August 16, 2008

On My Way to Georgia

Baku Blue Lights.jpg
Baku, Azerbaijan

I am in Baku, Azerbaijan, and heading to Georgia in two days.

I've been here for the better part of a week and have lots of interesting material, but instead of returning home to write I would rather make the short hop over to Georgia and get even better material. Georgia is only a few hours away.

Caucasus Map Georgia and Azerbaijan.JPG

I will write this trip up as soon as I can.

If you have any story ideas that don't involve me getting shot by the Russians, or if you know someone in Georgia I ought to meet, please let me know in the comments or by email.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2008 2:44 AM
Comments

Be safe! (What is up with that loud part of the commentariat in the US who are sure that the Russians are just being legitimately forceful in defense of their legitimate interests?)

Posted by: marc Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 6:34 AM

There are big disagreements about what happened or is happening in Gori. If you can, could you see for yourself and report? Take care of yourself, and thank you ever so much for being a Reporter.

Posted by: YOURMOMMA Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 8:10 AM

Michael J., Thanks for all your great work.

It would certainly be good to know how much damage the Russians have actually done to the Georgian military (people and equipment). And where the Russians actually are. Even as they move around. And how much fire power they actually have, And what does the Georgian military amount to. (The Russians seem to have unobstructed access to anyplace they want to go--after fighting their way through SO.) There are many contradictory reports.

And, indeed, don't get shot doing this!

Posted by: Dana Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 8:18 AM

You're arriving on a battlefield populated by actors who know less of what is going on, and why, than do most of us here in the world trying to follow events via media.

Banditry/violent opportunism is a greater danger to you than the Russ, Mr. Totten. You would do well to remember that. Embedding with the locals as you did in Beirut won't work here because you don't have the contacts or the time.

Good luck.

Posted by: TmjUtah Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 8:26 AM

Good luck and be as safe as you can. This is a little different type of war zone than Iraq. One thing, though: I'm sure you'll find all sorts of great things to write about.

Posted by: jasonholliston Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 8:37 AM

Best of luck, Michael.

We've heard a lot about the military movements and the official positions. The untold story I think is the story of the residents of South Ossetia. What do they think? Are the ethnic Russians really mostly separatists? Or is this purely imported from Russia? Have they been mistreated by the Georgians or is Georgia's democracy as well-behaved as they appear on the news?

I'm not sure how you can safely get that. Things in that region of the world are extremely ruthless, and I think you're in more danger than you realize. But good luck, and our thoughts are with you!

Posted by: Wellspring Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 9:58 AM

Look at the logistics. None of the MSM reporters are ever bright enough to look at the quality of the roads, the quantity of goods on store shelves, or the general availability of fuel, food, and medicines. All of this matters to how well Georgia can stand up for itself and none of it gets covered until it's gone.

Look at this from the perspective of trying to make things work and report that. Maybe it's hopeful, maybe it's dismal, but I have no way of knowing from what the MSM is reporting. Ask people if they are getting enough to eat, if they have fuel for cooking, if they have fuel for driving, and if they can get medicine. Try buying aspirin, try buying flour, try buying decent scotch and see what you get.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 10:47 AM

Michael,

Take all of this advice. The Ossetian and Abkhazian militias, along with a bunch of other "ethnic" Caucus "irregulars" are coming behind the Russians and pretty much looting and destroying anything they can get their hands on. Plus killing civilians and taking pot shots at reporters.

I believe that there may be some Georgian irregulars running around as well. Likely to get a better reception from any Georgians as the Russo media is hyping American spies and CIA involvement. I'm sure you've heard it if you've been in Azerbaijan.

I like Patrick's suggestion of looking in the stores for available goods, what the refugee situation is, availability of medical care, etc.

Politically, there seems to be few who are not demonstrating the typical loud and exaggerated manner.

There is a paper called the Georgian Messenger that seems to be somewhat normal. Try hooking up with them.

Posted by: Kat-Missouri/USA Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 11:06 AM

Michael,
Having just finished at the Naval Attache in Baku, I am looking forward to your reports on the time you spent in Azerbaijan.

Good luck in Georgia.

George

Posted by: georgesh Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 11:35 AM

Best of luck! Do please be careful!

Posted by: ProtestShooter Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 11:48 AM

I think you have a better chance of getting killed by Georgians and their crazy president.

In any case, be careful!

Posted by: karbon Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 3:19 PM

I know that
Razmadze Mathematical Institute
M. Aleksidze st. 1,
0193 Tbilisi, Georgia
Tel: (+995 32) 33-45-95

is now filled with refugees (Ministry of Education just decided to temporarily use the building for this purpose).
The advantage is that there are English-speaking people there.

Posted by: mitrii Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 3:37 PM

I'd like to know what really happened in Tshkinvali. Was it really "genocide"?

Posted by: Larry Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 4:03 PM

SAVEUR magazine (Feb 08) describes Georgia's custom of lavish "dinner" parties. A toastmaster, (tamada) leads them and they evidently last for hours. I bet if you can get into one, and that could be likely as "...Georgians are fond of the saying that 'strangers are a gift from God'" you'll hear all you need to hear. One tamada the article names is Badri Saparidze, a banker in Tbilisi. At least you get wined and dined. The article says they have some excellent national wines (teliani and tibaani, et al.) and the conflict's effect on that industry would be worth pursuing from this wino's perspective.

Posted by: BobR Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 5:00 PM

attacking us first and it was planed they always wanted war with us ... so they got it and if some one will not help us i thin they will do it to other countries like with chechnia and osetia and so on ... so please help us we really need help if u would need help we of course would help you we already helped USA and other countries so please help us too we will be gald

Posted by: zizrock Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 6:17 PM

If you have any story ideas that don't involve me getting shot by the Russians

So getting shot at by the Georgians is OK? (Just kidding. Stay safe -- I really enjoy your dispatches.)

Unfortunately, I don't have any suggestions for people or things to see. The closest I've been to that region is Yalta, which is gorgeous, but not so easy to get to. Although, to be honest, Crimea might become another flashpoint in the not-too-distant future, since the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base there and there's long-standing tension between Russia and Ukraine.

marc asked:

(What is up with that loud part of the commentariat in the US who are sure that the Russians are just being legitimately forceful in defense of their legitimate interests?)

The fact that the Russians aren't Zionazi neocon joooooos?

Posted by: Ted S., Catskills, NY Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 6:53 PM

(What is up with that loud part of the commentariat in the US who are sure that the Russians are just being legitimately forceful in defense of their legitimate interests?)

Old tradition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Duranty

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 7:17 PM

From watching CNN, here is what I am missing which echoes the above,

1. State of Georgian army.
2. What are our advisors doing?
3. Actual events that led up to war...
4. and how many civilians died in the beginning. There was some link to a blog I read at Ace of Spades that human rights groups only found 45 dead at the hospital in S. Ossetia. That's how small the region is!
5. What Patrick said about supplies, the roads etc.
6. Situation at Batumi. This is located in a previously restive region, but is the open port now for Georgia.
7. Mood of the Georgian people. Are they going to support their president or do they blame him?

Posted by: Harun Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 7:38 PM

Ahhh, my point about the hospital is that the region only has about 100k people and doesn't have that many hospitals for the NGOs to "miss."

Posted by: Harun Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 7:40 PM

Michael,

All above are very good questions.
Just want to stress one more time what already been said. Do not wonder alone, get somebody you can trust and knows the way around. And if you cannot find such person, cancel your trip to Georgia.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 16, 2008 10:52 PM

Really want to hear about Azerbaijan.

But like others said:

1. What is the state of the state?
stores stocked?
gas available?
what is industry?
is industry healthy and working?
peoples attitudes?
2. What is the sense of the future for the country from the viewpoint of the locals?

I would really like to see you go to Armenia. I hear it is an interesting place and one of the more vital countries in that area.

Posted by: Robohobo Author Profile Page at August 17, 2008 3:40 PM

Please be careful.

If you could, please try to connect with some Georgian bloggers and let your readers know what it has been like to blog during this conflict.

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at August 17, 2008 10:28 PM

A Google Maps search combined with a Wikipedia entry came up with this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karki,_Azerbaijan - it seems like it might be interesting to see this tiny town as a microcosm of the whole situation there. And it's probably a lot safer than the part of Nakhchivan actually under Azeri control or other parts of Azerbaijan under de facto Armenian control. However, I don't know how feasible going to (that part of) the region is. I wonder if any of the larger enclaves and exclaves in this patchwork region are of any but geographical interest, but hopefully you'll be able to find out.

Posted by: calbear Author Profile Page at August 18, 2008 12:10 PM

It is actually quite easy to visit Nagorno-Karabagh through Armenia. All you need to do is get a visa from the NKR office in Yerevan and then hop on a matrushka mini-bus to Stepanakert (you can also hire a car and driver). Its about a 6 hour drive through very beautiful country. There are also good hotels there.

http://www.nkrusa.org/country_profile/travel_tourism.shtml

Posted by: Eliot Author Profile Page at August 18, 2008 1:21 PM

Just wondering Michael if you consider yourself left/center/right leaning in the politcal spectrum, a lot of the commentors seem to like your stuff and are far right wingers judging by their disdain for lefties.

Just out of curiousity
Thanks,
Unso.

Posted by: UnSo Author Profile Page at August 28, 2008 2:08 AM

I don't like:
Annexation and occupation of all small countries from the great countries.

Posted by: bobo Author Profile Page at August 28, 2008 10:01 AM

I don't like:
Annexation and occupation of all small countries from the great countries.

Posted by: bobo Author Profile Page at August 28, 2008 10:03 AM
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