Month: June 2009

Russia launches "Kavkaz-2009" as OSCE monitors leave Georgia

Russia has launched its large-scale military exercises in the North Caucasus, which will last until July 6. According to the Russian defence ministry the military manoeuvres will involve approximately 8,500 personnel, up to 200 battle tanks, 450 armoured vehicles and 250 artillery systems of various types.  General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russia’s land forces, has announced that the Russian troops deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will also take part in the exercises.

Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, Davit Jalagania, has protested about the holding of the exercises, saying that “against the background of the explosive situation ‘they] will only contribute to further tensions.”

Meanwhile, the OSCE mission in Georgia has today wrapped up its operations there – seventeen years after it was established with an initial mandate to facilitate settlement of the South Ossetian conflict, Civil Georgia reports.

On June 16, following Russia’s veto, UNOMIG also ceased its activities in Georgia, including the occupied region of Abkhazia.

Unstable Russia mulling new war with Georgia

In the Moscow Times, Yulia Latynina asks:

If Georgia is really planning to start a war, why is Russia going to such lengths to expel international observers who will be able to testify to the whole world how Georgia started the war?

The Akhalgori district is key to any future war in Georgia. In violation of all agreements signed by Moscow at the conclusion of the August war, Russia never withdrew its troops from Akhalgori — territory that was previously under Georgian control and located only 30 kilometers from Tbilisi. If Russia starts a war, Akhalgori would be the obvious launching area. If, however, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili initiates the war, Akhalgori would be one of his first military targets.

Read it all.

Open Letter to Mikhail Khodorkovsky

This is a guest post by Jeremy Putley

Mikhail Borisovich,

On the occasion of your birthday on 26 June I send to you my congratulations and respectful greetings.

Today, by coincidence, is International Day in Support of Torture Victims. The United Nations General Assembly selected June 26 to honour the day in 1987 when the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect.

The convention was created to reaffirm that the equal and inalienable rights of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

I believe in the inevitability of human progress. My experience of life has shown to me that there is an overwhelming tendency for the state of humanity to improve over time. Perhaps you will agree that this is so. Indeed, there is nothing new in this idea. Sometimes the trend reverses. The coming into power of the present regime in Russia was such an example.

Eventually, with the support of people of good will around the world it will pass away, just as other malignancies have come and gone in the course of human history.

The historical tendency for mankind to improve is the result of millions and millions of people making their individual efforts to make their conditions better, each day, and every day, during all of their lives. We see a result when we look at the world as it is now, because it has become a world in which the great majority of countries are governed under the civilising rule of law where people are not impeded from contributing their small or large improvements to the quality of human life. This world has convincingly shown a determination to throw off mistaken ideologies and to turn away from the leadership of wicked men. And it is by the small accretions of individual human progress that the world crawls to a better condition with the inevitability of plate tectonics – but not so slowly.

This is a simple, even trite, observation, and, as I say, it is not new – indeed, it is why people buy shares in companies, so that they can take part in their progress, as I do not need to explain to you in particular.

The efforts of the many thousands of people who have become active in support of human rights around the world – whether as members of organisations like Amnesty International, or as individuals – are visibly contributing to the improvement of the human condition. Your leading counsel, Yuri Schmidt, has reminded us that in Russia, with its long traditions of struggle to achieve the rights of mankind, there are the memories of honoured men to give inspiration – Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Bukovsky and Sharansky. I would add the name of the great Russian patriot Sergei Kovalev. It is now your experience to participate in the continuing effort to achieve a proper recognition in Russia of the vital importance of the rule of law, and justice under the law for all its citizens, in opposition to a procuracy which seems determined corruptly to obey the secret instructions of a corrupt hierarchy. The judicial proceedings against you and Platon Lebedev are a mockery of justice, and are seen as such around the world.

You could easily have avoided these abuses of justice, by leaving Russia. Because you are a true Russian patriot you decided to stay. This trial, in which you now play a leading role in the continuing fight for the fundamental rights of Russian citizens under the law, marks you as an historic figure. You are opposed by sinister men occupying positions of great power who are determined to succeed in the interest of preserving their influence and wealth. Because you have opposed them, the world can see them for what they are. This is already a partial victory.

Therefore, I send you my salutations and very best wishes on the occasion of your birthday, in the hope and expectation that the day will come soon when you will be set at liberty.

Yours very respectfully and sincerely

Jeremy Putley

Countering the smear campaign

At Maidan, the Ukrainian poet and translator Moses Fishbein writes about the Russian government’s continuing smear campaign against Ukraine and the Baltic States:

I would like to remind Mr. Churkin that from 1939 to 1941 the USSR, whose successor today is the Russian Federation, was an ally of Nazi Germany.

More on Yevkurov

Again at WoE, Paul Goble has a review of Russian press articles about the recent attempted assassination of Ingushetia’s President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and notes with reference to a piece by a North Caucasus specialist that

If the Russian powers that be could understand the nature of their opponents, they might be able to counter them. But the evidence at present is that Moscow and its local backers do not and are thus likely to continue to pursue policies that will fulfill Sukhov’s prediction that the war there “will not end.”

At Prague Watchdog, Andrei Babitsky also presents some reflections on this “comprehension” issue.

Medvedev: Russia is an organic part of the Muslim world

Via Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia blog:

In what many are certain to view as his response to US President Barak Obama’s Cairo address earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of the Arab League there yesterday that Russia is “an organic part” of the Muslim world and opposes Western efforts to promote democratic change in the Middle East.

“Islam,” Medvedev told his audience, “is an inalienable part of Russian history and culture, given that more than 20 million Russian citizens are among the faithful. Consequently, he said, “Russia does not need to seek friendship with the Muslim world: Our country is an organic part of this world” (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-23456.html).

Read it all.

Moscow intensifying anti-Estonia propaganda

In the wake of the opening of Estonia’s 1919 Victory Monument, Moscow is doing its best to whip up anti-Estonian feeling among Russians.

Marko Mihkelson writes (tr. by Leopoldo, my editing):

As I was leaving [the opening ceremony] at midnight on Monday an Estonian diplomat said to me: “Let’s see what the the Russian media will say about the victory monument to the war of independence. And as might have been feared, out came the story in all its propagandistic glory. To tell the truth, nothing else could have been expected from the official Russian television media (in this case ORT 1). The constant emphasizing of the SS-line, the Estonia-hating positions of Linter and Zarenkov, the manipulation of the Ganin assassination story.

Not a word, of course, about the War of Independence and its meaning in the history of the creation of the Estonian state. It just doesn’t fit into the script of the Kremlin’s “truth commission”. Only a few days ago one learned that the FSB had ordered a documentary film on “Ukraine’s fascism”, the purpose of which is the international discrediting of Ukraine’s authorities.

These news reports go to show that in the so-called “official” version the general stance on Estonia and Russia’s other neighbours has not changed. Nevertheless, at the same time there are also signs of a certain improvement in  Estonian-Russian relations, which are not as emotional as those reflected in the Russian TV media.