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Entries in Georgia (10)

Monday
Sep052011

Reply to Bruce George's Article in The Commentator on Abkhazia Elections

 

Mr. George has written an article for the Commentator full of misinformation and falsehoods about Abkhazia.  I don't know if he has ever been to Abkhazia, but I have.  I am an American businessman and have been spending time there for the last 5 years.  

Mr. George would have a reader believe that Abkhazia is occupied by Russia.  An occupational power should have troops patrolling the cities and its officials running the organs of government. However, in 5 years, I have seen Russian soldiers less than 5 times and I can not recall ever seeing them in Abkhazia's beautiful capital, Sukhum. I have been to Abkhaz government offices many times and not once have I seen a Russian official. Never.  The Abkhaz make their own policy.  

Russia is not occupying Abkhazia.

That Abkhazia is occupied is a myth fostered by Georgian President Saakashvili and those who fail to hold his feet to the fire for his own failings on human rights issues.  The Russian Army does have a presence in Abkhazia for defensive purposes and to protect the border.  That is it.  If Russia is occupying Abkhazia, then the American government is occupying South Korea.  

Unfortunately, Mr. George has allied himself with the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, on the issue of Georgia's borders.  In 1931, Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, dissolved Abkhazia's separate status within the Soviet Union and incorporated it into the Georgian S.S.R.  If that had not been done, Abkhazia likely would have been internationally recognized, along with the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union when it collapsed, in 1991.

In addition to the myth of occupation, Mr. George repeats other falsehoods about Abkhazia.

Falsehood:  Mr. George says that Abkhazia was ethnically cleansed in a "coordinated campaign by Moscow."  

Russia did not "ethnically cleanse" Abkhazia.  There is zero evidence this happened.  The Russian Government was not a party to the conflict.  Many Georgian soldiers fled across the border to Russia when the Abkhaz gained control.  The Russian government actually supported Georgia's position on Abkhazia for many years, enforcing a blockade against Abkhazia that was not lifted until 1999.  Why then? Georgia's constant bellicosity, threats and attacks.

Falsehood:  The homes of Georgians who left in the conflict have been turned over to thousands of Russians moving into the country.

Wrong.  Estimates put the Russian population at a lower level than in the prewar era.  Mr. George talks about the number of Georgians who lived in Abkhazia prior to the events of the 1990's, but he fails to mention that the majority of Georgians were moved into Abkhazia in the 1930's on the orders of Josef Stalin.  This was done to ethnically dilute Abkhazia.   Later, Georgian officials tried to suppress the Abkhaz language and Abkhaz culture. Most of the homes that were abandoned at the end of the war remain empty.

I deplore the loss of any life or home in conflict.  Georgia started the war when the autonomy that Abkhazia sought was rejected.  The Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, then ordered troops to attack (now Shevardnadze says this was a mistake and advocates Georgia's recognition of Abkhazia's sovereignty)..  During the conflict, Georgians committed atrocities against the Abkhaz and many Abkhaz, Russians and Armenians sought refuge in Russia.  A Georgian general threatened the Abkhaz with genocide (video can be seen on youtube). The Georgian military also burnt the Abkhaz National Library and Archives.  I know this first hand, having seen it many times.

Falsehood:  Mr. George says that few nations have recognized Russia's annexation of Abkhazia. 

Nonsensical.   If Russia had annexed it , the Russian  government would hardly be encouraging other nations to recognize Abkhazia's sovereignty. Russia has not annexed Abkhazia.  There is a border with border agents and customs agents on both sides.  Abkhazia has its own government.

Falsehood:  Mr. George states that Georgians are prohibited from voting in the election.  

Another fabrication.  Georgians may vote and do.  They must get Abkhaz citizenship, which thousands have done. In fact, deceased President Bagapsh's wife is an ethnic Georgian.  But if they seek Abkhaz citizenship, Georgians are denounced as traitors by the Georgian government.

Falsehood:  The Russians have responsibility for the elections.  

Wrong again.  The Abkhaz conduct their elections.  I was there on August 26 for the Presidential election. There were no officials from Russia at any of the polling stations I visited or that any that election observers from 28 nations (including Mr. George's, the United Kingdom) went to.  In fact, I was told by observers and observed myself that the process was free and fair and democratic. One Italian observer told me that Abkhazia has more democratic elections than many of the nations that refuse to recognize it.  Abkhazia has again had a peaceful transfer of power, something Georgia has never done. 

Falsehood: Russia is causing poverty in Abkhazia.

Actually, Russia has a program of rebuilding Abkhaz infrastructure.  Many Russian tourists visit Abkhazia, and Russia buys the majority of Abkhazia's exports.  The reason for poverty in Abkhazia, which, I am told, is similar to that in provincial Georgia (I cannot go to find out.  I have been threatened with imprisonment and death), is that Georgia is using its allies to enforce an economic blockade on Abkhazia.

What is the result of Georgia's economic blockade?  Abkhaz products can be sold in very few places and they can not buy products directly from most nations. Their passports are not recognized, making travel more difficult. There are no bank card machines or movie theaters in Abkhazia because of the pressure on the clearing and licensing firms by Georgia.

So Mr. George decries poverty in Abkhazia and then supports the policies that cause it.

Abkhazia will never revert to Georgian control.  If Russia were to leave its base in Abkhazia,  the Georgian government would likely attack, as they have done in the past.   So Russia is not an occupier, but the guarantor of peace.  Why?  They have seen a Georgian Government, armed by American money, attack small, and nearly defenseless, South Ossetia without provocation in 2008 . If any doubt the point, look at the EU Commission report on the genesis of the war.

The title of Mr. George's article states that "Sham elections in Abkhazia should not distract us from finding peace in the Caucasus".  The election was not a sham and true peace can not be achieved by "us", but only by Georgia giving up its aggressive intent and territorial claims against Abkhazia and South Ossetia- two nations that want no part of living under its control. Remember every conflict in the Caucasus involving the Republic of Georgia, has been started by the Republic of Georgia.  I hope that the U.S. and the E.U. and their allies will not continue to support Georgia's claims and to arm it.  It is destabilizing and dangerous.

 

Monday
Aug012011

Senate Resolution on South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling Abkhazia and South Ossetia "regions of Georgia occupied by Russia."  This is false.  I live in Abkhazia part-time and the Russian Army does not occupy it.  There were U.N. mandated Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia after the war of 1992-93.  Only after Georgia attacked South Ossetia in 2008 and made its aggressive military attentions clear did Russia build a base in Abkhazia.  But the base is for defensive purposes only and serves to protect Abkhazia from Georgian aggession. That this has been successful is evidenced by the huge increase in tourism that Abkhazia experienced in 2009. In the last 5 years in Abkhazia, I have seen Russian troops less than 5 times.  And the government of Abkhazia clearly makes its own decisions.   I know this because I have been working them to break investors and investment to the country.  Later this month, there will be an election to replace President Bagapsh, who died May 26.  It will be free and fair as all the elections have been in Abkhazia.

The resolution also calls for "peaceful resolution of the conflicts".   This statement appears very hypocritical. There is no conflict at the present time.  The only source of conflict in the post-Soviet environment has been the Republic of Georiga, which has repeatedly threatened and attacked both nations without provocation, most famously in 2008.  That attack would likely not have been possible without American aid, which allowed the Republic of Georgia to increase its military spending at the fastest rate in the world in 2007-08.  

Russia is said to occupy Abkhazia, but this is false.  I live in Abkhazia for part of each month and the Russian Army does not occupy it.  There were U.N. mandated Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia after the war of 1992-93.  Only after Georgia attacked South Ossetia in 2008 and made its aggressive military attentions clear did Russia build a base in Abkhazia.  But the base is for defensive purposes only and serves to protect Abkhazia from Georgian aggession.  That this has been successful is evidenced by the huge increase in tourism that Abkhazia experienced in 2009.  In the last 5 years in Abkhazia, I have seen Russian troops less than 5 times. And the government of Abkhazia clearly makes its own decisions.   

Does the U.S. Army occupy South Korea?  Most people would say no.  But if Russia is "occupying" Abkhazia, then the U.S must be regarded as an occupational power, too.  The truth is that Russia serves an important function of guaranteeing the peace.  A responsible person should ask the question: What would happen if Russia left and Georgia was rearmed by the American government, as some Senators propose?  

The U.S. Senate found time, despite the debt limit crisis, to pass this resolution.  It should be noted that not one of the Senators has ever been to Abkhazia and, as the only American businessman who spends significant time in Abkhazia, I was not called to testify on the issue.

Thursday
Jul142011

U.S. Meddling 

There have been reports in recent months of several nations considering recognizing Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia.  This is interesting and not an entirely unexpected development considering that Abkhazia meets the objective and self-imposed standards that many nations have set.  

I have been following the news reports and reading other sources of information.   What is disturbing about this and about Vanuatu's recent recognition (and numerous changes of heart) of Abkhazia is the degree of arm-twisting and medding that American diplomats have apparently resorted to in an effort to prevent this from happening.  All nations should be free to conduct their own foreign policy and the US is certainly free to express its opinion. However, the degree of pressure and manipulation that is being reported in foreign capitals around the world dismays me as an American citizen.   Read Wayne Madsen's excellent article about Washington, Canberra and Auckland spying and manipulating in Vanuatu and the South Pacific.  (Vanuatu even caught an Australian spy copying documents!)  It has been an unseemly and disgusting display. Especially when one hears reports of American diplomats acting extremely undiplomiatically. 

Also, this raises the question in my mind of why the U.S. is willing to go to such extreme lengths to oppose statehood for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  I am well aware that the U.S. regards Georgia as an ally, but the degree of effort and pressure being expended to prevent recognition does not seem commensurate with the situation in the Caucasus or the relationship with Georgia.   It is unseemly for the leadership of one nation, Georgia, to constantly use the diplomats of another, the U.S., for its own ends.  And embarassing for both parties.

As an American, I believe in fair play.  Where is the American sense of fair play here?  It seems that even if the U.S. disagrees with independence, fair play dictates that every nation makes its own decisions.   Lobbying For the American position may be appropriate, but even that activity must have limits.  The strength of the U.S. opposition to recognition seems only one step removed from the diplomatic opposition if another nation was on the verge of acquring nuclear weapons. The U.S. actions suggest that the State Department can not imagine another side to Georgia's argument (it is hard to believe they are not at least aware of the historical and cultural reasons for Abkhazia's independence).

 

 

Tuesday
May242011

Who Does The U.S. Embassy In Tbilisi Represent? (Part 1- Please Read Part 2 Below, Also)

I want to be clear that I bear no ill towards the Georgian people. Theirs is a fascinating culture and history.  My issue is with the Georgian leadership, with people who threaten me there and with the American Embassy in Tbilisi.

Question:  Of the following 3 choices what should an American Embassy do if they know an American's life and safety is being threatened? 

a) Protect the American to the best of its ability

b) Do nothing

c) Gloss over the threat and protect the person who is threatening the American

One would think that in most situations, an Embassy would not have a chance to deal with the threat directly. Most of the time, there is little to be done, except offer safety to the American.  But what if the threat comes from an employee of the US Embassy?

I am not in a "hot spot" like Pakistan.  I live in Krasnodar, Russia and the Republic of Abkhazia.  And Abkhazia is quite safe despite the reputation fostered by the US State Department and the Republic of Georgia.  How safe? Well, I have never felt the least bit threatened, except from the recent possibility that a Georgian in the employ of the Georgian Interior Ministry sneaks across the border with fell intent. So, I feel about as safe as I do in San Diego, California.  The biggest threat to personal safety in Abkhazia is from traffic accidents.  And the Republic has a 70 kilometer per hour speed limit to minimize those.

I have been outspoken about my support for Abkhazia and my belief in investment opportunities in this spectacularly beautiful country.    This has been noticed in Georgian media and government.  Because Georgia hopes to gain control of Abkhazia, they don't like what I am doing.  If I am successful it will show that Abkhazia makes its own decisions and  is not dominated by Russia as Georgia claims.  Also, the more prosperous Abkhazia is and the more business and political contacts it has with other nations, the less opportunity for Georgia to invade or attempt to gain control. So, the Georgians are concerned about my activities in Abkhazia - and not only mine. They arrest and imprison anyone entering Georgia who has entered Abkhazia from Russia. All of this is done to isolate Abkhazia.

 

Threats in Media

In February, 2011 the Atlantic Monthly published an article about me and my activities in Abkhazia.  It was not very accurate, but I was glad for the attention on Abkhazia.  On the Atlantic Monthly's website readers posted comments.  One suggested, in reference to me, that Georgia would "never tolerate such behavior". 

Shortly after this, several internet forums in Georgian lit up with comments about me.  There were some very nasty comments and threats against my safety and life were made. Also, for months on this weblog, I have been personally attacked.  And the Georgian Times published several articles about me with a threatening tone. 

Several months ago, a website was put up defacing my picture and making inaccurate claims about me.  I have been told a member of the Georgian government is behind this, but I can not verify.   About the same time a Facebook page was launched attacking me.  The name of the page was "Bruce Talley- The Kremlin's Tool in Abkhazia".  The people who posted on the page in English and Georgian had Georgian surnames.  They made false and potentially libelous claims that I am in the employ of the Russian government and that the Kremlin is blackmailing me. I was called a "prostitute" and It was said that the Russian FSB controls me.  Some posters threatened me.   One woman suggested "this place should be your grave", another,Giorgi Rurua, said:

"Believe, finally he will be broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" 

In his Facebook profile, Mr. Rurua listed his employer as the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Whatever else may be said about Mr. Rorua, he seems to have a clear idea that he would like my neck broken.  But not according to the US Embassy in Tbilisi,  as you will read later.

After this posting, I asked Facebook to shut the page down.  They did so immediately.  Then I contacted the office of Senator Barbara Boxer of California who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.   I am a constituent of the Senator's and a long time supporter.  I sent her office a letter and  included a copy of the Facebook page and the website attacking me and explained a poster who had threatened my life advertised that he worked for the US government in Tbilisi.  I assumed the Embassy would want to know about threats made by an employee against an American's (or anyone else's) life.  And that any threat would be 100% unacceptable.

 

World Russia Forum in Washington DC, March 29 -30 2011 

I waited several weeks, but received no response.  March 29, I called the Senator's office.  I had sent the information to Josh at her office in San Francisco, but he declined to take my calls or return them.  I waited several weeks, but received no response.  The next day, I attended the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.  While at the Forum, I publicly questioned Richard Perle on American foreign policy in the Caucasus, asking  "American foreign policy is very heavily influenced by the Republic of Georgia.  But we don't engage with Abkhazia.  How can the U.S. make informed policy decisions about the Caucasus without engaging a key player?" Mr. Perle did not offer a coherent defense.  My question drew applause from the audience and later several members of the Russian Duma approached me to thank me, one saying "my question was good, but one which no one would listen to if asked by a Russian".

While I was in Washington, I met with quite a few people, including a Congressman.  I pointed out that the reason Abkhazia was included in Georgia's post- Soviet borders was that Soviet dictator (and ethnic Georgian) had dissolved Abkhazia's status in 1931 and incorporated it into the Georgian S.S.R.. and that Stalin moved thousands of Georgians into Abkhazia to ethnically dilute it.   I also talked about Georgia's invasion of Abkhazia in 1992 and how the Abkhaz had won their freedom from Georgian colonialism and political and cultural oppression.

 

Response from Senator Boxer's Office 

Interestingly, after the Forum and after I questioned Mr.Perle directly, on April 12, I received my first response. Ms. Alicia Estrada forwarded a letter from the State Department advising me that since Abkhazia was a "hot spot" I should not travel there.  But if I must, I should first go to the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia and enroll in their STEP program for Americans abroad and give them my itinerary.

Incredulously, I wrote to Ms. Estrada and asked if anyone had bothered to read my letter.  Was the State Department really recommending I go to a nation that would imprison me for my activities and show up at the work place of the man who had threatened my life and then give my itinerary?    I pointed this out in my letter and said I did not face threats in Abkhazia, but that they came from Georgia and Georgians.


The Wingate Letter 

April 20th,  I received another letter forwarded by Senator Boxer's office from the US Embassy in Tbilisi from Patrick Wingate, Consular Chief:

"In response to Mr. Talley's concerns that a local employee was making threats against him on a Facebook page, the Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) conducted an investigation.  The RSO determined that the employee did not make a threat against Mr. Talley.  Although the literal translation of the post is apparently that one will break one's neck, the real meaning in Georgian is that one will not be successful.  The employee maintains that he did not mean to threaten Mr. Talley, but to imply that he would not be successful in his endeavors in Abkhazia.  The RSO concluded that the employee was sincere and truthful in explanation and that his comment was a bona fide case of mistranslation and not malice.  The RSO directed the employee to remove any reference to the Embassy on his Facebook page and to refrain from any appearance of impropriety in future posts on this or similar sites."  

Mr. Wingate repeats that I should enter Georgia and register with the Embassy.  He also does not know the dates of the conflict in Abkhazia, stating it happened there during the 1980's (incorrectly) and 1990's. 

I immediately wrote back and asked:  Do you think it would be a good idea to check the translation of the passage in which  the US Embassy employee  appears to threaten to break my neck with someone OTHER THAN THE PERSON who wrote the PASSAGE THREATENING TO BREAK MY NECK?  

Then I looked at the original posting and saw that Mr. Rorua wrote his threat in English.  There was no translation issue!  But Mr. Wingate simply glossed over that.

Does Mr. Wingate really believe the passage in English-  "finally he will get broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" -was misunderstood and the writer just does not want me to be successful? Is it standard practice for US Embassies to accept explanations when people make threats against Americans?   I wonder what Mr. Wingate would think if the shoe were on the other foot.  It seems like removing a reference to the Embassy from Mr. Rorua's profile is a tacit admission of something not right.

What message is the Embassy sending in Georgia about Americans in Abkhazia?  At the least the Embassy should not condone threats from its employees.   Is this incompetence? Or is it because I support Abkhazia openly and am showing that there is more to the story than Georgia wants people to know about?  I think there is an obvious course of action for an Embassy after a threat is issued by an employee of the US Embassy: Terminate his employment, issue a statement to the press that the American government will not take lightly threats or attacks on Americans regardless of political issues and send an apology to the American citizen.

I am aware that this may create an even bigger enemy in Mr. Rorua.  But there is a bigger audience in Georgia- potentially 4.7 million times bigger.

Please read part 2 of this entry below:

 

 

Friday
Apr222011

Outside Business Interests Visit Abkhazia

Last week several groups of foreign businesspeople came to Abkhazia.  I met with two Argentines who are working with an Abkhaz businessman to bring sugarcane for processing from Brazil.  A German group visited to vet investment projects and the Israeil security consulting firm, Global CST came to Sukhum, also.   Global CST had been involved in training Georgian troops before the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia.  The visit caused Georgian officials some real heartburn.  Some observers have connected the dots between Georgia's recent harsh treatment and entrapment of Israeil businessman, Rony Fuks, the Elbit Systems case and Global Systems visit to Abkhazia.  After the trip, Georgia's Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeil Ambassador Itzhak Gerberg for talks.  Ambassador Gerberg denied that Israel would supply weapons to Abkhazia, saying that Global CST had talked about other spheres on investment.

A few weeks ago, a western businessman contacted me about agricultural possiblities in Abkhazia.  He specifically mentioned greenhouse building and operation.  Just last week, an Abkhaz businessman connected with me about the same issue.  He has property and funding for the operation, but needs technical expertise.  

It is clear to me that the tide is changing and Abkhazia's opportunities are drawing outside interest.  Like the tide, this economic progress cannot be stopped.  Nor should it.  In my recent conversations with Congressman Rohrabacher, I stressed the opportunities American business has to spread "American" values of entrepreneurship, business ethics and democracy.  In doing so, we can participate in the building of a safer, more prosperous Bllack Sea and Caucasus region.