On 08 February 2013, large crowds gathered in front of the National Library where President Mikhail Saakashvili was scheduled to give a speech at 1800 hours Georgian time. The speech was hastily planned, after the ruling Georgian Dream Party delayed his planned report to Parliament on 07 February 2013 which was also originally scheduled for 08 February 2013. Yet the protests quickly turned violent, when demonstrators assaulted the Mayor Tbilisi as well as parliamentarians from President Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM). On social media, photos UNM Parliamentarian Chiora Taktakishvili with a bloodied nose began circulating and video emerged of Tbilsi Mayor and Saakashvili ally Gigi Ugulava being assaulted. It is clear that some prisoners who had been released under the January 2013 amnesty, which was passed over Saakashvili’s veto, were present. There are conflicting reports as to whether the protests were organized by members of the Georgian Dream or not. The rupture of tensions present at the protests, however, provides insight into to the current state of Georgian politics and demonstrates the precarious crossroads at which Georgia currently stands.read more
In a result which many believe could mark a considerable departure from Georgia’s fiercely pro-Western stance, it was announced on 02 October 2012, that the loose coalition of opposition parties united under billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili ‘Georgian Dream’ banner defeated the United National Movement (UNM) party of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The result highlights how the release of the prison torture video appears to have galvanised an opinion held by many, that despite sweeping to power on a ‘law and order’ ticket and being a darling of the West, there has been growing concern within Georgia about the pervasive and brutal control administered by the state. Whilst the result of the election may now be a certainty, it remains unclear whether or not this is also a sign that the Georgian public no longer share the ambitions and views of their pro-European president, or if he has simply been punished for his domestic policies in a knee-jerk reaction to the prison scandal. In addition, although both parties have espoused widely similar and equally vague polices loosely based on an improvement of social welfare, Ivanishvili has remained tight-lipped about his international intentions and it remains difficult to ascertain whether Georgia’s future lies in the West with Europe and NATO or the East with Russia and Putin’s Eurasian union.
In what appears to be a direct affront to the European Commission, it was announced on 11 September 2012, that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a decree requiring strategic Russian companies operating abroad to obtain Moscow’s permission in order to disclose information to foreign regulators, change contracts, and sell property abroad. The hastily constructed legislation is undoubtedly a direct response by the Kremlin to the recent announcement by the EC that it is to begin an anti-trust probe into state-controlled gas export monopoly Gazprom. The announcement comes following a week of posturing by all parties and is indicative of both the EU and Moscow’s growing unease with energy production and dependence within Europe.read more
With the revelation on 18 April 2012, that US oil major ExxonMobil and Russian oil behemoth Rosneft are planning a joint offshore exploration in both the Arctic and the Black Sea, with investments which could potentially cost an eye watering US$500 billion, it appears a recent announcement by Russian President – elect Vladimir Putin that they plan to scrap the export duty to all offshore hydrocarbon projects, has had the desired effect and triggered something of a ‘gold rush’ in terms of oil exploration in the region. Although the exploration deal is yet to be finalised and a final decision on exploration investment is not expected until sometime between 2016 – 2017, following some exploratory work, it certainly appears that despite difficult and previously prohibitively expensive cost of extraction, the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of oil exploration in the Arctic is certainly open.
In response to the worst ethnic clashes seen since the 2001 conflict between Macedonian Security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, which brought the small Balkan country to the brink of civil war, the Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto and his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Poposki, presented a united front in condemning the recent inter-ethnic violence in Macedonia. Following a meeting between the two on 16 March 2012, Haxhinasto declared that both “Macedonia and Albania denounce any type of incident that could harm good neighbourly relations and their perpetrators should be prosecuted”. Concern in Macedonia has been growing following a number of inter-ethnic clashes in early March 2012, thought to have been triggered after police shot dead two ethnic Albanians, following a rather innocuous dispute over a parking space in the western town of Gostivar. The unrest saw clashes in a number of cities, resulting in a number of injuries and around thirty arrests. The violence was perpetrated by predominantly young men who took the streets armed with iron bars, knives and baseball bats, highlighting the simmering tensions that remain between the two communities, despite an August 2001 peace deal which saw ethnic Albanians (who make up around 25% of Macedonia’s population) given more rights.
With Russia’s 04 March 2012, Presidential elections all but a foregone conclusion the real questions now are: What will be the Russian publics’ reaction to Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin and the million dollar question, For how much longer will Putin remain at the top? Whilst some of these questions are easier to answer than others, in a political landscape as increasingly unpredictable and at times ridiculous as Russia’s, at very best any estimation will be an educated guess.