What could the "Georgian Dream" mean for the south Caucasus? October, 2012

Mikhail Saakashvili's government had been growing very unpopular in Georgia in recent years, despite the tens-of-billions of dollars that had been pumped into the regime's coffers to keep it afloat. Therefore, sooner-or-later, as in Ukraine, as in Kyrgyzstan, as in Serbia, the Georgian state would have to experience a counter-color revolution as well.

Struck by a serious prison abuse scandal that saw hundreds-of-thousands of Georgians taking to the streets in major protests across Georgia last month, and faced with the possibility of a popular up-rising against the Western-Zionist-Turkish backed regime in Tbilisi, officials of Saakashvili's ruling party (perhaps with Western advise) seem to have reluctantly accepted their defeat in this week's parliamentary elections. It now looks as if Saakashvili had in fact no choice in the matter. He had to either concede defeat to a very popular and powerful adversary, or watch his Western-style dictatorship masquerading as a democracy descend into bloody chaos. 

How would that have looked for the West's favorite pet project in the Caucasus? 

By allowing billionaire Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition to claim the parliament, Saakashvili, still the generalissimo of Georgia, seems to have won some time for himself.

Known for being the richest Georgian in the world, the multi-billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is a shrewd yet charismatic man who made his billions in the Russian Federation during the wild 1990s. More importantly, Ivanishvili has been publicly calling for better relations with Moscow. Ivanishvili's call to political sanity in Tbilisi was what prompted Saakashvili to claim that he was a "Russian agent" and that Georgia's political opposition was serving Russian interests. Despite Saakashvili's best efforts, which naturally included intimidation and oppressive tactics, a new era seems to be finally dawning in Georgia.

Having said that, it should also be emphasized that it is too early to make any concrete forecasts regarding changes in Tbilisi's political tastes. Only time will reveal what direction Ivanishvili's victory will take Georgia. 

In the meanwhile, we can only watch, speculate and hope.

Expect to see an army of Western political activists and propagandists masquerading as journalists and political analysts systematically begin their verbal gymnastics and political spin. The West will attempt to present this apparent setback in Georgia as a victory for "western democracy"; as they gather behind closed doors to figure out how to salvage Saakashvili's regime.

I have no doubt that the following months will see the tie-eating dictator's government scrambling to find ways to maintain its iron-grip over the strategically situated south Caucasus nation. Let's be mindful of the fact that Saakashvili is still the president for the next year and his henchmen still control the nation's police force, the military and its interior ministry. And of course, American, European, Turkish and Israeli operatives continue to freely roam throughout the nation as well. 

Democracy or no democracy, Georgia will not be easily let go off by the West, unless of course there has been a deal reached between Moscow and Washington that we are not aware of...

Nevertheless, as mentioned, nothing is set in stone as of yet and no one can rule out the possibilities of major problems hitting the country sometime in the near future. 

Since many Armenians these days adore what the mutilated dictatorship known as Georgia has become in recent years, I'd like to take a traditional detour at this point and discuss matters pertaining to Armenia and Russia within the context of Georgia and the greater geopolitical climate of the Caucasus region. 

For reasons that should be only too obvious to all who are aware of Armenia's many predicaments in the south Caucasus, the political climate in Georgia is almost as important for Armenians as it is for Georgians. The mere fact that a vast majority of Armenia's trade goes through Georgia is enough to emphasize Tbilisi's strategic importance for Yerevan. Georgia controls Armenia's access to Russia and Europe. Needless to say, the composition of the Georgian government is a serious concern for Armenia. Unfortunately, these are some of the major problems that come with being landlocked and surrounded by hostile nations, and as long as Armenians are in a 'landlocked' state-of-mind, these problems, existential in nature, will continue for Armenia well into the future.  

In other words, as long as Armenia is landlocked in a volatile south Caucasus, her problematic neighbors will always have a heavy bearing on Armenia's development. 

This is no way to forge a powerful or prosperous nation, and this is something Armenians seriously need to begin thinking about.

In the big picture, Armenia's "oligarchs" are the least of Armenia's problems.  Even if Armenia's dreaded oligarchs turned into angels overnight, Armenia would continue suffering from economic stagnation and political instability. The geopolitical and geographical climate of the south Caucasus, as well as the lack of significant amounts of resources within territories controlled by Armenia, is the fundamental problem Armenia faces today. But of course bloodthirsty imperialists in Washington would much rather our idiots keep themselves busy pursuing "freedom of speech", "free and fair elections", "democracy", "gay rights"...

Anyway, Armenians have been closely watching the political discourse in Georgia. 

Some of the watchers of course are members of Armenia's so-called political opposition. Knowing the low caliber of Armenia's opposition politicians, I have no doubt that they will lose no time in turning Ivanishvili's victory in Georgia into a nasty propaganda assault against the Armenian government.

I can almost hear them now - "see how democratic Georgia is?!"

Sadly, the political landscape in Armenia is utterly desolate. There is not a single political opposition figure in the country worthy of respect or trust. In this political landscape, President Sargsyan's administration continues to be is the lesser of all the evils in the country. Until I see a political opposition figure that is not serving Western interests or is not representing 1990s era criminals in the country, I will reluctantly continue voicing my support for the incumbent leadership in Yerevan.

Recent developments in Georgia should serve as serious a wake-up call to all.

For years I have been trying to explain to Armenians that despite its ideal circumstances, Georgia's problems are more serious than that of Armenia's and that the average Georgian is not better off than the average Armenian. However, a majority of Armenians that I have encountered have been too demoralized by Armenia's political opposition and too mesmerized by dazzling light display in Tbilisi and Batumi to comprehend any of it.


A favorite pastime of many Armenians in recent years has been to compare a "modern" Georgia to a "backward" Armenia. The following are the kind of comments very frequently heard on the streets of Yerevan - 
"Saakashvili takes care of its people, unlike our (add your expletive) president"
"Armenia needs a Saakashvili of its own"

"Under Sahakashvili, Georgia has become a western/European nation, whereas Armenia has remained a backward, Asiatic nation run by criminals from Karabakh"
Another favorite topic of discussion is the "western" or "professional" behavior of the Georgian police and the "primitive" or "corrupt" behavior of their Armenian counterparts.

My intent here is not to badmouth Georgians (although they certainly deserve it) or place every single aspect of the progress we have seen take place in Georgia in recent years under suspicion or scrutiny. I'd like to further add that there are many cultural and geographic factors that come into play in these types of discussions. I would be the first to admit that Georgians, significantly more so than Armenians, have a tendency towards westernization/Europeanization. The typical Georgian today is more liberal/open minded and western oriented than the typical Armenian. This is a fact. Moreover, Georgia's geographic situation is simply put - ideal. 

There definitely are significant cultural, sociological and geographical differences between Armenia/Armenians and Georgia/Georgians. And within this context let's also remember that governments tend to be an accurate reflection of their people. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to any one that - generally speaking - Georgians are more western oriented than Armenians. Some of the progress we have seen take place in Georgia is a reflection of all this.

Having said that, however, the immediate reason why Georgian government employees seem more professional than their Armenian counterparts and why Tbilisi looks more modern than Yerevan is money, and lots of it! Unlike the police in Armenia, Georgian police earn very high salaries; money that they and their families can live very well on. And unlike in Yerevan, many billions of dollars are spent on the modernization, or as Saakashvili would like to call it the "westernization" of Tbilisi.

So, where's all the money coming from?


Since its Western-funded color revolution in 2003 that brought Saakashvili to power in Tbilisi, Georgia has been enjoying tens-of-billions of dollars in foreign aid (primarily in loans from Western institutions). With its American-trained president at the helm, Georgia more-or-less become a political test-tube in the south Caucasus for the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. Until the 2008 war that mutilated the country and dealt Western plans in the region a severe setback, Georgia was expected by the West - and by Israel, Turkey and Azerbaijan - to become a strategic base of operations against the Russian Federation. As a result, billions of dollars have been pumped into Georgia's state coffers from places like the United States, Great Britain, European Union, Israel, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. For a certain time period, Georgia had also become a major hub for Islamic radicals fighting Moscow in southern Russian.


Georgia's turning point came in the summer of 2008, when Saakashvili made the grave mistake of picking a fight with Russia. When the Bear roared in anger, Georgia's many supporters were nowhere to be seen.
 
Nevertheless, despite the free flow of money and support it was receiving from its numerous foreign handlers; despite its ideal geographic location; despite its newly constructed governmental buildings, roads and bridges; and despite the modernization of Georgia's national infrastructure, Georgia continued to suffer from autocratic rule, Georgia continued to suffer from high unemployment rates, emigration continued to be a problem. And the standard-of-living for the average Georgian in Georgia continued to be not much different from that of the average Armenian in the landlocked, blockaded and poor Armenia.

Our small, impoverished, remote, landlocked and blockaded homeland has been able to liberate some of its historic territories from Azerbaijan; forge a strategic alliance with the Russian Bear; maintain friendly relations with Iran; maintain friendly relations with Europe; maintain friendly relations with Washington; and successfully weather the economic storm of the past twenty years. Despite its numerous international supporters and ideal location, Georgia lost significant territories and made enemies with its neighbor, who just happens to be a superpower.

Therefore, who has in reality been better off, Armenia or Georgia?

But yes, for what it's worth, there seems to be less "corruption" in Georgia.

But there is a catch to this as well.

Similar to how it is in the Western world, corruption in Georgia is reserved only for those who are in power. The all-powerful state is the 'capo di tutti capi' of Georgia. Naturally, the powerful mafia seated in Tbilisi would not want any competition from the lower echelons of society.

Thus, when Ossetians wanted independence, Tbilisi responded by waging a genocidal war against them; when Georgians took to the streets to complain about government corruption and abuse couple of years ago, they were mercilessly beaten back by thousands of Western-trained policemen and paramilitary; when Georgia's political opposition sounded the alarm about Saakashvili's despotic rule, hundreds of their activists were impassioned and their media outlets shutdown; and when prisoners got out of hand, they were raped with broom handles. 

I guess besides Turkish and Israeli advisers, Tbilisi is also employing NYPD experts as well.

In the big picture, what we Armenians need to understand is that unlike Georgia's superficial developmental process, Armenia's development is natural, well rooted and well within its means. Although most Armenians today will have problems agreeing with this claim, I have no doubt that time will prove me correct. Unlike Georgia's and Azerbaijan's national developments, Armenia's national development has come against all odds and will prevail. While there remains many problems in our embattled nation stuck in a very volatile political environment, the fledgling Armenian state stubbornly continues its slow yet steady forward progress. Much of this is due in part to Armenia's crucially important strategic alliance with the Russian Federation.


Incidentally, some claim that had Armenia's leadership not been so Russophobic the West would have also provided Armenia with very large financial, economic and political support.

This is utter nonsense uttered by utter fools.

Even if Armenia's Russophobic political hardliners today managed to rid Armenia of all its "Rossophiles", kicked out the Russian military (a wet-dream of many in Armenia's political opposition), and pledged an absolute allegiance to the Western alliance - Armenia would still not have been supported to the tune of billions-of-dollars and Armenia would still not have been favored over Turkey and Azerbaijan in regional disputes. Armenians desperately need to come to the understanding that Armenia does not interest the political West because Armenia does not fit into their geostrategic calculations. The West is currently in the Caucasus merely to exploit Central Asian energy and to support Islamist and Turks against Russia and Iran.  

Therefore, had Armenia been led by a Western-backed government, the country would have become economically and politically subordinate to Ankara, Baku and Tbilisi. 

Besides which, Russia would most probably turn Armenia upside-down before it allows a Western-backed government to gain power in Yerevan. Simply put, the wish to see Armenia led by a Western stooge is one of the suicidal tendencies expressed by the self-destructive peasantry within the political opposition in Armenia today.

This is a fact: Armenia's national existence in the south Caucasus serves the national interests of the Russian Federation and Iran. That's it!

And a somber reminder to all Russophobic Armenian nationalists: a Caucasus without a powerful Russian presence is a Caucasus without an Armenian presence. 

I do not think Armenia would have been able to survive the ravages of the Caucasus had it not been for Moscow's genuine support.

Nevertheless, unlike the political system steadily evolving under the capable leadership of President Serj Sargsyan, the flashy yet flimsy house-of-cards Saakashvili built in Tbilisi with Western loans may be falling apart already. Although it is a bit too early to celebrate, this week's parliamentary election in Georgia may be the first step to finally riding Tbilisi of its tie-eating dictator. After Russian successes in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Serbia, this week's elections in Georgia. If so, it has come not a moment too soon.

The following are older blog posts about the severe problems Saakashvili's Georgia caused in the region. Please revisit them -
Saakashvili Says Whoever Opposes Azerbaijan is Georgia’s Enemy - September, 2011: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/09/saakashvili-says-whoever-opposes.html
Clashes at anti-government protest in Georgia - May, 2011: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/05/although-bit-late-georgians-are.htm
Israel’s role in the Russia-Georgia war - September, 2008: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2009/06/russian-units-raid-georgian-airfields.html
I would like to also add here that better relations between Georgia-Russia will serve to add further pressure on Azerbaijan. Needles to say, such an outcome would be ideal for Yerevan. With Baku's relations with Yerevan virtually non-existent and with its relations with an embattled Iran as strained as ever, Georgia had been Azerbaijan's only direct westward route to Turkey and beyond. If the Georgian factor diminishes in Baku's geopolitical formulations, Azeri officials may feel compelled to think about conceding defeat. If Russia makes a comeback in Georgia, I believe Baku will eventually accept its loses in Nagorno Karabakh, somberly enter Moscow's political orbit and reluctantly make peace with Yerevan.

Only through a pacified south Caucasus will the region experience genuine progress.

After all is said and done, as long as the "Great Game" of the great powers of the world continues to be played in the Caucasus, the region in question shall remain backward and a volatile powder-keg. If we want prosperity and stability to come to the Caucasus we must first have Pax Russica come to the region.

And speaking of Pax Russica, there is yet another very important strategic matter to consider. A recent Arminfo article titled "What Will 'Georgian Dream' Bring Armenia?" (featured below this commentary) discusses some aspects of this interesting issue.

For years there has been talk in Moscow about the revitalization of a major Soviet era motorway and railway project in the Caucasus. The main purpose of this Russian initiative is to tie south Caucasus nations to Russia via a Russian-led trade network. Moreover, Moscow also seems very interested in creating a transportation corridor to Iran through Armenia. These strategic projects have gone beyond talk in recent years. In fact, a lot of money has already been spent on them by interested parties. Moreover, some work has already begun in southern Russia, Abkhazia and Armenia.

Looking at the overall picture, however, one immediately sees a problem. Georgia is essentially the missing link in a motor and rail transportation network that is meant to stretch from Russia to Iran  traversing Abkhazia, Georgia and Armenia. This raises a question: Why would they design such a grand project and spend a lot of money on it if Georgia will not part of the equation? It is obvious that such a project can only be realized after normalization of relations between Tbilisi and Moscow, and without interference from the West and/or Turkey. In my opinion, it can be safely speculated that Moscow is expecting regime change in Georgia, as well as no interference from the West or Turkey. 

Written by senior State Department official Paul Goble (anyone remember the infamous "Goble Plan", the Washingtonian project in Armenia that led to the 1999 parliamentary assassinations in Yerevan?), the last article at the bottom of this page is an interesting commentary related to RF President Vladimir Putin's desire to see Saakashvili's downfall.

Once the above mentioned Moscow-led motor and rail transportation network is realized, it will ultimately prove to be a death-blow to similar Western projects in the region that have sought to by pass Russia, Armenia and Iran. It is interesting to note that construction of a new north-south highway has already begun in Armenia. 

It seems that the playing field in the south Caucasus is gradually being prepared. Under the protective umbrella of the Russian military, serious economic projects are being designed. If Moscow succeeds in economically, politically and militarily tying the south Caucasus to it (which is clearly what they are intending to do), Armenia will be standing poised to become a major transit hub connecting Russia to Iran within foreseeable future. 

To fully grasp the immense potential of such a project, and to recognize its great implications for the greater Caucasus, one needs to look at it within the framework of a Moscow-led Eurasian Union. The following are some related blog entries from previous years. Please revisit them -
Armenia May Become Alternative Transit Energy Route Between Caspian Basin And Europe - June, 2009: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/08/day-or-two-after-washington-announced.html

Putin's Fight For Control of Russia's Oil - May, 2010: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/moscow-currently-satisfies-about-13-of.html
U.S. Abandoning Russia's Neighbors - July, 2010: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/following-are-two-very-interesting.html

The New "Great Game": Oil Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia - September, 2010:
http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-see-expulsion-of-washingtonian.html

Shortest way from Europe to Asia lies through Armenia - October, 2010: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/shortest-way-from-europe-to-asia-lies.html

Vladimir Putin Wants Eurasian Economic Union - November, 2011: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/11/putin-sets-sights-on-eurasian-economic.html
If Moscow and Georgia manage to make peace and Baku is more-or-less forced to accept its defeat, the entire Caucasus region will benefit greatly from it. And if Moscow also manages to save Syria and is able to discourage a full-scale attack against Iran, I believe a tectonic shift will take place in the political landscape of the greater region. We may in fact finally begin seeing the commencement of the long-overdue demise of the English speaking global order that has more-or-less ruled much of the world uninterruptedly since the defeat of Napoleon exactly two hundred years ago. The preservation of Syria and Iran, coupled with a powerful Russian presence in the south Caucasus will see the weakening of Western, Islamic, Turkish and Zionist interests in the region and usher in a new era.

Perhaps this is why the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and Turco-Islamic friends are adamant about containing Russia and destroying Syria and Iran.

In the meanwhile, Yerevan needs to do its best to firmly hold on to Artsakh until the situation in the region settles. Moreover, Yerevan also needs to be smart enough to keep a close eye on developing situations in Georgia and in Azerbaijan... just in case it needs to make a move on Javakhq, or carry-out a strike against Azerbaijan to establish a border connection with the Russian Federation. If, however, Yerevan is not presented with the historic opportunity to either liberate Javakhq, gain an access to the Black Sea or to establish a border connection with the Russian Federation, the best alternative option I see for Armenia is to have the entire south Caucasus enter Moscow's orbit. This latter alternative may in fact be the safest and the most realistic option for Armenia.

The Caucasus has been reeling from the geopolitical tug-of-war that has taken place between Moscow and the West for the past twenty years. The only way the region will be pacified and enjoy genuine economic progress is through Pax Russica. The only way the region's strong Islamic and Turkic tendencies will be kept in check is through Pax Russica. The only way Armenia will be able to breakout of its mountainous prison is through Pax Russica!

The nation that Saakashvili's Anglo-Judeo-Turkish-mercenary government put together, a government that many of our idiots are still in awe of today, is an artificial fabrication, an anti-Russian geostrategic experiment and ultimately a house-of-cards that is on the verge of collapse. Sooner-or-later, Tbilisi will be brought back under Russian orbit and the tie-eating "political corpse" will be put on a one way flight to Washington, Ankara or Tel Aviv - dead or alive.


The following are relevant news articles and video reports about the political discourse taking place in Georgia, including some older but very interesting materials. Please review them all for a better understanding of Russia's resurgence in the Caucasus and the political situation in Tbilisi.

Arevordi
October, 2012


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Georgia swift to follow into America's debt steps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOA6o5INsto

Georgia has no chance of joining NATO: http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/2/UQ4defKUMe8

Is there a middle class in Russia? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laYsrwFtoOw
Georgia accused of fostering terrorism as prison abuse affair not fading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVJGSpErL-U&feature=plcp
 
Whistleblower: Saakashvili knew of torture in Georgia prison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxoLEwMK12c&feature=plcp
Georgia tightens grip on justice: http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/u/42/RwPb0aJsa28

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Deflowering the ‘Rose Revolution’

http://rt.com/files/news/ivanishvili-personal-details-profile-497/leader-opposition-georgian-addresses-48.jpg

Despite the best efforts of Georgian strongman Mikheil Saakashvili and his ruling party, Georgian voters have delivered a stunning victory to challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who vowed to tamp down tensions with Russia and free up an increasingly authoritarian system. Saakashvili pulled out all the stops in his campaign to neutralize the first credible political challenge to his rule: his initial response was to revoke Ivanishvili’s citizenship. When that raised eyebrows in the West — and a storm of protest in Georgia — Saakashvili backtracked, and turned to other methods. The Georgian opposition, Georgian Dream, was subjected to new rules and regulations, limiting the amount of money they could spend, and opposition supporters were fired from their state jobs. Exorbitant fines were levied on dissident groups, and gangs of thugs preyed on opposition activists, particularly in rural areas where dependence on state subsidies — and the good graces of the ruling party — is the key to survival.

And, of course, Saakashvili’s Western allies were quick to respond to Ivanishvili’s challenge. A much criticized “survey” put out by the National Democratic Institute — the Democratic party’s international bureau, affiliated with the US government-subsidized National Endowment for Democracy — claimed right before the election that Georgian Dream was “losing support to Saakashvili,” with one of its questions asking if voters would support Ivanishvili’s “call for street protests” if he lost. A major flaw in this equation: Ivanishvili had made no such call. Yet even after Ivanishvili complained, the US ambassador, John Bass, defended NDI’s intervention in the election, averring that its methodology was correct — even as independent pollsters, not affiliated with the NED, were saying it was a close race. Opposition spokesperson Maia Panjikidze was blunt: 
We do not trust the NDI surveys, as well as the researches of other organizations. We are not familiar with the methodology of research, how the field work was conducted, we do not know who’s funding these studies.”
Of course they don’t trust the NDI surveys — that’s because Saakashvili has been one of America’s top clients since his ascension to power in the 2003 “Rose Revolution.” George W. Bush stopped off in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in 2005, where he hailed Georgia for increasing its commitment to stationing troops in Iraq “five-fold,” and held up Saakashvili’s increasingly repressive regime as an exemplar of his “Freedom Agenda.” After Saakashvili bombed the city of Tskhinvali for defying his authority, killing over a thousand civilians and a dozen Russian peace-keepers, the Russians intervened. Although Saakashvili started the war — he had been planning it for quite some time, according to a former government official — both US presidential candidates (Obama and John McCain) sided with Saakashvili, competing with each other in denouncing “Russian aggression.” After the war, in which the Georgians were soundly defeated, the US sent $1 billion in “aid” to “rebuild Georgia.” 

Saakashvili’s aim — to drag the US into a military confrontation with Russia — failed, but not without a reasonable expectation of substantial American support. McCain’s unforgettably stupid declaration that “Today we are all Georgians” reflected a bipartisan consensus in Washington that Big Bad Russia is trying to reabsorb its former satrap, and that Saakashvili is a Good Guy. The big problem with this equation is that the Georgian people had, by this time, had enough of “Misha.” Growing public dissatisfaction with the regime’s repressive methods — political murders, beatings of dissidents, closing down opposition media — led to massive street demonstrations in November, resulting in a crackdown: police fired on protesters, and an opposition television station was occupied by troops. Dissident media were “temporarily” banned.

The next elections were characterized by outright ballot-stuffing, intimidation, and threats against opposition activists, who were jailed and fired from their jobs. The OSCE condemned the balloting. The country was rocked by protests, resulting in more confrontations on the streets of Tbilisi between opposition activists and police. This week’s election was marked by open bias in the government-controlled media, threats against government employees who refused to support Saakashvili, and the above-mentioned interventions by US-funded “pro-democracy” organizations — all to no avail. 

The final blow against Saakashvili was delivered by a video showing disgusting abuse of prisoners in a Georgian prison. An arrest warrant was issued for the prison guard who leaked the video: he has since sought political asylum abroad. In spite of official acclaim for the “democratic reformer” Saakashvili, the horrific conditions in Georgia’s prisons was well-known to human rights groups: that didn’t stop the US government from sending billions to their “democratic” sock puppet, however. 

During the campaign, the regime’s refrain was that Ivanishvili and his supporters are “traitors,” “Russian agents” who want to deliver Georgia to Putin’s tender mercies: this, indeed, has been his response to any and all internal critics who dared speak up. Georgian voters weren’t buying it: yet it would be a mistake to think Saakashvili is going to fold up his tent and go quietly. He’s still the President, and while governmental reforms mean the powers of his office are slated to be reduced, with the switch to a parliamentary system, the transition has yet to take place.

Ivanishvili is calling on Saakashvili to resign, but that isn’t going to happen. “Misha” will put every obstacle in the new government’s way, and is doubtless at this moment planning his revenge. In the meantime, however, the oppressed people of Georgia mean to have their revenge — paving the way for a long, drawn out drama. 

Saakashvili will always have his American apologists, including this creep, who dismissed Ivanishvili’s exposure of Georgia’s authoritarian regime as “stories of pro-government voter suppression and opposition rhetoric that seemed to reject the institutions of government itself.” Yes, the screams of the tortured dissidents coming from Georgia’s dungeons are just the yelps of miscreant anarchists and Ron Paul supporters, according to this oily little neocon. Expect to hear more from Saakashvili’s well-compensated American fan club as the deflowering of the “Rose Revolution” continues apace.


Is Ivanishvili a Trojan Horse for Russia’s Return to Georgia?

http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2012/1002-georgia-elections-bidzina-ivanishvili/13919865-1-eng-US/1002-georgia-elections-Bidzina-Ivanishvili_full_600.jpg

In the run-up to Georgia's parliamentary elections on Monday, supporters of President Mikheil Saakashvili derided their opponent, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, as a "Kremlin project." Activists for Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition were even chased out of a village housing refugees from the 2008 war with shouts of "Russians" ringing in their ears. These Georgians say, "Follow the money."

Not only did Ivanishvili make his fortune of $6.4 billion in Russia during the wild years of the 1990s, but he was able to liquidate his Russian holdings last year at good prices. In Russia, billionaires only survive if they enjoy the good graces of President Vladimir Putin. His political rival, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is in jail. Mikhail Prokhorov retreated from politics after a tepid bid for president this year, and billionaire Alexander Lebedev finds that the price for opposing Putin is that no one dares to buy his assets.

On Friday, I asked Ivanishvili if he is a Kremlin project. He laughed off the question, saying that over the past decade he gave $1.7 billion in aid to Georgia. He added jokingly, "If that means being a Kremlin agent, then the Kremlin has in me the best agent for Georgia." At age 56, Ivanishvili is a shrewd pragmatist. My bet is that he will try to steer Georgia into a more neutral course. U.S. conservatives might label this as "Finlandization," but this policy served Finland well after fighting two wars with Moscow in the 1940s.

Ivanishvili says he wants to normalize relations with Russia. In addition to reopening embassies, this would mean restoring trade ties. Once Georgia's main trading partner, Russia now accounts for only 4 percent of Georgia's trade. With 30 times the population of Georgia, Russia is a natural source of tourists for Georgia's booming tourism industry along the Black Sea coast. Now a member of the World Trade Organization, Russia is obligated to drop unilateral trade barriers. The WTO could provide a fig leaf for Moscow to normalize.

Looking forward to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia has one year to lock in peace and quiet on its southern border. It has created a buffer state, Abkhazia, directly across the border from the skiing venues. But it would further calm pre-Olympic nerves if there were a leader in Tbilisi committed to controlling rogue nationalist elements of Georgian security forces.

For Moscow, the red line is NATO membership.

In 1944, before NATO was created, U.S. diplomat George Kennan wrote, "The jealous eye of the Kremlin can distinguish, in the end, only vassals and enemies; and the neighbors of Russia, if they do not wish to be one, must reconcile themselves to being the other." After winning the parliamentary elections, Ivanishvili repeated on Tuesday his commitment to winning NATO membership for Georgia. But in reality, Russians and Georgians may privately agree to publicly disagree on NATO while moving forward on trade and tourism.

Realpolitik analysts in Moscow, Brussels and Tbilisi know that NATO membership is not going to happen as long as 9,000 or so Russian soldiers are firmly entrenched in Georgia's two secessionist territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Last summer, I stood about a kilometer south of the South Ossetia truce line where I borrowed a pair of high-powered binoculars from a Polish peacekeeper. Studying the new watchtowers and fresh concertina wire of three new Russian army outposts, it was clear to me that the truce line is about as temporary as the demilitarization zone separating North and South Korea.

Georgians know that, given the signal from Moscow, Russian troops could once again break out of South Ossetia, drive south and cut Georgia in half — all in about 45 minutes. With that knowledge, Ivanishvili shows no sign of throwing away the close relationship that Saakashvili forged with the United States. If he seeks to follow a third way, he needs Washington to counterbalance Moscow.

Before Monday's election, Saakashvili reportedly spent $600,000 a month on lobbyists in Washington. The morning after the vote, he met in Tbilisi with two visiting United States senators who are members of the Foreign Relations Committee, James Risch and Jeanne Shaheen. Referring to the United States, Saakashvili said, "We talked about the future, how to develop our relationship with our big friend and how to develop democracy in Georgia."

On one level, Georgia receives large amounts of foreign aid from the United States. On another level, U.S. engagement frees Georgia to pursue a regional role as a transit country for Central Asian oil and gas through pipelines that are outside of Kremlin control. For Ivanishvili, Moscow is just one point in his mental compass. Like most successful Georgians of his generation, he has moved far beyond his Soviet upbringing to feel comfortable in the West. He holds a French passport and speaks French. He stores his $1 billion modern art collection in London. He loves to discuss with foreign architects his favorite pet project: building a world class modern art museum in Georgia to house his art.

When Russian tourists start to rediscover Georgia, they will also discover that Russia has lost a generation of Georgians. If tourists want to speak in Russian, they had better seek out a Georgian over 35. Two decades ago, Russian language study was largely dropped from schools here. Instead, the study of English is now universal and obligatory. Russian is offered as an optional second language on par with Turkish and Farsi. At concierge desks of new hotels in Tbilisi — the two Mariotts, the Radisson and the Holiday Inn – visitors will find any of five free local newspapers in English. Nothing in Russian.

Picking up Georgia's Financial newsweekly, visitors can study Tbilisi's international flight schedule. This x-ray of modern Georgia's world view lists direct flights to 22 foreign cities — from London to Urumqi, China — but no flights to any city in Russia. (There is a daily flight to Moscow, but since there are no diplomatic relations, it is a considered a charter.) This deep sense of Georgian nationalism coupled with Ivanishvili's canny pragmatism point to a future policy with Russia that will be less of an embrace, and more of a detente.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Ivanishvili told reporters: "If you ask me, 'America or Russia?', I say we need to have good relations with everybody."

Source: blogs.voanews.com/russia-watch/2012/10/03/is-ivanishvili-a-trojan-horse-for-russias-return-to-georgia/


Is Bidzina Ivanishvili 'Pro-Russia?' Mikhail Saakashvili Certainly Thinks So!

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As I wrote yesterday there has been some very good reporting coming out of Georgia in the aftermath of the parliamentary election, including some reporting that does not paint Bidzina Ivanishvili in a particularly flattering light. I’ve repeatedly written that so long as the election was generally free and fair I would be perfectly comfortable with whomever the Georgian electorate chose.

While I certainly had my suspicions that a continued Saakashvili reign wouldn’t be particularly beneficial for Georgian interests, and that an Ivanishvili victory would be the least bad option in a very imperfect situation, I didn’t write any love letters to Ivanishvili nor did I go on any sort of anti-Saakashvili crusade. This wasn’t just to strike a convenient pose of “balance” but because I truly wasn’t invested in either side of the Georgian election. My only desire (which thankfully seems to have come true!) was that Georgia would avoid being pulled into an immediate “color revolution” scenario in which the country was paralyzed by massive street protests and comprehensive political instability. That, obviously  would have been a disaster for Georgia and Georgians. That the country’s democratic institutions have held up under a lot of strain is something that ought to be celebrated.

This is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that I am neither an Ivanishvili nor a Saakashvili partisan, and that I’ve done my best to describe things in Georgia through neither a UNM nor a Georgian Dream lens.

But some journalists covering the Georgian election are pretty obviously in the Saakashvili camp and barely even make a pretense of hiding it. I read Anna Nemtsova’s article in the Daily Beast, subtly titled “Sunset for Misha? Georgia’s Pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili Defeated by Pro-Russian Challenger,” with mute incomprehension: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a news report in a major publication that had such skimpy evidence and that was so ostentatiously biased in its presentation.

What “proof” does Nemtsova provide for her incredibly bold contention that Ivanishvili, someone who has loudly, repeatedly, and publicly declared his intention of joining NATO and the EU, is “pro-Moscow?” and “pro-Russia?” The only “evidence” that she marshals are vague and unsubstantiated accusations from  a Saakashvili surrogate. That is, Nemtsova’s “proof” that Ivanishvili is pro-Russia is a vague denunciation from one of his mortal political enemies who he just defeated in a bitterly contested election (emphasis added):
Of course, no election is as simple as a choice for which party should have a majority of seats in Parliament. Former minister of the economy Kakha Bendukidze, who has been the architect of the outgoing government’s reform policies, said in a phone interview that Tuesday’s election threatened to make Georgia “Moscow’s satellite.” “I do not think that the majority of people voting for the opposition’s Georgian Dream quite realized that,” Bendukidze said.
This isn’t reporting, it’s gossip-mongering. Saakashvili and his political allies accuse all of their domestic political opponents of being Kremlin plants: that’s just what they do. They’ve been doing this since the immediate aftermath of the Rose Revolution, and it’s hardly been a secret. Someone from UNM calling someone from Georgian Dream “pro-Russia” would be like a Republican accusing a Democrat of being “soft of defense:” it’s a standard-issue bit of political posturing, a ritual denunciation that has been emptied of all content and meaning. A Saakashvili ally calling someone “pro-Russia” is, basically, the least surprising thing in the world. If it actually qualifies as news we’re going to need to train a crack team of reporters to check on the bathroom habits of forest-dwelling bears because everything is news.

Now it is of course possible that Ivanishvili is, in fact, a Russian agent. If presented with actual evidence of his dastardly pro-Kremlin ways I suppose I would believe it. But my willingness to believe the evidence would depend on its strength: for it to be convincing it would need to be real, verifiable, and directly relevant. The bitter recriminations of a recently defeated political rival aren’t “evidence,” indeed they’re not even newsworthy. We’re supposed to be surprised that the loser of a months long political knife-fight is bitter? What did we expect the Saakahsvili camp to say? “We were totally kidding during the election when we called Ivanishvili an evil Kremlin patsy and tried to strip him of his Georgian citizenship. We’re actually bros and we have plans to watch the Eagles-Steelers game this Sunday up at his crazy glass castle. He even said he’d let us play with the zebras.”

All things considered I have seen nothing that suggests that Ivanishvili actually has any plans to turn Georgia into a “Russian satellite” though I have heard him repeatedly say that he intends to continue his predecessor’s integration with the West.* Now politicians lie and let me be clear in saying that it’s totally conceivable that Ivanishivili is just putting on a big show for the benefit of his Moscow sponsors. If that’s the case, if this is all a big song and dance to let the Russians in, I’d be very interested in knowing that: covering such a story would almost certainly give me a very nice bump in traffic.

But, and this is for all of those aggrieved Saakashvili fans out there, I need actual evidence to write a story about Ivanishvili’s betrayal of his homeland. Find me Ivanishvili’s GRU marching orders, find me someone in the Kremlin who will take credit for his election, find me a draft Georgian Dream party platform which has “become part of the Russian Federation” crudely crossed out, find me the details of the “deal” which allowed Ivanishvili to get all of his money out of Moscow, find me something (anything!) that I can actually hang my hat on. Don’t pretend that the offhand musing of bitter Saakashvili allies are meaningful political insights, because they aren’t, they’re just the offhand musings of bitter Saakashvili allies.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2012/10/03/is-bidzina-ivanishvili-pro-russia-mikhail-saakashvili-and-his-surrogates-certainly-think-so/

Pro-Western president loses in Georgia

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Nine years after he ushered in a democratic Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat Tuesday after parliamentary elections showed a surge of support for a billionaire who made his money in Russia. "I express my respect toward the decision of the majority," said Saakashvili in a live TV address to the nation. Billionaire Bizdina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition won a parliamentary majority and will be able to form a new government, though Saakashvili's term does not expire for another year.

Saakashvili has been in power since the peaceful Rose Revolution ended unrest in a country that was once under Soviet domination until it declared independence in 1991. He overhauled a Communist-style economy and steered the country away from Russian influence and toward the West. Though the economy grew significantly over the years, poverty remained a problem, and his opponents charged him with authoritarian tactics similar to those once used against Georgians by the Soviets.

The opposition Georgian Dream campaign pointed to violent crackdowns on street protests in 2007 and 2011, persistent high-level corruption and continuing restrictions on media freedoms as evidence that Saakashvili's rule has grown too heavy-handed. Two weeks ago, video footage was made public of conditions in a Tbilisi prison showing inmates being tortured and raped. Thousands of protesters poured into the streets.

Ivanishvili's supporters flooded the streets of the capital, blasting car horns and waving flags in celebration until the early hours of the morning. "It's a party; everyone's here to enjoy it," said Nata Bokuchava, 32. Ivanishvili made his fortune in post-Soviet Russia in computer and banking businesses. He has promised to improve relations with Georgia's powerful neighbor and strengthen economic ties, though he says he is not a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Ivanishvili's election may help to break the stalemate between Russia and Georgia – this is not necessarily bad news for the West," said Lilit Gevorgyan, political analyst at IHS Global Insight. "It will help the EU and U.S. to iron out one more wrinkle in their relations with Russia, which saw a serious blow as a result of 2008 Georgian-Russian war."

Ivanishvili is not likely to be a purely pro-Russian leader but will attempt to tightrope between a potential economic partner Russia and the West, she said. "Georgia will develop a multidirectional foreign policy, trying to balance its already good relations with the West with newly reviving ties with Russia," she said.

Few deny the scale of change in the country since 2003: The once widespread petty corruption among police and low-level officials has been all but wiped out and everyday security for ordinary people has massively improved.
But unemployment remains high outside of the cities, and rising food and electricity prices mean many feel worse off under Saakashvili than they had been under Soviet rule. 

Saakashvili has secured his legacy as a democratic reformer, says Mark Mullen, founder of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International's Georgia chapter. The election marks the first electoral power transfer since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. "There will now likely be an international outpouring of praise for Saakashvili," Mullen said.

International observers said Tuesday that they had an "overall positive" assessment of the election despite reports from the opposition of intimidation and vote rigging on election day, which were later confirmed by Transparency International. "There were problems, but we've decided not to take them any further," said Gia Gvilava, senior lawyer and head of the Transparency International observer mission. "It was a close call, but the government has decided to respect the result; in the end it was democratic."

Representatives from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly – an association of lawmakers from NATO member states – praised the level of citizen participation, which may help Georgia's desire to join the Western alliance. "We were impressed that the mass rallies were peaceful, and the heartfelt involvement we saw can only bode well for Georgia's future," said Assen Agov, head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Delegation. "Georgia will become a member of NATO."

Richest Georgian and possible PM: Who is Bidzina Ivanishvili?

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Winning the Georgian parliamentary elections is certainly a dream come true for billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream Party. The question now is whether the possible future PM will make those dreams a reality. ­Until relatively recently Bidzina Ivanishvili was only known to most of his countrymen as the richest Georgian in the world, with an estimated personal fortune of US$6.4 billion. Its just a year since the 56-year-old decided it was time for him to step into the political limelight and run against the party of incumbent President Mikhail Saakashvili. 

The leader of the Georgia Dream party lives in the village of Chorvilla where he was born. His house nowadays is more like a glass castle. Perched high in the mountains overlooking the capital Tbilisi, the hi-tech glass structure took 10 years and millions of dollars to construct. His political rival, President Mikhail Saakashvili, derided the billionaire for living in what he described as "an armoured fish tank."

Despite the obvious bad feeling between he and his political opponent Saakashvili, it seems they share the same Western political values. At a press conference after the election, Ivanishvili said Georgia's entry to NATO is one of his priorities. Yet he criticised Saakashvili for souring relations with neighbors.

"That was  an erroneous policy; we intend to be a regional actor and to normalize relations with neighbors, including Russia," he said.

Bidzina Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia, having founded the Rossiysky Kredit Bank with his partner Vitaly Malkin in 1990. He set up various businesses during the infamous privatization processes in Russia in 1990s, with interests extending into metal production, mining and investments in the Russian stock market. Reportedly the Georgian billionaire used to own Russian drug store chain Doktor Stoletov and two five-star hotels in the Russian capital.

Up until his decision to enter Georgian politics Ivanishvili had kept a low profile, since then he‘s expressed his views in newspapers like The Daily Telegraph and The Economist in London, and on TV channels like BBC World. In order to take part in Georgian political life, Bidzina Ivanishvili had to give up his Russian citizenship and sell his assets in Russia. But that never stopped the accusations he was a "Russian agent" which resulted in him losing his Georgian citizenship.

As of now Bidzina Ivanishvili is a citizen of France, but hopes to regain his Georgian citizenship soon. Following the coalition's victory in the parliamentary poll, he urged a review of his case. If successful he could be given the job of the country’s new prime minister. Outside of politics and business, Ivanishvili is known to be an avid collector of 20th-century art. It’s thought the pride of his collection is Pablo Picasso’s painting Dora Maar with Cat, bought at Sotheby's for $95 million in 2006.

His residence in Chorvila is reportedly stuffed with replica artworks of Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Henry Moore and Zaha Hadid, the real ones are kept safely in London. His political opponents have dubbed the billionaire "penguin", because of the private menagerie he keeps at his home in Georgia. He has a number of rare species, including lemurs, penguins and a zebra. Bidzina Ivanishvili is married and has four children.


Tens of thousands hit Tbilisi streets in 'largest-ever' rally on eve of election

Supporters of the Georgian Dream opposition political party attend a rally in central Tbilisi, on September 29, 2012. (AFP Photo / Irakli Gedenidze)


Around 200,000 people have reportedly come out in support of opposition party Georgian Dream in what may become the biggest ever rally to hit Tbilisi. Georgia is set to cast votes in a parliamentary poll Monday. ­The Georgian capital was strewn with blue colors Saturday as the South Caucasian country's parliamentary campaign comes to a climax. “One of my promises has already come true: all of Georgia is standing united today,” opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili told tens of thousands people gathered at central Freedom Square to show their support for him. “All Georgia tells the authorities…
…leave!” responded the crowd.

The authorities cannot pretend they did not know what happens in our prisons,” continued the billionaire tycoon, referring to a recent torture scandal that led to the resignations of several top officials and left President Mikhail Saakashvili playing spin-doctor for himself at the UN General Assembly. Reports on the rally's turnout vary, with Russia's RIA Novosti agency estimating the demo to be 200,000 strong, while the multinational channel MTRK MIR says 300,000 people were in attendance. MIR remarks that Tbilisi's last most massive rally was held in 2010, and gathered around 100,000 people.

Tycoon-turned-politician Ivanishvili founded his public movement, Georgian Dream, in December 2011. In April 2012, it transformed into an opposition coalition, called Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia. The current election is generally viewed as a struggle between billionaire Ivanishvili, whose wealth at $6.4 billion equals nearly half of Georgia's economic output, and President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Saakashvili’s role in Georgian history remains highly controversial. In its "Doing Business 2012" report, the World Bank named Georgia a "top reformer." According to that assessment, the South Caucasus country, which serves as an important transit route for oil and gas to the West, showed an astounding improvement since 2005 in terms of the ease of doing business, climbing from 112th to 16th place.

But the opposition has little praise to spare for the leader. Nino Burdzhanadze, the ex-chairperson of the Georgian Parliament and Saakashvili’s former ally, claims that "we have less democracy today than before the revolution", as Spiegel quotes her. Like many others, Burdzhanadze accuses the president of authoritarian dictatorship that has suppressed the opposition, while engaging the country in all-around corruption and money laundering.

Saakashvili, in his turn, says the Georgian opposition are simply Kremlin agents. Ivanishvili has taken great pains to deny the claim. During the rally, he said he did not go to politics after some foreign powers told him so, but because he could not come to terms with the escalating poverty and injustice that are choking the country. "Saakashvili's system must be destroyed. The fate of the country is being decided at these elections," Ivanishvili told the rally, promising to create “a truly democratic country free of violence or fear.

A parallel opposition demonstration was held in Georgia’s second largest city, Kutaisi. Rally organizers say tens of thousands people are there. Ivanishvili’s party, whose platform seems to be centered on displacing the incumbent president, is expected to come out as the main rival to Saakashvili’s United National Movement. UNM’s convention Friday gathered around 70 thousand people at a central stadium in Tbilisi. On Saturday, Saakashvili also addressed voters in the port city of Poti, stressing the upcoming election may be a turning point for the country. “A force which wants to destroy everything we have created in the last nine years is keen to grab power,” he told supporters, hinting at the coalition headed by Ivanishvili.

Source: http://rt.com/news/georgia-opposition-rally-election-305/

Georgia Holds Its Breath

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Rocked by a prison scandal and allegations from all sides over illicit campaigning, this tiny country's election has become a brawl between political heavyweights

On a warm night last week, a crowd gathered in the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi in front of the glass facade of the Philharmonia building. The crowd members were young, oppositional, and angry; disorganized but peaceful. A police car approached and was met with a cacophony of whistles, more mocking than aggressive.
The crowd had been drawn onto the street by the release of shocking videos by two opposition television channels showing systematic abuse in one of Tbilisi's prisons. One clip, showing the rape of a male prisoner with a broom, was especially shocking for a socially conservative society. Reports of the terrible conditions in the country's prisons had flickered through Georgian households for years. Georgia now has the highest prison population per capita in Europe, with 24,000 inmates, four times as many as when Mikheil Saakashvili was first elected president in 2004. But Georgia's leaders had ignored reports of prison brutality, trumpeting instead police reform and their successful "zero tolerance on crime" policy. 

Now they were being proved spectacularly wrong and at the worst possible moment, just 13 days before crucial parliamentary elections on Oct. 1. 

Saakashvili reacted quickly to contain the damage. The powerful 31-year-old interior minister, Bacho Akhalaia -- who had been in office only two months -- resigned. The ombudsman who had long been registering unheeded alarm about prison conditions was made the new prisons minister. But the president then muddied his message. Clearly someone close to the opposition had chosen to release the videos at this moment to embarrass the government, but Saakashvili lashed out with an improbable line of attack that harked back to the August 2008 war, telling a public meeting that the revelations were part of a Moscow-orchestrated "conspiracy" against Georgia, ahead of the election, with the goal of forcing Georgia "back into Russia's imperial space." 

The problem for the president is that when he said he was "shocked" and "very angry" and knew nothing about the state of his prisons, few believed him. The country's highly punitive criminal-justice system was built by a group of men who now hold the jobs of prime minister, justice minister and defense minister. The general state of Georgia's prisons, if not the graphic details, was an open secret. Most residents of Tbilisi know someone -- a neighbor or a cousin -- who has been in prison, often for a relatively small offense, such as marijuana possession or theft. A few months ago, I heard a terrible account of life inside Georgia's prisons from a businessman named Lasha Shanidze who had ended up on the wrong side of the government in a complex financial dispute and is now a fugitive in the United States. Shanidze described a regime in which he and his fellow inmates were forced to eat rotten food and subjected to nighttime beatings. 

One Tbilisi taxi driver told me that his neighbor had done a four-year sentence at age 18 for theft and that he had spent three months of it in the Gldani prison, the facility at the center of the scandal. "He told me that three months there was so awful it was like 10 years of his life," my driver said. "The guards would burst into the cells at 2 or 3 in the morning and beat people randomly." 

Even before the scandal, the governing party was facing a strong challenge. Now its hopes of maintaining its monopoly of power are under much greater threat.

The Oct. 1 election marks a turning point for Georgia. Besides being a contest for Parliament, it is also a shadow leadership election. In 2013, after Saakashvili's second and final term as president expires, a new constitution will take effect, transferring key powers from the president to the prime minister, who will be elected by Parliament. Whoever controls the new Parliament will get to elect the prime minister next year. 

Greek scholar Ilia Roubanis has called Georgian politics "pluralistic feudalism," a competition between a patriarchal leader who enjoys uncontested rule over the country and a leader of the opposition bidding to unseat him and acquire the same. The current contest fits that description. Put simply, it is a clash of two narratives about Georgia set out by two big personalities: Saakashvili, and his main challenger, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. 

Saakashvili has been personally leading the election campaign for the governing party, the United National Movement, even though he is not running for Parliament himself. His main message is that, like the medieval Georgian king David the Builder, he has been building a new nation and he and his team deserve to be allowed to finish the job. 

In that spirit, on Sept. 16, Saakashvili formally reopened a famous medieval landmark, the 11th-century Bagrati Cathedral (rebuilt in controversial fashion, overriding the objections of UNESCO that the construction work interfered with the original medieval fabric of the church). On Sept. 27, the new airport, named after David the Builder, in Georgia's second-largest city, Kutaisi, is due to open. A new glass-and-steel sci-fi Parliament building in Kutaisi is also scheduled to be completed in October. 

The opposition says that this Georgia is a Potemkin village hiding the miserable condition of large segments of the population, such as the unemployed, rural farmers -- and prisoners. Until last year, Saakashvili was in control of the script, aided by the uncritical news coverage of Georgia's two main television channels. But the countermessage now has a powerful figurehead in Ivanishvili, Georgia's wealthiest man, estimated by Forbes to be worth $6.4 billion. Ivanishvili, who built his fortune in the metals industry during the heady privatization period in the 1990s, is an enigmatic and colorful figure, best known for his lavish philanthropy, large modern-art collection, and private zoo -- before he unexpectedly decided to enter Georgian politics in 2011, saying he planned to become prime minister and turn around the economy. He has since built a coalition of six very diverse parties named Georgian Dream after a song by his rapper son. 

Both the governing United National Movement, or UNM, and Georgian Dream are loose coalitions, held together by their powerful patriarchal leaders. 

Saakashvili's governing UNM combines a free market Westernizing ideology with the bureaucratic machine of a typical post-Soviet governing party. Georgian Dream is an even more diverse alliance whose constituents' only common connection is loyalty to Ivanishvili and opposition to Saakashvili. It has support in Tbilisi from urban democratic professionals who want to see the current governing party's monopoly on power broken. Outside the capital, it frequently plays on economic populism and barely concealed xenophobia. A third group in the alliance comprises former bureaucrats who evidently see Georgian Dream as their route back to power. This makes for mixed messages: Georgian Dream has attracted some of Georgia's most pro-Western opposition members and puts forward a foreign-policy platform that commits them to EU and NATO membership, while its new television station, Channel 9, has lashed out at local Western-funded organizations such as the National Democratic Institute and Transparency International for alleged covert support of the Georgian government. I saw the clash of narratives in bright colors in the Black Sea city of Batumi. Batumi has been Georgia's boomtown and Saakashvili's pet project for the past few years. The president spends as much time there as in Tbilisi and has invited a stream of foreign visitors to visit, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June. 

It is an impressive sight. A forest of new skyscrapers has sprung up, changing what used to be a shabby seaside resort into a modern city. Batumi now has a Sheraton, a Radisson, and a string of new casinos. Tens of thousands of tourists poured into the resort this summer. 

On the other hand, I found locals much less enthusiastic than I expected. Their complaints covered the spectrum from merely disappointed ("local people aren't getting jobs") to the fully paranoid and xenophobic ("the Turks are buying up the city," "Turkey is working with Saakashvili to recapture Batumi"). Batumi was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1878, and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk almost reconquered it in 1921. 

Several buildings have become symbolic battlegrounds. The Georgian and Turkish governments jointly agreed to plans to reconstruct a mosque, built by the Ottomans in the mid-19th century and destroyed by the Soviet regime in the 1930s. But the project appears to have been halted after anti-Turkish protests supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church and local opposition activists, several of them members of Georgian Dream. 

A less pious building project is Batumi's Trump Tower. A massive billboard stands on the seafront proclaiming the spot where it will be constructed. The Donald himself has become friendly with Saakashvili and visited Batumi this April. The opposition points out that he has merely lent his name to the project, not invested any money, and calls it an empty PR stunt designed to boost the image of the government, rather than the Georgian economy. The local parliamentary race pits Giorgi Baramidze, a long-standing Saakashvili ally and deputy prime minister, against a local Georgian Dream-affiliated populist named Murman Dumbadze. I went to see both of them. 

Like most of the current Georgian elite, Baramidze still looks improbably young. (He is in fact 44.) He speaks excellent English, having studied at Georgetown University. He ridiculed the local opposition as xenophobic and made a robust defense of the mosque and the Turkish presence in Batumi. "How can we isolate ourselves from our biggest neighbor after Russia?" he asked. On the mosque issue he said, "We internationally are not apologetic on this question." The current government can be faulted on many things but not on tolerance to foreigners and other faiths. 

Baramidze's democratic tolerance did not extend to the opposition, however. One of the legitimate complaints of the Georgian opposition for years is that no television channel that criticizes the government is allowed to broadcast nationwide. Under much international pressure, the Georgian Parliament in July passed a law known as "Must Carry," obliging cable operators to carry all television channels, including the Ivanishvili-affiliated station, Channel 9. But despite the calls of many outside actors, including the U.S. government, the legislation expires on Election Day. "Why not continue it?" I asked Baramidze. 

"We have to bear in mind that Channel 9 might serve as a catalyst to give Russia a free hand to act against Georgia [after the election]," Baramidze told me implausibly, spinning the idea that to allow the opposition channel airtime might be a prelude to the rumble of Russian tanks. 

Dumbadze, the Georgian Dream candidate, is as gaunt as Baramidze is chubby. He has a reputation for old-fashioned Georgian nationalism and was expelled this March from the liberal-leaning Republican Party after insulting an ethnic Russian colleague. 

Dumbadze has trimmed his xenophobic rhetoric, or rather repackaged it as economic nationalism. He told me that he had opposed the mosque reconstruction and that "Batumi was behind me," but that he would now favor it if local Muslims wanted it. The problem, Dumbadze claimed, was that the government was discriminating against Georgians in favor of Turks, who were getting the jobs and investment opportunities the locals were being denied. As a result, Georgians are being forced to travel to Turkey as guest workers (something others confirmed for me in Batumi). "I think that a Turkish passport and a Georgian passport are not equal here," he said. "A Turkish passport is stronger." During the protests against the mosque, he promised that he would "raze it to the ground with bulldozers." 

This anti-foreigner pitch may well win him votes. Throughout Georgia, I noticed the paradox that the governing party is doing badly in areas where foreign investment has been strongest, perhaps because it failed to make its case to the local population. 

At Batumi's Press Cafe, my host and guide to the city, Aslan Chanidze, helped me understand why. A journalist and nongovernmental activist, he was fielding telephone calls from his home village. A Turkish company, assisted by the Georgian government, is planning to build a new hydroelectric power station nearby. According to Chanidze's telling of it, in classic post-Soviet style, neither of them appeared to have explained to the local population what they were doing, and villagers were being told to sell their land at deflated prices. 

All this fits with what many nongovernmental reports have been saying for years: that modern Georgia's biggest problem is the absence of rule of law. In its enthusiasm to build a new Georgia, Saakashvili's government has been cavalier in its regard for people's property rights. Georgia is a land of regions, each one fighting its own election. I traveled north along the Black Sea coast to Zugdidi, a small, bustling town on the border with the Russian-supported breakaway region of Abkhazia. 

Nothing in this election is straightforward. In terms of the outlook of its candidates, Zugdidi is the mirror image of Batumi. Here, the Georgian Dream candidate is Irakli Alasania, a Westernized, English-speaking politician who split from the government after the 2008 war. He had served as Georgia's envoy for talks with Abkhazia, when he was then ambassador to the United Nations -- and is now talked about as a presidential candidate for 2013. The governing party's candidate here is Roland Akhalaia, the chief prosecutor and Soviet-style strongman of the region.

Akhalaia is also the father of two fierce and powerful sons, Rata, the deputy defense minister, and Bacho, the interior minister who resigned over the prisons scandal. He did not want to see me, so I spent most of the day with Alasania and his supporters. As we drove out to a village named Orsantia to see an opposition rally, we spotted Akhalaia, the government candidate, talking to a crowd of 100 or so voters on the road, but my driver was contemptuous of this as an exercise in democracy. "Look at the minibuses, one, two, three," he said, pointing to the vehicles parked behind the crowd. "They've bussed people in." (Although I was not able to substantiate the claim, it's one I heard frequently from opposition supporters around the country.) 

Orsantia is a large village dotted with fruit trees and palms. Talking to some of the locals waiting to hear Alasania speak, I was struck by the fact that they didn't mention the conflict in Abkhazia on their doorstep at all. In fact, the only time anyone mentioned Abkhazia was to say something I hadn't expected at all: that young men from the village were going to work in the breakaway region's resorts of Pitsunda and Gagra for the summer. 

The Georgian Dream opposition movement is well organized in the region. A score of volunteers in blue T-shirts had brought people out of their houses and had set up a microphone on what passed for Orsantia's village green. Alasania arrived in a four-wheel-drive car and stood under a couple of pine trees talking to a large crowd. He talked fast and people listened mainly in silence, frowning. 

On the fringe of the rally, I talked to two well-dressed elderly men, a former policeman and a former factory manager. Neither had a job anymore; both were hoping for a Georgian Dream victory in the election. When I mentioned the word "progress," one of them shot back at me, "Any progress is thanks to the West. It's because you are here." 

Back in Zugdidi, I talked to Alasania in the Pizza Diadem cafe, along with two more Iraklis (confirming my long-held view that Georgia could do with a few more first names) -- one his spokesman, the other a young businessman and the candidate in the nearby town of Abasha. 

Alasania said he had faced a lot of harassment and obstruction earlier in the summer, but in the last three weeks things had gotten much easier and he could campaign freely, a change he attributed to the arrival of long-term election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He said he was confident of victory but was worried that people in the villages were conservative and might be afraid to come out and vote. 

What were the main issues in the election? Jobs. When I mentioned that U.S. President Barack Obama's biggest problem was an "8-point-something unemployment rate," Irakli the businessman laughed and said, "In Abasha, it's 98-point-something." (Officially Georgia's national jobless rate is 16 percent, but a recent poll found that 34 percent of respondents were unemployed and looking for work.) 

To be a voter in this election in Georgia is to be caught in an almost mythical battle between clashing titans: a government with a strong record that is widely felt to have grown arrogant and lost touch with ordinary people, and an opposition, led by the country's richest man, that has lots of energy but lacks a well-articulated program apart from "Georgia Without Misha [as in President Saakashvili]." 

Traveling around Georgia I sensed a mood that was palpably more sympathetic to the opposition and the idea of change. Polls that had given the governing party a wide lead were probably misleading -- they also recorded a large number of "don't-knows" and "refuse-to-answers" -- voters more likely to cast their ballots for Georgian Dream. Yet many had given up hope in the government while not being fully convinced by Ivanishvili. I also saw that the governing party was much better mobilized. On Election Day, the UNM will be able to count on most of the support of public employees and also of the country's ethnic minorities, Armenians and Azeris, who tend to vote for the government in Georgian elections so as to prove their loyalty to the state and also because the current government has a better record when it comes to protecting minority groups. 

Another important factor is that the electoral system is severely weighted in favor of the government. Almost half -- 73 of the 150 seats being contested -- are in local constituencies where the UNM is fielding official candidates who can get out the vote and many of the opposition challengers are little-known outsiders. It is theoretically possible that the governing party could emulate George W. Bush in 2000, by winning a majority despite losing the popular vote. 

Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition has spent much of its time campaigning with one hand tied behind its back, hit by multimillion-dollar punitive fines for alleged improper use of funds and with much more restricted access to television than the governing party. International observers have slapped the government's wrists for this, with a team from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly saying that "the fines levied are disproportionate and apparently being levied in a selective manner mainly targeting one political subject." 

If the opposition does worse on Election Day than it expects, this could be a recipe for trouble, as Georgian Dream contests the results and the government defends its victory. The opposition wants to evoke the parallel of the Rose Revolution that followed 2003's disputed election, while the government summons up fears of the civil war that wracked Georgia in the early 1990s. Plenty of people I met in Georgia were bracing themselves for confrontation. Most were worried that it would be hard to mediate between the two warring sides. 

In Zugdidi, an old friend and yet another Irakli, journalist Irakli Lagvilava, argued that Georgia has come a long way in the last 20 years, allowing him to put a positive spin on this election. "After the era of [nationalist President Zviad] Gamsakhurdia, we learned that we shouldn't shoot each other; after the Rose Revolution we learned that next time we have to choose our leaders by elections," he said. "We are making progress." 

Progress, so long as the polarized forces fighting this election reconcile themselves to the idea that outright victory is unlikely and they may have to share the political space, not dominate it.

Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/26/georgia_holds_its_breath?page=full


What Will "Georgian Dream" Bring Armenia?

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On the threshold of October 10 parliamentary elections in Georgia, Leader of Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili told his electorate in Zugdigi on September 23 that his coalition studies restoration of railway and road communication with Abkhazia. The given statement is quite interesting to Armenia, which is semi-blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan. In case the statement of the Georgian billionaire politician goes beyond his PR-campaign and comes true, Armenia will get an opportunity to overcome both the economic and geopolitical blockade. This, in turn, will lead to a new reality and transformation of the balance of forces in the South Caucasus.

The 221km Abkhazian section of the railway extending from Psou roadside stop (Abkhazia-Russia border) up to Ingur roadside stop (Abkhazia-Georgia border) has been closed for Armenia and Georgia since Aug 14 1992 after the railway bridge over the River of Ingur (dividing Georgia from Abkhazia) was detonated. It was protection of the railway that became the reason for penetration of the troops of the Georgian State Council to the territory of Abkhazia in 1992. Afterwards, at the very beginning of the intervention, traffic via Abkhazia was stopped. The last Armenian train running to Sochi via Abkhazia at the moment of Georgian intervention was burnt in military actions. Passengers had to escape and get to Russia on their own.

Therefore, the South Caucasus Railway (SCR) under concession of the Russian Railways is engaged in transportation of passengers and freight inside Armenia and to Georgia via Poti and Batumi. Out of four locomotive changing points of the SCR only one with Georgia (Ayrum-Sadakhlo) operates. The other three: Akhuryan-Dogukapi (Turkey), Yeraskh-Velidag (Azerbaijan) and Ijevan-Barkhudarli (Azerbaijan) have been idling since 1991. There are no real perspectives of their restoration for obvious reasons. In case the Abkhazian section of the railway is restored, Armenia will get an opportunity to extend railway communication from Poti to Krasnodar region and farther by means of Ayrum-Sadakhlo joint. This will spoil all the efforts of Turkey and Azerbaijan to isolate Armenia from international communication projects.  Hence, Ankara and Baku will lose the pressure key they have been using in the Karabakh peace process for already 18 years.

In addition, railway communication with the world is of vital importance for Armenia, considering the launch of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway project that will even more isolate Armenia. In the light of the unpromising Iran-Armenia railway project, which requires billions of investments, Russia and Iran will sign an agreement for construction of Kazvin-Resht-Astara railway during the visit of Vladimir Yakunin, Head of the Russian Railways OJSC, to Iran in October. Besides Russia, the project involves the Azerbaijani Railways CJSC and Iranian Railways. The project is of big importance for development of the North-South transport corridor, which mostly extends in the territory of Russia. Freight activity of the corridor is estimated at 25-26 million tons by 2015.
So, in case of Ivanishvili’s victory in the upcoming parliamentary and especially in the presidential elections in Georgia, the Armenian leadership should leave aside its eternal projects of Iran-Armenia railway and opening of the corroded railway section with Turkey. Yerevan must at least display extreme interest in the Georgian politician’s statement made in Zugdigi. In the light of the recent penitentiary scandals in Georgia and the constantly falling rating of Mikheil Saakashvili, the chances of the Georgian Dream and Ivanishvili keep growing. If Abkhazia takes interest in the given suggestion, which is quite probable given Moscow’s interests in it, the North-South motorway currently being constructed in Armenia will get big opportunities to extend via Abkhazia. This, in turn, will bring Armenia back to the railway and motor communication it enjoyed in the Soviet period, and allow the country to stimulate economic development and strengthen its positions in the negotiations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Getting out of the semi-blockade, Yerevan will have what to contrast with Baku and Ankara that went too far.

Source: http://www.arminfo.info/index.cfm?objectid=376B85B0-0714-11E2-8C56F6327207157C


From Philanthropist to Public Enemy in Georgia

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On a hill overlooking this ancient city, Georgia’s richest man has built himself a glassy, postmodern fortress, its interior a sleek Escher construction of orbs and optical illusions. The billionaire’s balcony offers a view of a snaking river and, across it, the futuristic, egg-shaped blue glass dome atop the residence of his former friend, President Mikheil Saakashvili. Though both men’s palaces feature see-through walkways suspended at great height, any resemblance is purely coincidental. 

“He wanted to come, but I didn’t invite him,” said Bidzina Ivanishvili, 56, whose net worth Forbes has estimated at $6.4 billion. He was striding past wall-size canvases by Roy Lichtenstein and Damien Hirst, high-quality copies he substituted for the originals late last year when, as he put it, “my insurance company told me it had begun to smell bad and I started to take things out.” 

Mr. Ivanishvili, a reclusive philanthropist whom the president has dubbed the Count of Monte Cristo, sent tremors through Georgia’s political scene when he announced in October that he would use his fortune to oppose the government and finance his own political ambitions. It was a shocking challenge to Mr. Saakashvili, who has comfortably dominated politics here since the 2008 war with Russia, and the authorities took immediate steps to stop him. 

The conflict, which already had the attributes of a 19th-century novel, seemed to harden this week into a protracted stare-down between the two men. On Wednesday, the authorities upheld their earlier decision to revoke Mr. Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship, which bars him from running for office or financing parties ahead of parliamentary elections in October. Their position seemed to soften late on Thursday, when lawmakers proposed amending the Constitution to allow noncitizens to run for office. Mr. Ivanishvili invited Tbilisi’s diplomatic corps to his headquarters on Thursday to condemn the citizenship decision. 

“I don’t think this has much effect on me, but it has a great effect on Saakashvili,” Mr. Ivanishvili said in an interview. “He will lose face. The euphoria which still exists in America and Europe, where he is trying to fool them into thinking he is a democrat, that euphoria will disappear.”

Mr. Ivanishvili, 56, has long been the subject of rumor in this city. After making his fortune in the Russian metal and banking industries, he returned to his home village of Chorvila and began providing his neighbors with houses, roads and cash, like a feudal lord. His legend was enhanced by tales about his two albino sons — the eldest, Bera, is a famous rapper — and a menagerie said to include zebras and penguins. 

For years, he spread his Russian-earned wealth around lavishly — and anonymously. Mr. Ivanishvili was the mysterious buyer who paid $95.2 million for Picasso’s “Dora Maar With Cat” at Sotheby’s in 2006, sending art dealers into a tizzy. In Georgia, he anonymously financed church projects like the gold-domed cathedral that towers over the capital, and government ones like renovations of 500 schools, money to elevate state salaries and boots for the army. (“They were running around in slippers,” he said.) 

Mr. Ivanishvili said his ties to Mr. Saakashvili were finally severed during a phone call in January 2008, when he told the president never to call him again. He said he took great pains to conceal his political plans, speaking in whispers with his wife even at home out of fear that he was under surveillance. Twice, he said, he arranged flights out of the country and then canceled them. 

“The decision was this: I needed to completely destroy my world view relating to philanthropy, as well as my relationship with him, and the fact that for 55 years I have been asserting that I would not go into politics,” he said. “I tormented myself a great deal.” 

Georgia’s government acted immediately after Mr. Ivanishvili’s bombshell. Just four days later, the billionaire was stripped of his Georgian citizenship, on the basis that he had never informed officials that he was a citizen of France. (Georgian law permits dual citizenship only with special permission. Mr. Ivanishvili also had Russian citizenship, though he renounced it in December.) Two weeks later, the central bank seized millions of dollars as part of a money-laundering investigation of his bank. The governing party then introduced limits on corporate campaign financing, which would prevent his companies from bankrolling candidates. 

Giga Bokeria, Mr. Saakashvili’s national security adviser, said he was not worried that Mr. Ivanishvili would buy the votes of Georgian citizens, but that unlimited use of his wealth — it amounts to more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product, by some measures — “will corrupt the political process as such.” He said Georgia’s opposition was just beginning to embrace healthy practices like conceding after an electoral defeat. 

“A new political culture was appearing, and that includes the idea that parties should stand on their own feet, and now this huge guy financially appears on the landscape,” Mr. Bokeria said. “Now all these groups, they are not looking to build their own support, it’s just a big oligarch guy — he calls the shots and he orders the melody.”

The government has also charged that Mr. Ivanishvili is acting in the interest of Russia, offering as evidence his extensive holdings there: $1.1 billion, by his own account, which he says he is trying to liquidate. Mr. Saakashvili rarely mentions Mr. Ivanishvili by name, but he alludes to him frequently, warning of “new political forces” and “forces of darkness” and an infusion of Russian cash. 

Among Mr. Ivanishvili’s responses has been to adopt a government strategy, hiring lobbyists in Washington to spread the word about the measures being taken against him. Elements of the case — like aggressive questioning of opposition activists by a state auditing agency — have drawn rebukes from American officials. 

“For years, on our money, Saakashvili had strong lobbyists, and played with our money, and tried to lie and show a facade of democracy,” Mr. Ivanishvili said. “I can also permit myself to hire some lobbying companies, in America among other places, and we can try to show the real picture.”

Mr. Ivanishvili’s political platform is vague and, in some respects, grandiose. He proposes to leave the office of prime minister after two years, a period he says is sufficient to create an independent court system and purge what he calls “elite corruption.” Asked about whether the standoff would culminate in street demonstrations, he answered with serene confidence. 

“If I go out, I can gather 100,000 people in three minutes, but I don’t want to,” he said. “Until the elections. After the elections, if there is falsification, we will defend our votes.”

Mr. Ivanishvili’s parliamentary coalition, Ivanishvili-Georgian Dream, hopes to win half the votes in October elections. A poll performed by the National Democratic Institute and leaked to the Georgian news media last month suggested that it would fall well short of that, giving Mr. Saakashvili’s party 47 percent of the vote and Mr. Ivanishvili’s coalition trailing with 10 percent. But the same poll showed that the public overwhelmingly supports Mr. Ivanishvili in his fight to regain his citizenship. 

People approached on the street this week were iffy about Mr. Ivanishvili as a politician, but they raved about his philanthropic work, his support for museums and theaters, and the riches granted to his neighbors in Chorvila. Nodar Melikidze, 48, who is unemployed, said Mr. Ivanishvili had paid for one of his friends’ cancer treatments. 

Lela, 54, said Wednesday’s decision about the citizenship left a sour taste in her mouth. “They showed they are very confident in themselves, and they don’t care about people’s opinions,” said Lela, who would not give her last name for fear of repercussions. “They have washed their hands of us. Many people were not going to vote for Ivanishvili, but by taking this decision the government showed it ignored people.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/06/world/europe/jump-to-politics-turns-georgian-billionaire-into-public-enemy-no-1.html


Russian Billionaire Ivanishvili Stripped of Georgian Citizenship

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The Georgian authorities have deprived Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian-born billionaire living in Russia, of his citizenship, citing the nation's ban on dual citizenships. The move came after Ivanishvili, who is ranked 25th by Forbes in its list of Russian businessmen with an estimated fortune of $5.5 billion, said last week he was ready to sell his businesses in Russia and give away his Russian and French passports in order to challenge incumbent Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's party in next year's parliamentary elections.

The Georgian Justice Ministry issued a statement saying Ivanishvili was granted French citizenship after receiving his Georgian passport in July 2004. "Proceeding from this, given the provisions of the Georgian constitution and the organic law on Georgian citizenship, Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship has been suspended," the statement reads. In line with the Georgian constitution, a Georgian citizen cannot simultaneously be a citizen of another state. The document does not specify when Ivanishvili was granted his French passport.

On October 7, Ivanishvili announced plans to set up a political party uniting "healthy" political forces in Georgia with the goal of achieving an absolute majority in 2012 elections. The 56-year-old businessman said in a statement his decision was "due to the total monopoly held by Mikheil Saakashvili and the recently-made constitutional amendments which demonstrated Saakashvili's desire to stay in power regardless of all constitutional terms." The businessman said he was ready to assume the post of Georgian prime minister or parliamentary speaker.

Source: http://en.ria.ru/world/20111011/167577199.html


Armed Gangs Formed in Georgia 'to Repress Opposition'

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Illegal paramilitary groups are being set up in western Georgia on the order of President Mikhail Saakashvili, says opposition leader Irakli Alasania. Armed groups about 500-strong, comprised mainly of criminals and participants of the August 2008 war in South Ossetia, have been created in the republic within past two months, Alasania stated on Tuesday. The aim of these formations is to “intimidate” and repress the opposition, he added.

“I’m addressing Saakashvili directly – there is no need for hysterics. But it’s necessary to take immediate measures to dissolve and disarm these gunmen units, since the opposition is simply willing to come to power through elections,” he said, as cited by Interfax. 

Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia argued that armed groups being formed in the western regions are Georgia’s “reserve forces” and called Alasania’s claims nonsense, News Georgia reports. Meanwhile, according to the Alasania – the leader of Free Democrats and former Tbilisi envoy to the UN – the minister is among those participating in setting up the paramilitary units. 

Last week, during a meeting with Tbilisi-based foreign diplomats, Alasania claimed that the Georgian leader “is preparing for a civil war and confrontation.” The politician urged the diplomats to interfere “before it is too late” and warned of a possibility of the Syrian scenario in the former soviet republic if nothing is done before the October parliamentary vote.

Saakashvili in response stated that “some politicians” were trying “to drag us into election campaigning.” He accused the opposition of being “obsessed” with getting seats in the government, while his own ambition is to think about “enterprises, new resorts and cities, new jobs, new schools,” Georgian media reported. Trying to use the opposition weapon against them, he hit back, stating his opponents’ statements regarding the Syrian scenario meant that they were “threatening with thousands of victims.”

Alasania said that recent developments and Saakashvili’s “increasingly authoritarian manner of rule” indicated the transformation of Georgia into “a totalitarian state.” The opposition, he stressed, was determined to get into power through the vote rather than violence “for the first time in 20 years.”

Source: http://rt.com/politics/georgia-opposition-saakashvili-military-998/ 


The United States and Political Power in Georgia

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President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government has so strongly cemented Georgia-US ties that even opposition politicians, such as billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili who ignored the US until now, must reach out to Washington ahead of elections.

Georgia is unquestionably the most Western-leaning among the formerly Soviet-ruled countries. Uniquely in Georgia, moreover, contenders for political power regard the United States as an external source of legitimacy and instance of appeal. This attitude may be value-based or tactical from case to case, but it gives the US distinctive influence. Washington’s word and the word of the US Embassy in Tbilisi carry great weight, are being sought out and interpreted (sometimes over-interpreted), and Georgian electoral contenders are factoring the US in various ways into their domestic political strategies.

The US takes this role seriously and sometimes gravely, both in its official foreign policy and at the level of Washington politics. American value judgments on Georgian politics and legislation add up to a continuous mentoring, significantly impacting on Georgia at pre-election and election time.

Although US officials may disclaim such a role, the United States is accepted as an external referee of Georgian politics. This role focuses on process issues far more than on policy issues. The European Union occasionally plays a similar role in Tbilisi (in the collective format of the heads of missions), but it is clearly outweighed by US activity and influence.

Thus, US organizations sponsor and conduct influential polls of public opinion; and the US Embassy is expected and often asked to assess controversial political events or legislation. Opposition parties regularly take anti-government complaints to the same embassy. Every Congressional document from Washington is minutely parsed in Tbilisi, while US officials from President Barack Obama to ambassador-designate Richard Norland are setting “tests” of democratic behavior for Georgia (Obama’s “transfer of power” test, Norland’s “elections as litmus test” – US Senate hearings, March 21).

Ivanishvili, whose wealth equals one half of Georgia’s annual GDP, emerged recently from reclusion to launch a bid for state power with his “Georgian Dream” movement. Ivanishvili maintains long-standing, continuing business ties to Russia. He and other Georgian Dream politicians never evidenced interest toward the United States until launching their power bid, and have no record of support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Theirs is an intensely provincial-parochial group within the 1990s mindset. The contrast could not be starker with Saakashvili’s young, English-speaking, US-attuned, NATO-focused government.

Given the US role in Georgian politics, Ivanishvili felt compelled to move from life-long indifference to active lobbying of the US as he launched his political campaign in Georgia. Ivanishvili picked Irakli Alasania as his first and foremost ally, based on Alasania’s past pro-US reputation and erstwhile diplomatic access in Washington. If this was his main added-value to the Ivanishvili campaign, it soon proved an overestimate. US and EU diplomats quietly waved him off when Alasania accused the Georgian government of planning a Syria-type, “Homs” scenario in Georgia and urged Western preventive action. Alasania, whose own party is rated in the single digits in the polls, went on to warn that the Georgian Dream coalition would not recognize the election results, unless they matched Georgian Dream’s own exit poll (see EDM, March 29).

On March 30, Ivanishvili’s office issued a lengthy statement demanding the cessation of public opinion polling by the US National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) in Georgia, and impugning their methodology. This was Ivanishvili’s reaction to NDI’s semiannual poll, which shows Georgian Dream trailing far behind the governing United National Movement. The US Embassy in Tbilisi turned down the closure demand and expressed full confidence in both Institutes (Civil Georgia, March 30, 31).

Ivanishvili made Alasania and his party (junior ally to Georgian Dream) the beneficiary of Ivanishvili’s first contract with a Washington lobbying firm. Meanwhile, four of Washington’s most expensive lobbying firms have been hired to work for Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream movement, according to legally required disclosure filings from the firms themselves (Foreign Policy [Washington], April 2).

The goals of this high-cost lobbying seem to be fourfold (in ascending order of significance). First, to inspire comments sympathetic to Ivanishvili and critical of the Georgian government, for playback to Georgia during the electoral campaign. Second, to impress Georgian voters that Ivanishvili qualifies for US political acceptance – an indispensable legitimating factor to any contender for power in Georgia (see above). Third, using this unprecedentedly vast lobbying apparatus, to overwhelm the debates with misinformation about Georgia (variations on the “dictatorship” theme), hoping thereby to alienate the US from Georgia. And fourth (the uppermost goal), to induce US official equidistance, not only toward Georgian political forces, but also toward any strategic outcomes of Georgia’s elections.

The US officially takes the position that it is only interested in Georgia’s “electoral process” and leaves it at that. This talking point is obligatory, but the lack of a follow-up is neither obligatory nor productive. It conveys the impression that the US is indifferent to the elections’ strategic outcome, for its own interests or for Georgia: instead, “process” is everything. In an accompanying talking point, the US does not support any political force in Georgia. This is also obligatory; but it also suggests indifference toward the electoral contenders’ differing goals and programs, which on one side involve state capture by a made-in-Russia billionaire.

Without taking sides, the US can, for example, espouse a vision of Georgia’s future ahead of elections, letting Georgian voters compare that vision with those of the parties. The US’s unique influence in Georgia’s internal politics does carry with it a responsibility for the strategic outcomes.

Source: http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=39223&tx_ttnews[backPid]=228&cHash=d617e4f19ec2f82f98f37998b66fb1d9


Putin Warns US Against Rearming Georgia

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Vladimir Putin said that Russia still hoped to become friends with the Georgian people and criticized the US authorities for rearming the current Georgian regime. At the meeting with military commanders in the Moscow Region Putin said that the severing of relations between Russia and Georgia was not Russia’s fault or initiative.

“This was the result of the policy that the Georgian authorities conducted back then and still attempt to conduct now,” Putin told the officers. “But we never equated the Georgian authorities with the Georgian people. And I still very much hope that this really brotherly nation will finally understand that Russia is not an enemy, but is a friend and the relations will be restored,” the Russian PM affirmed.

Putin also called a mistake the US activities aimed to increase Georgia’s military potential and warned Georgia against repeating attempts at aggression. Putin was commenting on recent media reports that read that the US and Georgian leaders had agreed on weapons supplies to Georgia at the recent summit in Washington.

“I was not hiding under the table and I do not know what their agreements were. But I hope that one of us was there and he will tell us about it,” Putin joked. He added that the fact that the US was arming Georgia was no longer a secret.

“We judge not by the words, but by the actual actions that can be easily monitored by our intelligence services. The movement of sea vessels, the cargo volumes can be easily controlled by the space surveillance facilities and other surveillance means. Some of them were demonstrated to me here today,” Putin said, adding that according to the received data, the USA started to rearm Georgia right after the military conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008.

“Our American partners are making a mistake. We tell them this all the time. And I hope very much that the Georgian side will have enough common sense and these weapons will not be used in a new aggression,” the prime minister noted.

Besides, Putin reaffirmed his position on the asymmetrical reply to the US missile defense initiative in Europe. Putin said that the creation of the missile defense destroys the strategic parity ensured by the New START treaty and Russia must reply, either by creating its own missile defense, or by preparing an asymmetrical answer. Building Russia’s own defense system would be expensive and the result is still questionable, Putin told the military and thus, choosing the asymmetrical response is wiser.

Putin announced that Russia will strengthen its anti-aircraft forces, the anti-aircraft belts around Moscow and strategic bases, build new radar stations and develop the weapons systems that could break any missile defense.

“Even now the Topol-M and the sea-based Yars are the missiles of the new generation. It is possible to say that we are ahead of our American partners as they still have the modernization of their nuclear potential ahead of them,” Putin noted.

Source http://rt.com/politics/russia-friendly-relations-georgia-953/


Putin Says Decision on ‘Reunification’ of Georgia ‘Already Decided’

http://www.kyivpost.com/media/images/2012/11/14/p17bu3gisq1o6h17m61rck1ta81bt64/big.jpg


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has often described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest tragedy” of the 20th century, has now said that the “reunification” of Georgia has “already been decided,” a suggestion some of his listeners believe was a call for restoring Moscow’s control over Georgia and even the former USSR as a whole.

In an intriguing commentary published in yesterday’s “Gazeta,” Bozhena Rynska describes both the celebration of the 80th birthday of longtime Soviet and Russian official Yevgeny Primakov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s two very different toasts on that occasion (www.gazeta.ru/column/rynska/3287611.shtml).

The celebration took place at the Center of International Trade. Among those in attendance were Vice Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov, KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov, Governor Valentina Matviyenko, Federation Council First Vice Speaker Aleksandr Torshin “and other government people of the first rank,” Rynska said.
Primakov, she continued, has close ties to Georgia – he spent part of his childhood there, his first wife was a Georgian, and his mother was a Georgian Armenian – and consequently it was not surprising that many of the guests at his birthday celebration were people “with Georgian roots.”

Among them were former foreign minister Igor Ivanov (whose mother was Georgian, current foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (whose father was a Georgian Armenian), the oligarch Shalva Breus, Academician Viktor Gelovani, the singer Nani Bregvade, sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, and the master of ceremonies (“tamada”) was Moscow chief cardiologist David Ioseliani.

Rynska noted that “throughout the entire evening, Ioseliani the tamada called Putin who was sitting next to Primakov the first person of the state,” a description that others in attendance followed, including apparently some who are serving officials and thus know that in protocol terms at least that title belongs to someone else.

In his first toast, Putin said “the history of Russia is complicated and at times bloody,” the prime minister said. “But in it,” he continued, there are its Primakovs, and therefore these blood lettings end and sometimes do not even begin.” Primakov responded in kind. He said, Rynska continued, “that he will always be devoted to Mr. Putin because the latter saved Russia.”

There followed entertainment including singing. And then Putin made his second toast. He “immediately warned that he very well understood that everything said will go beyond the walls of this hall. More than that,” Rynska continued, the Russian leader indicated that he was “counting on exactly that.

Following that introduction, Putin declared that “the question of the reunification of Georgia had been decided. And that there are no questions which we cannot resolve.” Primakov, Putin continued, “is involved with this question,” a statement that sounded to many in attendance as a direct appointment in the tsarist style.

After some more singing, Putin left the hall, and the remaining participants began to talk among themselves as to what the prime minister’s intentions had been. Some of those with the closest Georgian ties concluded that Putin “’had said that he will return everything to us!’ That is, Rynska said, they heard exactly what they wanted to hear.”

“Those not affiliated to Georgia interpreted [Putin’s] programmatic toast entirely differently.” They heard as a promise that “all that we consider ours will remain ours.” And a few of them concluded that what Putin had committed himself to was “the restoration in a new form” of the entity that was once called “the Soviet Union.”

Putin’s remark certainly was enigmatic enough to permit these various interpretations. Indeed, that may have been exactly his intention. But his participation in a session with so many Russians who have Georgian roots and ties will certainly be read in Tbilisi as yet another indication that the Russian prime minister has no plans to reduce pressure on Georgia.

At the very least, it suggests that Putin’s understanding of Russia’s sphere of influence includes not just Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow has already recognized as independent, but also the remainder of Georgia and the remainder of the former Soviet space, an understanding that will exacerbate rather than calm tensions in many other capitals as well. 

Source: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2388736/posts

13 comments:

  1. Let me share two interesting developments.

    The first is that there is a big possibility of Zhirinivsky visiting Armenia in the near future. The Armenian community in Moscow has slowly but steadily been reorganizing itself, from being purely focused on business and making money, to slowly becoming politically more active and organized.

    For example, student organizations have been set up at all major universities across the country, and now one “head” organization is leading all these Armenian student organizations, which unlike in the West, are not mere for “fun” and “partying”, but are much more political and cultural.

    The second is that, the soon-to-be-launched competitor of Facebook for the Islamic world, “SalamWorld” (http://salamworld.com/), which is based in Turkey, already has 3 million people who have subscribed. Their main office is in Istanbul, and they have set up offices all around the Islamic world, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, etc. It is a new organization, around 200-500 people momently work for them, and it is almost fully funded by the Kremlin. It’s based in Turkey just to deceive people. The long-term plans for the Kremlin are to be a “protector” of intelligent and moderate Muslims, disseminate pro-Russian views around the Islamic world, and of course spread anti-American (Western) ideas.

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  2. Arevordi:

    Although the victory by Georgian Dream is a welcoming gift for the Russian government, is there a slight chance of hope for Azerbaijan to even topple Aliyev at all? With a loose cannon like Aliyev at the helm of Azerbaijan's government, it could go either way and Russia needs to exploit such an opportunity.

    On the other hand, there are war clouds gathering over Turkey as it retaliated against Syria for the shelling of a Turkish border town, but I'm not really sure if the Turkish public is even willing to get into a long war that would have forced Russia to intervene. And I am not sure if the youtube comments are true or false that half of the Turkish population actually detest PM Erdogan.

    Curious Observer

    P.S.: Assuming that the Caucasus and Central Asia return to life under Pax Russicana, what is Putin's next target?

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  3. @ George

    Very interesting. Looking forward to Zhirinovsky's and Putin's trips to Armenia. Good to see Armenians in Russia finally organizing. And good to know that Moscow is getting into the business of psy-ops. I hope what you wrote is not confidential information.

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  4. @ Curious Observer

    I do not know the numbers but the Turkish population seems to be turning against their leadership's neo-Ottoman fantasies in the Middle East. Anti-war sentiments seems to be particularity high in Turkey's south-east. Easy to see why, this region in Turkey has a very large Kurdish and Alawite population. Anyway, Damascus was supposed to fall rather easily. That is why Ankara enthusiastically got involved in the Anglo-American ordeal. In other words, they didn't expect Assad to last this long. As a result, their agenda is now beginning to backfire. But let's not speak too soon for the war is not over. There is in fact a long and bloody road ahead for Syria. Let's just hope that Assad stays firm and that Russian military support for Syria keeps NATO away.

    Anything is possible in Azerbaijan. No corrupt-dictatorship can be very stable. One spark and the regime in Baku will fall. And that spark may come if Baku participates in the war against Iran.

    Nothing in Georgia is set in stone. We don't know Ivanishvil well enough. Time will tell which direction Tbilisi will take.

    PS: Bordering Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Far East, Russia will always have serious problem to deal with.

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  5. Arevordi:

    I'm surprised to hear that many Turks are actually opposing Erdogan's neo-Ottoman dreams though, since I assumed that they could have actually gone along with his plan. If Turkey does get involved in a military operation in Syria (which they have already started), would they actually get into trouble with the Kurdish presence there? I'm not sure if the Syrian and Turkish Kurds would have made thinga a lot more difficult for the Turkish Army in the long run though.

    As for a counter-color revolution in Serbia, I don't think that was the case. They simply elected Nikolic as president, but I personally knew some Serbs from where I live and they have a negative opinion of Nikolic because he also supports Serbia's entry into the sinking white elephant called the European Union. At the very least, Ivica Dacic is the real pro-Russian figure in the Belgrade government.

    Curious Observer

    P.S.: Wouldn't the Turkish involvement in Syria end up like the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, depending on the enemy they're facing?

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  6. For example, in March 2008 President Putin sent a message to the Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting in Senegal in which he said that ‘deeper relations of friendship and cooperation with the Islamic world are Russia’s strategic course,’ and that ‘we share concerns about the danger of the world splitting along religious and civilizational lines’ (RFE/RL, 14 March 2008).

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  7. @ Curious Observer

    No matter how you look at it, Nikolic's victory in Serbia was a setback for the West. In Serbia, like in Georgia, there cannot any drastic changes in political direction. A lot of important levers in Serbia, as in Georgia, are controlled by the West. Therefore, the "counter-color revolutions" in both countries will have to be a gradual process. Nikolic was the commencement of that gradual process, and I hope Ivanishvili will prove to be as well...

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  8. "Western-style dictatorship masquerading as a democracy"

    "Since many Armenians these days adore what the mutilated dictatorship known as Georgia has become in recent years"

    "When the Bear roared in anger, Georgia's many supporters were nowhere to be seen"

    "I guess besides Turkish and Israeli advisers, Tbilisi is also employing NYPD experts as well"


    Very funny but accurate comments. I enjoyed reading this post.

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  9. Saakashvili is down, but not out. His sponsors are still very much active and the waters in Tbilisi are still murky.
    Having said that, I hope that things will move the right way from now on. If the north-south trade route actually happens, the financial benefits will be huge for Russia, Abkhazia, Georgia, Armenia...and eventualy Iran. It must be part of Putin's Eurasian Economic Union project.
    I will dare go further to raise all that to a wider strategic level by saying that if Assad prevails in Syria , and if Iraq drifts further and further towards Iranian control, the next country that Putin should "work on" would be Bulgaria. Surrounding and isolating Turkey in a grand chess game...Checkmate Erdogan.

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  10. Thank you for the comments, Zoravar.

    As I said: If Russia makes a triumphant return to the south Caucasus; if Georgia enters the Russian orbit once again; if Azerbaijan is forced to make peace with Armenia; if Syria and Iran are preserved; if Iraq moves further towards Iran... a bright new age will dawn in the region.

    I realize that there are a lot of "if"s in this equation but every single one of these ifs are doable. If the game is played correctly, it can become reality.

    PS: Along with Bulgaria and Serbia, Moscow needs to lure Greece as well. Just think: Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Belarus, Macedonia, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia entering some kind of a union. In the late 1980s, there was some concern in Washington that Orthodox nations would form a pact/union after the collapse of the Soviet Union...

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  11. A loose coalition bringing Armenia together with Russia and some of the other Slavic and/or Orthodox nations would be great! Russia could take cues from the 19th century when the Tsar's government was active in supporting Pan-Slavism. However, Washington and its allies in Poland and Hungary will likely attempt to counter with the rival concepts of Prometheism and the Intermarium which the Polish statesmen Józef Piłsudski tried to bring about in the early 20th century.

    Getting the Greeks to join would not be easy since they are long time members of NATO and Western institutions have deep relations there, however with the economic crisis getting worse and worse Greece could conceivably tell the EU and/or NATO to piss off. Bulgaria would be even more of a challenge because it currently hosts a couple of US/NATO bases and the people there still think the EU is their salvation, though that's changing too.

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  12. Interesting developments, thanks for another great entry Arevordi. That propaganda piece by the "jamestown foundation" was just plain annoying to read, but of course we except nothing else from the group of jackals who publish the eurasia daily monitor. It's both amazing and sad to think that these evil people with their subversive agenda manage to convince so many clueless americans, georgians and even Russians and Armenians to blindly follow. Their psychological tools and knowledge are amazing, they can sell their sheep any piece of garbage they want.

    Zoravar, it would be a groundbreaking development if Russia started ejecting nato from eastern europe. The economic collapse in both the us and eu alone will most likely cause huge problems in Eastern Europe without the Russians lifting a finger. This would really put the squeeze on turkey as well, that mini-remnant of the ottoman empire has been artificially kept alive by the west for far too long and it is time for its inevitable collapse and break-up. BTW I really enjoy your military analysis on HyeClub, I hope you start posting more often.

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  13. Well said Sarkis! the jamestown foundation is full of know nothings and russophobes. And in recent years they have gotten quite cozy with the azeri regime.

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