Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus Report: November 16, 2006

November 16, 2006, Volume 9, Number 39

PRIME MINISTER OUTLINES GEORGIAN POSITION ON RUSSIAN ACCESSION TO WTO. Georgia is one of a handful of countries left with the power to block Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. It is also the country with the greatest motivation to do so, in light of Russia's March ban on the import of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural products, which has deprived Georgia of its biggest market. RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas asked Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli to explain Georgia's position.

RFE/RL: Regarding the World Trade Organization, Georgia is insisting on the 2004 deal, which if I read it right, would assume that Russia will need to agree not to trade with [the breakaway unrecognized republics of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Do you think that's a realistic demand on Russia?

Noghaideli: If it's not realistic, why have they agreed to that in 2004? Again, this is a very principled issue for us and a very principled issue for any WTO member and nobody will allow trade through illegal checkpoints, and I think we should be insisting on our previous position again and on the agreement, secondly, which is the most important.

RFE/RL: What kind of verification mechanisms would you have to have in place for this to be acceptable to you?

Noghaideli: The actual implementation of the decision.

RFE/RL: You would not need any special controls or anything, just Russia's word?

Noghaideli: No, [Russia's] word is not enough. But the implementation of the words.

RFE/RL: And how would you verify this?

Noghaideli: Either when trade is not taking place through these checkpoints at all, or it is legalized and our customs and border guards are present.

RFE/RL: Would that mean some sort of international presence or simply a Georgian presence?

Noghaideli: It could be temporarily an international presence, and finally it should be a Georgian presence.

RFE/RL: Are you talking about this to any outside power, like the EU...?

Noghaideli: Everybody. Everybody's been aware of our position since 2004. Everybody's aware of our position since then. And I have once again briefed on our position our U.S. and EU colleagues.

RFE/RL: Has anyone offered you any assistance, any backing on this?

Noghaideli: We have discussed it several times and I think that we have the full understanding and backing from our partners.

RFE/RL: Do you feel any pressure from them, though?

Noghaideli: No, not really.

RFE/RL: In terms of longer-term developments, if you could just briefly explain what you want the European Union to do next with regard to the "frozen conflicts." Georgia's asked for a number of things. The European Union hasn't really delivered. Are you going to change strategy? Are you going to ask for other things?

Noghaideli: What we're looking forward [to] right now in the frozen conflicts is that a clear plan needs to be developed of the implementation of whatever we had already been throwing down before. We can't only say that... something like 'demilitarization,' simple word you know, that needs to be done -- what needs to be done in October, what needs to be done in November, what needs to be done in December and so on. This is what we're looking forward [to]because we need to address these issues and see the progress in the implementation of those measures. This is what we're looking forward [to]. The EU is going to play a role and certainly the primary role in the case of the South Ossetian conflict is [going to be the] OSCE and, in the case of Abkhazia, it's going to be the United States.

RFE/RL: But what extra measures do you expect the EU to take in the foreseeable future that it's not doing now?

Noghaideli: What we are looking forward [to] is a greater EU role in the conflict-resolution negotiation formats, for instance in the South Ossetian case the four-sided JCC [Joint Control Commission, made up of representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia].... We're looking forward [to] a greater EU and U.S. role in that format and the greater role of the EU in the implementation of those measures, which is a must for the confidence-building measures.

RFE/RL: But the first measure the EU has made pretty clear is not realistic right now, and the second measure would imply some sort of EU involvement to put pressure on Russia. That's also something the EU is not really willing to do at this stage.

Noghaideli: At this stage, but I think that we're developing. [And] we have had a significant clearly defined EU position, for instance the Luxembourg communique and yesterday's statement of EU on the [November 12] so-called referendum and elections in South Ossetia so I think that the situation is really developing.

RFE/RL: At the beginning of this year, Georgia seemed to be hoping that the EU could apply more pressure on Russia. That hasn't really materialized and the EU itself is now grappling with its own problems regarding Russia. Do you see any chances here of an enhanced EU role that could benefit Georgia?

Noghaideli: The EU's pressure on Russia is not the most important issue on our agenda, although we are certainly explaining all the time to our EU partners that Georgia and some of the Georgian issues should definitely be discussed with Russia. For instance, sanctions -- although sanctions are not that important as is orchestrated xenophobia, which is not simply a Russian-Georgian issue. It goes beyond that significantly, and I think that everyone should be raising their voice against whatever has been happening in Russia against ethnic Georgians, whether they are Georgian or Russian citizens. Something like that can not be left, without raising a voice from my point of view. Those are different issues definitely, and certainly as we do explain to the European Union our policies, then Russia is also portraying us as a problem creator.

NEIGHBORHOOD AGREEMENT WITH EU WILL BENEFIT ARMENIA GREATLY. RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani Services conducted the following interview with EU High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana in Brussels on November 14.

RFE/RL: What will the European Neighborhood Action Plan bring to the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Solana: This is a plan of cooperation with the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It has an objective to bring the three countries closer to the European Union with a mechanism that we have used with countries that finally became members of the European Union. The important part of it is that it is agreed between the governments of the respective countries and the European Union. That is, it is not the EU that will be governing your countries, but you will govern yourselves and will receive help from the EU. If the government is good, if it does things properly, it will receive help accordingly.

RFE/RL: And what if the government is not good?

Solana: In that case the cooperation with the government will diminish. If the government takes advantage of the help, the element of the neighborhood policy is to keep on help and increase the cooperation. If you do things better you'll get more. If the government fails to do sufficiently it will get less. This is the same political technology that was applied to countries that later became EU members, sector by sector, chapter by chapter in a very well-organized fashion that we have tremendous experience in.

RFE/RL: The Action Plan mentions something about frozen conflicts. How is the EU planning to help the countries of the region to have cooperation?

Solana: These countries are close to the EU, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, this is a very important region because it unites two parts of the planet and therefore it may have a very important role. But we would like those three countries also to work among themselves and that is also the focus of the program. We want to work with you as a region, and as a consequence of that the conflicts that exist in the regions will be resolved, otherwise it will be very difficult to construct a region if you have conflict among themselves. So we want to have a region that works together, that can progress together, that can take advantage of all the added value of working together, which is accompanied by the resolution of what you call frozen conflicts. I hope very much that we will be a catalyst for good in the matter of peace and not the opposite.

RFE/RL: Do the countries of the region really share European values? Do you reward them because of values or because, as critics say, for example, in Azerbaijan you need oil?

Solana: The example you bring is very wrong. Most of the energy doesn't come from Azerbaijan, for us Azerbaijan is not a source of energy as other countries are. We want Azerbaijan and Armenia to develop because they are important countries.

The values that we share are the values of democracy and rule of law. And we are establishing an action plan with you that requires governments not only to do well in economy, but also properly guard the democratic values that we and you defend.

RFE/RL: Can you give hope that these countries can one day become members of the EU?

Solana: The EU is a group of countries with very good and solid relations with the rest of the world and also the countries we have will be closer to the EU from the geographical point of view and from the viewpoint of shared values. But being close to the EU doesn't mean being part of it. We can sign very profound cooperation agreements with countries, but membership is a different story� We never say no, we always say let's keep on moving, cooperating as much as possible.

RFE/RL: What do you tell Turkey regarding its closed border with Armenia?

Solana: I've always told them [Turkey] that this is necessary and good for Turkey and Armenia to open their borders. We don't defend in any case closed borders, we defend open borders and movement of trade, people, goods. This is very important in today's global world where you cannot be closed, you have to be open by definition. We would like very much to see Armenia and Turkey cooperate. History is history, we have to look into the future, not to the past.

RFE/RL: Can Kosovo create a precedent for other conflicts?

Solana: No conflict is like the other. Conflicts normally have an origin, development and solution. And it is very unlikely that all the three elements are the same in different conflicts. You can learn from some conflict, but cannot apply the same model. There is no clone-ation.

SENIOR KARABAKH WAR VETERANS CALL FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. A group of Karabakh war veterans have called on Armenians to resort to civil disobedience in order to bring about change of government. In a written statement released on November 15, several dozen ex-commanders urged all war veterans to unite "to save Armenia and Armenians and restore justice in all spheres."

"The lands that we liberated are in danger today. We urge all our compatriots, all parties and individuals to put aside ideological differences and stop our homeland from falling into an abyss," they said. To that end, the "Brotherhood of Liberation Struggle" Council of Commanders urges everyone to join the movement of civil disobedience.

Commander of Karabakh self-defense forces and head of Yerkrapah's Karabakh structure Arkady Karapetian says this disobedience will mean that people no longer want the authorities to govern the country and it will eventually result in a power change. "If you don't accept that this person is your president, then you are ready for everything," Karapetian said.

The Karabakh war veterans say they will consider anyone who attempts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem at the expense of territories as their enemy. "Terrible things will happen if such an attempt is made," Karapetian warned. (Ruzanna Stepanian)

WHY WAS GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISMISSED? In a surprise move, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on November 10 dismissed Irakli Okruashvili from his post as defense minister and appointed him economy minister. Observers have offered several explanations for the hawkish defense minister's reappointment, with many considering it a demotion.

The man who was named to succeed Okruashvili as defense minister, former Finance Police head David Kezerashvili, assured Rustavi-2 television that "restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia remains our major goal, and nothing has changed," Caucasus Press reported on November 13.

Okruashvili, however, has made it clear that he is less than enthusiastic about his new appointment. He commented to his new subordinates on November 11 that "my heart and soul remain with the army," Caucasus Press reported.

Saakashvili's public explanation for transferring Okruashvili from the Defense to the Economy Ministry was that Georgia's economy "is now our battle front." Thus, the managerial and organizational talents of Okruashvili, whom Saakashvili described as "our strongest minister," are best deployed there, the Russian daily "Kommersant" wrote on November 13.

But commentators in both Tbilisi and Moscow have offered several alternative explanations. One, proposed by Georgian opposition parliamentarian Tina Khidasheli, stems from Okruashvili's aggressive stance with regard to the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia.

As interior minister, Okruashvili -- who was born in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali -- was behind an abortive incursion into that republic in the late summer of 2004. In February 2006, he publicly vowed to step down as defense minister if he failed to bring the breakaway region back under the control of the central Georgian government by the end of this year, enabling him to celebrate New Year 2007 in Tskhinvali.

Khidasheli therefore suggested that, in light of repeated Russian statements in recent months accusing Georgia of plotting a new military action against South Ossetia, Saakashvili "sacrificed" Okruashvili in the name of trying to improve strained relations with Moscow, a move she condemned as "setting a bad precedent," according to "Kommersant."

A second opposition politician, Imedi party Chairwoman Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, was similarly quoted on November 13 as saying that Okruashvili was "sacrificed" in the name of Georgian-Russian relations.

But if this was indeed Saakashvili's hope, it seems to have been misplaced: "Kommersant" on November 13 quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as saying that Okruashvili's dismissal "makes no difference." "In order to resume a dialogue," the official said, "[the Georgian leaders] first have to abandon the idea of using force" against Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Opposition Labor party leading member Djondi Baghaturia was quoted by the daily "Akhali taoba" on November 13 as suggesting that Okruashvili was demoted because other top officials felt threatened by his popularity and influence.

According to a poll conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra," the findings of which were published on November 6, more than 90 percent of the 552 respondents considered Okruashvili the second-most-influential figure in Georgia after Saakashvili, while 59 percent of the 463 respondents in a subsequent poll termed Okruashvili "the most attractive" Georgian politician, according to Caucasus Press on November 13.

Other analysts, however, believe that more sinister motives lay behind Saakashvili's decision to sideline Okruashvili, namely that Saakashvili feared Okruashvili might try to oust him.

Interfax on November 10 quoted Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Research, as saying that "this is the most important news from Georgia in 2006 -- it means that Saakashvili has averted a coup attempt." Markov added that in recent months, "Georgia has had not a Saakashvili regime but a Saakashvili-Okruashvili regime, in which the army was more loyal to the latter."

"Kommersant" for its part quoted a Kremlin insider as observing that "the impression is that Saakashvili considered [Okruashvili] excessively independent, and therefore dangerous."

But "Kommersant" also quoted unnamed Tbilisi analysts as dismissing the coup hypothesis on the grounds that Okruashvili's imputed popularity was grossly exaggerated, and that he "lacked the resources" to stage a successful seizure of power.

How Okruashvili's removal will affect the Georgian armed forces remains unclear. Civil Georgia on November 11 quoted the Georgian daily "Rezonansi" as predicting that Kezerashvili's promotion to defense minister is intended only as a stop-gap measure, and that Georgian envoy to the UN Irakli Alasania will soon be recalled to Tbilisi to take the post.

As economy minister, Okruashvili succeeds Irakli Chogovadze, who was simultaneously named to head the Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation following the resignation of its president, David Ingorokva, in the wake of a corruption scandal involving one of his subordinates. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "As long as Russia keeps meddling in the affairs of Abkhazia and [South] Ossetia, those republics will not reach any agreement with Georgia. They will not do so because Russia created this conflict with the objective of tearing them away from Georgia, and all the Kremlin's efforts are directed towards thwarting a peace agreement between them. But today we can state one thing in all certainty: until Russia resolves its problems with Chechnya it will not succeed in annexing these republics. Even though [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is trying to keep the situation in Abkhazia and Ossetia under control, we have information that as soon as Russia annexes those republics, Chechnya will immediately gain its independence." -- Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based foreign minister of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, in a November 12 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service.