As protests continue to rock Kyiv, with demonstrators having already seized the mayoral office and storming the President’s offices on 01 and 02 December respectively, it becomes all too easy to become lost in the media narrative that the protesters are simply demanding President Yanukovych’s resignation due to his rejection of an Association Agreement with the European Union. However, the roots of the protests in Kyiv are far more deeply entrenched. Ukraine is experiencing, for the second time in the last decade, an existential crisis over its identity. While there has very much been an ongoing tug of war for Ukraine between Russia and the EU, one in which Russia has been quite clearly willing to ‘play dirty,’ that tug of war has only been enabled by the fact that Ukraine’s domestic politics is undergoing the same tug of war on a daily basis, and has been for decades.read more
As I arrived in Tbilisi just after midnight, the pilot came through on the PA and announced, “For those of you wishing to reset your watches, the local time is 12:30”. As I slid the time on my phone forward by an hour, I noticed the date change to 08 August 2013, precisely five years after the brief Georgian-Russian conflict erupted over the breakaway region of South-Ossetia. Who started the war and the motives behind Russia’s involvement are still debated to this day, particularly in the policy and intelligence communities in the West. But throughout 08 August 2013, it went barely without a mention here in Tbilisi.
The Turkish protests, which have spread so rapidly from Istanbul’s Taksim Square since Friday 31 May 2013, may prove the most destabilising threat of any protest movement to the wider Islamic world. While Turkish democracy is unlikely to be threatened if the situation further deteriorates, any such developments could prove an unshakeable blow to pro-democracy movements in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). While such a statement may seem counter-intuitive at first, any potential disruptions to Turkey’s image as an economically successful Muslim democracy may extinguish the leading light which Turkey has provided to the region in recent years.read more
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