Russia’s Next War?

May 6, 2009

Absent a change of circumstances, soon there will be another war in the Caucasus, perhaps as soon as this summer. It will start with an attack on Georgia by Russian backed South Ossetia or Abkhazia militias, provoking Georgia to respond. Decrying Georgian aggression, Russia will pounce on Georgia with overwhelming force.

If this sounds a little like last summer’s Russian invasion of Georgia, there is a reason. The coming war will be a reprise of last summer’s, except that this time Russia intends to destroy more of Georgia.

We were caught flat-flooted when war broke out last summer. There is no excuse for this. There were so many signs laid out in advance that Russia would attack Georgia that Putin might as well have sent us a formal invitation. But, President Bush was asleep at the wheel, and our ‘oh-my goodness-there-is-a-crisis” response reflected it.

Instead of waiting for war to break-out again, it might be advisable to plan ahead. Maybe we should decide what our response should before the crisis is upon us.  Assuming that my opinion might carry some weight, may I suggest that we gather our friends in Turkey and Europe and communicate to Russia our unfailing resolve to defend Georgia.   Who knows, this may be the change of circumstances that might avert a war.

Georgia is an ancient country that was once ruled by monarchs of Davidic lineage. Nestled along the eastern shores of the Black Sea, it is blessed with fertile land, abundant water, pristine forests, and a gorgeous capital city.

However, Georgia’s geographic blessing is also its curse. Squeezed in the Southern Caucasus between Russia and Turkey, Georgia projects eastward toward the oil rich Caspian Sea. On its east lays Azerbaijan. Along its southeast border lays Armenia.

The Caspian Sea is one of the great oil and gas deposits areas of the world. Strange as it may sound, the Caspian Sea is landlocked. You cannot go by boat from the Caspian Sea to another sea. The only way to ship oil from the area is overland, either through Russia, Iran, or Georgia.

Caspian Sea oil and gas is critical to Western, Central and Southern Europe. Obviously, relying on a pipeline through Russia or Iran for your oil is problematic. Georgia is the preferable shipping route for westbound Caspian Sea oil and gas. Russia, which already is one of the world’s major oil and gas exporters, wants control over westbound Caspian Sea oil and gas.

Georgia’s Southern Caucasus neighbor, Armenia, was the former Soviet Union’s southern most outpost. It juts south out like a finger from the Georgian border along Turkey’s eastern flank, all the way to Iran.

There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Russian troops garrisoned in Armenia. Russia wants to expand its presence. However, to do so, it requires a supply route for heavy equipment. In other words, Georgia is now not only the key transit route for Caspian Sea energy, but also the transit route for Russia to supply its forces in Armenia.

It is not in our best interest to allow Russia to expand its military presence in Armenia. First, it places significant Russian forces deep along Turkey’s eastern flank, and opposite of our strategically important base in Incirlik. Second, it expands the Russian’s capacity to disrupt or control all Caspian Sea oil and gas. Third, it strengthens Russia’s military ties to neighboring Iran and expands its influence within the volatile Middle East.

Little known to most of us who drive around the 405 Freeway in large  SUVs, but little Armenia has a big nuclear power plant. It supplies approximately 40% of the country’s electricity. And the Russians own it. What’s more, Armenia has uranium, which Russia, in a joint project with Armenia, is extracting.

Armenia and Iran are in the process of expanding trade. Recently, the two countries agreed build a new rail line between them. Eminently justified for purposes of much need trade, but this new choo choo gives rise to the suspicion that there is a military purpose to this train too.  Russia is already deeply involved in developing Iranian nuclear power.

Russia’s third reason for attacking Georgia is more political than geographic, but it does have a geographic component.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, it seemed possible that democracy would take root and thrive. That did not happen. Instead, Communism was succeeded by Russian nationalism, with its assumptions of imperial prerogatives. Under it, Georgia, like all of Russia’s neighbors, is within Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia presumes special rights and privileges in Georgia, as with Ukraine, Latvia, etc.

In 2004, the Rose Revolution peacefully tossed out Georgia’s corrupt Russian mafia aligned government and replaced it through a fair democratic election with the charismatic pro-West Misha Saakashvilli. Under Saakashvilli, Georgia no longer recognizes Russian’s Tsarist Imperial claims.

Misha Saakashvilli’s Georgia is a country that is far less corrupt and committed to individual rights and democracy. It is a nation with a radically reform market economy. Georgia is a strong supporter of the US, and wants to join NATO.

The Rose Revolution has not only made dramatic improvements in the living conditions of Georgia, but it has been copied by other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. It has significantly eroded Russian imperial claims of special privileges, not just in Georgia but throughout what it describes as its ‘near-far.’ The despots of Russia hate Misha Saakashvilli and his Rose Revolution and will invade Georgia to destroy them.

Turkey, Europe, and the US have important have important strategic interest at stake in Georgia. All of us should pitch in to defend her. However, the US has a special interest at stake: Georgia is a democracy. Abandoning our friends in Georgia sends a message of hopelessness to others in the region involved in the democratic struggle, including those in Armenia.

Russia is a bully. It picks fights in Chechnya and invades Georgia. But it will not fight its equal. If Turkey, Europe, and he US stand resolved to defend Georgia’s independence, Russia will not attack it. But to avert such a war, we must decide now to come to Georgia’s defense and convince Russia that of our unwaivering resolve.

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President Obama will soon visit Turkey. Before he goes, he should recognize the Armenian Genocide. When he gets there, he should ask Turkey to do so too.

Turkey is a close friend, a NATO partner, a reliable ally, and hugely important regional power. Recognizing the Armenian Genocide will insult our friend. Asking it to recognize it will infuriate it. But, as Turkey’s friend, we need to do this. Recognizing the Genocide is not only morally right, but it will greatly strengthen Turkey. It will also strengthen the US.

Genocide is not a trait peculiar to a handful of outlaw nations. It is human failing. It is something that can occur in any nation and to any people. Only when nations admit to it can when we begin to combat against this human failing. The moral leaders in the modern world are those nations that admit this. Turkey is no different. Turkey, a great nation, will elevate itself to a world leader by acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.

America is freedom’s shinning city on the hill. But, it committed genocide. The highly cultured Germans committed genocide. In recent years, we have witness genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia. Today, the world sits on its hands as Sudan commits it in Darfur. Turkey will not be an outcast nation if it acknowledges the Armenian Genocide. Genocide is not a Turkish stigma. Cain killing Abel is one of the shameful features of the human condition, something that every nation must strive to overcome.

But moral leadership is not the only reason why Turkey should recognize the Armenian Genocide. Recognizing the Genocide would also enhance Turkish regional influence and strengthen the US.

Turkey is of enormous strategic value. Sitting on the Bosporus, Turkey straddles Europe and Asia, hugging the southern shores of the Black Sea. With a burgeoning dynamic market economy and growing world stature, it is a major power bordering Georgia and Armenia in the South Caucasus and Syria, Iraq and Iran in the Near East. It has NATO’s second largest army. It is the destination point for Caspian Sea and Central Asian oil and gas pipelines to the West. Admitting the Armenian Genocide will greatly add to the security of those oil and gas pipelines.

Armenia’s eastern neighbor is the Caspian Sea nation of Azerbaijan. The Azeris are a Turkic people. Like Armenia, Azerbaijan is former Soviet republic.

As the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, war broke between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh, a region that is historically and demographically Armenian, but which was transferred to Azerbaijan by Josef Stalin. Armenia prevailed over Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh, then expanded the war to a grab for territory that is historically and demographically Azeri. In the course of the war, Armenia ethnically cleansed the Azeris.

Turkey responded to plight of its Azeri cousins and deployed its armed forces along the Armenian border. At Armenia’s invitation, the Russian army was deployed in Armenia to square off against Turkey.

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is now more than 15 years old. Yet, there is still no peace agreement. It is a frozen war, with no permanent resolution. There still are border skirmishes between the two countries. And Russian soldiers are still garrisoned in Armenia.

Russian forces in Armenia are estimated to be around 4,000 – 5,000 in men. It is believed that the units in Armenia when fully staffed can swell to 20,000. This is a sizable presence strategically located on Turkey’s eastern flank, adjacent the Caspian Sea and Central Asian oil and gas routes, and giving Russia and overland access to neighboring Iran.

Russia greatly values its presences in Armenia, and works to preserve it by perpetuating the conflict that justifies its continuing presence. For example, in 1999, Armenia’s Prime Minister was murdered on the floor of Parliament. According to Alexander Litvinenko, Russia’s FSB killed him because he was going to make peace with Azerbaijan. Just last month, Russia sponsored hyper-nationalist grievance groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan fomenting hatred against the other nation with accusations of ethnic atrocities during the war.

Russia now wants to expand its military presence in the South Caucasus. One of its objectives in last summer’s war against Georgia was to support this expansion, not just with bases in conquered territory in Georgia, but also an overland transit route to its Armenian soldiers for heavy equipment. Although Russia inflicted a great amount of damage in last summer’s war, it fell short of its objectives.

Pavel Felgenhauer is a well-respected Russian military analyst. In the US, he is associated with the Jamestown Foundation, a highly respected think tank. Felgenhauer correctly predicted last summer’s Russian invasion of Georgia. He now predicts that Russian will attack Georgia again this coming summer. According to him, Russia has three objectives for attacking Georgia: 1) Ousting pro-West Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvilli; 2) Closing the Caspian Sea and Central Asian oil and gas pipelines to the West that run through Georgia into Turkey, and; 3) Securing an overland supply for heavy equipment to its troops in Armenia.

Russia’s military presence in Armenia threatens important US interests. It is also a cause for conflict in a region that already has too much conflict. Removing this dangerous and disruptive force requires an end to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. An important first step toward peace will come about when Armenia feels more secure about the intentions of its western neighbor, Turkey. Turkish moral leadership in acknowledging the Armenian Genocide will send Armenia a forthright message on its intentions.

Turkey has already begun to travel down the road to recognizing the Armenia Genocide. It is no longer a forbidden topic of conversation. There is now academic discourse on the issue. It is the topic of conversation in many of Istanbul’s cafes. Last December, 200 Turkish intellectuals signed a petition offering an apology for the catastrophe.

The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th Century, a century that was plagued by genocide. Raphael Lemkin wrote the Genocide Convention as a result of it. Morally, it is time to acknowledge it as a historic fact. However, morality is not the only reason to acknowledge it. Recognizing it will also strengthen our friend Turkey’s influence in the Caucasus. It will also further US interest.

Gagik Shamshyan, a prominent Armenian photojournalist, was hospitalized on March 13th with serious injuries to his abdomen and urethra following a savage beating by campus security at Bryzov Linguistic University. Mr. Shamshyan was at the University covering a student protest against professors who allegedly take bribes for grades. Campus security set upon Mr. Shamshyan after he and other journalist sought to enter the campus to interview its rector, Suren Zolian. After knocking him to the ground, campus security viciously kicked Mr. Shamshyan in the stomach and groin.

Karen Mirijanian is one of the animals who attacked Mr. Shamshyan. Radio Liberty’s online publication Armenialiberty.org reports that he admits participating in the savage attack. According to Amenialiberty, campus security viciously kicked the down photographer in the groin until his pants filled with blood in self defense.

Armenia is plagued with academic corruption in the state universities, such as Bryzov. Earlier in the week, posters with pictures of several corrupt professors who accept bribes were posted throughout Yerevan in subway stations.

In the past year, thugs have beaten 8 Armenian journalists. The corrupt and unelected oligarchs are afraid of the truth and, therefore, beat journalists in self-defense.

March 1, 2009

March 10, 2009

Yerevan, March 1, 2009

On March 1, 2008, the Armenian government confronted protesters in downtown Yerevan with loaded weapons. What were the demands of these dangerous demonstrators?  Why was the government ready to shoot them down?  The demonstrators were dangerous.  The demanded fair elections.

There was a bloodbath on the streets of Yerevan on March 1, 2008.  At least ten people were killed that sad day.

Last Sunday, a rally commemorating the events of March 1, 2008 was held in downtown Yerevan.  Afraid of its own citizens, the government erected roadblocks and stopped inbound traffic into Yerevan.  Yet, it did not stop the rally.

According to the government, 10,000 people participated in the rally.  According to the Opposition, 100,000 people attended the rally.

The year that has passed was full of human rights violations.  In addition to the protesters who were murdrered on March 1, 2008, there were incidents of torture, farcical politicized judicial proceedings, journalists being beaten, and government expropriation of opposition supporters. Nonetheless, no one was killed at last week’s rally.  They were allowed to talk.  The government has taken an important step forward.

Progress was made this year.  Maybe this time next year, there will also be a fair election too.

March 1st

February 27, 2009

March 1st marks the one-year anniversary of one of the great political crimes of modern Armenian history – the government slaughter of opposition demonstrators in the streets of Yerevan.

Armenia is a republic. It has a parliament, a prime minister, and a president. It even has elections. But it is not a democracy. It is a place where journalists are beaten, including those from the Voice of America. It is a country where judges decide cases based on political directives, not the law.  It is a nation ruled by an unelected elite who rig elections and kill protesters.  

In February 2008, presidential elections were held in Armenia. The democratic opposition coalesced around the charismatic Levon Ter-Petrosyan. During the campaign, the oligarchs who rule Armeia charged that Ter-Petrosyan was an agent of a Jewish and Masonic conspiracy to subjugate Armenia.

Of course, the oligarchs won the election.  They rigged it.  Their candidate, Serzh Sargysan, became Armenia’s next President.  His victory was confirmed by the government’s own Ministry of Fraudulent Government Numbers.

Election fraud has brought down a number of crooked governments in recent years.  The Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan all began as protests against rigged elections.  As the protests grew in size, so did the pressure on the crooked governments.  Eventually, they peacefully collapsed.

Armenia’s fraudulent presidential election was met with protest.  Gathering in ever increasing strength and concentrating in an area near the Opera House that they renamed Liberty Square, the demonstrators pressed their demand for a fair and democratic presidential election.  One would assume that calling for a democratic election in the Republic of Armenia would be legal, even a civic duty.

But the vote stealing oligarchs would brook no insolence.  Fearful of an election, and dreading the possibility of a color revolution, the oligarch  declared a national emergency on March 1st, 2008.  Banned now were the opposition’s demonstrations.  To enforce the ban, the police, backed by the military’s special forces, confronted, then attacked the demonstrators.  The Minister of Fraudulent Numbers reported that, officially, ten people were killed in the ensuing violence.  Unofficial eyewitness report a higher death toll.

The government arrested many people for participating in the protest. It tortured many of those that were arrested. It detained people without a timely trial in violation of the law.  In fact, today, there are still approximately 50 individuals who are still languishing behind bars for this protest.  Ironically, no one in the government was even charged with the crime of killing civilians protesing against the oligarchs’ rigged election.

Last December, seven opposition leaders, including a former foreign minister, were arrested  in connection with the events of March 1, 2008. The judge assigned to hear the case has delayed the trial while he makes a spectacle of himself on whether the defendants, including a former foreign minister, are sufficiently respectful to him.

How much respect is due a judge who disgraces himself by deciding a case not on the facts and law, but as instructed by the unelected oligarchs?

Armenians are a tough, patient, and enduring people. They have survived the worst atrocities of the 20th Century. Though their country is now ruled by a powerful clique of corrupt oligarchs, the force of history marches toward freedom.  Democracy will in prevail inexorably.  Someday, in the not too distant future, the area in front of the Opera House in Yerevan will be renamed Freedom Square, and Armenia’s democratically elected government will commemorate the sacrifice of those who were killed on March 1, 2008 with a Freedom Square memorial.

GM Is Big In Uzbekistan

February 21, 2009

Last December, President Bush took it upon himself to bailout GM. America’s biggest car maker was failing and orthodox free market principles require that we squander lots of the taxpayer’s money on failing businesses. Why else would we bailout so many banks and insurance companies?
But is GM failing? Is it going down the financial hole? This is not at all clear. It is indeed true that Americans are not buying GM and US plants are closing, business is booming elsewhere. In fact, during the very week that W announced the big billion buck Buick bailout, GM was announcing that it was opening a new plant.
Bankrupt businesses do not open new plants. They close factories. They lay off employees.
So where is this new GM plant? Where would a laid off auto worker with years of experience go to apply for a job in GM’s brand new factory?
Adijan? That’s right; Bustling and prosperous Adijan!
You may want to google Adijan, because it is not in the US. It is not a non-union town somewhere on the non-Union side of the Mason-Dixon line. It is no even in one of the new emerging economic powerhouse nations with growing middle classes demanding gas guzzling behemoths to lumber down gleaming new highways and kill all of its passengers when it flips. GM’s new Motor City will not be found in Brazil, China, or India.
Uzbekistan. Adijan is in Uzbekistan.
It makes sense to build a new car factory in Uzbekistan. It is on a major worldwide transportation hub – the Silk Road. There is of course lots of industry in Uzbekistan with infrastructure and support industry. What’s more, they are in the midst of a regional market with great demand for cars. How can this not be a great market opportunity? With a plant in Adijan, you can sell cars in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan too, if they would open the borders.
President Dubya approved GM’s loan without a credit check. I wish I could get billions in loans without a credit check. It is also without a sanity or mental competency clause. But there is one condition to the Dubya loan: Wage concessions. GM can pay Union labor no more than it pays its non Union labor. The big bosses salaries are, however, untouched.
Now the Uzbek plant is beginning to make sense. The GM factories that remain open in Motor City will pay its union labor the same wage it pays the Uzbecks.
GM does not need the loan. Even if it did, the company that spends so much when it has so little to open a new plant in Uzbekistan should not be given more money. They are irresponsible. If we are so desperate to hold onto manufacturing jobs in the US, would it not be cheaper to have the Republican president go fully socialist and just give the company to the workers?

An Attorney is Murdered

February 17, 2009

In 1991, three nations emerged in the South Caucasus from of the ruble of the Soviet empire – Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.  In the North Caucasus, just one nation emerged – Chechnya.

The South Caucasus countries – Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan – have endured. Chechnya has not faired as well.  Russia annihilated the young nation in a genocidal war and has subjugated it again to the status of a Russian colony.

Russia attacked Chechnya twice in the 1990s. Russia’s first war was the Russian result of corruption.  Chechnya bought Russian weaponry after it declared its independence..  Unknown to the Chechen government, it bought them from corrupt Russian officers who were diverting Russian weapons to their own private enterprise.  When questions came up about the weapons, the corrupt Russian officers covered their perfidy by orchestrating a war. The source for this account is Alexander Litvinenko’s book, Blowing Up Russia..

Russia performed poorly in the first Chechen war.  In 1996, after suing for peace, Boris Yeltsin agreed that Russia would recognize Chechnya’s autonomy, but not its independence.

In 1996, Russia was rocked by a series of explosions, which Russia blamed on Chechen rebels.  Vladimir Putin responded to these terrorist acts by launching Russia’s second Chechen war.

Alexander Litvinenko was an intelligence operative for Russia’s FSB – the successor agency to the KGB.  Anna Politkovsaya was an award winning Russian journalist.  Both report that Chechen rebels were not behind the explosions that led to Russia’s second Chechen war.  Both report that they were set by the FSB.  Taking a page out of Hitler’s playbook, whose nazi party set fire to the Reichstag and blamed their rivals, the communists, Putin was blowing up Russia and blaming Chechens.  Public fear and outrage would allow him to dismantle Yeltsin’s democratic reforms and concentrated state power into the hands of his security services – the FSB.

Russia’s second Chechen war was genocidal.  Depraved Russian soldiers frequently committed heinous crimes against civilians.  One such depraved soldier was Colonel Yuri Budanov.  He kidnapped Elza Kungaleva, an 18 year Chechen girl.  Bundling her in a roll of fabric, he carried her back to his encampment.  He raped her, he beat her brutally, and killed her.

In her brilliant book, “Putin’s Russia; Life in a Failing Democracy,” Anna Politkovskaya describes the bizarre and protracted legal proceedings in the Budanov case.  In her book, she also describes a daring young Russian human rights lawyer, Stanislav Markelov.

Budanov was found guilty of killing Ms. Kungaleva and sentenced to prison for 10 years.

But the Budanov case was the exception.  According to Ms. Politkovskaya, he is the only Russian soldier to have served time for any of the many Chechen war crimes.  She predicted that he would be released early.

Ms. Politkovskaya was prescient.  Budanov did not serve his full sentence.  He was given an early release, and now he is free.

Last January, Stanislav Markelov held a press conference in Moscow.  One of Russia’s best known human rights lawyers promised to challenge Colonel Budanov’s early release.

In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was murdered – shot twice in the chest, once in the hand, and once poin-blank in the head.  About a month later in the same year, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered.  He was poisoned in exile in London with polonium, a rare radioactive substance.  Last week, after concluding his press conference, Stanislav Markelov was murdered.  He was shot in the back of the head.  Also killed was Anastasia Barburova, a journalist who had come to Marlelov’s aid.

After the collapse of the USSR, there was hope that democracy would take root in Russia.  That hope has been dashed.  Democracy has failed.  Once again, Russia is under the rule of a brutal and dangerous despot

The American University of Armenia swung a double-header last November. First up was a grand opening. A new building was added to the campus. Second up, and not to be outdone, were commencement ceremonies for its graduates – master degrees in disciplines as diverse as business, engineering, public health, political science, and law.

AUA was founded in 1991, as the Republic of Armenia emerged as an independent nation. Affiliated with the University of California and funded in part through the UC system by the people of California and the US government, AUA was founded to help build democracy in Armenia.

The campus of AUA sits astride a ridge above Marshall Baghramyan Street. It sits higher on the ridge than any other building on this street, includng the President’s Office, Parliament, and the Court. At the foot of the campus is a statute of Marshall Baghramyan, a Soviet war hero of Armenian descent. The statute depicts the Marshall’s bravery against the Nazis. Before Armenian independence, AUA was the headquarters of the Communist Party.

One AUA faculty member recalls an unemployed KGB operative who remained in the building and continued to spy after the Soviet Union collapased because he did not know what else to do.

AUA’s new building is a gleaming majestic structure. It is designed by an American architect and built by a California trained construction crew. The building is energy efficient and earthquake safe. Its design is intended to inspire optimism and instill democratic values. And it was built on time and within budget.

The grand opening of the new building was a big to do. Armenia television covered it. The Armenian equivalent of the Pope showed too to bless the building. Even the Prime Minister was there, with his goons in tow.

The Prime Minister is not exactly a paragon of democratic virtue. Although Armenia is a republic and it has elections and a parliament, it is not a democracy. Elections are rigged. Journalists are beaten. Protesters are shot and jailed. It is a corrupt, dysfunctional, despotic government, under the domination of a gaggle of oligarchs.

National elections were held earlier this year. The government campaign was decidedly anti-Semitic. On government tv, attacked the opposition as beholden to a diabolical Jewish Masonic conspiracy to subjugate Armenia.

Of course, the opposition lost the rigged election. The government was not happy enough with stealing the election. When the opposition protested the results, they shot them. Declaring a national emergency, they then started arresting those that their bullets had missed. The charges: The had tried to overthrow the government with a democratic election.

Many of those who were arrested have still not been tried. They are rotting in jail without trial. Those who have been tried went before a politically controlled judge, without benefit of a jury. Ironically, Western institutions paid for improvements to the courts were these rigged proceedings occurred. They also paid to improve the Armenian prisons. And although demonstrators have arrested and convicted regarding the events of March 1, 2008, no one in the government has even been charged in any of the killings.

During the grand opening ceremonies, the Prime Minister and his goons took over the new AUA building. Celebrating the values portrayed by the new building, the Prime Minister stood on stage and spoke warmly about liberty and democracy. Meanwhile, his goons closed off the new building and sent those who were trying to enter it to the KGB auditorium in the old Soviet building to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech about democratic values.

The following day was graduation day at AUA. This too was a big to do, but with a little less to do than the opening day ceremonies. The Prime Minister did not show up. The press was not out in numbers either. And the new building was not open either. The graduation ceremonies took place in the KGB auditorium of the old Soviet building.

Although the Prime Minister did not attend the graduation, there was a representative of the Ministry of Justice. He was an AUA graduate. He stood on stage of the KGB auditorium and spoke about democratic values. His office is prosecuting the demonstrators who were protesting against a rigged election. His office has prosecuted many of the demonstrators, but has yet to bring charges against anyone from the government for shooting and killing demonstrators.

The KGB auditorium was festooned with banners and flags. Under the ceiling, there was a net with balloons in it. At the right moment, the net was suppose to open and the balloons would fall. Like so many Russian things, the net did not work. Only a few balloons fell.

There is a bridge that connects the new democratic building that us US taxpayers helped to built with the old Soviet era building. The Prime Minister’s goons threatened me when I tried to enter the new building from the bridge. One wonders if the democratic values that the new building represents will carry across the bridge and into the KGB auditorium. Or, will the new building remain a platform for a dictator with a nation still trapped in the KGB auditorium. Will Armenia remain a place with a dysfunctional economy, beholden to Russia, and where nothing works, not even the balloons.

I’m Back

February 4, 2009

I’m back and I am ready to rumble.  Tell your neighbors and friends, the blogosphere has is interesting again.  Casey’s at the bat  – I assume that only a few of you Caucasians will understand the cultural reference.  There is joy in Muddville – another cultural reference which few Eurasians can dig.

An explanation is in order for the interruption in my services to you as your favorite Yerevan blogger.  But an explanation is not forthcoming, except this: Untoward circumstances necessitated the interruption of these precious services.   Since it is no longer necessary to interrupt these services, I’m back.

My hiatus from the bloggosphere was not without adventure.  But those stories will be held in reserved or future postings.  Now, I must attend to unfinished business.

Before being forcibly removed from my ever expanding fan base of dedicated readers, I was once again challenged by R.   Once again, I am forced to disabuse R of another cherished notion.

It is an objective scientific fact that post Rose Revolution Georgia is economically superior to the Roosianized Armenian economic juggernaut.  Notwithstanding, R cites to a World Bank report to conclude  that Armenia’s economy is the envy of all of the former Soviet empire.  According to R, the Armenian economy is nothing less than a ’tiger’ because it records an annual growth rate for the last five years of 13 percent.

A 13 percent per year growth rate for five years straight is impressive.  But, R does not live in Armenia.  If he did, he would know that it is not true.  He would know that there has not been 13 percent growth for five years straight.  He would know that the Armenian economy has never had a single year of 13 percent growth.  The World Bank figures are a fraud, which the report itself reveals.

The same World Bank report that says that Armenia’s tiger economy is growing by leaps and bounds at 13 percent per year for the last five years also reports that 20 percent of the Armenian GNP is agriculture, and that 48 percent of the workforce is involved in agriculture.  If the economy is growing at 13 percent per year for five years straight, then it is impossible for 48 percent of the workforce to be dedicated to producing 20 percent of the GNP.

If the Armenian economy has grown  13% per year for the last five years,  then Armenia has a large and wealthy middle class.  But rmenia does not have a large and wealthy middle class.   Instead, 48 percent of its workforce produces 20% of its GNP.

Armenia is a poor country.  Anyone who has lived here would know that the World Bank’s statistics are a fraud.  More than likely, these are numbers cooked by the President’s Minister of Cooked Numbers, the same one who also falsely reported that he won last February’s presidential election.

Armenia is not an economic tiger.  It is broken down Roosified failure that provides only for its oligarchs.  If Armenia is to succeed, it must be gone with the present government.  Like Georgia, Armenia needs a color revolution.

R was kind enough to send me the IWPR article entitled “How the Georgian War Began.”  Here it is.  Thank you R.

Caucasus Reporting Service
Caucasus home
Special Report
How the Georgian War Began
Russian

IWPR-trained reporters investigate the tragic sequence of events that triggered a war in South Ossetia.

By Dmitry Avaliani and Sopho Bukia in Tbilisi, Alan Tskhurbayev in Vladikavkaz and Thomas de Waal in London (CRS No. 456, 22-Aug-08)

Georgian town of Gori under attack, 9-Aug-08
Photo by Leli Blagonravova

Georgian warships burning in port of Poti. 13-Aug-08
Photo by Lasha Zarginava
With the Caucasus still reeling from the disaster caused by the war that erupted over South Ossetia, questions are being asked as to how the conflict started on the night of August 7-8.

Everyone agrees that the Georgian army launched an attack at 11.30 pm that night. The key question is to what degree the Georgians were facing a direct threat. Government officials say that they had been confronted by unacceptable provocation in the form of attacks on Georgian villages in South Ossetia and a Russian military build-up on the other side of the mountains and had no choice but to act as they did. They say they then came up against massive Russian aggression.

“How could we have prevented the hostilities, after Russia clearly decided to start a war?” Georgian state minister for reintegration and Tbilisi’s chief negotiator over South Ossetia Temuri Yakobashvili told IWPR.

For their part, the Ossetians and Russians say the Georgian operation was a cynically planned attack to recapture South Ossetia only hours after President Mikheil Saakashvili had lulled Ossetians by announcing a ceasefire and promising them “unlimited autonomy”.

Aelita Jioyeva left Tskhinvali on August 7 a few hours before the fighting began.

“Of course, the situation was tense before that and a lot of people had decided to leave,” she said. “But no one thought that they would attack us so unexpectedly, at night, when everyone was asleep and when the Olympic Games were opening in another part of the world. It was such a horrible thing they did.”

FROM TRUCE TO WAR

On the night of August 7-8, Georgian television showed pictures of artillery rockets flying through the sky. This was the beginning of a big assault on the town of Tskhinvali that was then followed up by a ground operation using both tanks and soldiers. War had broken out.

What is unclear is what happened in the four-and-a-half hours between 7 pm and 11.30 pm.

In a speech at 7 pm on the evening of August 7, Saakashvili said that the region had suffered its worst fighting yet that day. “The Georgian side has been in constant contact with the Russian leadership of the peacekeepers and several hours ago they said that they had fully lost control over the actions of the separatists,” he said.

He called on Russia to pull out its officials from the South Ossetian government, but said Russia should be the guarantor of the broad autonomy of South Ossetia within a united Georgia.

He told the South Ossetians, “I beg you. We have no desire to fight with you. Do not try the patience of our state. Let us stop this escalation and start negotiations – direct, multilateral, whatever you like.

“I want to appeal to those of you who are shooting at Georgian policemen. I want with full responsibility to say and accept that several hours ago I took a very difficult decision – not to respond to fire.”

At 10 pm, the Novosti Gruzii agency reported Georgian interior ministry official Shota Utiashvili as saying that ten Georgians had died and 50 had been wounded because of attacks from the South Ossetian side. The casualties were both peacekeepers and civilians, he said. Utiashvili said that the Ossetian side was still firing but the Georgians had ceased fire on the president’s orders.

Later that night, after the Georgian attack had begun, Utiashvili said that the Ossetian side had attacked the Ossetian village of Prisi outside Tskhinvali and that at 11 pm there had been heavy shelling of the Georgian village of Tamarasheni.

The Georgian operation began at around 11.30 pm.

“The battle alarm was sounded at night,” a young Georgian corporal named Shalva who took part in the operation told IWPR. “That was when we left our barracks.”

Another soldier, a sergeant named Alexander, said that when they left their barracks they did not know they would be attacking Tskhinvali. “We were told we were to defend Georgian villages,” he said.

Alan, an Ossetian who took part in the defence of Tskhinvali, and who also did not want to give his surname, was in the town that evening and says it was taken completely by surprise.

“The evening of August 7 was relatively calm in Tskhinvali,” he said. “They announced the truce on the news. The first shooting started at 11.30. I took my family down into the cellar and hid there too myself. Almost at once, the electricity went off in the town. It was impossible to get out until four or five in the morning because the town was being shelled with Grads.”

Around 12.30 pm on August 8, Mamuka Kurashvili, commander of Georgian peacekeepers in the conflict zone, issued a statement to Georgian media. He said Georgia had “decided to restore constitutional order in the entire region” of South Ossetia. He said the Georgian side had suffered no losses and “everything is going to plan”.

South Ossetian and Russian media reported that Tskhinvali was now coming under attack from Grad multiple rockets.

A Georgian government statement issued shortly after 2 am gave more details. It accused the South Ossetians of escalating the conflict and of attacking Prisi and Tamarasheni, causing Georgian casualties.

It added a new detail, which was later to be repeated by Saakashvili and others, saying, “According to the information we have, hundreds of armed men and pieces of equipment have crossed through the Roki Tunnel under the Russian-Georgian border.”

The statement went on, “The Georgian authorities were forces to take appropriate measures, with the aim of guaranteeing the security of the peaceful population and preventing armed attacks.”

The timing of the Russian intervention is crucial. The Russian 58th army had been conducting exercises in North Ossetia near to the other side of the four-kilometre Roki tunnel linking North and South Ossetia. The Georgians now say they were acting pre-emptively to head off a Russian military intervention, while the Ossetian and Russian version is that the 58th army responded only after the Georgian attack began.

On August 14, Georgian prime minister Lado Gurgenidze gave more details from his side saying, “At around 6 am the Georgian forces blew up the Kurta bridge (about three km north of Tskhinvali). A column of the Russian troops that had entered the previous night from the Roki tunnel was there, so a couple of their vehicles were blown up as well… Think about how many hours of preparation, assembly, then marching, it would take for that column, moving at that speed on rugged terrain to be at the Kurta bridge at six in the morning. If that isn’t a premeditated invasion, I don’t know what is.”

Many of these assertions are disputed. For example, an IWPR reporter who visited the area last week did not see any destroyed bridges in the Kurta area.

Ossetian witnesses have told IWPR that they saw the Russian army only on the morning of August 8. For example, humanitarian worker Larisa Sotieva who was near the village of Java said she first saw Russian forces at around 8 am.

Christopher Langton, an expert on the Russian military at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the Russians were definitely on red alert. “Units of the 58th army were on a high state of readiness,” he said.

“That military commanders have contingency plans for any eventuality in their area is no surprise. And the 58th army had been on exercise in recent weeks practicing for those contingencies. However, it is apparent that all logistic components were in place and troops ready to move at near to no notice.

“Given the relatively short distances that needed to be covered and the unusually high state of readiness of this force the speed of deployment should not be too surprising. It seems clear that they were as close to the 4km Roki tunnel as they could be.”

However, Langton was more cautious about the assertion that the 58th army had swung into action before the Georgian attack began.

“They were ready but I’m not convinced they were moving,” he said.

With the arrival of the Russians, the fighting escalated. Georgian officials made optimistic statements about the success of their operation, saying that much of Tskhinvali had been captured, but also blaming “Russian aggression” for their operation.

Just after 10 am, Rustavi-2 television reported that around 600 Georgian troops had occupied large parts of Tskhinvali, as well as the three Ossetian villages of Groni, Atsevi and Tsinagara. The station also said that the Georgians had captured eight other Ossetian villages – Znauri, Sarabuki, Khetagurovo, Atotsi, Kvemo Okuna, Dmenisi, Bubuki and Didmukha.

The Ossetian fighter Alan told IWPR, “Georgian tanks entered the town in the morning. We managed to beat off the first attack ourselves. By midday the tanks had retreated and regrouped and around 2 pm, the next attack began on the southern edges of the town.”

Alan said that Russian tanks first entered Tskhinvali at around 4 pm.

In a public television address later in the morning, Saakashvili said, “A large part of Tskhinvali is now liberated and fighting is ongoing in the centre of Tskhinvali.”

He also said that Georgia had come under aerial attack from Russian warplanes, which was an obvious sign of “large-scale military aggression” against Georgia.

“Immediately stop the bombing of Georgian towns,” Saakashvili told Russia. “Georgia did not start this confrontation and Georgia will not give up its territories; Georgia will not say no to its freedom… We have already mobilized tens of thousands of reserve troops. Mobilization is ongoing.”

After a day of fighting in Tskhinvali, Georgian forces were expelled from the city. At that point, the war began to spread to the rest of Georgia.

A SUMMER OF VIOLENCE

The outbreak of full-scale war on August 8 had been preceded by several weeks of skirmishing in South Ossetia. In the first few days of August, many Ossetian families evacuated their children from Tskhinvali as the fighting intensified.

On July 3, pro-Tbilisi leader of the “temporary administration of South Ossetia” Dmitry Sanakoyev survived an assassination attempt that Tbilisi blamed on “Ossetian separatists”.

The Georgian side took advantage of the incident to seize control, with almost no resistance, of an important piece of high ground near the village of Sarabuki, causing outrage on the Ossetian side. This made Tskhinvali much more vulnerable.

When the first television pictures were shown of Ossetian civilians leaving the area, Georgian officials responded angrily, saying that it was a sign South Ossetia was gearing up for a war.

The Ossetians put pressure on the Georgians to return to negotiations under the multi-lateral Joint Control Commission, which includes the Russians. The Georgians said they wanted to have direct talks with the Ossetian side.

Several people died in the first days of August. Manana Magradze, now a refugee from Georgian village Nikozi near Tskhinvali, told IWPR, “There wasn’t a single quiet day in August. We would wake up to the sound of explosions or shots. In Tbilisi, they say the war has started now, but we’ve been living with war for many years.”

Then came August 7, during which there were more heavy exchanges of fire. Anatoly Barankevich, the head of South Ossetia’s security council, accused Tbilisi of “aggression” against his territory and of placing 27 installations of Grad multiple-rockets just outside the town of Gori.

Georgian minister of reintegration Temuri Yakobashvili went to Tskhinvali to try and negotiate with the Ossetians. He met the head of Russian peacekeepers. “But the Ossetian leaders wouldn’t meet with me,” he told IWPR.

Russia’s special envoy in the region Yury Popov said that Yakobashvili had agreed to meet Ossetian negotiator Boris Chochiev in bilateral talks to be held on the afternoon of August 8 but said this was an “exceptional” one-off meeting which should not compromise the Joint Control Commission.

Georgian villager Manana Magradze said she recalled Yakobashvilis’s visit well. “We knew he’d come to hold negotiations with the Ossetians,” she said. “The entire village sat in front of TV sets, praying that they would achieve some agreement, because we knew that if they didn’t, there would be a war, as it couldn’t go on like that any longer.”

But South Ossetian official Barankevich accused the Georgians of shelling the Ossetian village of Khetagurovo with artillery. An IWPR reporter who visited it after the fighting found it heavily damaged, though when the destruction occurred was harder to verify.

International officials began to get worried.

United States deputy secretary of state Daniel Fried talked to his Russian counterpart Grigory Karasin and said that both Washington and Moscow were urging restraint. “We both agreed to work together to get the fighting stopped in South Ossetia, and encourage political dialogue,” Fried told Reuters news agency.

“It appears that the South Ossetians have instigated this uptick in violence. We have urged the Russians to urge their South Ossetian friends to pull back and show greater restraint. And we believe that the Russians … are trying to do just that.”

Finnish foreign minister and chairman of the OSCE Alexander Stubb also said he was “worried” by the reports of fighting and had been in contact with both sides.

But international officials said that when they were told about the start of hostilities it was already too late to stop them.

A Georgian soldier, who took part in the fighting of August 7-8 but did not want to be named, told IWPR that the situation had been boiling over for weeks, but he thought that the Georgian leadership had “not thought for long” about taking the final step.

“Why did the [Georgian leadership] go in to Tskhinvali?” he said. “Maybe it was necessary on political grounds but not on military ones. We should not have gone into Tskhinvali. The Georgians had all the strategic heights around the town.”

The key moment, said the soldier, was when the Georgians captured the spot he called “the most strategic height in South Ossetia”, the hill of Sarabuki. “When that became known it was easy to predict that the Ossetians would jump off their chain.”

THE INQUEST BEGINS

There is likely to be some kind of international investigation into how the war started. There is also much international soul-searching into how it was allowed to start.

The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, Lluís Maria de Puig said, “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe wishes, in due course, to establish the grave responsibilities borne by each of the parties involved in the conflict. To this end, I have asked the Russian and Georgian governments, as well as both countries’ parliamentary delegations, for detailed information about what actually happened.”

For Ossetians, the situation is simple: what happened was an unprovoked attack and the culprit deserves punishment.

“They simply destroyed a town and destroyed people,” said Tamerlan, a Tskhinvali resident. “If someone calls Georgia a democratic country after that, I don’t know what to think. It was the most real genocide.”

In Georgia, experts are divided as to whether the conflict was avoidable and whether the leadership was right to order the attack on August 7.

Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, said the war could not have been avoided, as “the Russians had already chosen this option”.

“Georgia had to make a very difficult decision,” he said. “The situation became desperate – the Ossetian side was firing at Georgian villages, after having evacuated its children and women from the conflict zone, and columns of military hardware had crossed over to Georgia from Russia.

“The Georgian authorities just had to take preventive measures.”

Even many former bitter opponents of Saakashvili are loyal to him at the moment.

Levan Gachechiladze, who was Saakashvili’s main opponent during the January presidential election, said, “No one should count on seeing a split in Georgia at a time like this. Today, Georgia is united against the Russian occupiers.”

Voices are, however, being raised against the leadership.

Conflict resolution specialist and member of the opposition Republican Party Paata Zakareishvili says that the Georgian leadership should have shown restraint.

“The Georgian side initiated the hostilities, but Russia had long been lying in wait, persistently trying to provoke Georgia,” he said.

After having endured so many provocations “including those staged by the peacekeepers, both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia”, “[Georgia] could have done so this time as well”, he said.

Zakareishvili blamed certain members of the government for urging the Georgian president to attack.

Former state minister for conflict resolution Giorgy Khaindrava, who is now an outspoken critic of the government, agrees. “The Georgian authorities could and ought to have prevented the military actions,” he said.

“The whole world had been warning the Georgian government against getting involved in and succumbing to dirty provocations. Especially after the recent manoeuvres by the Russian armed forces in the North Caucasus, Caucasus-2008, which simulated an invasion into Georgia.”

However, he said, the opposition was not going to challenge the president on this at the moment.

“At a time when barbarians are rampaging in Georgia, no one should give them more reasons to celebrate. But later we will certainly need to settle things with the military leadership, which threw the people and the army at the mercy of fate,” he said.

Internationally, hard questions are being asked as to why western leaders failed to prevent the war starting. The soul-searching is particularly intense in Washington.

There are questions as to why US satellites did not pick up Russian troop movements in North Ossetia.

More broadly, New York Times reporters Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker reported that the US administration had sent “mixed messages” to the Georgian government, which may have been misinterpreted as a green light for a Georgian operation to believe they had American support for their operation.

They quoted one US official as saying, “The Georgians figured it was better to ask forgiveness later, but not ask for permission first. It was a decision on their part. They knew we would say ‘no’. ”

The newspaper quoted a senior US official who accompanied US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi on July 9 as saying that Rice had warned Saakashvili not to be provoked by the Russians.

“She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” said the source.

However, they noted that in public, Rice struck a “different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure”, which gave the Georgian president encouragement.

Another former senior US diplomat, who did not want to be quoted by name, told IWPR that this had been a failure for American diplomacy. “That many in DC did not see this coming is terrible. Some European friends have been warning of this for months.”

Dmitry Avaliani is a reporter with 24 Hours newspaper in Tbilisi. Sopho Bukia is IWPR’s Georgia editor in Tbilisi. Alan Tskhurbayev is IWPR’s former North Caucasus editor based in Vladikavkaz. Thomas de Waal is IWPR’s Caucasus Editor in London.