Talk Of Ingush Border-Guard Replacement Causes Uproar
By Liz Fuller
PRAGUE, February 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Unconfirmed reports that the Federal Border Service of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has decided to replace Ingush border guards along Ingushetia's borders has triggered a storm of protest.
In January, the independent website ingushetiya.ru reported that all Ingush personnel have been or will be dismissed from serving at the six border posts in the Russian republic's Djeyrakh Raion, which borders on Georgia in the south and North Ossetia in the west.
Those Ingush, according to the reports, are to be replaced by Russian and Ossetian border troops.
Relations between the Ingush and Ossetians have been tense ever since violence broke out in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion in October-November 1992. According to official data, some 300 Ingush were killed and thousands were forced to flee to Ingushetia as a result.
Ingush commentator Magomed Surkhoyev equated the reported changes, which he said the Ingushetian leadership has not protested, with ceding a further tract of Ingushetia's historic territory to neighboring North Ossetia.
In addition, ingushetiya.ru later quoted Surkhoyev that Ingush residents of the villages of Lyazhgi, Guli, and Olgeti have been offered 2 million rubles ($75,460) per household to vacate their homes and settle elsewhere in Ingushetia.
Surkhoyev suggested that the North Ossetian authorities anticipate an influx of Ossetians from Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in the event of a new attempt to restore Tbilisi's hegemony over the region.
The reports, although unconfirmed, sparked widespread protests both in Ingushetia and among Ingush elsewhere in Russia who have long been concerned over reports of damage inflicted to historic monuments and the environment by Russian military and border guards in Djeyrakh.
That mountain district has the status of a national park and is the site of national monuments in the form of stone towers dating from the 15th, 16th, and 18th centuries.
On January 22, Ingush students in Moscow met with Issa Kostoyev, Ingushetia's representative on the Federation Council, and asked him to raise the issue with the Russian leadership.
Were the reports deliberately or unwittingly posted as part of a campaign to discredit Ingushetia's president?
Kostoyev reportedly told the students that he did not know of any Ingush who want to serve as border guards, but he offered to help any would-be recruits who want to join the Federal Border Service.
Just days later, ingushetiya.ru reported that an unspecified number of would-be recruits had expressed an interest in serving as border guards in Ingushetia.
Meanwhile, Yury Stredinin, the head of the federal border guard contingent in Ingushetia, reportedly met with Ingush officials to discuss local grievances.
Stredinin admitted during the meeting that unspecified problems have arisen in the past, apparently due to the lack of sensitivity of some officers, according to regnum.ru. He denied that any ethnic quotas exist for recruits to the border service, claiming that some 60 Ingush currently serve as border guards in their home republic, making them the second-largest national contingent there after the Russians.
Stredinin also claimed that only four Ossetians are serving as border guards in Ingushetia. He said it would be "ideal" if the majority of personnel serving on the Ingush border were recruited locally.
On January 24, Senator Kostoyev informed Federal Border Service Director Vladimir Pronichev during a Federation Council session that he has received numerous complaints about damage allegedly inflicted by border guards on the ancient stone towers. Pronichev undertook to look into those complaints. He also came out in favor of an Ingush presence among the border guards serving in Ingushetia.
Apparently in response to Kostoyev's intervention, four days later a delegation headed by Federal Border Service Deputy Director Vasily Redkoles traveled to Djeyrakh to assess the situation on the ground firsthand.
Redkoles and his delegation met with Djeyrakh district administration head Yakhya Mamilov, the figure ingushetiya.ru said was responsible for sounding the alarm over the situation on the border. But faced with top officials from Moscow, Mamilov reportedly denied the existence of any problems and praised the role of Stredinin, according to ingushetiya.ru.
Redkoles for his part was more forthcoming. He was quoted by regnum.ru as saying that it was imperative to react to the "dozens" of petitions, each signed by 30-50 people, complaining about damage to architectural monuments in Djeyrakh. While he noted that not a single such report of border guards being responsible for such damage has been confirmed, he implied that some Ingush may hold the border guards responsible for damage inflicted by regular army troops over whom the FSB has no jurisdiction.
Like Stredinin, Redkoles too came out in favor of recruiting local personnel to guard Ingushetia's border with Georgia. But at the same time, he pointed out that most Ingush are not "psychologically prepared" for such duty.
Finally, Redkoles cited unspecified "security concerns" in an apparent attempt to explain why the whole of Djeyrakh has been designated a "border zone" where passage is restricted, while in other North Caucasus republics the restricted zone extends only 5 kilometers from the frontier. Damage Done
Whether the official statements by Stredinin and Redkoles will succeed in allaying the Ingush misgivings is debatable, however.
Indeed, it is not clear just how accurate and reliable the original unsourced ingushetiya.ru reports of the deployment of Ossetian border guards were. That website has for years highlighted corruption and inefficiency within the Ingushetian leadership, which it further accuses of lacking the courage to defend the interests of the displaced Ingush from Prigorodny Raion.
The question thus arises: did ingushetiya.ru either deliberately or unwittingly post unverified information about the deployment of the Ossetian border guards as part of its ongoing campaign to discredit Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov? Either way, the reports served to compound the mutual animosity between Ingush and Ossetians.
As for the FSB's swift reaction to Kostoyev's request to Pronichev, it simply serves to underscore the importance that agency clearly attaches to ensuring that Russia's border with Georgia is professionally guarded to preclude the infiltration from Georgian territory of volunteers to swell the ranks of the North Caucasus jamaats.
Former Estonian Premier Tells Georgia To 'Forget' Russia
Mart Laar speaking to RFE/RL
February 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Georgian government is hoping to emulate many of Estonia's postcommunist successes, particularly regarding the economy. For the last nine months, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar has been working as an economic adviser to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili spoke to Laar in Tbilisi on January 30.
RFE/RL: What are your impressions, now that you've been several months in the job as an adviser to the Georgian president?
Mart Laar: Of course, I've learned a lot about the Georgian character. Which means what to do and what not to do, what to say, what not to say. Because sometimes the Georgian character is very "active" and it means everything happens very fast. And sometimes really just more organization is needed. But I have found there are very decent and very good people working in various government departments. I was afraid, to be very frank, that the attitude toward the rule of law and in other areas was significantly weaker. It's not so.
RFE/RL: But isn't it weak, the rule of law?
Laar: Yes, it's not so strong. I can't use the word "weak," but it's certainly not as strong as it should be. But what I've found is that there is really a lot of interest in moving forward and there has been improvement and movement. And of course it's not complete. It takes time...
RFE/RL: Are Estonians more patient than Georgians?
Laar: Oh, who knows. I'm not sure. Estonians are little bit more...their temperament is little milder, actually not just a little bit, but very clearly milder. Estonians are impatient in the same way that Georgians are, which is positive. Because for the people, they take every good thing that happens as a most normal thing. People in other countries take this for granted. This is not always so.
RFE/RL: Everybody wonders if the Georgian president listens to your advice?
As I've told a lot of Georgian businessmen -- "forget this market."
Laar: He listens. Sometimes he listens too actively. Some of my advice was realized more quickly than I expected. The president actually listens not only to my advice, but to the advice of lots of other people too. He is the listening president in this way. Very active, but listening as well.
RFE/RL: Let's talk about Georgian-Russian economic relations. When the blockade started and relations worsened, some foreign experts, the president, and government representatives said that it could be very useful for Georgia. Sometimes they even mentioned Estonia. That it would help Georgia to approach other countries and target better markets. Is that true? Is Russia no longer important for Georgia as an economic partner?
Laar: Yes, I can say that's absolutely true. As I've told a lot of Georgian businessmen -- "forget this market." Actually, it's not possible any more and you can be quite happy that this market won't exist because your exports there are low quality [and result from] low productivity. And when you really want to have a normal economy you must move toward the world market. That's the only way. And this is happening now. In a lot of business areas the only way to [achieve] a principal change in a company is by necessity. They don't have another option. That was exactly the same as in Estonia. It worked very well. And looking at the current economic development and even the current situation, where a lot of people thought that Georgia would be on its knees in the winter, that there will be enormous problems and the budget will go down, that GDP [gross domestic product] growth will be so small, but it has not happened. You are starting the first steps to reorientation but it's only a start, of course. You must continue and don't waste time hoping that this market in Russia will be open. One moment it will be open, but when Russia sees that you will manage so well in other areas there is no way [for Russia] to boycott. Why are Russians now trying to go back on some of the steps [taken]? Because they see very well that Georgia is surviving, Georgia is doing well.
Russia has banned Georgian wine (epa)
RFE/RL: You've just mentioned in comments on TV that the data and reports from international organizations about the economy in Georgia are very optimistic. But you can hardly explain that to ordinary citizens in Georgia.
Laar: No, I know. That was the same in Estonia too. People are not interested in international reports. They are interested in what is not done in the country. But again, knowing that these reports help you to develop, because these reports bring in investment and this is not only a report of what you have really done, because Western indices are not written by politicians. They are written by real experts and you can not hide your real situation in these reports. These reports are real, which means they will have a real positive impact, because a lot of foreign businessmen are looking at the situation, they make their decisions based on this. It's doesn't raise the government popularity at home, but it makes your country in the long-run more prosperous.
EU's 'Transformational Power' May Help Frozen Conflicts
February 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Peter Semneby, the EU's special representative to the South Caucasus, has spent much of the time since his appointment a year ago focusing on frozen conflicts. RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili spoke to Semneby about the EU's role in the region during a recent visit to Tbilisi.
RFE/RL: The various sides in the conflicts often give conflicting accounts of your views and the overall EU role. Do you feel that everyone wants to present the EU as being on their side?
Peter Semneby: All sides are interested in increasing their exposure to Europe. There is a growing realization in the whole region that the EU has huge transformational power that will develop over time. For that reason, there's a desire on the part of not only Tbilisi, but also the authorities and the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not to be left behind. I think this is a very healthy desire on their part.
RFE/RL: Is the EU going to get more involved in resolving the conflicts?
Semneby: My mandate is actually very broad. I’m here to give a voice and a face to the political part of the European Union. And I have a mandate that is directly related to conflict resolution. It was, in fact, strengthened by changing a few words when I was appointed. Whereas my predecessor was supposed to "assist" in conflict resolution efforts, I’m expected to "contribute" to them. It may not seem like much of a change in practical terms, but it's a political signal.
RFE/RL: What is your official status at negotiations on the frozen conflicts?
Semneby: In the negotiations that are taking place on South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- as we say, if and when they take place -- the EU does not have any formal status. That may seem a little bit strange, since the European Union is a significant actor in the region. But it also reflects a reality that was very much different when the conflicts emerged about 15 years ago. But the EU can nevertheless -- and I believe this very strongly -- have a significant influence on the course of the negotiations.
RFE/RL: Russia is a key player in negotiations on the frozen conflicts. This has been a problem for the Georgian authorities, because Moscow is also the main foreign ally for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian Foreign Ministry website refers to South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, for example, not as a "so-called" or "de facto" leader but as "the president of South Ossetia." Do you discuss these issues when you meet with Russian officials?
Semneby: Absolutely. The conflicts are the very important part of the EU agenda with Russia in general. And of course they dominate the meetings that I have with Russian officials. In general terms, we hope that Russia will play more active role in terms of seeking a solution to the conflicts. Any solution to the conflicts will have to be a peaceful, negotiated one and any solution to the conflicts would also have to involve Russia in one way or the other.
It has been a problem in the course of the last few months that, as a result of the Russian blockade against Georgia, the focus has been not on conflict resolution but on other issues related to Georgia which have also, in a way, diminished the role that Russia could play in terms of finding a solution to the conflicts.
I hope that the cautious, positive steps that we are seeing now with the decision of Russia to send its ambassador back to Georgia will also have a positive effect on possibilities of Russia and efforts of Russia to find solution to the conflicts.
RFE/RL: Moscow has given most of the people in the breakaway regions Russian passports. So who are these people? What country are they citizens of?
Semneby: This is a serious question that will also have to be the topic of any negotiations. It is problematic that by awarding Russian passports to the majority of the population in this region, any solution or negotiation on a solution has been prejudged, in a way.
RFE/RL: Do you think there is the possibility that the Russian peacekeepers in these regions might eventually be replaced?
Semneby: I don't exclude that there would be motivation to do this at some point. But I would not consider this to be the highest priority. The highest priority should be to make any effort possible in terms of confidence-building. That includes, of course, efforts by all sides, including Georgia.
There are lots of measures that Georgia could do to send strong, positive messages to the populations of the breakaway regions. This can be done on the very general political level, by making minority rights a more of a centerpiece, more of a priority in the policy of the Georgian government and the Georgian state in general. I think that would send strong positive signal.
RFE/RL: Have you seen any potential for direct contacts between Georgian officials and authorities from Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
Semneby: I hope that there are some contacts, fairly low-level contacts, at the moment. Any contact is positive.
RFE/RL: Is there any discussion between Tbilisi and Brussels about the peace process?
Semneby: There are various proposals the Georgian government has made, which of course we analyze and look at. When it comes to expectations vis-a-vis the European Union one has to be realistic, though. It's not in the cards that the European Union will make any major contribution to the peacekeeping forces in Georgia. At least, not at this stage. And I would say also not in the foreseeable future. But we are prepared to contribute to the negotiation processes.