With the Georgian opposition vowing to challenge the election results, with Russia denouncing the election, with NATO distancing itself from Tbilisi, and with Saakashvili asking for the normalization of relations with Moscow; the republic of Georgia has no hopes for joining NATO for the foreseeable future - let alone "kicking a little Russian ass in Georgia..."
Moscow's Denunciation of Georgian Election Foreshadows Troubled Times Ahead
Georgia: Saakashvili winning the election?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck33h...O4/default.jpg
According to official results released yesterday, Mikheil Saakashvili won a definitive first-round victory in this weekend's snap presidential elections in Georgia. Saakashvili received a narrow majority of votes, thereby obviating the need to engage in a runoff with the next-highest vote getter. The Central Election Commission concluded the former president garnered 53 percent of the vote on Saturday, while the second-place finisher received 27 percent. Whatever their effects at home, the events of the last few months are unlikely to either improve Georgia's already troubled relationship with Moscow or bolster its chances of joining NATO, which Saakashvili, his main political opponents, and the Georgian electorate all endorsed in a separate non-binding referendum.
In its preliminary findings, the International Election Observation Mission concluded that, while the results were generally consistent with most international standards for democratic elections, flaws such as a pervasive lack of political trust, cases of intimidation of opposition candidates, procedural shortcomings in election counting, and an unwarranted boost to Saakashvili from his activities as head of state need to be overcome before the next ballot. The mission comprised some 85 parliamentarians and 340 short-term observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament.
Saakashvili decided to resign one year before his five-year term had expired so that Georgia could hold early presidential elections. Many Georgian citizens, as well as influential international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, attacked the president for imposing a state of emergency on Nov. 7. The decision involved suspending the operations of the main opposition Imedi TV station and ordering the police to employ force to end a week-long series of street demonstrations by opposition parties. The protesters, hundreds of whom were injured in the police crackdown, claimed they were trying to defend Georgia's democratic system of government against Saakashvili's attempts to consolidate political power. The president accused the protesters of seeking to overthrow the government through illegal means. By holding elections now, Saakashvili hoped to receive a new five-year presidential mandate and reestablish his democratic credentials domestically as well as internationally.
Although the opposition claimed the election was rigged, and sought through mass protests and court petitions to overturn the official results, most of the international community has accepted the legitimacy of the outcome after the OSCE gave its imprimatur. Even the mission for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Moscow-led organization of former Soviet republics, found "no obvious offenses" during the elections that "would have prevented citizens from freely stating their will."
The most visible exception to the endorsement of Saakashvili's reelection came from Moscow. Predictably, the Russian government was quick to condemn the ballot -- and the OSCE for accepting the results. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing restrictions on Georgian opposition candidates, the use of government "administrative resources" on Saakashvili's behalf, and other "numerous violations of elections laws by the authorities." The statement also dismissed the OSCE's assessment as "superficial." Immediately before his reelection, Saakashvili said that he wants to improve relations with Russia, observing that, "We're not suicidal. We're not crazy in any way." Nevertheless, his earlier insinuations that Moscow had helped ferment the November 2007 protests led Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to accuse the Georgian government of pursuing a "clear anti-Russian line" in order "to justify its failures in both domestic and foreign policy."
Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have never been good since Georgia declared independence in April 1991, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. They deteriorated even further once Saakashvili assumed office in January 2004, after leading mass pro-democracy demonstrations in November 2003 against then Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze. While many Russians blamed Shevardnadze for contributing to the U.S.S.R.'s collapse when he was Soviet Foreign Minister under Mikhail Gorbachev, they appreciated that he had refrained from resuming the wars in Abkhazia and South Osssetia or withdrawing from the CIS. The November 2003 "Rose Revolution" -- named after the flowers carried by the protesters -- that toppled Shevardnadze alarmed many leaders in Russia and other former Soviet republics who feared they might experience similar Western-backed popular upheavals.
Tensions soon arose between Saakashvili and Moscow after the president moved to fulfill his campaign pledge to recover the three regions of Georgia -- Adjar, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia -- that had fallen under the control of separatist forces during the Georgian civil wars of the 1990s. The leaders of these territories, like much of the population that remained after hundreds of thousands of pro-Tbilisi ethnic Georgians fled, or were expelled from, the regions, enjoyed close ties with Moscow. Some wanted their regions to leave Georgia altogether and join the Russian Federation. Georgian leaders denounced the "ethnic cleansing" of the territories' original inhabitants and complained that the territories had become lawless areas where smuggling and other crimes ran rampant, to the detriment of the safety and security of the entire Caucasus.
Kicking a Little Russian Ass in Georgia
Georgia's President has won a devastating victory, easily roaring to reelection despite a relentless barrage of imperialistic fraud by Russia. International observers roundly praised the process as free of taint and worthy of supreme respect, an amazing result given the extent of aggressive actions against Georgia by Russia in recent months. Rather than responding to Russia's provocation with authoritarianism, as Russia's so-called "president" has done, Georgia's leader simply called elections and let the people decide. Hooray! Score one for our side! Now, it's time to immediately bring Georgia within the protective confines of the NATO fold, so that Russia is dissuaded from continuing its malignant attempts to reconquer it as a slave state. The Kremlin will not give up until this is done.
In related news:
EU warns Serbs on Russia gas deal
The European Commission has voiced concern about the controversial takeover of Serbia's oil monopoly by the Russian energy giant Gazprom. Russia's state-run gas company has offered 400m euros (£300m) for a majority stake in NIS and Belgrade could agree to the deal this month. But some estimates suggest NIS's value is far higher and a number of European companies have expressed interest. The commission says the sale of Gazprom should be open and transparent. Spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said: "The commission hopes that the sale of an important asset such as the Serbian oil company will be open and driven by objective, commercial and economic interests."
EU membership bid
The sale of NIS has become caught up in Serbia's progress towards joining the European Union, which could also move forward this month. The EU has told Belgrade that a pre-entry agreement, initialled in November 2007, could be signed if Serbia co-operates more fully with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. But Serbian media reports suggest Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will insist on the Gazprom deal going through as a condition for signing. He has already warned the EU that Belgrade will halt membership talks if Brussels goes ahead with its plans for a civilian mission to Kosovo, whose leaders want independence from Serbia.
Some analysts have said the NIS sell-off to Moscow might be politically motivated. In return for Serbia's main oil company, they suggest that Russia would provide support on Kosovo and Belgrade would move away from the EU. The commission will not speculate on the reason for the deal, although it is keen to stress that Belgrade should be prompted by "objective" interests. The Serbian energy and mining ministry says the motivation is not political, but based purely on a need for a secure supply of gas. A dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine in January 2006 led to an interruption in gas supplies to Western and Central Europe, including Serbia. That crisis highlighted energy security as a pressing issue across Europe, and for Serbia in particular, because it relies on Russia for 91% of its gas. The EU depends on Gazprom for a quarter of member states' supplies.
For Belgrade, the most tempting aspect of the Gazprom offer is the prospect of a reliable source of gas. Unlike its European competitors, Gazprom has linked its offer for NIS to an extension of its South Stream pipeline into Serbia. A ministry spokesman, Dejan Stojadinovic, said Belgrade was acting out of necessity. "We simply have no alternatives," he said. "Gazprom's proposal includes security of supply and this is very important to Serbia. We have no possible supply from Algeria or Norway, which are supply points for the rest of Europe." Another Serbian official said the deal with Gazprom could be signed on 28 January, but the energy ministry insisted there was no deadline.
Russia vows to block Kosovo independence at UN
Russia will block any resolution on Kosovo's status at the UN Security Council until both parties have found a mutually acceptable settlement, Russia's envoy to the troika said Thursday. "We are issuing an advance warning that we will not let any resolution based on the recognition of Kosovo's independence make it past the Security Council. We will only accept a resolution based on compromise and one that would be approved by Belgrade and Pristina," Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said. He said no one could prevent Russia from exercising its veto, which is enjoyed by all permanent Security Council members. Throughout long-lasting talks aimed at finding a solution to the status of Serbia's breakaway province, Russia has backed Belgrade in opposing Kosovo's sovereignty, warning it would have a knock on effect for other secessionist areas, such as Transdnestr in Moldova, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Nagorny Karabakh in Azerbaijan, so-called frozen conflicts since the 1990s. The Albanian-dominated Serbian province has been a UN protectorate since the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a conflict between Albanian and Serb forces in 1999.
The UN Security Council failed last year to bridge divisions over Kosovo's future. Belgrade is opposed to the region's independence, and has offered it broad autonomy within Serbia. Pristina wants full sovereignty, however. The Security Council will discuss a report by the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on January 16. Russia said on Saturday the proclamation of the province's unilateral independence, without a relevant UN decision, would be unlawful. A report of the Secretary-General on the UNMIK said that "while the Unity Team continued to attend the Troika-led talks, its representatives repeatedly stated that any further extension of talks would be unacceptable." Most Western states have backed the volatile area's drive for independence, and said recently that Kosovo's status would now be determined by the European Union and NATO. Russia is insisting that Belgrade and Pristina continue to try to reach a compromise.
Exit polls: majority of Georgians prefer NATO membership
Some 61.8 percent of Georgian voters has agreed that the ex-Soviet nation should join NATO in a Saturday referendum while 15.6 percent disagreed, exit polls showed. The referendum was held on the sidelines of a snap presidential election which former President Saakashvili won another term. There are 3.3 million eligible voters of the 4.7 million population. They cast their ballots at more than 3,500 polling stations, including over 40 abroad. Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership since late 1990s and there is a dialogue mechanism between the military bloc and the former member of its rival.
NATO will ask Tbilisi to have patience
Any vote on Georgia’s accession to NATO will not be decisive. Besides, with speeding up the accession process, West would have to make certain sacrifices. Caucasus is an outpost of the fronts “open” for Russia. This is an energy front, since Georgia is the main transit for oil delivery to the Black Sea and then to western Europe. It’s an ethnic front with strong Russian minorities. And, finally, it’s a military front because Russia rates deployment of a NATO base nearby its border as inadmissible. According to Le Temps, NATO’s restraint is conditioned by the U.S. twofaced policy. The current administration, devoted to Ramsfeld’s doctrine on deployment of military bases close to the seat of threat, considers Georgia’s - Russia’s immediate neighbor – as a possible stationing of U.S. troops. However, the American diplomats do know that Moscow’s retaliation will be shattering in two directions: Kosovo, where over 15 thousand NATO military are deployed and the Iranian nuclear program. “NATO is most likely to ask Tbilisi to have patience. The Alliance will hardly dare to add “Caucasian spice” to the agenda of the summit due in Bucharest in April. Saakashvili can make use of his good relations with NATO to strengthen his legitimacy. But there is a risk to see the President elect remarkable for his rudeness towards Abkhazians and Ossetians and as a leader in siege imposed by them their patron, Russia,” the newspaper says.
Georgian leader wants better ties with Russia
Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili wants to improve relations with Russia, he said on Monday after winning the former Soviet state's presidential election which his opponents say was rigged. Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have been strained to near breaking point during Saakashvili's first four years in office as he steered Georgia towards the West and NATO membership. Russia supports two Georgian rebel regions and has cut trade and transport links. "The first step for us is to be looking for new opportunities in order to improve pretty damaged relations with Russia," he told Reuters in an interview. He did not give further details on how relations could be mended but said: "We are certainly willing to take our part of the burden to improve our relations."
Georgia straddles the South Caucasus, which hosts a major pipeline pumping oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe and where both Russia and the United States are battling for influence. Georgia's central election commission has named Saakashvili, a 40-year-old U.S. educated lawyer, as the winner of Saturday's presidential election with more than 52 percent of the vote, about double his nearest challenger, Levan Gachechiladze. Gachechiladze is head of an opposition coalition which accuses Saakashvili of corruption and economic mismanagement and has called for street protests to contest the election. Saakashvili called the election to restore his credibility after angering his Western allies by crushing street demonstrations with riot police in November. Western monitors said the poll contained flaws, but that they were not serious enough to impact a competitive election.
"We can have free and fair elections, good elections, clean elections and with basically a very competitive environment. It (the result) could have gone the other way around," he said. During the election campaign Saakashvili said he wanted to retake two rebel regions which broke away in wars after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and now receive support from Russia. On Monday Saakashvili, a staunch U.S. ally who swept to power in a peaceful 2003 revolution, ruled out military conflict. "This is the last thing Georgia needs now -- to be involved in any kind of military confrontation," he said. "Hopefully nobody else in this region wants these adventures either."
Georgian and Russian soldiers face each other across Georgia's borders with the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russians have a peacekeeping mandate but both sides accuse the other of provocations. Georgia has accused Russian war planes of flying over its airspace this year, dropping bombs on its territory and using helicopters to attack villages. Russia denied the accusations. Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that the vote was biased towards Saakashvili. Georgians also voted on Saturday in a referendum on whether they wanted to join NATO -- expected to be strong "Yes" vote -- in a poll that may draw further Russian criticism. "It's another chance for NATO to look more seriously at this region," Saakashvili said, adding that Georgians clearly wanted to join the alliance.