Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ossetian activist accused of ties to KGB

Lira Tskhovrebova is an unconventional woman. In South Ossetia for over a decaed, she has brought Ossetian and Georgian residents, mostly women, together in conflict-resolution workshops. After the war in August, she sought to engage the Georgian diaspora in conflict resolution. This month she traveled to Washington, DC, to directly take on the United States' support of Georgia and Pres. Mikheil Saakashvili. But Ms. Tskhovrebova might have ties to South Ossetia's KGB, according to materials The Associated Press received from the Georgian government.

Senior US State Department official Matthew Bryza canceled a meeting with Ms. Tskhovrebova after the AP asked him about the allegations. The State Department is trying to set up another meeting, according to the AFP.

The Georgian government gave the AP transcripts of intercepted calls between Ms. Tskhovrebova and Vasily Guliyev, deputy director for counterintelligence for the South Ossetian security agency still known by the Soviet-era acronym KGB.

Ms. Tskhovrebova said she talked regularly with Mr. Guliyev, who she told the AP is a family friend.

The AP's video of their interview:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Head of Russian Church's death rocks Russia

Alexiy II, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, died this morning in his Moscow residence, leaving many across Russia in mourning.

Elected in 1990, Alexiy II steered the church through the chaotic years following the Soviet Union's collapse, when the church saw a resurgence.

This fall Alexiy II sought to live up to the idea that blessed are the peacemakers, or at least blessed are those that don't instigate, when he kept the Russian Church out of the conflict in Georgia. Following the August war between Georgia and Russia, Georgian Orthodox churches in South Ossetia asked to come under Moscow's jurisdiction. But Alexiy II said the church would not get involved in a political issue.

Georgia's own patriarch has been ill lately, and had to receive major surgery recently.

Russian Ruble: dropping...and still dropping

Russia weakened the ruble for the fourth time in a month as crude oil fell under $40 a barrel this week, according to Bloomberg.

The Kremlin has been fighting to shore up the ruble, drawing heavily on its vast foreign reserves. However its piecemeal attempts to strengthen the ruble could undermine its own efforts. This gradual approach has primed expectations of further devaluation. Companies and individuals have been converting rubles into foreign currencies, which could exacerbate the situation.

Russia is facing its most severe economic and financial crises since 1998. Window on Eurasia's Paul Goble thinks the actions of Russia's leaders are worried the situation could spark social and political unrest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Putin rules out early Kremlin bid

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ruled out an early return to the Kremlin as the country's president. Putin was Russia's president until May 2008, when he was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev.

Despite leaving the presidency, many analysts and Russians see Putin as still in charge of the country's vast territory. Russia's legislature recently lengthened the president's term to six years, a move which Western media widely saw as a precursor to Putin's return to the presidency.

Putin did not run for re-election in 2008 because the Russian constitution limits the president to serving two terms. Putin's supporters have questioned whether the limit is two terms in total or merely consecutively. If it were the latter, Putin could potentially return as Russia's president. Such a move would undoubtedly be welcomed by the public, among who Putin is widely popular.

Rest assured that until that day Putin will continue to run the Kremlin unofficially.