ CALL TO GEORGIAN LEADER. President-Elect Barak Obama telephoned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to discuss “future relations between Washington and Tbilisi.” According to Georgian officials, their conversation “bore a friendly character (www.ng.ru/cis/2008-11-19/5_obama.html?mthree=4).
EUROPEAN UNION OFFERS CREDITS TO TBILISI. The European Commission is offering Georgia a credit of 50.7 million euros (64 million U.S. dollars) in connection with “the crisis which arose in the summer of this year.” In October, the European Union took a decision to offer Tbilisi 500 million euros (640 million U.S. dollars) as part of the Western donor community. Some of these funds will be interest-free and are intended to provide support for internally displaced persons in Georgia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1233484.html).
GEORGIA ASKS IOC TO SHIFT 2014 OLYMPICS FROM SOCHI. Tbilisi has officially asked the International Olympic Committee to shift the Winter 2014 games from Sochi not only because holding them would appear to reward Russian aggression but also because Sochi is “a very dangerous place” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1233538.html). While indications are that the IOC will reject this call, Russian preparations for the games are now so far behind schedule that even Moscow officials are saying that the Sochi venue may be at risk unless something is done soon (forum.msk.ru/material/region/601262.html).
GEORGIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO CIS PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY GOES HOME. Paata Surguladze, who had served as the representative of the Georgian parliament in the interparlaimentar4y assembly of the CIS, has left St. Petersburg and returned to his homeland because of what journalists there report is “the difficult material situation of his family.” He has not been paid since September and has lost his official car (www.fontanka.ru/2008/11/14/130/).
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO AMNESTY 12,000 PRISONERS. Georgian deputies have voted to release 2,000 prisoners and reduce the sentences of 10,000 others, a measure that President Mikhail Saakashvili is expected to sing. The amnesty is timed to coincide with St. George’s Day and the anniversary of the Rose Revolution, parliamentary leaders said (www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/11/21/srochno/382429/).
AZERBAIJAN TO SELL GAS TO GEORGIA FOR FIVE YEARS AT REDUCED PRICE. Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR has announced that it “will sell gas to Georgia over the next five years at a subsidized cost well below regional market prices,” Forbes.com reports. Observers said that this move undercuts Russia’s Gazprom and will help Georgia recover from the recent war (www.forbes.com/afxnewslimited/feeds/afx/2008/11/19/afx5714624.html).
RUSSIA TO BUILD GAS PIPELINE TO SOUTH OSSETIA. Now that Georgia has stopped delivering gas to South Ossetia, Moscow has committed itself to building a pipeline from the north into that republic, but construction will not begin “earlier than the middle of 2009,” those directly involved say. Nonetheless, Tskhinvali officials say that they expect to get through the winter without particular difficulties (korrespondent.net/world/650339).
TBILISI RELEASES STATEMENT ON START OF WAR. Stung by a report in the New York Times which questioned its version of the start of the Russian-Georgian war, Tbilisi released a toughly worded English-language statement denouncing that and other republics which have suggested that Georgia rather than Russia began the conflict. It added that such “inaccurate and incomplete accounts in several respected media outlets … underscore the need for a full-scale, unbiased investigation of the war and its consequences” (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19977 and georgiaupdate.gov.ge/doc/10006924/OSCE%20Nov%2018%20v1.htm).
DISPUTES ABOUT THE RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN WAR CONTINUE. Conflicts about the conflict nonetheless continue with reports offering support now to one side and now to the other. Among those released in the last week was one by Memorial on what its representatives saw after Russian forces withdrew (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/85/14.html), another on hostage taking during the conflict (www.iamik.ru/?op=full&what=content&ident=50044), a third by Amnesty on the war as a whole (grani.ru/War/m.144192.html), a fourth on deaths in Tskhinvali (70, not 2,000 as Moscow had said) (abkhazeti.info/news/1227064076.php), and a fifth by Yulia Latynina on the actions of Russian forces (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=8579). In addition, Moscow released a book describing what it calls Georgian aggression against South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4926C4FD6BF16.html).
TBILISI-MOSCOW FLIGHTS RESUME – VIA KYIV. No direct flights between Moscow and Tbilisi have taken place since the start of the conflict, but now the Ukrainian airline Windrose and Georgian Airways have coordinated their schedules so that people can fly in both directions via the Ukrainian capital (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1233596.html).