Tuesday, October 21, 2008

News Wrap-up

TBILISI, Georgia -- Sorry for the silence over the past few days. Here are a few recent headlines on the area.

This weekend Spain's Foreign Minister endorsed NATO membership for Georgia. During the same trip, Spain announced it would be opening an embassy in Tbilisi. Spain takes over the EU's rotating presidency in 2010.

No one can understand the present conflict between Georgia and its breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, without understanding the role of the country's first post-Soviet president, extreme nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The poet-turned-politician helped the set Tbilisi and its separatist regions on a path of conflict. Although it must be noted that Gamsakhurdia had negotiated a power-sharing agreement with Abkhazia which Eduard Shevarnadze helped undermine in his bid for power in 1992. (Poets just don't make good politicians, people.)

Self-declared independent Abkhazia is struggling to create its own identity apart from Russia.

Iran has gained from conflict in Georgia, which has made Iranian pipelines more attractive to Capsian Basin energy producers, such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Zeyno Baran, a regional analyst at the Hudson Institute, told me she estimates the US and Europe have maybe a year to get serious about starting real pipeline projects to bring Caspian Basin energy to the market before Russia -- and perhaps Iran -- have locked it up.

The war in Georgia has unleashed a rush of new patriotism in Russia. But has eroded respect for Russia in the West.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev asked the Duma yesterday to ratify friendship treaties signed with the de facto governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The treaties provide for Russian military bases on the two regions' territory. Russia and Nicaragua recognized the two areas, which declared independence after the war in August.

The Kremlin has appointed a Russian ambassador to Abkhazia, Simon Grigoliev.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said yesterday that Russia did not fully comply with the ceasefire agreement. He said it has not withdrawn its forces to pre-war lines, which the agreement stipulated.

Fried also said Georgia has to strengthen its democracy.

On that note, some in the opposition have called for a one-day rally outside parliament on Nov. 7, the one-year anniversary of mass pro-democracy demonstrations last year. Those demonstrations were broken up by police in riot gear.

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