Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An update, a plea and a word of thanks

Thank you to everyone who has expressed concern for Temuri, me, and the families of Giga Chikhladze and Sasha Klimchuk.

Anyone reading this blog knows full well that this war left tens of thousands of victims -- the killed, the injured, the homeless and the bereaved.

Giga and Sasha are two of those victims. They were killed on August 8 when an Ossetian patrol opened fire on us. Brave and competent journalists, they died doing a job that needed doing. They were professionals, carving out careers in a difficult line of work.

Giga was a father, and Sasha an only son. They promised to support the other’s family if one was killed. With both now gone, their families’ losses are compounded horribly.

Caucasus Images, Sasha’s photo agency, is taking donations via their website. Please give some aid. Every bit helps.

Temuri Kiguradze and I were luckier. He was shot in the elbow and faces a difficult and costly road to recovery. But he’s able to work and continue his excellent reporting.

I was shot in the lower leg, and was fortunate enough to receive tremendous help from friends, family and my government. (I’ll never grumble about paying taxes again.) I’m in England, studying and receiving first-rate care. If all goes well, I should be walking normally within a year.

As of August 8, I have had no involvement with the Messenger; I don’t know why its website is down.

Many thanks to those who read us over the years and during my tenure as editor, and again, to those of you who offered support and aid during this awful summer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Update on our journalists

As we have just been informed, both of our journalists are free and trying to find a safe route back to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Winston Featherly has a serious lower leg injury and he is not able to walk. He needs special transportation.

We are actively seeking the safest and shortest route for their return.

Please stay tuned.

UPD: As we see, there is no safe exit from the locations our people are right now. They will stay where they are for today and further developments will show how things will progress.

News on our journalists

According to the latest information we have, both Winston Featherly and Temuri Kiguradze are in North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz.

Winston sustained a leg injury, and Temuri has a light arm injury.

We have no information on the nature and severity of Winston's leg injury, but we know he has been operated in Vladikavkaz military hospital and his life is not under threat.

They are relatively safe and their life is not threatened.

It is still unclear when and how will they return to Georgia.

We wish them best of health and express our hope they will return as soon as possible.


Dear Messenger Readers,

Due to rumors and panic around Tbilisi, publishing house workers fled and we weren't able to print newspaper issues.

We are deeply sorry that we were not able read our today's paper.

Situation has relatively calmed down as of now, so we expect to print the paper tomorrow with all the latest news and analysis.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Borders Open

We have just been contacted by the Border Police spokesperson, who said all control points on the Georgian state border are open.

Citizens of all countries can freely cross the Georgian State border and proceed toward any country.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two of our war journalists, Winston Featherly and Temuri Kiguradze are currently in Tskhinvali at a safe location with other journalists.

They have contacted us here in Tbilisi only twice, last time yesterday afternoon and reportedly they are waiting for a safe corridor to return back to Gori and Tbilisi with other journalists.

Here at Georgian Messenger, we wish them safety and a safe return back to Tbilisi.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Russia suspends the air flights with Georgia

According to on the decision of Russian Ministry of Transport the air flights between Georgia and Russia are to be suspended from August 9, 00:00.

Gunfire in Tskhinvali

Gunfire in Tskhinvali; Buildings on fire, according to our reporter in the conflict area, at least seven buildings are on fire.

Georgian authorities declare moratorium

Georgian government declared moratorium untill 18.00 Gigi Ugulava, Tbiliji mayor declared this in a televized address, who offered Tskhinvali separatist regime complete immunity. He also said that Tskhinvali residents would be safely transported to Gori.
Dmitry Sanakoyev, head of the alternative South Ossetian administration, addressed the Ossetian population: "The Georgian government declares moratorium and I call on everyone who is fighting in Tskhinvali to cease the fire, the amnesty is guaranteed for them." - he said.

Georgians take separatist villages

Reports last night of Georgian troops seizing Tskhinvali were premature, though information continues to suggest that there is fighting in the de facto secessionist capital.

Georgian forces have seized a number of villages controlled by South Ossetian separatists for the last 16-17 years.

The Georgian government says Russian warplanes have bombed Georgian territory, but without causing casualties. There is not yet any indication that Russian peacekeepers, which had publicly warned of defending the South Ossetians in any combat, are engaging Georgian troops.

Georgian troops take Tskhinvali -- reports

Georgia's Rustavi 2 television station, citiing Russian news reports, just announced that Georgian troops have taken Tskhinvali.

Meanwhile the Georgian government said hundreds of fighters have passed through a Russian-controlled border checkpoint into South Ossetia.

There are no reports of Russian peacekeepers fighting Georgian troops.

Abkhaz convene security council

The separatist leadership of Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, have convened their national security council in response to the South Ossetia fighting, reports Interfax.

Abkhaz officials have previously vowed to give assistance to the South Ossetians if full-scale conflict breaks out, but it was never made explicit what form that assistance would take.

Georgian commander: We are restoring order in South Ossetia

Mamuka Kurashvili, commander of the Georgian peacekeepers, said Georgian forces will "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia.

This all but declares that Georgian troops will attempt to retake Tskhinvali.

Georgia "declared war" -- Russian commander

Russia's Interfax reports that the commander of the Russian said he was informed that Georgian forces have begun directing fire on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

The South Ossetian separatist press committee says the town is under attack from Grad rocket systems, with blasts hitting the city center.

Georgian reports confirm the attack.

South Ossetia on brink of war

Below is our article in tomorrow's edition on secessionist South Ossetia, which is just a few steps away from full-scale war. Keep reading this blog or for updates.

South Ossetia on edge of war

By Temuri Kiguradze and Winston Featherly

Diplomats are pushing urgent peace talks between Georgian and South Ossetian officials to avert all-out war as heavy fighting in the region killed at least a dozen yesterday.

Tensions have only escalated in breakaway South Ossetia after severe violence last weekend, and show no sign of abating. The streets of the secessionist capital are reportedly abandoned and Tbilisi says the South Ossetian separatist leader has fled.

In an address to the nation yesterday evening, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said he ordered a unilateral ceasefire.

“A few hours ago I gave an order—a very painful order for a commander-in-chief to give—that not a single Georgian unit, neither a police nor other unit under our control should return fire to end the very intense bombardment.”

“We must stop this spiral of violence.”

Interfax reported that Russian officials have succeeded in arranging emergency talks between Georgian and separatist officials for tomorrow. Talks scheduled for yesterday were derailed, ostensibly over a disagreement on what format the negotiations would be in.

As of last night the violence was continuing, and Georgian officials denied reports that the South Ossetians had agreed to a ceasefire.

Violence grew throughout week

The confrontation sparked last weekend after the fiercest fighting in years left six dead. The conflict zone fell briefly quiet after that, but growing clashes have pushed the situation to the edge over the last several days.

Both sides reported heavy shootouts overnight Wednesday that continued into the day. By yesterday evening, the South Ossetians counted two dead and 18 wounded. Reports put the number of Georgian dead at ten, with 50 wounded.

Tbilisi says the separatists launched an attack yesterday on the Georgian-controlled villages of Nuli and Avnevi in a bid to take strategic heights overlooking the area. A Georgian armored personnel carrier was destroyed in the attacks, confirmed Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili, wounding three Georgian troops.

“Heavy shootings continue,” he told the Messenger yesterday.

The South Ossetian separatist press committee said Georgian forces attacked an Ossetian-controlled village and were pushed back from strategic hills.

Late in the evening Utiashvili said that South Ossetian fighters continued to attack despite the Georgian ceasefire.

The Georgian-controlled village of Prisi reportedly came under attack late last night. Separatists had claimed the day before there were Georgian artillery attacks from the heights above Prisi. Tamarasheni, a Georgian town a stone’s throw from Tskhinvali, also came under fire last night, according to the Georgian Interior Ministry.

Accusations of preparing for war

Tbilisi accuses the separatists of starting the violence. A Georgian Foreign Ministry statement yesterday said the separatists’ attacks are made “with the purpose of inciting large-scale confrontation and thwarting direct dialogue.”

An earlier statement pointed to South Ossetian announcements of arriving volunteer fighters from the North Caucasus as further evidence they are gearing up for war.

Separatist officials accuse Georgia of amassing armored vehicles and infantry near the edge of the conflict zone, and say they have evacuated women and children from Tskhinvali. They also claim Grad missile systems are set up by the Georgian town of Gori, south of the conflict zone.

Eyewitnesses in the area said they saw large Georgian military convoys headed toward for the region.

Utiashvili, the Interior Ministry spokesman, denied the deployment of missile systems but confirmed a “rotation of military forces near Gori.”

A Russian peacekeeper officer in South Ossetia told reporters yesterday that their forces recorded eight flyovers of Georgian warplanes and surveillance drones in the previous 24 hours.

Yesterday’s Georgian Foreign Ministry statement said Moscow shoulders much of the blame for the violence.
“The only way that separatists manage to maintain their grip on power is through military, human and technical resources provided to them by the Russian Federation,” the statement read.
“The recent developments have shown clearly that the position of the Russian Federation will be the decisive factor in how the process will unfold in the Tskhinvali region.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said the remarks were “unfair” and that Moscow is trying to mediate in the crisis to prevent more bloodshed.

The Georgian president’s speech, delivered after the Foreign Ministry statement was released, changed the tone on Russia’s responsibility for the clashes: “The leaders of the [Russian] peacekeeping force told us a few hours ago they have completely lost control over the separatists’ actions… We are in constant contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s leadership. The Russian Foreign Ministry is trying—they say they are trying, but not succeeding—to get the separatists to cease fire.”

Georgia is Russia’s “natural ally,” said Saakashvili.

Tbilisi urges talks after negotiations fail

Georgia’s top official for conflict issues, Temur Iakobashvili, told reporters that hoped-for talks fell through after he traveled to the conflict zone yesterday, where South Ossetian representatives refused to meet him.

“Tskhinvali looked empty, as I know [separatist leader Eduard] Kokoity has left the town,” Iakobashvili said, adding that Russia’s own envoy was not able to reach Tskhinvali due to car troubles.

Asked whether Georgian army troops could be sent into South Ossetia, Iakobashvili said: “We are doing everything to resolve the tense situation by peaceful means. However, we’re always ready to protect our citizens wherever they are.”

Earlier in the week Tbilisi announced that direct talks were scheduled, but South Ossetian officials later said they would not participate, insisting that any negotiations must be within the Joint Control Commission format which includes Russian, North Ossetian, South Ossetian and Georgian representatives.

Georgia says the Joint Control Commission is unbalanced and declared last year it would no longer take part in its meetings.

Saakashvili last night called for direct talks in “any kind of format.” He also reiterated offers of wide autonomy for South Ossetia within Georgia, which he said Russia could oversee.

Deep international concern

The OSCE, EU and UN all weighed in yesterday with statements of concern over the violence, calling for an immediate halt and direct negotiations.

Reuters reported that senior US State Department official Daniel Fried and the deputy Russian foreign minister had spoken and agreed to cooperate on keeping the violence from growing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

State Minister: Georgia is "already into low-intensity conflict"

In an interview with the Messenger today, State Minister for Reintegration Issues Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia is already in a state of "low-intensity conflict."

The Messenger: You said in May that Georgia "literally had to avert war." How close is Georgia to war now?

State Minister Iakobashvili: I would say that where we are at now, it is more not [a case of being] in danger of war but we are already into low-intensity conflict.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

South Ossetia releases Georgian soldiers

Separatist authorities in South Ossetia have released four Georgian servicemen detained late last night, the Georgian Defense Ministry confirmed.

The men are being taken to Gori, a town near breakaway South Ossetia.

President Mikheil Saakashvili had ordered the Interior Ministry to "immediately start preparations to use all legal means available" to free the four men in a security council session today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A calm summer at home

We think the domestic unrest is over, for now:

"The opposition lost its momentum, lost its unity and lost the contest. But the government victory is ultimately a Pyrrhic one."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Low turnout, low impact for opposition picket

MPs-elect are gathered inside parliament for the first session.

Less than a hundred opposition supporters were standing in front of parliament when the first group of MPs arrived at about 7:30 a.m.

The mostly older crowd spent time debating whether the men in suits who could be seen entering parliament from behind were in fact MPs, and if so, whether they were supposed to stop them.

A pair of campaigners approached the entrance to shout down the arriving MPs. One was taken away in a squad car in the only notable incident of the morning.

By 10 a.m. no more than several hundred had gathered.

Opposition attempting 'blockade' of first parliament session

There are a couple hundred of opposition supporters outside parliament, some dozing on the ground as they await daybreak and the first session of the newly-elected parliament.

The crowd is sparse and low-key. The street is open to passing cars.

One opposition leader said their goal is a "blockade of parliament."