US Probes South Caucasus’ Attitude to Iran
Eric Rubin, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, is touring Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia to promote democracy and cooperation and develop partnership on the issues of Syria and Iran.
The media in Azerbaijan reports that Rubin’s visit to Georgia focused on economic issues, civil freedoms and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The US Embassy in Armenia’s press service said Rubin would attend a meeting of the US-Armenian group on economic cooperation to discuss stimulating investment in energy and trade, as well as nuclear power.
The agenda for high-ranking Washington officials’ visits to the South Caucasus seldom varies, and this is not simply because Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia face largely similar problems, but also for ethical reasons. Washington wants to convince them that they are all equal partners. Therefore, if Rubin talked about Iran in Georgia, he did or will do the same in the other two South Caucasus states.
“During the meetings with the President and future Prime Minister of Georgia, we discussed the international community's efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” Rubin told a press briefing at the US Embassy in Tbilisi as quoted by Azernews. “We are broadly cooperating over the Turkish-Syrian issue, and Georgia is called upon to play a peacekeeping role in the region.”
However, some Georgian experts believe that Rubin met with Mikheil Saakashvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili to probe Georgia’s attitude to Iran, where Washington will want Georgia to play a special role if the situation escalates.
Georgian politician Irina Sarishvili said before Rubin’s visit that many hospitals built in Georgia recently under a presidential program bear an alarming likeness to standard US military hospitals. Considering the speedy modernization and construction of airports for heavy transport planes and other infrastructure improvements, this could be more than straightforward concern for the Georgians.
Eric Rubin also said in Tbilisi, clearly referring to Russian bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that “the US position regarding the obligations that Russia undertook in 2008 to withdraw its troops from the Georgian territory remain unchanged.” He said the US stance on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia is firm and clear.
Commenting on the recent parliamentary election, Rubin congratulated Ivanishvili on the victory and praised Saakashvili’s personal contribution to positive developments in Georgia. He said the world can see that democracy in Georgia is real, and that the country can become a model for the region.
Rubin also met with ministerial nominees, notably Irakly Alasania who is slated to become the Defense Minister. Alasania assured him that Georgia would honor its commitments in Afghanistan. In response, Rubin said that Washington would redouble its efforts to promote Georgia’s rapprochement with NATO.
The US official refused to comment on Ivanishvili’s plans to participate in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. He said he was pleased with Saakashvili’s assurances that Georgia is committed to strengthening ties with Euro-Atlantic organizations and the United States, and to guaranteeing press freedom.
Disgraced Kremlin Critic Aims for Moscow Legislature
A Just Russia member Gennady Gudkov, who was expelled from parliament for alleged illegal business activities last month, said he is rallying protesters for a new Moscow City Duma campaign.
Gudkov told Izvestia he is going to set up an organization called Civil Alliance, to help opposition forces close ranks and win seats in the Moscow legislature.
“It is clear that neither United Russia nor its leaders won a majority in Moscow,” he said. This means the city legislature’s current makeup does not reflect the real distribution of votes. This is unacceptable. One party should not take up 90% of the parliamentary seats. There is a strong protest movement in Moscow, and this city votes differently from the rest of Russia. This humiliating situation must be changed.”
Gudkov’s campaign plan requires all opposition groups to agree to nominate strong candidates with good chances of winning in all single-seat precincts. It is essential that these candidates are evenly spread across Moscow.
He said his alliance will probably compile an integrated election ticket to include candidates who stand strong chances of winning. There will be a coordinating center to organize the process.
“We need to see if we can all come to an agreement in the first place,” Gudkov said. “We’ll hold a series of consultations and roundtables in the next few months.”
At the next stage of the campaign, the opposition group will nominate a mayoral candidate. But it is still too early to discuss this, at least until they have worked out their own platform.
United Russia’s Andrei Metelsky, Moscow City Duma member, sounded skeptical: even if the opposition rallies ahead of the elections, they will still have to persuade voters that they are capable of acting effectively for the city’s benefit.
“What’s the use of complaining about traffic or poor social security? Opposition activists are forever complaining about everything. But things aren’t that bad – the city is growing, roads are being built, and area improvements are underway. Of course there are problems – so let’s focus on them together. Our job is to make people’s lives in Moscow better. Street protests don’t do anyone any good. People are sick of them,” he said.
The Moscow Duma campaign will be of primary importance, said Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Parnas opposition party.
“The battle for Moscow will become a milestone for the opposition and for the whole of Russia. We need to consolidate as much as we can. It will also be a rehearsal for the next mayoral election, where we need to nominate a single candidate,” he said.
The next Moscow City Duma election will take place in 2013. In 2009, only two parties won mandates: United Russia with 32 seats and the Communist party with three. Other parties failed to cross even the 7% eligibility threshold.
Investigative Committee Opens Case Against Opposition Leaders
The Investigative Committee yesterday filed a lawsuit against Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, who, along with his associate Konstantin Lebedev, is accused of organizing mass disorder. The criminal investigation was launched based on the television film “Anatomy of Protest-2” shown on NTV which claimed that Udaltsov was planning a series of actions throughout Russia, to be funded from abroad. After he was questioned, Udaltsov was released under a written undertaking not to leave Moscow, while Lebedev was detained for 48 hours. Opposition members believe the criminal prosecution of the Left Front leader may also decide the outcome of a case about the May 6 riots in Bolotnaya Square.
The homes of Sergei Udaltsov and Konstantin Lebedev, who is a member of the Russian Socialist Movement, were searched before they were taken in for questioning. Investigators seized a computer from Udaltsov and hunting rifle cartridges from Lebedev.
Vladimir Markin, the Investigative Committee’s official spokesman, said the opposition members have been charged with preparing mass riots, which carries up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The investigators planned to detain another Left Front activist – Leonid Razvozzhayev – but according to a Kommersant source, he “managed to leave Moscow.”
Criminal proceedings were instigated against Udaltsov and his associates following an investigation launched on Monday by the Investigative Committee, after the NTV program showed “Anatomy of Protest-2,” which claimed the Left Front leader and his supporters had a meeting with Givi Targamadze, head of the Georgian parliamentary defense committee, to plan a coup in Russia.
Udaltsov has publicly denied both the plans and that the meeting took place. But the Investigative Committee insists that during interrogations he said something entirely different.
Immediately after the premises were searched, the opposition members were taken to the Committee for questioning. Lebedev was detained for 48 hours and Udaltsov was released on condition that he sign an undertaking not to travel.
Udaltsov has in effect become the first opposition leader to be accused under a “political” statute. Previously Alexei Navalny was the only other opposition member to be implicated in a criminal case, but he was accused of an economic crime.
Solidarity member Ilya Yashin believes that Udaltsov could be charged with organizing the riots on Bolotnaya Square on May 6. The March of Millions, which was sanctioned by the authorities, escalated into clashes with police. The Investigative Committee says the investigation is nearing completion. “It’s perfectly possible that Udaltsov may be implicated in the Bolotnaya case, and then other opposition leaders may also be arrested,” Yashin said.
“I disagree with Udaltsov on many issues, our views are entirely different, but I believe the opposition should stand up for him and his partners,” said Boris Nemtsov, a liberal Russian politician. He says the opposition is already planning protests in support of the Left Front leader next weekend. Nemtsov added that the opposition is also ready to hold unsanctioned protests.
Moscow City Hall, however, warned that changing the format of protests would “receive a proper evaluation.”
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