Georgian Government on Defensive in Journalist Kidnapping Case

Released from prison for a day to attend a memorial service for his relatives, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli said that Georgia’s government was behind his abduction from Georgia and rendition to his native Azerbaijan. The explosive allegations prompted officials in Tbilisi to lash out at Mukhtarli, whose travails have made him a cause celebre among many in Georgia.

“This happened by sanction and, probably, direct order of [Prime Minister Giorgi] Kvirikashvili,” Mukhtarli told…

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Controversy Dogs Rollout of Saakashvili’s Book in Armenia

A memoir by former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has received a rocky reception in Armenia, which the book's Armenian translator alleges is the result of government pressure.

The book – with the Star Wars-esque title, “Awakening of Force” – is an account of Saakashvili's political journey throughout the former Soviet space. The volume describes the making of the Rose Revolution – the peaceful 2003 uprising in Georgia that Saakashvili is now endeavoring to export to Ukraine – and the subsequent reforms that pulled Georgia out of the mire of corruption and chaotic governance…

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Tbilisi Metro Collapse Evokes Memories of the Dark 90s

A suspended ceiling in a Tbilisi metro station collapsed on January 30, injuring 14 commuters in the worst transit accident in the city's recent memory. Eyewitnesses recounted scenes of panic, with commuters running for their lives up the escalators to escape the falling panels.

For those of us who rode the Tbilisi metro in the 1990s, the accident brought back memories of that (literally) darkest era of the city and its subway.

In those days, descending into Tbilisi's metro was a leap of faith. You never knew if a…

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Georgia: US-Funded Media Outlet Grapples with Controversy

An in-house controversy within Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is spilling into the public following the reported refusal of the international news network’s Georgian service to form a partnership with Georgia’s private television stations. The proposal has raised the Georgian staff’s concerns that association with highly partisan local stations could cast a pall on the credibility of RFE/RL’s reporting in Georgia.

The United States government-funded RFE/RL has faced numerous challenges to its illuminating coverage of the post-Soviet…

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Of Saakashvili, His Son and Khinkali

Khinkali and Mikheil Saakashvili are among Georgia's best known brands. Combine the two and you get an instant online hit, as was the case with a video filmed by the former Georgian president featuring the iconic, but tricky-to-eat, dumplings.

The video demonstrates to the world the proper way of eating the messiest of Georgian dishes and stars the ex-president’s younger son, 12-year-old Nikoloz Saakashvili .

Young Saakashvili explains what Georgians are wont to tell the uninitiated who…

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Five Peculiar Soviet Cartoons for the Holidays

Since it’s that time of year again, readers with (or without) an interest in the Soviet Union could use recommendations for Soviet cartoons to watch over the holidays that are the antithesis of the usual Santa-Claus fare.

An outlet for entertainment, propaganda, social commentary and artistic expression, animation was a huge business in the USSR. Arguably, animated films can tell more about the Soviet Union than some history books. Many of them continue to exert vast cultural influence to this day.

The list below attempts to look beyond blockbusters like…

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High-Tech Baby Bed Unveiled in Armenia

A new Armenian-made “smart crib” that can sing lullabies, tell stories and keep a watchful eye over a baby is the latest manifestation of the post-Soviet country’s burgeoning high-tech sector.

Caring for a baby can be an easier job when daddy is a programmer, as was the case with the team behind the Armenian smart bed, Cribby. Gor Shahbazian, one of Cribby’s creators and co-founder of an eponymous start-up, came up with the idea of an intelligent bassinet after his first son was born. A few likeminded programmers and computer designers and he then got together to devise an all-in-…

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Saakashvili: Free Again (Seriously)

For the second time running in less than a week, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on December 11 was again freed from Ukrainian state custody, but, this time, by a Kyiv judge who refused the state’s demand for Saakashvili’s house arrest on charges of criminal conspiracy.
“I think that this proves that you can’t prevail against logic, that they really wanted to isolate me from Ukrainian politics . . . They wanted to hide me from the people and to hide the people from me. In reality, it turned out exactly the opposite,” a beaming Saakashvili told…

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Saakashvili Recaptured, For Now

Arrested, broke free, arrested again -- the spectacle around ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Ukraine seems straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Following a surreal game of cat and mouse with Ukrainian police, it was ultimately the common cold that got him.   
After a few near-captures on charges of allegedly assisting a criminal organization, the elusive Saakashvili was eventually cornered in Kyiv late on December 8…

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Saakashvili Rallies Supporters in Kyiv after Escaping Arrest

After an hours-long standoff with law-enforcement, supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili gathered outside Ukraine's parliament on December 5 in the hundreds to demand the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The rally follows a failed attempt by special forces to detain the former Georgian president on charges of allegedly plotting to overthrow Poroshenko and collaborating with "the Russian side."

Addressing supporters on Maidan, Ukraine’s revolutionary epicenter, Saakashvili, now an opposition politician battling the Ukrainian government over rampant corruption, vowed…

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Abkhazia: Counting on a Cryptocurrency

Breakaway Abkhazia plans to launch its own cryptocurrency in a bid to avoid potential sanctions and attract international investment, according to the territory’s de facto economy minister, Adgur Ardzinba.

Whether the de facto Abkhaz government can pull it off is unclear, but, if successful, the idea could give separatist regions throughout Eurasia an example of how to diversify the options for their financial survival.

“The advantage of this [cryptocurrency] market has to do with the fact that any citizen in the entire world…

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Georgia: A Church Divided against Itself

The Georgian Orthodox Church is having an eventful year: priests have been dispensing blessings from a helicopter, visiting the US State Department and debating a poison conspiracy. Most notably, Patriarch Ilia II, the aging Church leader and Georgia’s most beloved public figure, has appointed a standby amidst a growing rivalry for his succession.

But odd things first. A few weeks ago, several priests went whizzing around in a state border-police helicopter, dispensing blessings and candies from the sky. The airborne…

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Georgia Suspects ISIS-Linked Ahmed Chatayev Killed in Tbilisi

Georgian State Security Services boss Vakhtang Gomelauri has taken the first step toward validating unsourced media reports that alleged Islamic State commander Ahmed Chatayev, the suspected mastermind of the 2016 Istanbul Atatürk Airport attack, is among three unidentified men killed in a counter-terrorism operation in Tbilisi last week.
In response to a reporter’s question at a November 26 funeral for a Georgian special-forces operative slain in the…

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When Georgia's Fighting “Terrorists,” How Much Does the Public Need to Know?

Two days after a nearly 24-hour-long, armed counter-terrorism operation in Tbilisi that killed four people, the Georgian public still doesn’t know whom its special forces were fighting or why. Even while congratulating itself for a mission accomplished, the government has refused to release any details. The media finds itself under fire for trying to make sense of the whole thing.

Georgian television channels carried live the ferocious, November 21-22 gunfight in the Georgian capital’s bedroom community of Isani. They provided updates on the SWAT-style movements, although Georgia’s…

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Georgia’s David Lynch Moment

David Lynch paying an “official visit” to the Georgian parliament, meeting lawmakers and government ministers, and expounding on the merits of a silent mantra could have been a scene out of one of his surrealist films. Except, it actually just happened and Georgian legislators have a group photo to prove it.

The goal of the legendary director’s November 18-21 visit to Tbilisi appears to be somewhere between starting a film school and…

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Missing the USSR, Even in Georgia

It’s not uncommon to have a longing for a place you’ve never been. Still, it is a bit odd if this place is the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, some young Georgians appear to miss this country they’ve never seen.
Almost 270 Georgians, 28 years old or younger, told a CRRC survey this year that the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union was a bad thing for Georgia. At 11 percent of the nationally representative survey, these are people who have no memory or, in most cases, no experience of life in the Soviet…

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Chechnya: Praising Putin with iPhone X

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Chechnya’s strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has come up with a social-media twist on a Soviet-style tradition – he’s given away an iPhone X for the best poem about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That’s more significant than it might seem. With prices starting around 79,990 rubles ($1,369), the iPhone X just went on sale in Moscow on November 3; at some stores, within hours, it had sold out, Russian media report.

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Azerbaijan's Switch on Turan: PR or Pressure?

Azerbaijan has dropped charges of tax evasion and abuse of power against Turan news agency and its director, Mehman Aliyev in an apparent response to international outcry over the case.  But it's directed greater attention at a separate PR posie -- an honor from the Council of Europe for justice-system innovations.

Both developments hit shortly after an…

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