Commercial flights between Russia and Georgia have again been resumed following their suspension in 2006. They were previously briefly resumed in 2008, prior to the military conflict over South Ossetia. In an interview with RFE/RL, Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Center says the development has symbolic importance, and a revival of economic ties could follow..
“There are signs that suggest that Moscow basically didn’t want Russian-Georgian to deteriorate to the point of no return,” he says. But he believes political entente between the two countries is practically out of the question as long as Mikhail Saakashvili remains in power in Georgia.
David Darchiashvili, a member of the Georgian parliament, tells RFE/RL that the resumption of direct flights “is commercial and partly humanitarian and has little to do with political matters,” adding that in order for normal economic ties to be re-established, a revival of political ties is necessary. “Everything must start by enabling independent international observers to be deployed in the surrounding territories,” Darchiashvili says.
Speculation Over Moscow Mayor’s Future
One of the main themes of political speculation in the New Year is whether or not the country’s leadership will remove Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. RFE/RL’s Danila Galperovich begins this report on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, full of imposing symbols of Luzhkov’s power, such as Bank Moskvy.
Political scientist Vladimir Pribylovsky believes that the Kremlin and the White House -- the seat of the Russian federal government -- have agreed that Luzhkov must go. “Within the next 6 months we will have a new mayor,” Pribylovsky asserts.
But Boris Nemtsov, co-chairman of the Solidarity opposition movement, tells RFE/RL that according to his information, Luzhkov enjoys the support of Vladimir Putin, and thus his post is secured. “There is ample...information that Mr. Putin wants to keep Luzhkov for several more years," he says. "...The clan system is of key significance.”[read in Russian]
Yukos Hearings Resume
On Jan. 7, hearings in the “Second Yukos Trial” resumed in the Khamovnichesky Court in Moscow. The former founder and head of the defunct oil company Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev stand accused of running a criminal organization and stealing 350 million tons of oil.
RFE/RL correspondent Mariana Torocheshnikova attended the hearings. “Basically I stand accused of secretly and physically stealing 350 million tons of oil from its owners," Khodorkovsky told the court. "That’s a trainload that would stretch around the globe three times over at the equator. It’s not surprising that they don’t have any proof, but they [the prosecution] can’t explain what they have in mind.”