06 October 2009, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of September 28-October 4

Scandalous pre-election campaign in Northern Caucasus; attempt to deprive Russian delegation of its vote at the PACE; debates among Armenian public and Diaspora on establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey, - look up these and other events in the review of the week of September 28-October 4 in the Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

RF nearly lost its vote at the PACE because of conflict with Georgia

On September 29, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution "Georgian-Russian War: a Year Later", where demanded from Russia to let observers to the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and deploy peacemaking forces in the region. Besides, the document expresses serious concern of the tension and provocations along the administrative borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

And on October 1, the PACE confirmed the powers of the Russian delegation, which were challenged by 72 members of the Assembly. The "Caucasian Knot" has reported that a group of PACE members suggested depriving the delegation of the Russian Federation (RF) of its powers because of Moscow's position on the situation in South Ossetia and recognition of sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nevertheless, the Georgian deputies have expressed their confidence that before January Russia will fail to cope with the obligations imposed by the PACE resolutions, and early next year the issue of depriving the Russian delegation of its powers will be again brought to consideration.

About the same time - on September 30 - the Commission of the European Union (EU) for investigating the circumstances of the August 2008 military conflict in the Caucasus published its final report. Both Russia and Georgia found their pros in the document. Russia welcomed the conclusion of the commission that Tbilisi unleashed the war. However, the RF's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) found certain formulations in the report to be ambiguous. Georgia was happy that the report concluded that the war in South Ossetia started not on August 7, but earlier. However, the Georgian party disagreed with certain conclusions of the commission, in particular that there was no mass invasion of Russian troops into Georgia.

In its turn, the Human Rights Watch again called to investigate the war crimes in South Ossetia and noted that the EU report ascertained violations of international standards on human rights and humanitarian law by all the parties: Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian ones.

In the opinion of Hydi Tagliavini, head of the EU commission for investigating the reasons of the Russian-Georgian conflict, in the August war of 2008 all the parties lost: Georgia is split into parts, and independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia "was recognized by just a handful of countries."

Sergey Shamba, head of Abkhazia's MFA, finds the main achievement of the EU's international commission in the fact that the final report of the independent international commission for investigating the circumstances of the conflict in Southern Caucasus in August 2008 states that the war was unleashed by Georgia.

South Ossetia: skirmishes in the border with Georgia and rallies of citizens dissatisfied with course of restoration

The debates in international bodies on the conflict in South Ossetia were accompanied by mutual Tbilisi-Tskhinvali accusations of provocations and bombardments in the region.

Last week, the authorities of South Ossetia accused Georgia twice of shelling bombardment of Disev village, Tskhinvali District, while Georgia moved counter-accusations of the South-Ossetian party of shelling Georgian settlements.

For the first time last week a small-arms fire was opened on September 30. According to the South-Ossetian party, three submachine gun bursts were fired from the eastern suburb of the Georgian village of Mereti. There were no casualties or victims. The Georgian party asserted that Georgian villages were shelled from South Ossetia. "We notified the EU observation mission, which recorded the fact of shelling," said Vladimir Dzhugeli, head of the police in the Shida Kartli District.

In the evening on October 3, the South-Ossetian Disev village was shelled again, as asserted by the Ministry of Defence of South Ossetia. In its turn, the Georgian party reported "chaotic fire from sub-machine guns from the territory of Disevi," opened, presumably, by a South-Ossetian raiding force."

At the same time, South Ossetia sees growing discontent of the population with the restoration progress of the houses destroyed in August 2008.

By the winter, the authorities plan to finish only 250 houses out of 3500 damaged ones. So far, even in Tskhinvali not a single house was finished, except for the "Moskovskiy" cottage district, built for Moscow's money.

In this context, a group of South-Ossetian residents, who suffered in the August war, addressed for help to Russian leadership. In their letter addressed to Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin they accused local republic's leaders of disrupting the restoration schedule. And on September 30, a non-sanctioned protest action was held in Tskhinvali. Victims of the last year's August war rallied in central Tskhinvali demanding to rebuild their destroyed houses.

Head of Russia's MFA visits Abkhazia

On October 2, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov arrived to Abkhazia with his official visit. The Georgian party treated this visit as a rough violation of the international law.

During the visit, Sergey Lavrov and his Abkhazian counterpart Sergey Shamba signed the Agreement on Visa-Free Travels, allowing Abkhazians and Russians to cross the border not only by their foreign documents but by their domestic passports as well.

Mr Lavrov also reported that Russia and Abkhazia had agreed to design a scheme of interaction at sea to defend the ships sailing to Abkhazia against Georgia's provocations. Besides,  Russia will resist attempts of Washington to prevent recognition of Abkhazia's independence by third countries.

On that very day, October 2, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made Moscow responsible for non-recognition by Minsk of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nevertheless, he believes that Belarus all the same will consider the issue of these republics' recognition, and Belarusian MPs will visit the breakaway countries and Georgia to make an objective assessment of the situation.

Public debates on Armenian-Turkish Protocols

In late September, Armenia launched, under the initiative of the International Centre of Human Development, with assistance of the "Eurasia" Foundation, regional debates on Armenian-Turkish Protocols. Similar debates will take place in all the regions of the country. Upon the end of debates, their results will be summed up and presented to the authorities and public of Armenia.

The decision to support ratification of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols was already made by the Supreme Spiritual Council of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Public Board at the President of Armenia, National Academy of Sciences, and parties of the ruling coalition: the Republican Party of Armenia, "Lawful Country" and "Prosperous Armenia".

However, the three traditional Armenian parties, which have their representative offices not only in Armenia but also in the Diaspora, - the "Gnchak" Social-Democratic Party, Ramkavar-Azatakan and "Dashnaktsutyun" Armenian Revolutionary Federation - voiced against ratification of the Protocols and expressed their concern of the latest tendencies in Armenian-Turkish relations.

Meanwhile, on October 1, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan started his pan-Armenian tour, organized in the context of public consultations on normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. Within the tour, Mr Sargsyan planned to visit Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beirut and Rostov-on-Don.

The Armenian Diaspora in the USA supported the pan-Armenian tour of the Armenian leader. "The offers of the previous Armenian governments on opening the border and establishing relations without preconditions had been rejected by Turkey, which moved the condition, according to which Armenia should have refused from Artsakh and efforts for recognition of Armenians' Genocide. Now, Turkey has publicly proclaimed its intention to establish relations without preconditions, which is a significant breakthrough in the process," said representatives of the Armenian Charitable Union, Armenian Assembly of America, organization "Vardanants Knights" and Eastern Eparchy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

However, in Paris members of the Armenian Diaspora met President Serzh Sargsyan with protests and disorders. Demonstrators threw rotten eggs over the official Armenian delegation.

Preparation for October 11 municipal elections in SFD

In a number of regions of Northern Caucasus, the agitation campaign is accompanied by complaints of the candidates, not supported by the authorities, of using administrative resources and violations committed by incumbent administrations.

In Dagestan, the pre-election struggle for the post of the Mayor of Derbent intensifies. Among the major candidates - the current Mayor Felix Kaziakhmedov and the former public prosecutor of Dagestan, nowadays the head of the Suleiman-Stalskiy District Imam Yaraliev. The local media place regular compromising publications against both officials. At the same time,  Mr Yaraliev notes that the authorities use their administrative resources and hold huge information counter-propaganda against him.

In Karachai-Circassia, on October 2, four out of five registered candidates for the post of Mayor of Karachaevsk - Gaidar Shidakov, Soltan Semyonov, Anzor Khubiev and Hadji-Islam Lepshokov - addressed the Karachaevsk City Court asking to request from the electoral commission of the Karachaevsk Municipal District the decision on registration of Umar Uzdenov, current Mayor of the Karachaevsk City District, as a candidate for the post of the Municipal Mayor, and to cancel it "because of his violations in the course of the election campaign of the electoral legislation, incompatible with further participation in democratic, equal and lawful elections."

Meanwhile, on September 29, Chechnya opened a hotline public service, intended to monitor the course of the pre-election campaign and help voters in settling problems. The head of the new service Rosa Baisultanova asserts that so far no violations in the race have been registered.

Armed conflict in Northern Caucasus

Last week, news arrived from Chechnya about one of the greatest victories of power agents in their war on the armed underground in the course of broad-scale special operations launched in May.

On October 1, in the mountain-woody area of the Nozhay-Yurt District of Chechnya eight militants were liquidated from the grouping of field commander Masud Temiraliev. Among the casualties - Abubakar Pashaev, Amir of Jama'at of Azamat-Yurt village. Initially, the operation against militants in the Nozhay-Yurt District was headed personally by Ramzan Kadyrov, but on October 2 he handed the command over to Vakhit Usmanov, commander of the special-purpose regiment No. 2 of the Chechen MIA.

The situation in Dagestan was also far from being calm.

On October 1, some 40 meters off the building of the Sovietskiy ROVD (District Interior Division) in Makhachkala, an "Opel-Astra" car blew up. The car burned down; and a scorched man's body was found inside. The city's UVD assert that the man was transporting an explosive; it is not excluded that he prepared a terror act.

On the same night, in the vicinity of Komsomolskoe village, Kizlyar District, two militiamen received gunshot wounds at an attempt to stop a "Gazel" truck.

According to law enforcement bodies, two militants were killed yesterday, on October 2, in the Buinaksk District during a joint special operation of FSB and MIA units. On October 3, three militants were killed in a similar operation in the Khasavyurt District.

In Kabardino-Balkaria, the counterterrorist operation (CTO) regime was announced again. It happened on October 2, when employees of the STSI (State Traffic Safety Inspectorate) stopped a "Zhiguli" car for check in the vicinity of Proletarskoe village, Prokhladnenskiy District. In response, the fire was opened from inside the car on the militiamen, then the car made an attempt to disappear in the area of the railway station of Prokhladnoe but was blocked. In the course of a special operation in this city, one militiaman was lost and three more wounded; three suspected militants were killed. Besides, a local woman suffered. The CTO regime was introduced in the city; for the time of the special operation, school lessons were interrupted and children were sent home.

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