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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

A horrible car crash in Almaty

I knew road accidents are a big problem in the former Soviet Union, from news stories and from seeing wrecks by the side of the road. The Uzbek government even puts up signs that show car wrecks along with the cause of the accident — speeding, use of mobile phone, overtaking. But nothing drives the point home like being a personal witness, as I have experienced thrice during the last 48 hours.

The first time was when, on Friday, our marshrutka from Kochkor to Bishkek only very narrowly avoided a head-on collision with an oncoming car that was on our lane as it was overtaking another car. Perhaps the driver was unaware that there would be opposing traffic on that lane, since for that short section, our original two lanes were closed for road works. As it is, our driver managed to break just enough for him to inch past.

The second time was when, that same evening, we saw on the streets of Bishkek the following sight: one marshrutka on its side and another one damaged. Fortunately, it looked like the accident was not as bad as it might have been.

20140905_bishkek_accident

The third time was by far the worst. Last night, on our way to the airport of Almaty, we drove past another accident site. I have tried to capture the impression in words.

There one man lies on the ground. I don’t see any blood near his head, and see, he moves his legs, which is a good thing. But his is a strange movement — has someone instructed him to keep on treading the air or are these automatic reflexes of a malfunctioning body? There comes the ambulance, rolling slowly forward. Then the wreckage. A wreckage like the many wreckages put up alongside the road and displayed on signs, the front torn open. But containing four motionless bodies. Is it at all possible that these men are still alive? Sounds enter from outside. A woman wailing? There should be another car, but this is all I see.

Filed under: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Photography, , ,

2014 Abkhazia Presidential election guide

I have created an overview of the upcoming Presidential election in Abkhazia. Not here, but at Wikipedia, where it can be continuously updated and where others can contribute as well.

Of the candidates that were originally nominated, outgoing Vice Premier Beslan Eshba failed to pass the Abkhaz language test. The four remaining candidates are opposition leaders Raul Khajimba and Leonid Dzapshba, outgoing Head of the State Security Service Aslan Bzhania and outgoing Defence Minister Mirab Kishmaria. Most radically opposed are Khajimba, who lead the protests that brought down President Alexander Ankvab, and Bzhania, who represents the old government and who has called the storming of the Presidential Administration criminal. In light of the diverging opinions regarding Ankvab’s ouster, this may very well become the first Abkhazian Presidential election to require a run-off.

It will be interesting to see to what extent Kishmaria will manage to assume the role of an apolitical candidate representing moderation. At campaign meetings he has stressed ethnic harmony, while as one of Abkhazia’s foremost war-time commanders his patriotic credentials are beyond doubt. Should Kishmaria reach a run-off, this position could hand him a surprising victory.

Dzapshba seems to be the weakest candidate of the four. While Khajimba played a leading role in the protests against Ankvab and has managed to secure most of the opposition’s support, Dzapshba has decided to go it alone. He is also hampered by the fact that while one of the opposition’s major complaints is government corruption, Dzapshba is one of the very few officials of the Bagapsh-Ankvab era to have been dismissed and prosecuted for corruption, even if the process never reached a verdict and may have been politically motivated to begin with. Tellingly, Dzapshba participated in the by-election to Parliament following Eshba’s appointment as Vice Premier, but only managed to finish third. His goal now may be to score a decent percentage and to trade his support in an eventual run-off for an influential position.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, Wikipedia, , , , ,

Ankvab accepts resignation — what next?

One week ago, Alexander Ankvab was still President of Abkhazia, and while the opposition had announced protests for the 27th, nothing indicated his days in office were numbered. But the protests triggered a national crisis, and a mere five days later, Ankvab’s position had become so weak that he was left with no other choice but to resign, followed a day later by Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia.

In retrospect, it is possible to identify two crucial events that led to this outcome. When protesters stormed the Presidential Administration on the 27th, Ankvab fled to the Russian military base in Gudauta. This was a visible sign of weakness. It allowed the opposition to claim Ankvab had deserted his post, and it prevented him from addressing the population and from directing his government. Secondly, the opposition secured the support of Parliament, which gave it a crucial degree of legitimacy.

In a certain light, what happened in these five days is quite amazing. When was the last time a President was overthrown by a popular uprising so swiftly, and without a drop of blood being spilled?

On closer inspection, not all is well. It certainly was a tactical mistake of Ankvab to flee to Gudauta, but Ankvab more than others has reason to worry about his safety, having survived no less than six assassination attempts. So when government representatives say they had concrete information about a plan to murder Ankvab when the Presidential Administration was stormed, and later again when he intended to return to Sukhum, this is credible, providing some justification for Ankvab’s behaviour and casting a shadow over the peaceful nature of the protests.

The role of Parliament is also somewhat questionable. It had the right to pass a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister Lakerbaia and to call upon Ankvab to resign. But it overstepped its authority when, after Ankvab refused to agree to this, it proceeded to appoint its Speaker Valeri Bganba as acting President. Originally, only 19 of Parliament’s 35 members met. The opposition then apparently managed to win over some pro-government MPs to its side, raising the number to 24, enough for a constitutional majority. But the constitution requires that in case of impeachment, a claim that the President has failed to fulfill his duties is confirmed by the Constitutional Court, which it was not.

Finally, it is far from clear whether Ankvab’s resignation is right. His government did not use force against protesters, and the opposition does not seem to have accused Ankvab personally of corruption. That charge may hold water against other government members, but most opposition leaders have previously held office in governments that were likewise corrupt and incompetent. Perhaps most importantly, Ankvab was elected with a comfortable majority, defeating the current opposition leaders, and it is not evident that the country as a whole supports his immediate resignation.

The election has been set for 24 August, and it promises to be very competitive, as there will be no government candidate who may be seen by voters as the ‘default’ choice. Nevertheless, there is a risk that it will simply be a re-run of the 2011 election.

The opposition consists of a broad range of politicians, and it may not present a single candidate. Riding on the success of these protests, Raul Khajimba will certainly not want to miss his best chance of becoming President since 2004, even if for the moment he is careful to explain that he will first have to consult with his supporters. But this is also a golden opportunity for Sergei Shamba. When in 2011, as outgoing Prime Minister, he came second, it seemed to have been his last attempt, as he would have been over the constitutionally mandated maximum age of 65 at the time of the next election. After his defeat, he announced his retirement from politics, but in practice he has joined the opposition and has now been handed one more chance. He may try to present himself as a compromise candidate. But for the same reason that he is the ‘safe’ choice, Shamba in particular is not likely to fight hard against corruption, or to strongly defend Abkhazia’s interests vis-à-vis Russia.

A very important question is to what extent Russia played an active role in this revolution, with the purpose of bringing into power people who would then give in to Russia’s demands where Ankvab would not. While this cannot be answered with certainty except through direct testimony, the opposition must be judged by its actions if it comes to power.

On the government’s side, the fact that Ankvab did not use force against protesters and his relatively graceful resignation mean that he still has the opportunity to seek vindication at the polls. He should resist that temptation, acknowledge that Abkhazians do have a lot of cause for dissatisfaction and throw his weight behind a younger candidate, although it remains to be seen who that might be.

Abkhazia now has an opportunity to renew itself if it elects into government a set of young reformers. But it could just as well fall back and return to power the strongmen of yesterday.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , ,

Some thoughts on the crisis in Abkhazia

On the 27th, opposition protesters led by Raul Khajimba rallied in the centre of Sukhum, demanding major government change. After several rounds of unsuccessful talks with government representatives, protesters stormed the Presidential Administration, causing President Alexander Ankvab to flee to Gudauta. Since then, Vladimir Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov has flown in from Russia to help find a way out of the resulting stand-off. In the most recent development, Parliament tonight passed a motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia and called upon President Ankvab to resign.

  • Besides decrying government corruption and inaptitude, the opposition has two major grievances: that the government has failed to use massive amounts of Russian aid to develop Abkhazia’s economy, leaving it in a very dependent position, and that it has been issuing passports to Georgians much too liberally, undermining Abkhazian statehood.
  • This is the biggest political crisis in Abkhazia since the Tangerine Revolution in 2004. At the time, Khajimba was the outgoing Prime Minister and first President Vladislav Ardzinba’s anointed successor, but he lost to opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh, which after months of protests he was forced to concede. Ankvab’s support played a crucial role in Bagapsh’s victory and he succeeded him after his death in 2011.
  • Already during Ardzinba’s Presidency, there were large-scale protests, which played a role in his high government turn-over, and even calls for Ardzinba’s impeachment. That is to say, the current government is not necessarily excessively unpopular. But that the Presidential Administration was now stormed so relatively frivolously indicates the lack of respect enjoyed by Ankvab personally, who has always been a divisive figure.
  • The taking of the Presidential Administration echoes its occupation by supporters of Bagapsh (and Ankvab) during the 2004 Tangerine Revolution.
  • In 2004, Khajimba disputed Bagapsh’s victory on the grounds that votes cast by Georgian residents of the eastern districts were invalid as these were not Abkhazian citizens. While this was clearly a very opportunistic claim (as his own government had organised the election), the point had some merit, and holding an Abkhazian passport has since become a precondition for voting. The current Khajimba-led opposition now claims that the government has been issuing passports to Georgians to once again extent its voter base. It has demanded the firing of the officials responsible, including the governors of the eastern districts.
  • It was initially reported that Ankvab had agreed to dismiss the government, and later also the Prosecutor-General and two district governors. Ankvab has now denied this. Likely he is prepared to concede this point, and Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia has expressed his willingness to resign to alleviate the crisis. But the opposition now demands Ankvab’s own resignation.
  • The protest has prompted government supporters to rally in turn. It appears the opposition supporters are more numerous.
  • It is unclear what policy vis-à-vis Russia the opposition would pursue. While it decries the fact that the government’s policy has left Abkhazia so dependent on Russia, given that Khajimba enjoyed Russia’s support during the 2004 Tangerine Revolution, closer integration with Russia cannot be excluded. Moreover, the opposition consists of many different groups, and much depends on who would actually obtain power.
  • Since 2008, Abkhazia’s entry into the Russian Federation had been off the table. Russia’s annexation of Crimea means that from Russia’s perspective, this is no longer impossible. The greatest existential danger for Abkhazia is that the current crisis could enable Russia to force through this option. However, this is probably not what Russia wants, since it has no real reason to be unhappy with the current arrangement, and such a move would destroy its attempts to mend relations with Georgia (on its own terms) and further antagonise other countries.
  • The government includes a number of fresh faces whose appointment was welcomed at the time. The opposition has acknowledged this by proposing that one-third of its government would consist of incumbents who are performing well, as its goal is a government for the good of Abkhazia, not purely to bring the opposition into power.
  • Opposition protesters have also entered the offices of Abkhazia’s national broadcaster, whose employees now complain that they cannot report objectively in such circumstances. Intriguingly, Ankvab gave an interview to Abaza TV, owned by Beslan Butba, one of the opposition leaders.
  • So far, the crisis has been relatively peaceful (the government has not used force against protesters), in keeping with Abkhazia’s political culture.

Filed under: Abkhazia, ,

Tuvalu re-establishes diplomatic ties with Georgia following EU pressure

On 31 March Georgia and Tuvalu re-established diplomatic relations. Georgia had previously broken off diplomatic relations on 16 February 2012, after Tuvalu had recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The signed document reportedly includes a statement that Tuvalu considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be part of Georgia. This is a political victory for Georgia — even if it is dubious whether recognition can legally be withdrawn and even though Abkhazia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Irakli Khintba reported that as of 31 March, Tuvalu had not formally broken off diplomatic relations with Abkhazia. It would not be so significant had Abkhazia and South Ossetia managed to obtain further recognitions in the meantime, but they haven’t, so it is.

But this decision is also significant for another reason. In an interview with Radio New Zealand International, Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Taukelina Finikaso explained the recent about-face by stating that he hoped that financial assistance from the European Union would now increase, after having slumped following Tuvalu’s original recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This demonstrates the hypocrisy behind complaints that recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was ‘bought’ by Russia through financial assistance. One should not have doubted that western countries are not above such tactics, but it is nonetheless instructive to receive explicit confirmation.

Filed under: Abkhazia, European Union, Georgia, South Ossetia, The Great Recognition Game, Tuvalu

Book review: Black Sea by Neal Ascherson

black sea - coverBlack Sea — The Birth Place of Civilisation and Barbarism

Neal Ascherson

first edition:

Jonathan Cape, London
June 1995
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0-224-04102-7

second edition:

Vintage Books, London
October 2007
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0-099-52046-7

Black Sea is a wonderful book. Not a conventional history that chronologically works its way through the centuries up until the present day, but a fragmentary collection of people, peoples and historic episodes, interspersed with accounts of visits on the ground by the author.

To say that the Black Sea is the main character in these stories would be a cliché, and not a very useful one. Rather, the common theme that Ascherson investigates is the question of national identity, of national belonging.

Black Sea covers such diverse subjects as Crimea and the (mostly tragic) fate of its Goths, Karaites and Tatars, 19th century Odessa, the Polish aristocracy’s belief that it descended from Sarmatian invaders (Sarmatism), Adam Mickiewicz and other Polish intellectuals who dreamt of restoring Poland’s independence, Wolfgang Feuerstein’s attempts to emancipate the Laz people and Abkhazia’s struggle for independence. It starts and ends with the Black Sea’s ecology.

Ascherson’s personal experiences include the sudden, chilling death of a handicapped girl during a nightly bus journey on the Turkish coast and a family reunion of descendents of Mikhail Lermontov, who did not really have a family.

With so much diversity, the reader could find themselves stuck in a topic of lesser interest — which they could easily skip.

Perhaps the largest part of Black Sea is devoted to the interaction of Greek colonists and Iranian steppe peoples (Scythians and Sarmatians, ancestors of today’s Ossetians) that started 3000 years ago, and that, Ascherson argues, gave birth to the contrast between civilisation and barbarism in the European intellectual tradition. A more superficial work would have contented itself with highlighting the many differences between Greeks and Iranians. Ascherson instead considers to what extent individual identities were actually fluid, finding that in particular cases (the Bosporan Kingdom) cultural distinctions were all but overcome.

But Ascherson is careful not to romanticise the past, arguing that the peoples of the Black Sea have in fact always lived together in distrust, and that they cannot serve as a multi-cultural ideal. However, he also points out that when violence erupts, it is often not instigated by the communities themselves, but by conationals living in far-away metropolitan centres. Thus, the sense of Greek ‘civilised’ superiority was not developed by the Ionian settlers who lived among Iranian ‘barbarians’, but by the famous Greek playwrights of Athens.

Ascherson also very keenly analyses the workings of diaspora identity, pointing out that for the most part, identifying as part of a diaspora is easy, as one can “remain in the relative comforts of Chicago, New York or Melbourne with the extra sentimental empowerment of a second passport and a flag to carry on the old country’s independence day parade”, while “the cultural gap between diaspora and ‘homeland’ coud widen very rapidly indeed”. But under exceptional circumstances, “these cheques on the Bank of Symbolism are presented for payment”, and diaspora members make use of their identity, like the Pontic Greeks, who “return home”, and “by ‘return home’ […] mean modern Greece”. Ascherson rightly notes that “even Zionist Jews cannot match the extravagance of this statement, as a remark about history”, since their ancestors emigrated almost three thousand years ago, from the Ionian coast (in modern-day Turkey). “And yet now their descendents head for Athens or Salonica as if it were the most natural thing in the world.”

It is striking how straightforwardly the processes at work here seem to translate to other communities. For years, nothing seemed to indicate that more than a handful of the small Abkhazian diaspora in Syria would ever heed the Abkhazian government’s call to repatriate. Then came the Syrian civil war, and last year hundreds have ‘returned home’.

Ultimately, what makes the book such a pleasure to read is Ascherson’s learnedness and his well-written prose. The former manifests itself as a treasure trove of stories embedded in a nuanced narrative, the latter can best be demonstrated by way of more citation.

On Ascherson’s inadvertent witnessing, in the Crimean night, of Mikhail Gorbachev’s detention during the failed coup of August 1991 (p13):

What I had seen was the conspirators’ candle, the spark carried through the night by men who supposed that they were reviving the revolution and saving the Soviet Union. Instead, they lit a fire which destroyed everything they honoured.

On Stalin’s repression of the academic discipline of archaeology (p76):

Archeology tunnels into the deep foundations on which the arrogance of civilisations and revolutions rests. When the tunnellers enter foundations which should be rock but are merely sand, the floors of the state apartments high above them begin to tremble.

On the initiative by Don Cossacks to occupy a pre-revolutionary Cossack industrialist’s city mansion and present it to his modern-day descendent (p105):

Madame Nathalie Fedorovsky was born in Belgium, raised in Katanga and now dwells in Roissy, near Paris. But her Russian is perfect. More important, this wise and polished lady possesses a French sense of proportion. She was aware of all the ironies: that Cossack male machismo should be constructing a cult round a woman; that pre-capitalist steppe horsemen should be making a shrine out of an industrialist’s city mansion. She walked through the streets of Rostov like a queen, with a small, fluttering retinue. Madame Fedorovsky was not to be manipulated.

On the ideology by the Polish nobility that it descended from Sarmatians (p234):

At the end of the eighteenth century, Sarmatism collapsed under its own stupidity. But in its fall, it also destroyed Poland itself, and the independence for which the nobility had fought so fiercely for so many centuries.

Only very rarely does Ascherson’s approach misfire, when introducing rather vaguely the thesis of the artist Krysztof Wodiczko on modern-day migration, without establishing its relevancy, or when introducing the Laz with a description that is overly romantic. Occasionally, an exceptional statement ought to have been supported by more details or references, such as the claim that a ring found near the mouth of the Danube belongs to the same Scythian prince Scyles who prominently features in a story by Herodotos, or the story that in October 1993, 3000 Ussuri Cossacks spontaneously began to patrol the Russian border with China. In one case, Ascherson is simply mistaken, namely when he states that the Empire of Trebizond was founded when the son of the Roman Emperor, Alexios Komenos, fled the Crusaders’ conquest of Constantinople. (In reality, Alexios Komnenos was the grandson of a previous Emperor, grew up at the court of his aunt, Queen Tamar of Georgia, after his grandfather was deposed and his father blinded, and declared himself Emperor (of the whole empire, but from Trebizond) a few months before the Crusaders entered Constantinople. That event meant that his claim for the throne was never resolved through civil war, but rather led to the establishment of a separate empire in Trebizond.)

While Black Sea was originally written just after the fall of the Soviet Union, a second edition has been published in 2007. The differences are relatively minor, and the fact that so little needed to be updated is a testimony to its lasting relevance. The one exception is the welcome addition of an afterword on the impact of post-communist transition on the state of the Black Sea’s ecology. The second edition of Black Sea also comes with a new, beautiful cover, although sadly it has only been published in pocket format (although a hard cover edition has since been released by the Folio Society, with yet another cover).

Filed under: Abkhazia, Book reviews, Crimea, Lazistan, Poland, Pontic Greece, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Wider Region

Ankvab changes mind, proposes abolishing Vice President, not Prime Minister

On 31 January, President Ankvab sent a draft constitutional amendment to Abkhazia’s People’s Assembly that would abolish the position of Vice President. The proposal itself is not strange. Ankvab’s representative to the People’s Assembly Dmitri Shamba argues (as was pointed out here before) that the Vice President does not fulfill a clear function and that it is a post which few countries have, especially in combination with the post of Prime Minister (the only other country in Europe is Bulgaria). The most important purpose of the Vice Presidency has so far been to facilitate political alliances in the run-up to elections and to resolve the 2004 post-election crisis (although arguably that eventually proved unsatisfactory for Raul Khajimba precisely because the Vice President has so little power).

The reason why this decision is nonetheless somewhat surprising is that in late 2012, Ankvab had argued that Abkhazia should rather abolish the position of Prime Minister, as the Vice President enjoyed a direct popular mandate (although that logic is flawed, since Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates run on one ticket, and the former presumably plays the largest role in determining a voter’s choice).

Ankvab’s change of heart may have been influenced by (or may well have influenced) the announcement last December by Mikhail Logua that he was resigning as Vice President due to health reasons.

Filed under: Abkhazia, , , ,

Book review: Chechnya Diary by Thomas Goltz

chechnya diary - coverChechnya Diary — A War Correspondent’s Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya

Thomas Goltz

Thomas Dunne Books, New York
October 2003
302 pages
ISBN: 978-0-312-26874-9

The village of Samashki was the site of a massacre during the first Chechen war in which more than hundred residents were executed by Russian forces. Chechnya Diary is written around this event. The author, Thomas Goltz, was in Samashki in the weeks before the massacre to film a freelance report on the ‘Chechen spirit’, and documented the fighting that preceded it.

Still, Chechnya Diary is not so much a book about the Samashki massacre, but rather a book about Goltz’s report of the Samashki massacre and everything that preceded and followed it. It is a breathtaking account of war reporting. (Goltz has documented his prior experiences elsewhere in the Caucasus in Azerbaijan Diary and Georgia Diary.)

Throughout the book, Goltz is brutally honest, most of all about his own failings. That while he doesn’t condone their acts of killing, he sympathises with the volunteer fighters, that they have become his friends. That he is courting death, that he is often senselessly risking his life, his primary concern being merely to obtain spectacular shots. And Goltz admits that he is consciously blurring the lines between observation and participation — this is the declared theme of the book, dedicated to the Heisenberg principle.

We do learn things about the Chechen conflict itself, and about Samashki in particular. For instance, the tension stemming from the fact that while Chechen resistance was fueled by a desire to protect traditional society and morality (adat), recently arrived Chechens from the diaspora in Central Asia would at the same time hold a more hardline position regarding armed resistance against and cooperation with Russian authorities and put less value in adat and be generally more modern than local Chechens. In general, Goltz does his best to set the record straight whenever his observations on the ground belie contemporaneous media reports. Most importantly perhaps, he tries to do justice to the Chechens he meets, whether or not they pick up arms. The Chechen wars were largely fought by ordinary villagers with families, who would revert to being just that.

Nevertheless, Goltz somehow does not manage to convey the scale of the Samashki massacre implied by the number of dead. Here the book’s main strength — focusing on Goltz’s personal experiences — is also its principal weakness. Goltz was not present during the worst violence, and most of his friends and acquaintances survive, the fighters having retreated into the forest as a precondition from the Russian army for the ‘peaceful surrender’ of the town.

Chechnya Diary also contains some more minor omissions. Goltz speculates several times whether he might not be killed by either Russian or Chechen forces. In fact, when he returns to Samashki after the first war, his most urgent task is to convince people that he is not a spy, that his filming had not been reconnaissance work for the Russians. It is strange then that he does not mention Nadezhda Chaikova, who died under similar circumstances and who had also filmed in Samashki.

Likewise, when Goltz returns to Samashki, he finds that the commander of the local Chechen forces, Hussein — whose guest he had been — has been forced into exile back to his native village in Kazakhstan. Goltz is initially told that this is because the withdrawal of the fighters left the town defenceless before the Russian onslaught, but then hears that the real reason is that Hussein did not participate in the successful defence of Samashki when the Russians tried to conquer it a second time in March 1996. What is curious is that when Goltz visits Hussein in Kazakhstan, he does not address this rather incongruous development.

That being said, these open ends do not change the fact that Chechnya Diary is both an essential piece of war reporting and an important account of one of the lowest points of the first Chechen war.

Filed under: Book reviews, Chechnya, Media, Russia, ,

Some thoughts on the Ukrainian crisis

For what it’s worth:

  • There can be no doubt that Viktor Yanukovich and his government are autocratic and corrupt, and that the opposition has faced harassment and worse. Simultaneously, Yulia Timoshenko in particular has been unduly martyrised by some. Her trial was politically motivated, but that does not in itself mean that she is innocent accross the board. She should receive proper medical care and a fair retrial, but not immunity from all future prosecution.
  • Ukraine is a deeply divided country. Despite the enormity of the protests, it cannot be taken as a given that the opposition enjoys the support of a majority of Ukrainians. Therefore, the most desirable outcome is not a change of government per se, but good elections and a political system that is not winner-take-all.
  • Strangely, as popular uprisings go, the protesters do not have an overly strong case. Occupying and damaging government buildings (indeed entire city centres) has a revolutionary quality to it, which can be acceptable as a protective measure when the government is itself acting illegally, for example in the case of election fraud or police violence (like on 30 November). But failure to sign an international agreement, however symbolic, does not legitimise revolution. At the same time, the protests are hugely important for planting the seeds of structural reform.
  • Given the economic choice Russia presented him with, Yanukovich’s decision not to initial the association agreement with the European Union may have been rational. The European Union must itself avoid presenting the issue as a choice between being a European country and being with Russia. Ukraine is European even if it never associates itself with the EU. If it wants to associate Ukraine, the ultimate goal for the EU should be to sign (the equivalent of) an association agreement with Russia itself.

All open to correction by anyone better informed.

Filed under: European Union, Russia, Ukraine, ,

Behind the scenes, struggle over recognition of Abkhazia by Pacific countries continues

There has not been much news recently regarding Abkhazia’s attempts to achieve more widespread diplomatic recognition, or attempts by Georgia to undo these efforts. But two tidbits of information in recent days indicate that, behind the scenes, this struggle is still very much ongoing.

On 19 November, Vanuatu’s Daily Post reported that the opposition had made public an email alleged to have been sent to Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Edward Natapei, urging them to reconsider breaking off relations with Abkhazia and suggesting that the decision to establish relations with Georgia instead had been made in return for ‘lobbying assistance’ (apparently in the form of funds to be transferred through Georgia’s embassy in London) to achieve a change in government in Vanuatu (at the time Natapei was one of the leaders of the opposition).

Today, Georgia’s Minister for Reintegration announced before Parliament that efforts were ongoing to convince one of the countries that recognise Abkhazia’s independence to ‘undo’ this decision, apparently hinting at Tuvalu, which recently saw a change in government.

Time will tell what will come of this.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Georgia, The Great Recognition Game, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, , , ,

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