Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

Medvedev Gets Caught Telling The Truth

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
In a rare instance of truth telling, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to reveal on Monday the real reason Moscow went to war with Georgia in August 2008.

Speaking to officers of the Southern Military District in Vladikavkaz, Medvedev seemed to suggest that the goal was preventing Georgia from joining NATO (h/t to Civil Georgia for flagging this story):

Time goes by fast – more than three years have already passed, but what is the most important our approaches towards and our assessments of those events have not changed. We of course consider that it was absolutely necessary action by our army to save large number of our citizens and, if not to remove totally, to curb the threat which was coming at the time from the territory of Georgia.
If we had faltered in 2008, geopolitical arrangement would be different now and number of countries in respect of which attempts were made to artificially drag them into the North Atlantic Alliance, would have probably been [in NATO] now.

And just in case anybody didn't get the message, Medvedev repeated it later in the day, in remarks to reporters in Rostov-na-Donu:

Today I already spoke with the army officers and I will tell it to you too, that it was of course a very difficult page in our recent history, but, unfortunately, it was absolutely necessary [decision]. And the fact that Russia's actions at the time were so tough has eventually secured a situation for us, which, despite of all the difficulties, is now quieter than it was.

We have simply calmed some of our neighbors down by showing them that they should behave correctly in respect of Russia and in respect of neighboring small states. And for some of our partners, including for the North Atlantic Alliance, it was a signal that before taking a decision about expansion of the Alliance, one should at first think about the geopolitical stability. I deem these [issues] to be the major lessons of those developments in 2008.

This is a remarkable admission. In the past, Kremlin officials have said they reluctantly went to war with Georgia to stop Tbilisi's "aggression" and "genocide" in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. But here, Medvedev suggests that the campaign was -- at least in part -- an effort to stifle Georgia's NATO bid (which looked a lot more realistic in the summer of 2008 than it does today).

It also fits with the circumstances surrounding the August 2008 war, which came just months after Georgia was denied a formal Membership Action Plan --  but was promised eventual membership in NATO -- at the alliances summit in Bucharest in April 2008.

In an article in August 2008, I outlined a series of steps Russia took with regard to Georgia in the months following the summit -- and preceding the war:

Russia's provocations became more pronounced after the NATO summit, with Putin -- in the last month of his presidency -- signing on April 16 a decree authorizing the Russian government to strengthen diplomatic and aid links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's pro-Moscow separatist provinces.

Later that month, Russia deployed 1,500 additional troops, some heavily armed, to its "peacekeeping" contingent in Abkhazia without Georgia's consent. The move was an express violation of a 1994 cease-fire agreement ending a brief but grievous civil war between Abkhaz and Georgian fighters.

In the weeks that followed, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down unmanned drone aircraft conducting reconnaissance flights over Abkhazia. Russian military aircraft were also detected violating Georgian airspace near the separatist territory.

In June, Russia stoked tensions yet again by deploying unarmed troops to Abkhazia to rebuild a rail link between the cities of Sukhumi and Ochamchira. Moscow argued the move was a humanitarian gesture meant to improve the territory's decrepit transportation infrastructure.

Then, in July 2008, Russia began massive military exercises near the Georgian border:

Less than one month before Russia's armed forces entered Georgia on August 8, they held massive military training exercises in the North Caucasus involving 8,000 servicemen and 700 pieces of military hardware.

At center stage in those maneuvers -- which took place in the second half of July, not far from Georgia's border -- was Russia's 58th Army, the very unit that would later play a key role in the incursion.

Those exercises are just one link in a chain of incidents suggesting that Russia's military action in Georgia was planned months in advance, awaiting only an appropriate pretext to act.
Would Georgia be in NATO today if the war had not happen? I doubt it. I covered the Bucharest summit in the spring of 2008 and the opposition from France, Germany, and Italy was fierce indeed. Moreover, Georgia's recent backsliding on democracy is giving even its strongest supporters in the alliance pause.

But nevertheless, Medvedev's bout of truth telling on Monday was revealing indeed.

-- Brian Whitmore
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Steve
November 22, 2011 18:32
The Georgian government brazenly launched a military strike on South Ossetia.

Prior to that attack, some in the Georgian government spoke of the need to take back the disputed former Georgian SSR territories in question (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). In addition, the Georgian government had a plan for such an attack.

It's not unreasonable for Russia to have a contingency plan against such action.

Russia's stated opposition to a continued NATO expansion is nothing new.
In Response

by: Andrew from: London
November 22, 2011 22:28
First of all, the issue behind Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the Russian's fault, and no duh that Georgia wants ITS territory back. What nation doesn't want its sovereignty to be respected?

Also, I don't understand this author's point on democracy backsliding in Georgia. Most officials state that Georgia is making great strides in democracy compared to the rest of the former soviet union. After all, didn't they have their first jury trial recently? But I guess facts aside...
In Response

by: Steve
November 23, 2011 01:00
Overall, the Ossetians and Abkhaz appear to prefer Russia over Georgia.

The suspect political situation in Georgia is something that can't be so easily hidden.

In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 23, 2011 02:27
"This is a remarkable admission".

It is not an admission at all. Nowhere does Mededev say that stopping Georgia from joining NATO was a goal; it's pretty hard to establish goals for military action that you didn't initiate yourself. He mentions that Georgia suddenly being treated by NATO as if it had messed its pants is a CONSEQUENCE of its behaviour, not that it was a Russian military goal - you might as well say that Japanese market democracy was an American goal at Pearl Harbor. Had Saakashvili been patient and offered some inducements as well as setting a positive example, he might have won South Ossetia and Abkhazia back peacefully. But he entered office with a promise to bring the two back under Georgian control, by force if that's what it took. What's holding Georgia back from NATO membership is unresolved territorial disputes, and he simply decided to take a shortcut. Medvedev is right; if Georgia had already been a member of NATO, it might have been dragged into war with Russia, as NATO members share a mutual defense pact. NATO was understandably a little upset with Saakashvili for imposing martial law in November 2007, and seizing and shutting down media outlets. Perhaps he saw a lunge for control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as his best bet to get things back on track.

In any case, a military strategist, he's not. He assessed in a presentation to the Atlantic Council in Washington in March 2008 that "the Russian military was stretched thin in the North Caucasus and could not effectively enforce Georgia’s partition"

And for all those who suggest the Russian Army was "massed on the borders, just waiting for Saakashvili to take the bait", an impartial report concluded ""Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive on 7/8 August" could not be substantiated.

"Most officials state that Georgia is making great strides in democracy compared to the rest of the former soviet union"

That so? That must be an immense comfort to Georgians working in Georgia for a tenth of the wage they could be making in Russia.

I'm sorry, I don't have enough money to pay for that - do you accept democracy? By the way, unemployment in Georgia rose by 3.5% between 2005 and 2009. Hoo, boy; I'm lovin' this democracy! That's probably why Georgia's largest expatriate community, more than a in Russia.

In Response

by: Vadim
November 23, 2011 06:43
When Georgia decided to leave Russian embrace, Russian simply let her go. Georgia owes at least the very same to the peoples of Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In Response

by: Con doleeza Mice from: The harvard Penthouse
November 23, 2011 09:48
Good old Dandrew,what happened in the land of the Oaks,did they extradite ya to good old London town?Our condolences to the bloody britishers,they deserve all the andrews they can get.
In Response

by: uzair from: pakistan
November 23, 2011 12:45
So if Russia attacks Georgia, who is fighting for their sovereignty?.. Russia claiming back it's own land perhaps.

and who are the 'most officials' who state that Georgia is making strides in democracy?.. Obama?
In Response

by: Steve
November 23, 2011 14:50
Mark from Victoria,

What do you expect from someone like Brian Whitmore, who links to La Russophobe, as well as some other partisan sources, while not doing likewise with some qualitatively better options?
In Response

by: Stephen from: London
November 23, 2011 16:06
Only problem is, those lands are NOT Georgian.
In Response

by: wp from: USA
November 23, 2011 16:29
Time to liberate Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan from evil Russians oppressors, and here is how it should be done: provoke Russians to start genocide there, invade and put the "UN peacekeepers" from the USA, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. A couple of nuclear shields in Europe will guarantee Russians are not going to say a word. Then let them bark about Russian territorial integrity.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Wellington
December 01, 2011 16:51
Georgia only got these lands because of Mr. Djugashvili and Mr. Beria. It has no credible claims on these lands, and the history and resilience of the Abkhaz and Ossetians cannot be ignored. And come on, we all know Georgians will never truly be democratic, so long as they have such fools running the show in their country. Democracy is a facade there.
In Response

by: Ahmadov from: Azerbaijan
November 23, 2011 05:14
Georgia HAS the right to restore its territorial integrity by force, as stipulated by the UN charter. Russia uses these disputes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia) and Nagorno Karabakh (Azerbaijan) in order to exert pressure on these two countries and keep its influence in the South Caucasus. I do not understand why some westerners still accuse Georgia of the events in August 2008. They seem to know very little about Russia's imperial plans in this corner of the world...
In Response

by: Stephen from: London
November 23, 2011 16:04
Only problem is, Abkhaz and Ossetian land is not Georgian. They were both forced into Georgian borders thanks to their brother Stalin, who was an ethnic Georgian himself. Let's not even get into the mass Georgian campaign to lie and fudge their history so that they can justify brutally taking these lands by force. We all know this is a joke, so why are you still parroting this Georgian propaganda? I'm not a fan of Russia either, but it's obvious Georgia is not an innocent bullied little state here either, and never were. They oppress their own minorities, how can you trust them not to do that (again) to the Abkhazians or Ossetians (two ENTIRELY different ethnic groups whose collective histories are more intertwined with one another than with Kartvelians proper?)
In Response

by: wp from: USA
November 23, 2011 16:30
nobody accuses Georgia only Russia and her puppets.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 24, 2011 17:27
Actually "Stephen", the overwhelming majority of archaeological sites in Abkhazia are Georgian, from Churches to fortresses to other historical sites. It was a part of the united Kingdom of Georgia, and the Kingdom of Imereti (West Georgia) until the 19th C

Until the 1990's Georgians were the majority of the population of Abkhazia, when the suffered ethnic cleansing at the hands of the separatists.

In "South Ossetia" a name only used since the late 19th century, and previously called Shvida Kartli, the Georgian were the majority in Tshkinvali until the 1960's when the Russians policy of importing Ossetians finally paid off.

Georgians are the indigenous population of "South Ossetia" and the Ossetians are the immigrants.
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 13:49
FYI, prior to the Soviet breakup, the Georgians were the under 50% plurality in Abkhazia.

A good portion of the non-Georgian and non-Abkhaz population in Abkhazia don't favor the Georgian nationalist view.

In the 1930s, there was an increased migration of Georgians into Abkhazia. A similar process occurred in the mid 1800s.

South Ossetia has a majority Ossetian population. Like North Ossetia, the consensus in South Ossetia prefers Russia over Georgia.

Western neolib and neocon geo-strategists walk a fine line when selectively discussing the changes in ethnic demography - given what has transpired in KFOR/repackaged KLA occupied Kosovo.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 27, 2011 07:06
Steve, you seem to be missing the fact that Apsua were only 17% of the population, the Georgians were the largest ethnic group with 47% and it was actually Russians and Armenians that had the highest rate of immigration to Abkhazia in the 1930's under Stalin.

Georgians and Abkhazians both have an ancestral right to live in the province, just as Ossetians, despite being recent newcomers to the region, have the right to live in the land of their birth alongside the native Georgian population.

It interesting to note how scum like Steve/Averko (your writing style lets you down again) whitewash crimes against humanity that benefit Russia or the Serbs.

As for South Ossetians preferring Russia, well South Ossetia is firmly in the "not free" category, and many South Ossetians send their kids to Tbilisi for an education, or to receive medical treatment rather than Russia.

Also note that the head of the pro Georgian administration of areas previously under Georgian control before the Russian led ethnic cleansing was Dimitry Sanakoyev, former defense minister of South Ossetia, who along with Chibirov (former President of South Ossteia) were rolled in a coup instigated by the Russian government as they were about to come to agreement with the Georgian government.

In Response

by: David from: Los Angeles
December 01, 2011 16:49
Andro from "Auckland",let me set you straight:

a) those "sites" that you use to claim "ancient Georgian" presence in the NORTH CAUCASUS can be found anywhere else. Using such an argument does not give you any substantial backing. Also, that alphabet is not indigenous to your people, and if you truly knew about your people's history, you'd know where it came from and that even that is not "Georgian" in origin.

b) Your Kartvelian propaganda to incorporate Mingrelian, Svan, Adjarian, and yes Imereti lands into your "nation" idea is a plan that has been set into action for quite some time. Funny when you look at ancient records from credible institutions, there is NO mention of any sort of "ancient kingdom" of yours. In addition, your own academics (if you could call them that) have admitted publicly that the "Georgian nation" does not exist in history and cannot trace their roots in the Caucasus:

Трудно судить о времени проникновения грузин на Кавказ. Независимо от этого, нет смысла искать на Кавказе древние следы грузин. ..."". М. Церетели., "Нация и человечество"., Тбилиси., 1990г., с.229-232.

c) You claim your people were the majority in Abkhazia. Why? Because your people helped Russian imperialism destroy the free Caucasian peoples. Your people allowed Russians to gain a foothold in the region by allowing them to set up a base in Tiflis in the 1800s. After you and they murdered/expelled hundreds of thousands of innocents and only empty lands remained, your people squatted in them in droves, encouraged by your local elite. There is ample evidence for this and there is absolutely no record of a substantial "Georgian" presence in Abkhazia or Alania. Your lie is an insult to us who know the truth. By the way, how can a population that is supposedly less than 100,000 try to commit "ethnic cleansing" against yours? What a ridiculous comment! You know how the war you started against the Abkhaz started and it most definitely wasn't due to any attempts by the Abkhaz trying to "ethnically cleanse" you. Even the UN, NATO, etc. know this. You can pay off as many people as you like, but most people despise you for what happened there and do not blame the Abkhaz for DEFENDING THEMSELVES against hostile neo-nationalist Georgian brutality.

Your claim about Ossetia is another lie. According to you Georgians, any name can be taken and twisted to accomodate what you deem "ancient Georgian topography" (that is how some of you claim Tuapse, an ancient Shapsugh city as yours LOL). At that rate, the entire Caucasus along with southeastern Europe and Anatolia can be considered "Georgian". Your claim that Ossetians are immigrants in their own land is so vulgar and false that I dare not say anything more. Let us be reminded of the mass repopulation campaign that Stalin also started to continue this trend. No wonder your people still have statues of him as well as criminals like Gamsakhudria and Shevernadze.

I suppose as long as your tie eating leader keeps paying you to dispel lies, you will continue to do so. Are your agents trying to follow the idea of the Nazis that if you keep repeating a lie, people will eventually believe it, even yourselves? Because that certainly seems to be the case here.

I honestly hope that one day you will not find shame in your true history and background and that you embrace it instead of trying to corrupt and steal other people's. I hope that you will find redemption one day in realizing your faults and mistakes and apologizing for all the horrible things your people have done and still continue to do in the Caucasus. I hope finally, that your hypocrisy shames you so much that it even shocks you in the end.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 02, 2011 09:20
David, you would not know the truth if it jumped up and bit you.

Georgians are native to the Caucasus, and all archaeological evidence points to this. Of course all human life started in Africa, so by that reasoning, nobody is native anywhere.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica

Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Anatolia since the Neolithic period.[12] Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes.[13] Some European historians of the 19th century (for example, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Paul Kretschmer) as well as Georgian scholars (R. Gordeziani, S. Kaukhchishvili and Z. Gamsakhurdia) came to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians might be related linguistically and culturally to the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) peoples of ancient Europe including the Etruscans, Pelasgians and Proto-Basques.
The Georgian people in antiquity have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Colchians and Iberians.[14][15] East Georgian tribes of Tibarenians-Iberians formed their kingdom in 7th century BCE. However, western Georgian tribes (Moschians, Suanians, Mingrelians and others) established the first Georgian state of Colchis before the foundation of the Iberian Kingdom in the east.[16] According to the numerous scholars of Georgia, the formations of these two early Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, resulted in the consolidation and uniformity of the Georgian nation.[17]
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 23, 2011 08:10
Ahem, Steve, the Georgian response was in reaction to multiple military provocations and attacks by the separatists and their Russian backers.

The Georgians did not commit major war crimes, the Russians and separatists did, this Russian operation was coming regardless of what the Georgians did, and didn't the Russians use far worse force, and actual genocide in places like Chechnya, where they have killed around half the ethnic Chechen population?
In Response

by: Steve
November 23, 2011 14:33
You're wrong again Andrew.

The Russian army's collateral damage in the 2008 war is minimal when compared to a number of other conflicts that have involved direct and/or indirect Western support.

Your mention of Chechnya is in a "whatboutism" category. You omit the brutal nature of some of the Chechen separatists. In any event, much of the Caucasus doesn't go along with your erroneous anti-Russian crap.
In Response

by: Stephen from: London
November 23, 2011 16:05
You're lying about Georgian (lack of) criminality. Hey, aren't you that Andrew who claims to be from Wellington, then Auckland at times that we see on other sites? You should be ashamed.
In Response

by: Joe/Slava or something
November 23, 2011 19:17
Averko, you can change your moniker all you like, but your leaden prose and straw-men arguments always give you away. How do US actions determine whether Russian forces committed war crimes? How does this knee-jerk, zero-sum Cold War thinking pass for an argument? Your arguments are utterly pointless and simply avoid the facts presented. "Others are better, RFE is biased" is a pathetic argument, and one you repeat ad nauseum. You're not as pathetic as that "Jack" monkey, but you're getting there.
In Response

by: Steve
November 23, 2011 22:18
Joe/Slava or something,

Your reply lacks substance in terms of being unable to successfully refute what you apparently don't agree with.

Note the "whataboutism" reference to Chechnya (brought up at this thread), as one example of your hypocrisy and flawed "logic" (stupidity).

Later chump.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 23, 2011 23:05
Ahem, Andrew; I beg to differ. Georgia stands accused of indiscriminate use of force, which is a war crime in accordance with the Geneva Convention, "major" or otherwise.

Would you say a tank firing its main gun into floors of apartment buildings constituted indiscriminate use of force? I would. Apparently, so would the British Foreign Secretary, who took his complaint to the Georgian goverment. The BBC performed the first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia following the conflict. An eyewitness reported Georgian artillery firing into apartment blocks, and investigation by the BBC revealed damage "consistent with her version of events". Similarly, rockets fired into Tskhinvali were indiscriminate use of force, as they cannot be precisely targeted and so cannot be fired into densely populated areas. All these accusations were documented by Human Rights Watch, which Russophobes love to cite when it faults Russia. Is it only correct in those circumstances?

Saakashvili and his mouth cannot seem to agree on a version of events. As recounted in the reference above, the Georgian story at the time the conflict started was that it was responding to attacks on Georgian villages by South Ossetian militia; then later said it was "provoked by an earlier Russian invasion". At least Saakashvili knows that if he says "Russia", western leaders will do the bobblehead dance and say, "Oh, yes, bad Russia, it must be true".

In the reference I cited in my earlier comment, Saakashvili assessed Russian forces were spread too thin to "enforce Georgian partition" (although both South Ossetia and Abkhazia unilaterally declared their independence, exactly as Georgia herself did) - but here

he accuses Russia of executing a "well-planned invasion"! Which is it, liar?? Unable to respond, or standing at the border with the sabre half-drawn from its scabbard?
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 25, 2011 03:49
"Georgians are the indigenous population of "South Ossetia" and the Ossetians are the immigrants."

Oh, is that how it works now? Whoever had it first should get it back? Quite a few former members of the British Empire could have used that knowledge awhile ago.

Comes to that, the current American population owes a lot of land to the aboriginal people from whom it confiscated it. If you don't feel like going that far back, America belongs mostly to Germany, with a contesting claim by Ireland. In the late 19th century, the city of New York was 70% immigrants.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 25, 2011 18:44
As HRW noted, if the Georgians had used pinpoint weapons instead of Grad MLRS their strikes would have been completely legitimate.

However, they did not, using area effect weapons was a war crime, however nothing compared with the Russian sponsored ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, which was accompanied by rape, murder, looting (both inside and outside the conflict zone).

All Russian claims of "genocide" were found to be false, and as the IFFC, Memorial, and HRW all found, were deliberate lies intended to whip up support for the Russian sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign.

The Russians did not in any way act appropriately, every reason they gave for going to war was demolished by the IFFC report.

And Mark, considering you come from a state which had the last "cull" of Aborigines in the 1930's I don't expect you to understand human rights, the Georgians were the majority in Tshkinvali until quite recently.

Comparing Russian crimes against humanity in living memory (and since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) with those that happened over 200 years ago is fairly pathetic, even for an Aussie.

As for Steve's retarded (well he is Averko) claim that collateral damage was "minimal" well once again the facts do not stand up, almost the entire Georgian population of Samchablo/South Ossetia forced from their homes, their villages destroyed, civilian infrastructure outside the conflict zone deliberately bombed, blown up, or looted, large numbers of young women raped, boys killed, livestock and farmland destroyed, in 5 days of fighting.

Of course Averko/Steve/whatever is so retarded he tries to claim that more people died in Ivory Coast during the recent disputed election than died under Gaddafi, and that no notice was taken.

Never mind Averko, you are a genocide denier from way back, interesting how you claim that war crimes committed by Slavs are OK.

And most of the Caucasus does go along with anti-Russia sentiment. Some don't but they are A) Entitled to their opinion, and B) In a tiny minority.

You are a laughing stock.....
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 13:40
Note how some reply to the facts and fact based opinions with crASS diatribes that are feeble attempts to get away from the reality which they disingenuously attempt to downplay.

The kind of gutless wonder elements promoted as evidenced by the overall selection of "Russia Watchers" sites to the top right of this page.
In Response

by: Amdrey Ivanov from: Moscow
November 23, 2011 09:35
Earlier Medvedev already stated in an interview: 'we have prepared ourselves long and well for this war, because we knew that Georgia would start this war. We always wanted to be ready to protect the South Ossetian people.' And: 'The war against Georgia was the answer to NATO's actions in Kosovo'.

if real reason of the war was blocking Georgia's NATO ambitions, then it's obvious who was responsible for starting the war?

Russia organized ethnic cleansing of more than 400.000 Georgians from Apkhazeti(Abkhazia) and Samachablo(South Ossetia). The independence of this regions is a FAKE!

Read more about:
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
November 27, 2011 00:22
"As HRW noted, if the Georgians had used pinpoint weapons instead of Grad MLRS their strikes would have been completely legitimate."

Really? Saakashvili attacked after broadcasting the following message to the nation - "We ask the international community to help stop the shootings. We don't want to give return fire. We ask you to not disturb the integrity of Georgia. We need to do everything to sit down at the table for talks and finally regulate this conflict,”

After using a phony cease-fire as a pretext for getting his troops into position, he attacked Tskhinvali in violation of the United Nations ceasefire of 1992 (which was brokered by Russia). Does that sound legitimate to you? Only if "legitimate" has been redefined to mean "in flagrant violation of the law as established by negotiated agreement".

Please provide references which support your allegations. I already know what your opinion is.

And I am not from any "state" at all.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 04, 2011 08:54
Mark, you are an Australian, so we can forgive you for being a little slow.

The Georgians were responding to increasing attacks on Georgian controlled towns by the separatists. Their right to retaliate is part of international law, where they were wrong is in the level of force used.

The Georgians declared a ceasefire, but the separatists continued firing, with a large scale artillery attack on Tamarasheni (which was later bulldozed by Russian troops along with all the other Georgian controlled villages to the north of the city).

The separatists, and the Russians, repeatedly violated the 1992 ceasefire agreement.

References can be found in the IFFMG report by Tavagliani and her colleagues. Find it yourself, since you don't use any references yourself.

Have fun in the city state of "Romper Stomper"....
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
November 23, 2011 11:00
Steve, your knowledge of basic facts indicates you cannot be taken seriously. There was no "brazen military strike" by the Georgians. Russia was supposed to be a peacekeeper in Ossetia, but for years it did NOTHING to stop attacks by rebels there against Georgia even as it brutally suppressed its own rebels in Chechnya. Georgia responded to these attacks with a limited strike against the rebels to silence their guns after begging Russia to do so and being rebuffed. Russia then responded by invading Georgia proper, an act that has been condemned around the world. Not a single major nation has recognized Russia's annexation of Ossetia in the years since the war.

You also don't read well. The PRESIDENT of Russia has ADMITTED Russian forces did NOT act in Ossetia to defend the territory from Russian aggression. He has ADMITTED Russian action was PURELY GEOPOLITICAL in nature.

What would you have said if the United States invaded Russia proper to protect the Chechen rebels?? You really ought to think a little more before you blindly repeat the Kremlin's propaganda like a bleeting sheep, it really does make you look a little foolish.
In Response

by: wp from: USA
November 23, 2011 16:32
I bet if we held elections in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan 99.9% of the population would vote for independence from Russia.
In Response

by: Steve
November 23, 2011 17:36

A few years ago, Chechnya held a referendum in support of a continued existence within Russia. The appeal of Chechen separatism has understandably dwindled, due to the antics that occurred in Chechnya during the Dudayev and Maskhadov regimes.

Likewise, the appeals for separatism elewhere in Russia is noticeably limited. In contrast, some parts outside Russia have shown a willingness to join it, if given that option.

Anti-Russian propaganda has a way of skirting certain realities, while trying to present an inaccurate image as accurate.

La Russophobe,

I read quite well - inaccurate garbage included.

The fact of the matter is that the Georgian government launched a brazen military strike into South Ossetia, with Russia appropriately responding.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 25, 2011 18:47
Steve, are you really that simple?

The "referendum" you speak of was conducted during state terror operations, at gunpoint.

No neutral observers, no international recognition etc etc etc.

And as the IFFC report stated, Russian actions were illegal, without justification, excessive, and war crimes.
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 15:25
The simple reality is that the appeal of Chechen separatism has noticeably declined as a result of the kind of mayhem that increased during the Dudayev and Maskhadov regimes.

There doesn't appear to be a substantively well founded basis to contest this observation.
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 24, 2011 06:53
Georgians did a military strike on terrorists of south ossethia, terrorists killed many people before, and remember Georgia didi strike on SELF territory, to defence georgian citizens
In Response

by: Georgian from: Tbilisi
December 01, 2011 16:04
I am a Georgian and even I find your comment pathetic and a lie. We were wrong and we should admit it:
In Response

by: Nick from: Indianapolis
November 25, 2011 00:13
You seem like somebody who never listens to both sides of the story... What did the russian or ossetian media tell you about that? Do you know what was going on 3 days before georgian troops entered samachablo/"south ossetia"? I doubt it, here is a heads up. Georgian villages were being bombed by russian ossetian artillery villagers died every day and were fleeing their homes. When contacting the russian "peace keepers" to stop the shelling they got a response that they couln't controll the stupid militia. Only then did saakashvili decide to move in, stupidly enough due to his rush temper he decided to be a hero and continue into Tskinvali, a move that was easily calculated by the russian government. If you wan't reliable info you don't even have to look far go to wikki leaks and check out the cables leaked from the us embassy in georgia around the 8th of August trust me diplomats have no reason to lie among their own people.
In Response

by: Steve
November 25, 2011 20:40

Prior to the armed Georgian strike on South Ossetia, there were limited (short of all out war) skirimishes, involving both sides as has been reported.

Since the 1990s, The Armenians and Azeris periodically have such instances that (unlike the 2008 Georgian action) fall short of war.

In August of 2008, it was the Russian government which sought to initiate a UN Security Council discussion on the Georgian government's brazen strike on South Ossetia. Within the time frame of that period (shortly before and after), the Georgian government didn't seek a UN discussion on what you claim.

Thus, it's you who aren't being so accurate.

This thread is a classic example of follow-up commentary being intellectually superior to the article it's addressing - a further revelation of what has been evident in media.

In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 27, 2011 07:26
Averko/Steve, Georgia had tried for years to internationalize the peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia, as well as the one in Abkhazia.

As for the head of the Russian "Peacekeepers" (or should that be piecekeepers?) in South Ossetia, he actually signed a document stating that he could no longer control the separatists.

As the wikileaks cables show the Georgians were reacting to fairly serious provocations:

"On August 7 at 1925 Yakobashvili returned from the conflict zone and the Ambassador that the South Ossetians continued to shoot at the Georgian villages despite the announcement of the cease-fire. Yakobashvili said that he waited with General Kulakhmetov, the Head of the Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali for some time for the South Ossetians to show up. Kulakhmetov tried to call Chochiev, and other South Ossetians to get them together with Yakobashvili, but they did not respond. Kulakhmetov said, he “does not control anything” and that the South Ossetians were “shooting at the Georgians behind my back.” Yakobashvili said that the Russians originally agreed to host a bilateral meeting with the Ossetians and the Georgians outside the JCC. Popov came to Georgia for this purpose and announced publicly it was his intention to do so. Then, the Russians flipped and said the meeting should be under the JCC. Yakobashvili said it was the JCC system that had caused the mess and it was time for real face to face talks

All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention. Key Georgian officials who would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing August 7 once the attack was well underway. As late as 2230 last night Georgian MOD and MFA officials were still hopeful that the unilateral cease-fire announced by President Saakashvili would hold. Only when the South Ossetians opened up with artillery on Georgian villages, did the offensive to take Tskhinvali begin. Post has eyes on the ground at the Ministry of Interior command post in Tbilisi and will continue to provide updates.

On August 7, at 22:30 local time, they attacked the village of Prisi, which was followed one hour later by an attack on the village of Tamarasheni. Civilians and peacekeepers came under massive shelling. The attacks resulted in several dead and wounded. According to available data, hundred of armed personnel and heavy military equipment have crossed from Russia to Georgia through the Roki tunnel. To protect peaceful civilian populations and to prevent further military attacks, the Government of Georgia has been forced to take adequate measures. Despite this most recent escalation, the Government of Georgia once again reiterates its readiness to immediately begin peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict in South Ossetia and calls on the separatist rebels to cease their military actions and come to the negotiation table."
In Response

by: Steve
November 27, 2011 15:34
You're rehashing the offcial Saakashvili spin which contrasts from what others have observed - a situation of shooting from both sides.

The situation clearly got out of hand when Georgian forces attacked into South Ossetia, followed by the Russian military reply.
In Response

by: Steve
November 25, 2011 20:30
Following up on the prior comments, Brian Whitmore's piece also omits that the Georgian military was increasing its capability in the lead-up to its brazen strike on South Ossetia.
In Response

by: Nick
November 26, 2011 13:52
Again you are missinformed who do you think was it that didn't let UN monitors and other organizations into south ossetia after the war? Georgia?? We were not even in controll of the territory neither did you check the wiki leaks aerticles I told you about. You barely countered my argument and moved on to a new point. This makes it obvious that you don't seek a discussion you have an idea and want to spread it. You think it is the truth so talking to you is like talking to a wall because you don't listen. The only reason you read other peoples comments is to proove them wrong, that is never a solution to anything.
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 15:20
It's you who duck the key particulars running counter to your inaccurately skewed imagery.

I've been comparatively more direct in replying to your half assed approach.
In Response

by: Rasto from: London
November 26, 2011 18:38
Steve you keep saying that South Ossetian is not Georgian territory. If you look into historical maps you will see that Ossetians always lived on Northern slopes of Caucasus. In 1910 according to Russian census only 9% of families in Tskhinvali were Ossetains. In Abkhazia according to Russian census from 19th century about 10 % were Georgians, 30 % Abkhaz and 30 % Samurzakans which were descendants of Mengrelians. Others were Jews, Armenians and Russians. Georgian language were used in Abkhazian territories since unification of west and east Georgia in 10th Century
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 23:40
I never said or suggested this false claim of yours:

"Steve you keep saying that South Ossetian is not Georgian territory."


You can at least correctly quote me.

South Ossetia is a disputed former Georgian SSR territory.

Out of curiosity, what's your take on Kosovo? It's within the past 120 that the ethnic demography has changed from a Serb to Albanian majority - at least one chief reason for that change involves some non-Serb unethical behavior.
In Response

by: Stephen from: London
December 01, 2011 16:13
Steve, you are absolutely right. I love how these Georgian apologists cry about how their Georgian population was the majority in lands that did not belong to them, but refuse to acknowledge the massive repopulation campaign their warmongering people brought upon Abkhaz and Ossetian empty lands. Why were they empty? Because they were murdered and exiled to the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. How? The Russians, with the help of Georgians (the Russians made Tiflis their headquarters in the region and launched several attacks from there as well as enlisted the help of the majority of Georgia's elite and peasantry to attack the North Caucasians alongside them).
And yet today we see Georgians creating a regional Caucasian channel which is supposed to create love and happiness between them and their neighbors, and recognizing a genocide (of Circassians) that they themselves participated and reveled in. Not to mention that they don't apologize for said actions against North Caucasians in the past. I can go on and on. I used to sympathise with Georgia, but after reading more accurate sources of info available online now, I am finally aware of their disgusting behavior and vindictive ways. Trust these natives, Georgians are not even native to that area. If anything, they are called Trans-Caucasus for a reason. By claiming Abkhazia and Ossetia (ancient Alania) they desperately try to claim their presence in the Caucasus and justify their revionist, lie-packed history. That is why they also claim Sochi and Anapa, historically Circassian lands as well. Yet, they were devious enough to claim that they will build a Circassian cultural center in Georgia, as well as a monument (bad move). Who are you fooling? Chechens, Circassians, Russians, Ossetians, Armenians, etc. all know what level your people have sunken to. Don't expect any more fooling to take place now that the truth is pushing itself forward. Andrew from "Auckland" (or an office desk in TIFLIS), you should be ashamed of yourself, but that's like me telling a dog not to sniff himself down there. It's in your nature to act like a brute and a fiend, how can I explain to you to not do so otherwise? As long as your people continue to behave in such a vulgar, brutish manner, no one will respect you. Your lies are easy to spot, and rest assured we Europeans and I hope more Americans are becoming aware of the truth and despise you all the more for it. Enough already, Gurci

by: David Edick Jr from: San Diego, CA
November 22, 2011 22:44
You are grasping for straws, Brian. It is hardly a suprise that Russia did not & would not look favorably on Georgia becoming a part of NATO. Remember that back in 2008 there was a group in power in DC who were willing to bend the rules for joining NATO to any degree necessary to get the Georgians in - or to otherwise put a thumb in Russia's eye.

Kosovo was still fresh in the minds of Russian foreign policy and military leadership.

Bottom line, though, it was Saakashvili's foolish decision to rocket internationally-recognized Russian peacekeeping forces in Tsinvali in the middle of the night that opened the door to Russia military retaliation against Georgia.

Was the 'smell' of conflict already in the air that summer? Yes.

Perhaps Mr. Saakashvili thought South Ossetia would be Adzharia 2.

I continue to think Russia's response was measured and appropriate.

Having said that, Russia now has 2 more challenging situations (South Ossetia & Abkhazia) to add to its' Caucasus mess.

I hold Washington DC substantially responsible for the 2008 conflict. Despite his taste for risk-taking, there is no way Mr. Saakashvili would have risked full-fledged war with Russia without believing he had the backing of the United States (through powerful people in the Bush Administration and in Congress).
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 04, 2011 16:21
DAVID: It is ludicrous to suggest that a president's decision to defend his country from attack is foolish. Had Saakashvili led his country in a different manner, it might well now be part of Russia. It is outrageous to suggest that Russia's response in crossing the border into Georgia proper was measured or appropriate, and rather ignorant too. Do you really believe Russia could have done more than it did? Russia's creaking, rusty military fell apart and was exposed on the battlefields of Ossetia, and any more aggression would have resulted in disastrous failure for Russia.
In Response

by: Steve
December 05, 2011 00:04
As problematical as Russia's armed forces are, the Kremlin could've done more than it did in Georgia.

The Georgian armed forces are far from being a a decent match against Russia.

by: Svyatoslav from: Pavlyuk
November 22, 2011 23:25
I heard Saakashvili saying during the Bucharest Summit - if Georgia will not get MEP these days- we will have a war by the end of this year. Geogia's MEP was blocked by friendly countries, the war erupted in 3 months, actually. Is anybody of those, who opposed MEP for Georgia and Ukraine feeling shame and/or responsibility for what happened???
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 25, 2011 02:48
Saakashvili predicted Russian attack - if Georgia would not be helped and get "MEP" at the time - because of growing arrogance of
Russia and covardness of the West.

Georgians had not seek war, they chosen
better way, peacefull revival of impoverished
areas, like Svanetia, Kodori, South Osetian
villages and other areas - that made Russia
furrious - the evil and hate that Russia was
spreading could be healed by Georgia!

Glory to milleniums of friendships between
Georgia and Ukraine!

by: Voter from: USA
November 22, 2011 23:50
Attention!!! Russia is planning to attack Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over the Caspian oil pipe line from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. It's time to invite both of the countries to join NATO.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
November 23, 2011 01:26
Yes, he confessed, but only as excuse for the Russian aggression that is not quite true.

Georgia and other Eastern European and Central Asian countries asked for help UN, subcequently EU and USA, that lead to relationship with NATO on the number of issues, including mild assisstance to them and help to USA with the exit strategy from Iraq and Afghanistan -

Russia planned evil from 1954-56.
Read Chroology of 2008 war on:
Russia perpetrated evil in Hungary, Checko-Slovakia, Georgia, Afghanistan, Chechnia, Moldova, Georgian Abkhazia and South Osetia and many other places - militarily, economicly and by other means.
Russia continued the same evil during last invasion in 2008.

How one can honestly justify last evil by accusing its victims of defending themselves from previous evils and thus asking for international help?

by: Jack from: US
November 23, 2011 03:38
even NATO satellites of US acknoledged the war was started by dictator of rump "republic of Georgia" Saakashvilli. Russia obviously took advantage of the situation and recognized independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Finally the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are free from "repiblic of Georgian" dictators and no US government clown has a right to deny the freedom to people who won it and rightfully deserved it. Abkhazia and South Ossetia had truly democratic and free elections, unlike rump "republic of Georgia" which remains a despicable dictatorship propped up by US government on US taxpayers' money
In Response

by: Sch
November 23, 2011 16:20
Ivan, can you show me some proof for "even NATO satellites of US acknoledged the war was started by dictator of rump "republic of Georgia""
In Response

by: George from: Nantes
December 01, 2011 16:53
AMEN to that. We don't trust Georgians in Europe. We just appear to be amicable in public now because of American pressure, not because we really feel that they are right.

by: Milovan Rafailovic from: Lake Placid, Florida
November 26, 2011 19:51
This article makes me laugh. Medvedev was telling the truth. You are not used to somone in the west telling the truth, like justifying the war on Iraq with Saddaam having the WMD! Or the lies about the Gulf of Tonkin in the Vietnam war, or Hitler's attack on Poland, to name just a few lies. Russia's provocations - you forgot who unlished that full scale war. Georgia, in case your memory is failing you. How about the biggest lies of all: The Nato is putting missiles all around Russia to protect the West from Iran. Don't be rediculous, this is too much.
In Response

by: Steve
November 26, 2011 23:42
Certain questionable thoughts get promoted at RFE/RL over others that have a more valid basis.

by: Sulkhan from: Georgia
November 27, 2011 10:48
Reading these comments I get an impression that those who tend to justify Russia's position in August 2008, actually do so because they dislike actions carried out by the West/NATO/US in Iraq or elsewhere. I don't think this is a correct and honest judgement. It sounds like - "look what they did to Iraq, why Russia shouldn't be allowed to punish Georgia?".
As regards who started the war - this conflict has a complicated pre-history and context. Its hard to decide who "opened fire" first. It is also clear that Georgia, having an army of 28 thousand men, would never feel brave and crazy enough to do something which would have provoked Russia's full scale military response.
Besides, Russia's own ethnic policy is a mess, they always favoured violence over negotiation. Its hard to believe that they had a moral foundation to engage so extensively in Georgia's problems.
Regarding Georgia's NATO aspirations - its a popular choice here, around 70% of us voted in favour. From Georgia's perspective Russia has been an unreliable and hardly predictable partner. Its natural that Georgia is looking for a better, safer environment. Russia not only violated bilateral agreements with Georgia, it also violated major international rules by attacking Georgia. If we don't like international rules, that's already a different subject for discussion.
The question about where Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Samachablo) belong, this can best be answered again by popular choice, but ethnic Georgian residents of these regions, who made up larger parts of local populations, have been forcibly leaving their homes since early 90's.
There is a popular saying/concept in Russia - "extend the fatherland ("rasshiriat rodinu")". How can one extend the fatherland without taking what is already someone else's fatherland?
After all, this is a technical thing to some extent - Russia is a big state ensuring its security beyond its borders, while Georgia is a small state trying to build its own security within its borders. Simply, these two overlap.
Nevertheless, this war was a result of a web of intended and unintended "mistakes" and all involved sides have a share in it.
In Response

by: Steve
November 27, 2011 15:42
In an inaccurate way, you over-simplify the Russian position on the 2008 war. FYI, Russia has sought peacefgul negotiation on a number of strategic issues.

Your logic ignores that smaller countries have been known to do things which will likely prompt a military reply from a larger power. Note how Yugolsavia reacted to a biased Western diktat over Kosovo. In the instance of South Ossetia, Russian military personnel and Russian citizens were killed by the Georgian military strike.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 03, 2011 08:59
Actually Averko/Steve/Slava/Whatever, as the International Fact Finding Mission to Georgia found, there was no evidence whatsoever provided by Russia that Georgia deliberately attacked Russian "peacekeepers" (who were CIS NOT UN peacekeepers BTW), and that Russian actions were illegal under international law
In Response

by: Steve
December 04, 2011 12:53

Since the 1990s: with some outside backing, the Moldovan and Azeri governments have made claims of provocations from the respective territories in dispute that they claim. This is especially true of the Azeri side. Others credibly note a more mixed situation of tit for tat exchanges with no one side completely virtuous.

The fact of the matter is that the Georgian government launched a brazen strike into South ossetia, which killed Russian military personnel and willing citizens of Russia. There's no credibly conclusive evidence thoroughly supporting the notion that the Georgian government was provoked to launch that strike.

Russia gave an appropriate military reply with the loss of life not being as great as some direct and indirect Western military interventions abroad.

Hence, you can take your half tuths and outright lies and shove them you know where.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 06, 2011 12:25
Averko, The Russians managed, in 5 days, to commit ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen since the Serbs rampaged through their neighbors lands, the Russians deliberately targeted civilians, and the main report into the war commissioned, the IFFMCG report, concluded that EVERY SINGLE ACTION taken by Russia was illegal, excessive, and its actions morally reprehensible.

I find it interesting how you claim that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia, but deny the same right to Georgia.

Try learning to read Averko, you are a laughing stock.
In Response

by: Steve
December 07, 2011 14:42
"Averko" must be a genius, seeing how you obsessively mention him. The "laughing stock" are the crank likes of yourself, who selectively highlight certain particulars in an inaccurate way. Such manner has included the suggestive portrayal of dubious opinions as facts.

On the matter of ethnic cleansing, you noticeably omit the Croat "Operation Storm", which saw 150,000-250,000 Krajina Serbs ethnically cleansed with hundred to thousands murdered (reports vary) in that process. Some Albanian nationalists like Agim Ceku were involved in that Croat operation. Kosovo itself has been ethnically cleansed of many non-Albanians - mostly Serbs.

Do you recognize Kosovo's stated independence? At this thread, I don't say that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be independent, while noting how these two former Georgian SSR territories are in dispute.

Cpontrary to what you suggest, the Georgian side has been far from being completely virtuous.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
December 13, 2011 12:54
No Steve, I don't think Kosovo should have been independent, given it's cultural importance to the Serbs, I do think the best option would be autonomy within Serbia, guaranteed by foreign powers. The integrity of Serbia would be guaranteed, and so would the rights of the ethnic majority in Kosovo, the Albanian population.

As for Averko being a genius, not really, he is just persistent, and his writing style is similar to yours.

As for operation storm, that is a case of 2 wrongs do not make a right, the perpetrators should be hauled before the ICC, regardless of whether the Croats think they are heroes for getting revenge for the siege of Dubrovnik or not.
In Response

by: Steve
December 17, 2011 23:43
You aren't persistent Andrew?

"Genius" has been loosely interpreted. Consider some of the sites promoted to the upper right of this blog.

I don't think it's in Russia's best interests to have recognized South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence.

Your two wrongs don't make a right claim on former Yugoslavia applies elsewhere. Regarding Croatia, Serbs were being discriminated against (sometimes violently) by Croat nationalists just before the outbreak of more open hostilities in former Yugoslavia.

by: Kolkhida
December 17, 2011 15:53
An appeal of the association
center of education “KOLKHIDA”
to the world community.

We report to you that in the Georgian state the Mengrelian region is represented by the status of an administrative and territorial unit.The mengrelian region is populated by the people whose colloquial regional language is Mengrelian.
The interests of te people talking in the regional Mengrelian language are ignored in the Georgian state, wich is manifested by the fact that the Mengrelian language hasn’t the status of a language.Respectively, there is no legislative basis for retaining, developing and applying this language in social life.
The Georgian constitution and legislation doesn’t recognize the Mengrelian language and it’s banished from social life.
For instance, the public idea of translating the Bible into Mengrelian,caused an open aggression of the official clergy. It was outraged by the mere idea of translating the Bible into Mengrelian. The people in Mengrelia, on the contrary,were surprised, why the Bible can’t be translated into Mengrelian when it’s translated into different languages of the world.There were political talkshows held on the “Imedi”, one of the influential political radios, in which not onely the efforts of the Bible translation, but even the recognition of the Mengrelianas a language was denounced – to hamper spredding over the Mengrelian language such vital rights of the European charter about regional and minority languages as education, culture, means of information, etc.
Without stimulating the use of a regional language in social life, it’s impossible to retain and develop it.
The region Mengrelia has its historical legacy, it represents the Kolkhida Kingdom(XII c.b. c.) – that is the political and historical legacy of the ancient Golden Fleece culture, it has its geographical bounds, one of the most ancient and richest with its lexical stock (more then 9 ml) – the coloquial Mengrelian language.
The independent political status of Mengrelia was revoked by violence in 1867 as a result of the occupation by the Russian Empire.
Despite numerous appeals to the local and federal authorities, the above mentioned problems are ignored by them. Contrary we are subjected to obliqe threats.
This state of things has caused us to appeal to the world community.
We are asking to you to come interested in Mengrelian ethnic tragedy and to help us retain and develop the Mengrelian language.

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

11:12 October 22, 2014


In less than a week, on October 27, Lithuania is scheduled to open its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Klaipeda. The terminal, which will begin receiving deliveries in early 2015, is a significant step toward changing the energy equation in Lithuania, the Baltic states, and ultimately in Europe as a whole.

Initially, Lithuania plans to buy enough LNG to cover about a quarter of its domestic needs. But once the terminal is operating at full capacity, and once Lithuania's pipelines to Latvia are upgraded, it will be able to supply 90 percent of the three Baltic states' natural gas demand.

Oh, and by the way, Lithuania's current supply contract with Gazprom expires at the end of next year.

And this is just one of the ways the gas game is changing. Poland is also building a LNG import terminal, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2015.

And as energy analyst  Wenyuan Qiu writes in "The Moscow Times" today, a steep rise in U.S. production has made it "functionally independent of offshore suppliers." As a result, "the closure of the U.S. LNG import market is forcing producers in the Middle East and Africa to look for customers elsewhere" leading to "downward pressure on prices" in Europe.

"Russia will remain an important European energy provider because its gas is relatively economic. But Russia's ability to leverage this resource as an instrument of foreign policy is diminishing," Qiu writes.


08:27 October 22, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has announced substantial progress was reached in October 21 talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia on gas supplies, but a final deal has yet to be agreed.

A summit held in Milan October 17 had produced hopes for a breakthrough, after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and said they had reached a preliminary agreement on a gas price until March 31.

Oettinger said as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia before the end of this year.

Oettinger also said Ukraine would pay $1.4 billion of its debt to Russia for gas supplies already received before the end of October and another $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The head of Russia's delegation to the talks, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, said the price of gas for Ukraine would be $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

However, the price, which was first announced by Poroshenko following his meeting with Putin on October 17, is still higher than the average of some $350 that Gazprom charges EU companies

Novak said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- provided Ukraine pays in advance.

However, Novak added the EU should take responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine pay its $5.3-billion debt for gas to Russia before the end of 2014.

Kyiv has asked the EU for an additional loan of $2.6 billion, but a spokesman stressed on October 21 that the request was not made in connection with the ongoing gas talks.

The EU has so far offered Kyiv loans totalling more than $2 billion.

Russia cut off gas deliveries tro Ukraine in mid-June, citing the $5.3-billion debt. However, Gazprom has not halted supplies transiting Ukraine en route to EU member states.

But Novak again ruled out Gazprom's agreeing to let EU states re-export its gas to Ukraine.

Oettinger announced another meeting would be held in Brussels on October 29.

Separately, the Kremlin said Putin and Poroshenko discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine among other issues during a telephone conversation October 21.

It didn't provide further details.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and Interfax)


The independent Russian radio station "Ekho Moskvy" said it has been informed of an unscheduled inspection by the prosecutor's office.

The station's deputy chief editor Sergei Buntman said on October 21, "We received a document dated from yesterday (October 20) that said the main directorate of the Emergency Situation's Ministry" had requested the prosecutor's office to conduct an inspection of the radio station.

Buntman said according to the document, the inspection would start on October 22 and last for 20 working days.

"Taking into consideration days off, that means almost a month," Buntman said, and he added that the inspection should not affect the activities of the station.

Buntman said, "Of course questions arise about why this decision is taken so suddenly."

"Echo Moskvy" posted a copy of the document the radio station received that indicated the inspection was meant to determine if the station was in compliance with fire safety laws.

(Based on reporting by "Ekho Moskvy" and Interfax)


The Kremlin said the Russian and Ukrainian presidents stressed the importance of supporting the peace process in Ukraine and observing the ceasefire the country's south-east during a phone conversation on October 21.

President Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko also discussed Russian gas supplies to Ukraine after a tentative agreement reached in Milan last week on the basic terms of future supplies, the statement said.

It didn't provide further details.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Some progress was reportedly made toward resolving the issue of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine during last week's talks in Milan.

Poroshenko said a preliminary agreement had been reached on a price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of March -- $100 less than Russia had originally demanded.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, TASS, and


Russian investigators say the air crash that has killed the chief executive of French oil giant Total was caused “criminal negligence” by airport officials.

Christophe de Margerie and three French crew members died when his corporate jet collided with a snow-removal machine at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport late on October 20.

The Investigative Committee warned that several senior airport officials would be suspended, adding that investigators will assess the "actions and non-action" of management.

The snow plough driver has already been detained.

Investigators have said the man was drunk at the time of the accident, which his lawyer denied.

Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin "highly esteemed" Margerie's business qualities and his "consistent devotion" to developing bilateral Russia-French relations.

(Based on reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS)


16:08 October 17, 2014


I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.


We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.


13:25 October 17, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:



Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)


Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)


Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014


Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:


President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)



The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.


Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014



Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.


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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or