The firing of Georgia's defense minister and ongoing shakeup of the Georgian government is the biggest political crisis the country has faced since the coalition led by former President Mikheil Saakashvili left office two years ago. But does it threaten the country's ties with the West?
Many of the headlines in the Western press referred to the "pro-Western" orientation of the departed officials, with the implication that there was a geopolitical significance to the move. "Georgia's premier sacks pro-Western defense minister," wrote Reuters. "Georgia's Pro-West Foreign Minister Quits," reported Voice of America. "Georgian Pro-Western Foreign Minister Announces Resignation," reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Although the sacked defense minister, Irakli Alasania, himself suggested that his firing was "an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice," many other top Georgian officials took pains to ensure that that wasn't the case. "Our country's Euro-Atlantic integration is not only our government's, but our people's, choice and this process is and will be unchangeable," Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said after firing Alasania.
Germany and Uzbekistan have reportedly agreed on an extension of the leasing agreement for the German air force base in Uzbekistan. But the details of the deal remain a tightly held secret.
The previous agreement by which Germany operated the small air base at Termez, on the border with Afghanistan, lapsed at the end of October. Germany has operated the base, which supports German troops in Afghanistan, since 2001. As of a few days before the deadline the two sides had yet to agree on an extension, but they seem to have made a deal.
"The ministries of defense of the two countries signed an agreement of the rent of the air hub," a "source familiar with the situation" in Moscow told RIA Novosti. But the source "declined to specify the new time frame of the lease and the details of the agreement." The Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported the the two sides also signed a "non-disclosure agreement" to not reveal the terms of the agreement.
Russian analysts, of course, are spinning this as really being about the U.S. The fact that the Germans are paying "a substantial sum" for the base which is "absolutely not needed for the few hundred German soldiers staying in Afghanistan after 2014 ... indirectly shows that the extension of the base lease is also being used by the U.S. Air Force," Arslan Magomedov told Regnum.ru.
But an unnamed German official told RFE/RL that Termez is still important for the German military. "Regardless of the completion of the international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, we'll continue our important work. And that means that Termez remains an important air base for us."
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has removed Defense Minister Irakli Alasania from office shortly after Alasania accused prosecutors of using investigations into the defense ministry to derail Georgia's plans for NATO integration.
In a brisk televised statement, Gharibashvili claimed that Alasania's comments about the investigations are "causing the politicization of the defense ministry" and "negatively" impacting "our country's security and the government's efficient work."
"Our country's Euro-Atlantic integration is not only our government's, but our people's, choice and this process is and will be unchangeable," he said.
Georgia’s NATO-membership plans have come under attack from within the the country's government itself, embattled Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania claimed on November 4, as a crisis over investigations into his ministry deepens within the ruling coalition.
Alasania, rated as Georgia’s favorite political figure, declared in a televised briefing that prosecutors’ sudden spate of inquiries into the defense ministry’s work is politically motivated. After the arrest of five former and current ministry officials last week as part of a probe into a tender, prosecutors today filed criminal charges against three army medical officers in a food-poisoning case.
“This is an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice. This is an attack on the agency with an outstanding record in achieving our foreign policy goals,” Alasania asserted. “I will not be intimidated by the prosecutors or by mud-slinging by certain media groups,” he added.
He challenged the ruling Georgian Dream coalition to convene to discuss in which direction the country is headed. Next to him stood State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Aleksi Petriashvili.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Abkhazia's de facto president Raul Khajimba at the Kremlin in August. (photo: Kremlin)
As Russia and Abkhazia negotiate closer ties, the Abkhazian side is signaling that it is no Crimea and that it has no wish to be annexed into its neighbor and patron.
A draft of a proposed "Treaty on Alliance and Integration" between the two parties was released in October and caused a substantial outcry in Abkhazia, where many objected to what they said was in effect a sacrifice of their sovereignty to Moscow. Abkhazia won de facto independence in the early 1990s after a war with Georgia, and although Russia today is essentially Abkhazia's only ally and protector, Abkhazians remain ambivalent about Russia's heavy hand in their affairs.
Last week, Abkhazia released its own proposal for the agreement. It makes some substantial changes, starting with the name: it replaces "Integration" with "Strategic Partnership." And it gives Abkhazia more control over the joint armed forces and "unified defense space" that the agreement envisages.
The new public draft comes after Abkhazian officials acknowledged that the proposal -- like nearly all agreements between Russia and Abkhazia -- was drafted by Russia and signed by Abkhazia. But government officials in Sukhumi say they're not working that way any more. At an October 17 public meeting on the agreement, covered by local newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda (not online, via BBC Monitoring) Deputy Foreign Minister Irakli Khintba said:
With the arrival of November, the serfs trickle home from Turkmenistan’s cotton fields. But a culture of state employees being forced to labor in menial jobs continues throughout the year, says an annual monitoring report. As they wait for the fields to bloom again with “white gold,” low-skilled municipal workers such as janitors and security guards are obliged to do free housekeeping for Turkmen bureaucrats, and to travel to faraway cities to participate in cleanups for the state, the report alleges.
Turkmenistan’s Central Asian neighbor Uzbekistan is usually the focus of international flak for mobilizing its citizens – notably students – to harvest cotton each fall. But totalitarian Turkmenistan, which produces more cotton per person than Uzbekistan, is just as keen on exploiting its bloated public sector for field hands, according to the October 14 briefing, published by Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), a service run by Turkmen exiles who partner with Amnesty International and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Drawing on domestic accounts, the second annual report provides an important insight into Turkmenistan’s labor market. It pays particular attention to Turkmenistan’s low-paid state employees who have limited means to defend their rights in a country where de facto unemployment is high and cowed government workers can be replaced easily.
A scandal over alleged contract-rigging by Georgia’s defense ministry has become the country’s main political intrigue, with some observers increasingly worried that prosecutors could begin circling around popular Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. Some question how bona-fide the reasons for this investigation may actually be, however.
Prosecutors allege that the former head of the defense ministry’s procurement department and four current officials fixed the ministry’s call for bids to award a lucrative contract to major communications company Silknet. They maintain that the ministry agreed to an above-market offer for the bid, thereby defrauding the state of 4.1 million lari or $2.34 million.
Deputy Defense Minister Aleksi Batiashvili, named as a “close relative” of Silknet’s financial director, has been called in for questioning as a witness in the case. He has claimed that he had nothing to do with the tender, which Silknet says occurred before his appointment.
The arrests occurred on October 28, while Alasania was in Germany on an official trip. Fresh back, he immediately spoke up for the detainees. “I am confident of the complete innocence of my employees, as, obviously, I was following the procurements and I know that everything was done in full compliance with the law,” Alasania said on November 1.
That knowledge, though, has prompted a few to wonder whether the prosecutors’ interest will next turn to Alasania himself.
As Uzbekistan continues the annual cotton harvest that is largely responsible for the Aral Sea’s demise, officials in Tashkent are boasting that a recent donor conference raised close to $3 billion to help save the endangered lake, once the world’s fourth-largest.
Verifying Uzbek government claims is never easy, and conference attendees are not hurrying to confirm or break down the impressive figure. But an event for the Aral Sea did take place in Urgench, a city not far from the Aral’s receding shoreline, on October 27 and 28. Addressing the conference via pre-recorded video, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon demanded better international coordination to “mitigate environmental catastrophe” reported uz24.uz, an Uzbek outlet. According to the independent Uznews.net, the conference was organized by the authoritarian state in conjunction with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, a regional club, which critics say has done almost nothing since it was set up in 1993.
NASA satellite photos released in late August show that even a partial replenishment of the water-starved Aral is unlikely: The lake’s eastern tranche has completely dried up for the first time in history.
In terms of statistics, unless they are the rosy government sort, Tajikistan often appears to be on the edge of an abyss. But somehow the poorest country to emerge from the Soviet Union chugs on.
So a grim World Bank report out this week probably does not indicate imminent collapse. But it is unnerving to see that almost every macroeconomic indicator suggests trouble ahead. And Tajikistan’s latest predicament coincides with a push from Moscow to join Russia’s new Eurasian Economic Union.
Tajikistan’s economic dependence on Russia is, as economists have long warned, a liability—and not only because it gives Moscow enormous influence. “The possible spillover effect from the Russian slowdown onto the Tajikistan economy is estimated to be one of the largest in the [Europe and Central Asia] region: a 1 percentage point reduction in the growth of Russia’s GDP would reduce growth in Tajikistan by the same amount,” says the October 27 report, “Tajikistan: Moderated Growth, Heightened Risk.”
For starters, over a million Tajiks, or about one-half of working-age Tajik men, labor in Russia, usually in menial jobs. Their transfers are worth about half of Tajikistan’s GNP, making it the most remittance-dependent country in the world.
But as the Kremlin sacrifices Russia’s economy for its Ukraine policy, which has caused a new low in relations with the West, the resulting downturn is hurting the ruble and Tajikistan’s economy at large. An ailing ruble buys fewer dollars to send home.
In the story, published on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, Galajian listed 60 individuals allegedly engaged in what he termed gay propaganda. He included links to their Facebook profiles and called for their total ostracization. He also urged employers and schools to cut off any contact with these individuals. State employers, he added, “should fire them under any convenient pretext," one English translation of the Armenian text reads.
When Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK), an LGBT-rights group, and 16 individuals from the blacklist sued Galajian, his newspaper responded with articles laced with homophobic slurs, which described the plaintiffs as "fag defenders" and grant-guzzlers; the latter an ex-Soviet pejorative for international donor-sponsored civil society groups.