Sunday, February 22, 2009

Georgian Song Mocking Putin to Compete in Eurovision Contest in Moscow

Georgia's official entry for the 2009 Eurovision song contest is making more headlines than it anticipated. The country selected We Don't Wanna Put In by Stefan & 3G out of ten entries from a combination of televoting and an expert jury. Due to compete in Moscow between 12 and 16 May 2009 at the Olympic Indoor Arena, the song has upset some in Russia, notably Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself.

Some have called the disco-funk song a play on words of Putin's name. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman of the PM, commented that "...if it is really so, we should only regret that the contestants from Georgia[,] instead of concentrating on the art, use such a popular contest in Europe for demonstrating their pseudo-political ambitions, or - simply speaking - their hooliganism." This slur is likely to follow the group when they enter the Russian capital.

While some claim that it could fall foul of Eurovision's rule against political content in entries, a spokeswoman for Georgian Public Broadcasting (GPB), who are organising the country's Eurovision bid, told Reuters: "This song is not about politics, it has nothing to do with politics and politicians." Lyrically, the song's political references are minimal, if not nonexistent. Some target words might include "the negative move/It's killing the groove," but nothing more to indicate that it is directed at Russia.

The song's acclamation came about after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War, in which Russia successfully invaded parts of Georgia, eventually recognizing the sovereignty of the two de-facto Georgian territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although members of Stefane & 3G initially did not conceal their entry's political context, on February 20, Kristine Imedadze, one of the singers in the band. While Stefane Mgebrishvili, another member, publicly acknowledged the title reference to the Russian PM, the group is now eschewing any abhorrent assertions.

This move, however it is derived, is largely astute on the group's part. Reception to Georgian nationals ever since the 2004 Rose Revolution has been inimical, but now more than ever in light of the recent war. The largely Russian audience to attend Eurovision this May is not likely to be jumping up and getting into the groove when the song is played. If anything, the safety of the group members might be of more concern, especially now, considering Putin's disapproval of such hooliganism. Despite their best efforts at mitigating the political examination for their song, Stefan & 3G will no doubt be attracting more attention in the time up to the contest.

Eurovision is the annual competition held by member-countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Joined by Stefane Mgebrishvili, the trio 3G consists of Nini Badurashvili, Tako Gachechiladze and Kristine Imedadze.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Russia to Build a Berlin Wall in Georgia?

Several reports have shown up on Georgian news sites concerning the possibility of Russia constructing walls around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. InterPressNews and The Georgian Times both speculated that the building of the walls would aim to prevent the local populations and stationed Russian soldiers from fleeing to Georgian territory. Three days later, Mikheil Saakashvili stated at Parliament that Russia was planning to build a wall in Abkhazia.

The reports coincide with the recent case of Junior Sgt. Aleksandr Glukhov, who fled the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali region and sought asylum in Georgia. While predominantly Russian news agencies maintain that the 21- year-old Russian conscript was subjected to psychological pressure or threats, the international case has largely fallen quiet.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated that it is unaware of any plans for the construction of a fence on South Ossetia’s border with Georgia. However, the ministry also said that the government of South Ossetia would have the right to erect an infrastructure on its border with adjacent states for national security reasons. Russian statements on the creation of a wall on the Abkhazian border with Georgia remain nonexistent for the time being.

The assertions on the Russian side evoke the same made by East German officials in 1961. That year, GDR Chairman Walter Ulbricht categorically stated in an international press conference that “No one has the intention of erecting a wall!” Two months later, a wall was constructed separating East Germany from West Germany for more than a quarter-century. November 9th of this year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lamentable though it may be, but it appears that its anniversary might signal the beginning of a new Wall in Georgia for years to come.

Why Nurture Russia's Illusions?

One of the best articles I've read on the current analysis of US-Russian relations and Russia's status quo: their intentions, objectives, and prospects. Perfect for anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Eurasian affairs.


Barack Obama wants to make friends with Russia, "press the reset button" as his Veep proposed the other day.

Sounds familiar. Bill Clinton bear hugged Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush peered into successor Vladimir Putin's soul. Yet relations haven't been this bad since Konstantin Chernenko's days at the Kremlin.

So what? America is on a roll in Eurasia. Democracy, open markets and stability spread across the region in the Clinton and Bush eras. From Estonia to Georgia to Macedonia, free people want to join the West.

At every step of the way, Russia sought to undermine this great post-Cold War project. Grant that the Kremlin acts in defense of its perceived interests but so should the U.S., and continue down this same path.

Here Foggy Bottom's finest chime in: Yes, but imagine a world with a friendly Russia, able to help us, say, stop Iran's atomic bomb program. So let's not push so hard to deploy anti-Iran missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia hates -- use, if necessary, the excuse that costs and feasibility require further study. Back off on closer NATO ties for Ukraine and Georgia. Make Russia feel important and consulted. Joe Biden sketched out this sort of bargain at last weekend's Munich security conference.

The conceit is we can win the Kremlin over by modifying our behavior. Before Mr. Obama tries, he should be aware of recent history. On missile defense, American diplomats spent as much time negotiating with Russia as with the Central Europeans, offering Moscow the chance to join in. Nothing came of it. On Kosovo independence and Iran sanctions, Russia blocked the West at the U.N.

Last spring, NATO snubbed Georgia and Ukraine in a signal of good will to Mr. Putin. The day after, Mr. Putin privately told Mr. Bush that Ukraine wasn't "a real country" and belonged in the Russian fold. Five months later, Russia invaded Georgia and de facto annexed its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to think Russia can be won over. After all, they would seem to need America (short for the West) far more than America needs Russia. We're not the enemy. Russia's real strategic challenges are in the East: China looks ravenously at the vast, mineral-rich, lightly populated Siberian steppe cut off from Moscow (to this day, you can't drive across Russia). And to the South: The arc of Islamic extremism, starting with a possibly nuclear Iran, a competitor for Caspian energy and influence.

And as Mr. Putin discovers each day his economy sinks further, Russia failed to take advantage of sky-high oil prices to diversify away from energy. It sells nothing of value to the world aside from gas, oil and second-rate weapons. Its infrastructure is decaying and its population in decline.

A Kremlin leader with a long-term view would see these grave threats to Russia's future and rush to build a close partnership with the West. But the interests of Mr. Putin and his small, thuggish, authoritarian clique don't necessarily coincide with that of Russia.

The Obama magic dust doesn't seem to work on a regime defined and legitimized by its deep dislike for America. Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin underling in the president's office, moved the state of the nation address to the day after the American election to spin the outcome for the domestic audience. The U.S., he said into the winds of pro-American sentiment sweeping across the world in the wake of the Obama win, was "selfish . . . mistaken, egotistical and sometime simply dangerous."

The Kremlin then welcomed Mr. Obama into the White House with the administration's first serious foreign policy headache. Taking $2 billion from its fast-depleting reserves, Russia bullied and bribed Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. military airfield, the main transport hub for supplies going into Afghanistan. Russia's desire for a "sphere of influence" trumps the threat of resurgent extreme Islamism in its southern underbelly.

The thinking here is Cold War porridge. But the Russians were never offered a new narrative. Mikhail Gorbachev's idea of a "European family" and Yeltsin's reforms foundered. Mr. Putin went back to a familiar recipe: Russia, empire-builder and scourge of the West.

A Cold War mentality lingers in America, too. A foreign policy caste rich in Sovietologists by habit overstates Russia's importance. The embassy in Moscow is huge; bilateral meetings inevitably become "summits," like in the old days.

Mr. Obama's fresh start is a good time for a reality check. The U.S. can work with Russia, seen in its proper place. To even suggest that the Russians have a special say over the fate of a Ukraine or our alliance with the Czechs lets Mr. Putin nurture the illusion of supposed greatness, and helps him hang on to power.

Ultimately it's up to the Russians to decide to be friends. One day, someone in the Kremlin will have to confront a hard choice: Does an isolated and dysfunctional Russia want to modernize and join up with the West, look toward China, or continue its slow decline? Until then, Mr. Obama better stock up on aspirin and dampen his and our expectations about Russia.

Georgia wants Abkhazia to be 'weapons-free' zone - minister

10/02/2009 15:11 TBILISI, February 10 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia is to demand that Abkhazia be declared an armaments-free zone, a Georgian minister said on Tuesday.

Russia and Abkhazia have agreed to open one military base in Gudauta, in the west of Abkhazia, and to establish a Russian Black Sea Fleet base in the coastal town of Ochamchira. No official documents have been signed, however.

"As for the deployment of Russian military bases in Abkhazia, Georgia will demand that Abkhazia be proclaimed a weapons-free zone, and that international police forces be deployed there," Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister on issues of reintegration, said.

Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states last year on August 26, two weeks after the end of a five-day military operation to "force Georgia to peace" which began when Georgian forces launched an attack on South Ossetia to try and regain control of the region.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia split from Georgia in the early 1990s, and most residents of both republics have had Russian citizenship for a number of years.

The chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said in November that the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be fully staffed with 3,700 personnel each by the end of 2009.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No More Brotherhood Between Ukraine and Russia

Good for Ohryzko and the much-needed official statement on the state of historic and cultural relations between Ukraine and Russia from the Kyiv Post.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko thinks that the period of "brotherhood and the unity of Slavic people" has been gone for a long time in Russia-Ukraine relations.

"The time has come to get rid of stereotypes and stamps of brotherhood, historic unity and other things. We are the two sovereign states and we should build our relations on the basis of the international law," Ohryzko said at a news conference in Kyiv on Monday.

"When one speaks about the Slavic unity, an interesting question arises: how many Slavic countries are NATO members and how many are not," the minister said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry can take "no red lines and no distribution of continents at the guidance of certain leaders" in the international security issue, the minister said.

"Each state has the right to choose its national security," Ohryzko said.