Georgia

Syria and the North Caucasus

Writing in North Caucasus Analysis, Valery Dzutsev discusses the plight of Syria’s relatively large (anywhere from between 50,000 to 150,000) ethnic Circassian community. In spite of the Kremlin’s continued support for the Assad regime, in recent months some 350 Circassians have relocated to Russia’s North Caucasus region, and amid the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria it looks as though this number may soon increase.

Apart from the foreign policy dilemmas, the Syrian crisis clearly has domestic implications for Moscow. In particular, some Russian analysts believe that relocating Syrian Circassians to the North Caucasus and the corresponding increase of the Circassians’ influence in the areas adjacent to the city of Sochi could obstruct the 2104 Winter Olympic Games. Moscow is worried that its direct rival in the region, Georgia, is also supportive of Circassian initiatives – in particular, their opposition to the 2014 Olympics. The Kremlin is reportedly also afraid to yield to any popular demands from “below,” at the regional level, since it is regarded as “encouragement of separatism.”

In particular, Dzutsev believes, 

It will be harder now for the Kremlin to ignore calls from the North Caucasus to allow the repatriation of Circassians and other North Caucasians from Syria. It will also be difficult to put a cap on the number of Circassians who want to return to their historical land, since the vast majority of people of North Caucasian descent in Syria are ethnic Circassians. Moscow’s effort to keep the North Caucasus isolated from the world may prove to be increasingly untenable.

Putin: invasion of Georgia was pre-planned

According to a Russian Army General, former First Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky, a decision to invade Georgia was made in May 2008, several months before the events of August that year. Baluyevsky makes the claim in a 47-minute documentary that has been released on YouTube, part of which can be watched here.

According to Pavel Felgenhauer

Putin’s press service immediately confirmed the “Lost Day” as a genuine documentary. After a meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, in the Kremlin, Putin confirmed to journalists the accuracy of some of the “Lost Day” allegations. According to Putin, the plan to invade Georgia was prepared in advance and “the Russian side acted within the framework of that plan.” The General Staff of the Armed Forces prepared the plan of military action against Georgia “at the end of 2006, and I authorized it in 2007,” continued Putin. 

EU ‘Concerned’ over S-300 Missiles in Abkhazia

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 13 Aug.’10 / 18:30

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she was "concerned" about Russia’s announcement that it had deployed S-300 air-defense system in Abkhazia "without the consent of the government of Georgia."

"The deployment of such a weapon system in Abkhazia would be in contradiction with the six-point ceasefire agreement as well as implementing measures [agreement signed on September 8, 2008] and would risk further increasing tensions in the region," she said in a statement on August 13.

"I call on Russia to fully implement all its obligations under the ceasefire agreement. The EU reiterates its firm support for the security and stability of Georgia, based on full respect for the principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, recognised by international law."

Russia has had S-300s in Abkhazia for 2 years

Via civil.ge:

Russia’s announcement about deploying sophisticated air-defense system, S-300, in breakaway Abkhazia might not be a new development, as Russia has maintained such systems there since 2008, August war, U.S. Department of State said.

"It’s our understanding that Russia has had S-300 missiles in Abkhazia for the past two years." State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said at a news briefing in Washington on August 11.

"We can’t confirm whether they [Russia] have added to those systems or not. We will look into that. This by itself is not necessarily a new development. That system has been in place for some time," he added.

Reuters reported quoting unnamed Pentagon official that the U.S. could not yet confirm the deployment of new missiles and was seeking further information.

"But the absence of transparency and international monitoring in Abkhazia makes this difficult," the official said.

NATO will defend the Baltic States

The Economist writes in an editorial that thanks to Poland, the NATO alliance will defend the Baltics:

When the war in Georgia highlighted NATO’s wobbliness on Russia, Poland accelerated its push for a bilateral security relationship with America, including the stationing of Patriot anti-missile rockets on Polish soil in return for hosting a missile-defence base… the Baltic states will get their plans, probably approved by NATO’s military side rather than its political wing. They will be presented as an annex to existing plans regarding Poland, but with an added regional dimension. That leaves room for Sweden and Finland (not members of the alliance but increasingly close to it) to take a role in the planning too. A big bilateral American exercise already planned for the Baltic this summer is likely to widen to include other countries.

Hat tip: Marius

Caucasus asylum seekers returning to Poland

RFE/RL reports that most of the 200 asylum seekers from Chechnya, Georgia and Ingushetia who attempted to travel to Strasbourg by train but were detained at the Polish-German border yesterday are now returning to Poland, where they are being temporarily held at a refugee centre in Warsaw:

The protesters — who boarded the train without tickets — told RFE/RL they wanted to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to highlight their poor living conditions in Polish refugee centers and police abuse they said they have experienced.

The refugees have reportedly been refused political asylum in Poland.

Meanwhile, the pro-Moscow Chechen President Ramazan Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny today that the refugee protest in Poland is an “act of desperation.”

He said, “If these people return home, their rights will be protected better.”

Polish journalist Krystyna Kurczab-Redlich, who writes about human rights in Chechnya, told RFE/RL that it is hard to obtain political asylum in Poland in general but the European Union law known as the Dublin Regulation does not allow refugees to leave Poland for another EU country if an asylum request is refused in Poland.
She said that creates difficulties for Polish officials, who do not know what to do with the refugees, and leaves the asylum-seekers with few options.

Hammarberg in the Caucasus

Jamestown Eurasia Blog’s Giorgi Kvelashvili writes about the four Georgian schoolboys who were kidnapped by Russian occupation forces in Georgia’s Tskhinvali region on November 4, and are still being held in custody:

On November 27, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg arrived in Tbilisi and his meetings with various Georgian officials as well as those with the authorities in Tskhinvali will continue until December 4.

Georgian parliamentarians both from the ruling party and the opposition had severely criticized him for not doing enough for the release of the kidnapped schoolboys in particular and not issuing a special statement for almost one month after their kidnapping.

Both Georgia and Russia are members of the Council of Europe and despite the fact that this organization has already several times acknowledged that the Russian Federation is in breach of the August 2008 Russo-Georgian ceasefire agreement, mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, little, if any, action has been taken to punish Russia for violating Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The first attempt by Hammarberg to enter Tskhinvali on November 29 failed after he was stopped on the “border” by Russian forces and, according to the Georgian media, several shots were fired from the city.

The next day Hammarberg was more fortunate and managed to hold talks in Tskhinvali, but nonetheless came back to Tbilisi empty-handed. 

For more on Hammarberg’s apparent difficulty in tackling Russian and Moscow-backed authorities in the Caucasus, this time in Chechnya, see Prague Watchdog.

Mistral: a cold French wind blows east

epl Originally published in Estonian as Mistral: külm Prantsuse tuul puhub itta

http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/483208

David J. Smith*

The French Navy amphibious assault ship Mistral—named for a cold French wind—visits Saint Petersburg today. This is not just a port call; it is a sales call—with ominous geopolitical implications.

“We plan to buy one Mistral class ship in France and with technical support from the French to build four helicopter carriers of this class under license,” said Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Navy Staff. It would be the biggest ever NATO country military supply to Russia.

The Mistral class of ships is designed to attack the shore from the sea, an ideal weapon for Russia to intimidate its neighbors. Mistrals can carry 16 heavy or 35 light helicopters, 4 landing craft, 900 soldiers and up to 70 military vehicles, including up to 40 tanks.

At about $800 million apiece, France’s motivation to sell Mistrals is understandable. Besides, sale proponents argue, a few modern ships to Russia’s barnacle-ridden navy will hardly threaten American dominance at sea.

However, is Paris prepared to reward Russian aggression against Georgia, ignore shredding of the ceasefire agreement negotiated and signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, accept the help of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan but enforce an unacknowledged arms embargo on Georgia, and meanwhile sell advanced arms to Russia? Does France really want Russia to have this littoral combat capability?

Ignoring these questions may evoke pleasant noises in Moscow for a time, but Russia will not reciprocate in any concrete way. Indeed, it will demand ever more to be appeased. And eventually Russia will employ the Mistrals in another act of aggression, thereby making France complicit.

Regrettably, the potential sale of Mistral class ships to Russia appears to spring from worse than unprincipled economics. France’s partnership with Russia, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently said, “can take several forms in the defense sphere, from military cooperation to close industrial partnership.” Recall that Fillon a day before the April 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, told France-Inter radio, “We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia.”

It is difficult to imagine what power Fillon imagines France will balance with the sale of Mistrals to Russia. However, one can readily discern Russia’s motivation for the purchase.
Moscow will not soon challenge US Navy dominance of the oceans. The Russian Navy for the foreseeable future will be a green water navy, operating close to home, largely as a complement to Russian land forces. And those forces undergird Russia’s intent to halt NATO’s eastward enlargement, particularly to Georgia and Ukraine; to retain its Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol beyond the 2017 expiration of its leasehold; to discourage NATO from planning and exercising the defense of the post Cold War NATO allies; to challenge American cooperation with those allies; and eventually to roll back what it characterizes as encroachment from the west.

“All that we consider ours will remain ours,” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, toasting the 80th birthday of well known Soviet and Russian foreign policy specialist Yevgeny Primakov. The Baltic Sea, once a Soviet lake, is no doubt one of the places that Putin had in mind. When the Mistral navigated Skagerrak and Kattegat, the straits that lead from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea into the Baltic Sea, it steamed by the shores of united Germany; by Gdansk, catalyst to the upheavals that toppled the communist world that Putin so reveres; by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now NATO members, once occupied but never cowed by the Soviet Union.

On Baltic shores, apart from Saint Petersburg, only Kaliningrad—headquarters of the Baltic Fleet founded by Peter the Great—remains of the world for which Putin yearns. And it was no coincidence, therefore, that in Kaliningrad on September 28, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Russian troops who had participated in the exercise Zapad 2009, “I am convinced that we will be able to reestablish our navy in the next decade…We need a strong navy.”

And the Mistrals are part of the plan. On inland seas such as the Baltic or the Black Sea, Mistral class ships would make a big difference—and the Russians know it. Referring to Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russian Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy recently remarked, “A ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours, which is how long it took us.”

Consequently, the Mistral’s call in Saint Petersburg must capture the attention of every NATO ally. The French sale of Mistral class ships to Russia would be a major adverse geopolitical development and a potential alliance buster—it must be stopped.

*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.