The Moscow News reports that Russia has snuffed out the life of yet another Georgian in its ongoing pogrom against the tiny country that dares to seek freedom from Russian domination:
A Georgian woman died in custody in Moscow Saturday awaiting deportation, the Associated Press news agency reports.Police officials said that cause of death was heart failure. Rights groups claimed the death occurred because she was not provided proper medical care. Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Civic Assistance group which advocates for refugees said Dzhabelia had been held behind bars for nearly two months and was denied adequate treatment for her diabetes.51-year-old Manana Dzhabelia was detained in early October after more than 10 years living in Moscow. Later she was sentenced to be expelled to Georgia, but she appealed and a Moscow court overturned the deportation ruling on Thursday. For some reason law enforcement officers returned her to the detention center, where she died early Saturday. Russian migration authorities were not immediately available for comment.The case was at least the second death of an ethnic Georgian ordered expelled from Russia after Moscow began deporting hundreds deemed illegal migrants and slapped its small southern neighbor with painful economic sanctions following a spy scandal.
The International Herald Tribune has more on the plight of hapless Georgians being victimized by Russian cruelty, quoting Svetlana Gannushkina:
TBILISI, Georgia: When a Russian court ordered Aida Chakvetadze and her family to return to Georgia 12 years after they fled a bloody separatist war there, their troubles were only beginning. Chakvetadze said that as they prepared to board a train headed for Georgia, her husband and two children were detained by police demanding bribes for their release. They couldn’t pay and missed their train. They eventually made it to the border with Ukraine, where Russian border guards held them for another five hours. “What I felt then was what I felt during the war,” Chakvetadze, 36, said on the verge of tears. “What for?” Infuriated by the brief detention of four alleged Russian spies in September, Russia slapped Georgia with painful sanctions, severing all transport links with its small, impoverished southern neighbor and deporting more than 1,000 Georgians deemed illegal migrants.
Moscow insists the deportations are standard international practice, but Georgian officials and rights groups accuse Russian authorities of acting brutally — and in many cases unlawfully — by locking ethnic Georgians into overcrowded detention cells for days and rubber-stamping deportation rulings with no access to fair trial. Critics say the treatment of Georgians reflects growing xenophobia in Russia, which has seen a spate of killings and violent beatings of dark-skinned foreigners from ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia in recent years.
“This is political persecution of people of Georgian ethnicity,” said Georgian lawmaker Nika Gvaramia, who heads a parliamentary commission investigating the deportations. “It turns out that all the skinheads, all the nationalists and all the marginal political forces (in Russia) — you have to view them as part of the same picture as official Russia.”
According to Gvaramia’s commission, more than 1,140 Georgians have been deported from Russia since late September as illegal immigrants and about 1,500 others are in the process. Gvaramia said the expulsions were rife with violations not only of international, but even of Russian law. He said many deportees were herded into prison cells equipped with only one chair to be shared among several dozen detainees and held there for up to 12 days deprived of medical care, fresh air and basic hygiene. Two people have died in custody in Russia while waiting to be deported. Georgian officials and rights groups say the deaths occurred because the deportees were not provided proper medical care. Russian migration authorities deny that, saying they died due to poor health. “There were no violations of human rights. We acted in strict accordance with Russian laws,” said Denis Soldatikov, spokesman for the Federal Migration Service. Soldatikov denied that Georgians were purposely targeted, saying of the 24,500 people deported this year only 1,400 were Georgians.
Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Russian refugee advocacy group Civic Assistance, said many of the illegal immigrants, such Chakvetadze, had flocked to Russia in the early 1990s from bloody separatist wars in Georgia and other parts of the Soviet Union, but a 2002 law effectively delegalized their presence there by terminating the renewal of their temporary residence permits. The October sweep against illegal migrants from Georgia turned up many such people, but it also included notorious incidents of courts ruling to deport Russian citizens with Georgian names, Gannushkina said. “Russia disgraced itself the most scandalous way possible,” she said. “Russia behaved like a very uncivilized state, like in the Middle Ages.” At home, the deportees are in for further hardship.
Chakvetadze settled with her elderly parents and other relatives in a small apartment in a dilapidated and barely heated house for refugees in an impoverished district of the capital Tbilisi. The extended family now shares a living room and two tiny bedrooms among 15 people, with Chakvetadze’s two sons, Levan 14, and Georgy 13, having to sleep on a large wooden trunk covered by a piece of cloth. As a refugee of the separatist war with Georgia’s rebel province of Abkhazia, Chakvetadze is entitled to a meager monthly pension of 14 lari (US$ 8 or €6), but she doesn’t receive even that, since according to Georgian law she must first obtain her own place of residence. Merab Lominadze, head of Georgia’s National Investment Agency, put a rosy spin on the deportations. “We see this as a very positive development — they have returned home, they are finding jobs here, they will be earning money and developing our economy,” he said.
But Niko Orvelashvili, an independent economic analyst, said unemployment was already sky-high among Georgians — 14-17 percent according to official statistics but estimated to be up to 30 percent — and a further inflow of jobless people who used to earn money in Russia and support relatives at home could cripple the economy. In the western Russian city of Bryansk, Chakvetadze survived by washing dishes, cleaning offices and working as a seamstress; her husband was a shoemaker. In Georgia, they cannot find even one job between them.
“Back there it wasn’t great, but at least we had bread,” she said.
Writing in the Patriot News, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke condemns Russia’s barbaric, neo-Soviet actions:
While the United States is otherwise preoccupied, the small former Soviet republic Georgia has become the stage for a blatant effort at regime change, Russian-style. Vladimir Putin is going all out to undermine and get rid of Georgia’s young, pro-American, pro-democracy president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Putin is assuming that the United States, overwhelmed by Iraq and needing Moscow’s support on North Korea and Iran, will not make Georgia a “red-line” issue and that the European Union, fearful of endangering energy supplies from Russia, will similarly play it down.
Much is at stake: Putin’s long-term strategic goal is to create a sphere of Russian dominance and hegemony in the vast area the Soviet Union and the czars once ruled. If he succeeds in bringing down the most independent and pro-Western leader in the former Soviet space outside the Baltics, he will have gone a long way toward his goal. Also at stake: President Bush’s “freedom agenda,” stability in the Caucasus and the European Union’s attitude toward a small European country on the edge of the world’s most volatile region.
Putin’s methods are brutal. He has expelled at least 1,700 Georgians since October, cracked down on Georgian-owned businesses, made repeated statements about preserving the Russian market for real Russians and demonized Georgians as a criminal class. He has doubled natural gas prices two years running and cut off all direct rail, air, road, sea and postal links between the two countries. Russia also has waged an aggressive international disinformation campaign to raise doubts about Saakashvili — I have heard astonishing, wholly undocumented charges about his alleged corruption and his “hot-headed” style in Berlin, Brussels and even Washington.
In Tbilisi today, you can hear an ugly word for this that rises out of the depths of 19th-century Russian history: pogrom. In fact, the 38-year-old Saakashvili represents almost everything the United States and the European Union should support. He led the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that overthrew the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. He then opened the country to Western investment, presided over a dramatic turnaround in a once-hopeless economy and instituted massive reforms of the police and civil service. While these efforts have not been perfect — Freedom House and other nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern about an overly cozy relationship between the government and the main media, for example — Georgia has climbed further up the World Bank’s latest annual reform survey than any other country.
In 2004 Saakashvili peacefully seized control of Ajaria, one of the three areas that, with Moscow’s encouragement, refused to accept Georgian rule after the crackup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ajaria, which lies on the Black Sea, has since become a booming tourist center. Now Saakashvili has his eye on regaining two remaining “frozen conflict” areas in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where impoverished breakaway regimes, heavily backed by Moscow and Russian troops, claim to be independent countries. Despite international resolutions that affirm the territorial integrity of Georgia, it will be difficult for Saakashvili to regain Abkhazia and South Ossetia, especially without strong Western support. Putin would be happy to fight for them again if necessary and to overthrow Saakashvili if possible.
This is not just a strategic issue. It is also deeply personal: Saakashvili as David and Putin as Goliath. Their face-to-face meetings have been electric with anger. When President Bush brought Georgia up with Putin on the margins of the Asian-Pacific summit in Hanoi last weekend, Putin went into a rant, as he does every time the subject arises. His tirades might be designed to discourage further discussion, but for the most part it is, according to people who have heard Putin, real, irrational anger. Bush’s visit to Tbilisi last year was a triumph; today the main road from the airport into the city is named President George W. Bush Street. Bush and Saakashvili genuinely like each other, and there is hardly a country left in the world where Bush is still so popular. Saakashvili’s best American friends are Sen. John McCain, who has made support of democracy in the former Soviet Union a theme, and George Soros, who helped pay salaries for the bankrupt Georgian civil service system in 2004.
This cannot please Putin. But why the relatively muted international response to Putin’s outrageous behavior? The main reason is Washington’s weakened state as a result of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea. This is Putin’s moment, especially with oil prices high. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Washington needs Moscow more than Moscow needs Washington. During the 1990s, President Clinton used America’s undisputed primacy to enlarge NATO (Saakashvili wants membership, of course) and conduct successful military actions in Bosnia and Kosovo over Russian objections. Today, by contrast, Russia has threatened to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that would give Kosovo independence and has spuriously linked Kosovo’s status to that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The European Union and the United States must make the continued freedom and independence of Georgia a test case of the Western relationship with Russia. Putin must learn that we will not sacrifice the interests of a small country that has put its faith in Western values for the sake of energy supplies or U.N. votes.
If Bush’s freedom rhetoric has any meaning, let him prove it in Georgia, not just with polite calls for mutual restraint, but with real pressure on Moscow and the assembling of a united front with the European Union to make clear to Putin that he must cease his attempts to destabilize Georgia and overthrow Saakashvili. In the age of Iraq we must show that our nation can continue to have influence elsewhere in the world and that we will not abandon our friends or our values.