Azerbaijan professional cyclists resume training after being left without access to their usual training facilities due to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Aziz Karimov/Getty Images.

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia already operate within a fractured region, with large migrant populations abroad, and assume varying degrees of responsibility for the region’s separatist entities – Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorny Karabakh – whose long-term isolation makes them highly vulnerable to the pandemic.

All three South Caucasus states reported their first cases early – between February 26 and March 1 – and started responding shortly after. And the form and success of their response has been defined by the work each had put into developing their political, healthcare and economic institutions over the long term, and has put their ability to protect their citizens into stark relief.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters demanding the government's resignation and early parliamentary polls rally in front of Parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Tuesday. (Vano Shlamov/AFP via Getty Images)

The main thoroughfare of Tbilisi, known as Rustaveli Avenue, has borne witness to many a political reversal, from civil war to revolution. Since this summer, the tree-lined boulevard has once again seen throngs of protesters rise up against eccentric billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has ruled the country, both formally as prime minister and informally as the ultimate decision-maker behind his Georgian Dream party, since 2012. The protests are entering a critical phrase this week, and their success or failure could determine the democratic trajectory and geopolitical future of Georgia.

Since his ascent to power, Ivanishvili — an oligarch-turned-politician — has attempted to warm relations with Russia, which occupies 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nearly 11 years ago, on 14 August 2008, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the preliminary examination of the situation in Georgia. The matter referred to the international armed conflict in Georgia’s breakaway region, South Ossetia, in what some commentators have named the first European war of the 21st century.

The region had been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since the early 1990s. Ongoing tensions and periodic armed clashes between the Georgian army and separatist forces escalated during July to early August 2008 with a series of explosions targeting, among others, both Georgian and separatist military and political leaders in South Ossetia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirty years ago today, the dying Soviet empire lashed out at the people of Georgia. April 9, 1989, launched our country on its path to independence, freedom and democracy.

I was a teenager attending Public School No. 1, on the central avenue in my hometown of Tbilisi. The school stood just a short distance from the spot from where, on that fateful spring day, Soviet troops assaulted my countrymen in an attempt to crush our thirst for freedom. Thousands of people — some of them on hunger strikes — gathered spontaneously to demand independence from Russian rule. Moscow dispatched Soviet troops under the command of Russian general Igor Rodionov to stop it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Days before the hotly contested Ukrainian presidential election on March 31, incumbent Petro Poroshenko’s party faces credible allegations of voter bribery. It’s not hard to guess what will happen next. The oligarchic clique will steal the election, and in response, international observers will accuse local authorities of vote-rigging. But instead of addressing the symptoms of democratic backsliding, it’s time to treat the root cause: informal power.

Moldova offers a textbook example. Oil and banking tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc bankrolls the country’s second-largest political force and has forged alliances with other parties to consolidate power. Although Plahotniuc exerts total control over parliament, law enforcement and the courts, he has no interest in running for office.…  Seguir leyendo »

Georgia’s Presidential Campaign Damages Its Democratic Credentials

Georgia’s election on 28 November of former French diplomat and Georgian foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili as the region’s first elected female head of state since independence might appear to be a substantial achievement for a country that has been positively cited in its moves towards a more democratic culture.

But the election was marred by physical violence, vote-buying, misuse of state resources and a substantial imbalance in donations between the parties. And the presidency itself is, after constitutional changes, largely ceremonial. The assumption that Georgia continues to move along a trajectory of democratic governance is far from the reality.

Although mostly free, with voters having a genuine choice between a record number of first round participants, the elections were not fair.…  Seguir leyendo »

The stakes in the second round of Georgia’s presidential elections, scheduled for Wednesday, could not be higher — for Georgia and the West. Either Georgia will demonstrate that it has passed the point of being a transitional, post-Soviet democracy and earned its place in the European family, or its image as a modernizing democracy will suffer a major blow, pulling Georgia back into a post-Soviet limbo.

Most important is that this election be peaceful, free and fair, and that both sides must accept the outcome, regardless of who wins. In the first round of the election on Oct. 28, emotions ran high, political debate often turned into ugly personal attacks, and the threat of violence and popular unrest came close to becoming a reality.…  Seguir leyendo »

A street scene in Sukhum/i. Photo: Getty Images.

In April, the Georgian government made a new attempt to formulate a policy towards the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, publishing a peace initiative intended to help improve economic and educational opportunities for their residents. It has been welcomed by several European capitals for its commitment to peaceful means of conflict resolution and its pragmatic approach, but has attracted little interest and much scorn from its supposed main target audiences in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The economic component of the initiative is related to new trade links between Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia, as well as with the wider European Market through the existing Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Georgia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Georgia is on the cusp of a very important decision about nuclear energy. We shouldn’t miss what’s at stake.

The Georgia Public Service Commission will probably rule this week on whether work should continue on two nuclear reactors under construction near Augusta, the only commercial nuclear project underway in the United States. The commission has been enthusiastic about nuclear power for years, but since it authorized Georgia Power in 2009 to break ground for two new reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station, the financial calculus has changed. Mainly, the price of natural gas, an important competing fuel for electricity generation, has dropped sharply, and taken the wholesale price of electricity down with it.…  Seguir leyendo »


Anahit Shirinyan

As the world tries to decipher what Trump presidency means for the global world order and security in Europe, the same questions are asked in Armenia. The US continues not to have a clear-cut policy towards the South Caucasus, and Trump’s tenure is unlikely to change this. Instead, Washington’s relations with Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku are likely to remain an undertone to the larger dynamics of US relations with Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as developments in the Middle East. In this context, some potential pitfalls might affect the overall geopolitical environment in which Armenia operates with implications for Armenian foreign policy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Opponents of the death penalty in Georgia protested an execution scheduled in March. Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

Tomorrow, the State of Georgia intends to execute William Sallie, who was convicted of killing a man in 1990. It would be Georgia’s ninth execution this year, a modern state record and nearly twice the previous high-water mark of five executions, set first in 1987 and again in 2015.

I served as a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia for over 15 years. During that time I participated in dozens of death-penalty cases and affirmed many of them. That experience, though, exposed me to some of the significant flaws in the system — not just the injustice of the death penalty itself, but specific problems with the way capital cases are handled.…  Seguir leyendo »

A lo largo de sus años en el poder, Eduard Shevardnadze fue conocido como el «zorro plateado», un hombre que parecía deslizarse sin esfuerzo de ser el líder de la Georgia soviética y miembro del Politburó del Kremlin a ministro de exteriores reformista de Mijaíl Gorbachov, para luego resurgir como presidente post-soviético prooccidental de Georgia, irónicamente como opositor a Gorbachov. Se veía a sí mismo como un héroe que liberó a Georgia del yugo de Rusia. Fue también uno de los políticos más corruptos de la historia de su país.

En sus últimos años de vida, Shevardnadze se había convertido en un paria político en Georgia, Occidente y Rusia, donde se lo veía como uno de los arquitectos de la disolución de la Unión Soviética.…  Seguir leyendo »

I vividly remember the time and place when I knew that the Cold War had ended. It was Aug. 3, 1990, at Vnukovo II Airport outside Moscow. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the foreign minister of the Soviet Union as history was made when we jointly declared our countries’ opposition to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and called for an arms embargo on Iraq, then a Soviet client state. My counterpart was Eduard Shevardnadze. While he was an adversary, he was also a trusted diplomatic partner. In time, he would become a close friend. My biases should therefore be clear: I liked and admired the man.…  Seguir leyendo »

A quelques centaines de kilomètres de la Crimée, le Sud-Caucase observe avec inquiétude la montée de la tension en Ukraine. Terre des « conflits gelés », l’Abkhazie, le Haut-Karabakh et l’Ossétie du Sud se sont proclamés indépendants à la suite de mouvements séparatistes qui ont profondément déstabilisé de jeunes Etats à peine sortis du système soviétique.

Dès les années 1990, l’Azerbaïdjan et la Géorgie avaient cru trouver aide et protection auprès des puissances occidentales qui voulaient voir dans les ressources énergétiques de la Caspienne une alternative. Les tubes devaient apporter les ressources indispensables à des économies fragiles, ils allaient également assurer la sécurité à une Géorgie aux rapports déjà difficiles avec la Russie.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, a close Russian ally in Ukraine is suppressing and shooting pro-democracy protesters.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the hour of triumph for autocrats and the retreat of democrats is at hand as the world gathers to celebrate the shining rule of Czar Vladimir.

But do the Sochi Olympics really prove that President Vladimir V. Putin’s model of oil-fueled authoritarianism is the only one that can bring happiness and prosperity to Russia and the region?

Though my country, Georgia, has almost no oil, it might hold the answer. For the last nine years, Georgia has been growing at a higher rate than Russia.…  Seguir leyendo »

Five years after the Russian-Georgian war captured world attention, the South Caucasus — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia — continues to face huge challenges. The region’s geopolitical importance is ebbing as global energy production expands and NATO winds down in Afghanistan. The three countries also face major security risks, unmet popular expectations and governance failures. For the South Caucasus, this is a time for choices.

Security issues plague the South Caucasus. Russia’s military occupies two “independent” enclaves in Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — and some contiguous land. A two-decade military standoff persists around Nagorno-Karabakh, populated by ethnic Armenians but lying within Azerbaijan.…  Seguir leyendo »

I recently travelled to Georgia and Armenia to meet human rights groups. After two days in Georgia we drove east, the hilly landscape gradually turning mountainous, sheep and cattle tended by shepherds in littered, post-Soviet villages. For a long time the road followed a small river, plastic trash snagging on rocks and branches. This could have been a landscape of extraordinary beauty; instead it was depleted and scarred by nearly a century of bad or indifferent governance.

Crossing the border into Armenia, the river was still there, the litter now older, almost indistinguishable from the brown water and grey rock. There were remnants of the Soviet state – giant concrete chutes channelling water from the steep mountains, occasional blocks of flats now, like the rubbish, taking on the colour of the dark earth.…  Seguir leyendo »

Weeks after Georgia’s free and fair parliamentary election and an acclaimed peaceful transfer of power to the opposition, democratic gains are being thrown into question by a spate of arrests of high-ranking officials of the previous government of Mikheil Saakashvili, despite the fact that he remains president.

Saakashvili’s former defense and interior minister, ranking officials of the Interior Ministry, the chief of the armed forces general staff and the vice mayor of Tbilisi are among those who have been arrested. Charges brought against them by the new government of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman, include abuse of office, illegal detention and torture.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the triumph of the “Georgian Dream” alliance, led by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, over Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement in the Georgian parliamentary elections — and a crucial, civil acknowledgment of this defeat by President Saakashvili — democracy in Georgia has made one giant leap forward. And this is a good deal for pretty much everyone.

This is first and foremost good for the Georgian people. Since the extra-constitutional but widely admired “Rose Revolution” in 2003, Saakashvili’s “modernizing” policies have certainly helped clean up bribery, eliminate chronic power outages and set the stage for economic growth. Much credit is due for these contributions to a state that was teetering on the brink of failure in the wake of President Eduard Shevardnadze’s second term.…  Seguir leyendo »

In April 1987, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Moscow and Tbilisi on what she described as «the most fascinating and most important visit» she had made as prime minister. The Iron Lady’s visit fully revealed the cracks in the Soviet system and gave her the resolve to work with President Reagan to break the tyranny of communism.

Now, 25 years later, modern Georgia is implementing reforms that encapsulate Mrs. Thatcher’s belief in democracy, free markets, a strong defense and liberty. President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution and has set his focus on gaining membership in the European Union and NATO.…  Seguir leyendo »