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Entries in Patrick Wingate (2)

Tuesday
May242011

Who Does The U.S. Embassy In Tbilisi Represent? (Part 1- Please Read Part 2 Below, Also)

I want to be clear that I bear no ill towards the Georgian people. Theirs is a fascinating culture and history.  My issue is with the Georgian leadership, with people who threaten me there and with the American Embassy in Tbilisi.

Question:  Of the following 3 choices what should an American Embassy do if they know an American's life and safety is being threatened? 

a) Protect the American to the best of its ability

b) Do nothing

c) Gloss over the threat and protect the person who is threatening the American

One would think that in most situations, an Embassy would not have a chance to deal with the threat directly. Most of the time, there is little to be done, except offer safety to the American.  But what if the threat comes from an employee of the US Embassy?

I am not in a "hot spot" like Pakistan.  I live in Krasnodar, Russia and the Republic of Abkhazia.  And Abkhazia is quite safe despite the reputation fostered by the US State Department and the Republic of Georgia.  How safe? Well, I have never felt the least bit threatened, except from the recent possibility that a Georgian in the employ of the Georgian Interior Ministry sneaks across the border with fell intent. So, I feel about as safe as I do in San Diego, California.  The biggest threat to personal safety in Abkhazia is from traffic accidents.  And the Republic has a 70 kilometer per hour speed limit to minimize those.

I have been outspoken about my support for Abkhazia and my belief in investment opportunities in this spectacularly beautiful country.    This has been noticed in Georgian media and government.  Because Georgia hopes to gain control of Abkhazia, they don't like what I am doing.  If I am successful it will show that Abkhazia makes its own decisions and  is not dominated by Russia as Georgia claims.  Also, the more prosperous Abkhazia is and the more business and political contacts it has with other nations, the less opportunity for Georgia to invade or attempt to gain control. So, the Georgians are concerned about my activities in Abkhazia - and not only mine. They arrest and imprison anyone entering Georgia who has entered Abkhazia from Russia. All of this is done to isolate Abkhazia.

 

Threats in Media

In February, 2011 the Atlantic Monthly published an article about me and my activities in Abkhazia.  It was not very accurate, but I was glad for the attention on Abkhazia.  On the Atlantic Monthly's website readers posted comments.  One suggested, in reference to me, that Georgia would "never tolerate such behavior". 

Shortly after this, several internet forums in Georgian lit up with comments about me.  There were some very nasty comments and threats against my safety and life were made. Also, for months on this weblog, I have been personally attacked.  And the Georgian Times published several articles about me with a threatening tone. 

Several months ago, a website was put up defacing my picture and making inaccurate claims about me.  I have been told a member of the Georgian government is behind this, but I can not verify.   About the same time a Facebook page was launched attacking me.  The name of the page was "Bruce Talley- The Kremlin's Tool in Abkhazia".  The people who posted on the page in English and Georgian had Georgian surnames.  They made false and potentially libelous claims that I am in the employ of the Russian government and that the Kremlin is blackmailing me. I was called a "prostitute" and It was said that the Russian FSB controls me.  Some posters threatened me.   One woman suggested "this place should be your grave", another,Giorgi Rurua, said:

"Believe, finally he will be broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" 

In his Facebook profile, Mr. Rurua listed his employer as the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Whatever else may be said about Mr. Rorua, he seems to have a clear idea that he would like my neck broken.  But not according to the US Embassy in Tbilisi,  as you will read later.

After this posting, I asked Facebook to shut the page down.  They did so immediately.  Then I contacted the office of Senator Barbara Boxer of California who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.   I am a constituent of the Senator's and a long time supporter.  I sent her office a letter and  included a copy of the Facebook page and the website attacking me and explained a poster who had threatened my life advertised that he worked for the US government in Tbilisi.  I assumed the Embassy would want to know about threats made by an employee against an American's (or anyone else's) life.  And that any threat would be 100% unacceptable.

 

World Russia Forum in Washington DC, March 29 -30 2011 

I waited several weeks, but received no response.  March 29, I called the Senator's office.  I had sent the information to Josh at her office in San Francisco, but he declined to take my calls or return them.  I waited several weeks, but received no response.  The next day, I attended the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.  While at the Forum, I publicly questioned Richard Perle on American foreign policy in the Caucasus, asking  "American foreign policy is very heavily influenced by the Republic of Georgia.  But we don't engage with Abkhazia.  How can the U.S. make informed policy decisions about the Caucasus without engaging a key player?" Mr. Perle did not offer a coherent defense.  My question drew applause from the audience and later several members of the Russian Duma approached me to thank me, one saying "my question was good, but one which no one would listen to if asked by a Russian".

While I was in Washington, I met with quite a few people, including a Congressman.  I pointed out that the reason Abkhazia was included in Georgia's post- Soviet borders was that Soviet dictator (and ethnic Georgian) had dissolved Abkhazia's status in 1931 and incorporated it into the Georgian S.S.R.. and that Stalin moved thousands of Georgians into Abkhazia to ethnically dilute it.   I also talked about Georgia's invasion of Abkhazia in 1992 and how the Abkhaz had won their freedom from Georgian colonialism and political and cultural oppression.

 

Response from Senator Boxer's Office 

Interestingly, after the Forum and after I questioned Mr.Perle directly, on April 12, I received my first response. Ms. Alicia Estrada forwarded a letter from the State Department advising me that since Abkhazia was a "hot spot" I should not travel there.  But if I must, I should first go to the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia and enroll in their STEP program for Americans abroad and give them my itinerary.

Incredulously, I wrote to Ms. Estrada and asked if anyone had bothered to read my letter.  Was the State Department really recommending I go to a nation that would imprison me for my activities and show up at the work place of the man who had threatened my life and then give my itinerary?    I pointed this out in my letter and said I did not face threats in Abkhazia, but that they came from Georgia and Georgians.


The Wingate Letter 

April 20th,  I received another letter forwarded by Senator Boxer's office from the US Embassy in Tbilisi from Patrick Wingate, Consular Chief:

"In response to Mr. Talley's concerns that a local employee was making threats against him on a Facebook page, the Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) conducted an investigation.  The RSO determined that the employee did not make a threat against Mr. Talley.  Although the literal translation of the post is apparently that one will break one's neck, the real meaning in Georgian is that one will not be successful.  The employee maintains that he did not mean to threaten Mr. Talley, but to imply that he would not be successful in his endeavors in Abkhazia.  The RSO concluded that the employee was sincere and truthful in explanation and that his comment was a bona fide case of mistranslation and not malice.  The RSO directed the employee to remove any reference to the Embassy on his Facebook page and to refrain from any appearance of impropriety in future posts on this or similar sites."  

Mr. Wingate repeats that I should enter Georgia and register with the Embassy.  He also does not know the dates of the conflict in Abkhazia, stating it happened there during the 1980's (incorrectly) and 1990's. 

I immediately wrote back and asked:  Do you think it would be a good idea to check the translation of the passage in which  the US Embassy employee  appears to threaten to break my neck with someone OTHER THAN THE PERSON who wrote the PASSAGE THREATENING TO BREAK MY NECK?  

Then I looked at the original posting and saw that Mr. Rorua wrote his threat in English.  There was no translation issue!  But Mr. Wingate simply glossed over that.

Does Mr. Wingate really believe the passage in English-  "finally he will get broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" -was misunderstood and the writer just does not want me to be successful? Is it standard practice for US Embassies to accept explanations when people make threats against Americans?   I wonder what Mr. Wingate would think if the shoe were on the other foot.  It seems like removing a reference to the Embassy from Mr. Rorua's profile is a tacit admission of something not right.

What message is the Embassy sending in Georgia about Americans in Abkhazia?  At the least the Embassy should not condone threats from its employees.   Is this incompetence? Or is it because I support Abkhazia openly and am showing that there is more to the story than Georgia wants people to know about?  I think there is an obvious course of action for an Embassy after a threat is issued by an employee of the US Embassy: Terminate his employment, issue a statement to the press that the American government will not take lightly threats or attacks on Americans regardless of political issues and send an apology to the American citizen.

I am aware that this may create an even bigger enemy in Mr. Rorua.  But there is a bigger audience in Georgia- potentially 4.7 million times bigger.

Please read part 2 of this entry below:

 

 

Tuesday
May242011

Who Does The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi Represent? (Part 2)


I empathize with Abkhazia.  Like me, the Abkhaz are the subject of threats from Georgia, but for far longer and with deadly consequences.  Like with me, the U.S. Government does nothing to discourage these threats..  In fact, certain members of the US Senate would like to arm Georgia.  Add to that several invasions, genocidal comments from the Georgian military leadership and the loss of 4% of the population and you can see why they will never go back to Georgian control.  

The Georgian lobby in the U.S. is very strong and Abkhazia does not have one, so the other side of the story is never heard by the American Congress- a Congress which is doing Georgia's bidding by isolating Abkhazia and attempting to rearm Georgia.  Georgia's President has been selling the myth of victimization in Georgia to his own people and in Washington to the American Congress.  And no one is the better for it.  America gets stuck with the tab, Abkhazia is isolated, Russia is unfairly demonized, Georgia is fixated on a nation they will never again control and the region is less stable and prosperous than if the U.S. just took an honest look at the situation.

I have observed that most Abkhaz are very pro-American.  I am always struck by their friendliness to America when I travel there.  The usual comment is:  " America- super!" That is generous considering Senators John McCain and John Kyl want to arm the government of Georgia.  And given what the President of Georgia would like to do with those arms.

I have said that there is a great opportunity to spread American values of entrepreneurship, business ethics and democracy in the Caucasus. Where exactly?  In the only nation in the region that has had four free and fair Presidential elections,  the one with no political prisoners, the one with a free press, the one with an active political opposition- the Republic of Abkhazia.

Mr. Wingate's letter also mentions that Abkhazia is "occupied" by Russia and that it has "reported high levels of crime." This is false. Russia does not occupy Abkhazia.  There were Russian peacekeepers under a U.N. mandate on the ground in Abkhazia for about 15 years.  Only after Georgia repeatedly broke ceasefires and attacked Abkhazia and South Ossetia on numerous occasions, including in 2008, did Russia build protective bases in Abkhazia.  However, Russia does not occupy Abkhazia.- unless the U.S. is also occupying South Korea. Actually, Georgia is viewed much the same way in Abkhazia as North Korea is in South Korea:  militaristic, aggressive and eager to secure control of a country that wants no part of them.  The difference is that Abkhazia has a separate language and culture from Georgia.  And for much of the Soviet period, Georgian officials tried to extinguish that language and culture.

I first traveled to Abkhazia in 2006 and live in the country part of each month.  During the last 5 years, I recall having seen Russian soldiers twice. Once, they were repairing a road.  In the last 20 months, I have seen one Russian soldier.  You would think an occupational power would have a very visible military presence and be controlling the government.  But the Russians don't.  Abkhazia had an election 17 months ago and international observers characterized it as free and fair.  I have met Abkhaz leadership on many occasions and they set their own policy.  But Georgian government takes the line it is "occupied" and this is the line that the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi swallows and passes along uncritically. 

That is not surprising given that Wikileaks revealed that the US Embassy in Tbilisi accepted the Saakashvili government's accounts of its own behavior when it ordered the attack on South Ossetia in 2008.  That attack resulted in hundreds of South Ossetian civilian and Russian peacekeepers lives being lost.  The U.S. Embassy repeated the false claims the Georgian government made that South Ossetian forces had shelled Georgian villages before they attacked.  This was done without any independent confirmation and despite an observer from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe's stating  that Georgia had violated a cease fire.  

From the New York Times:  "The observers, in the heart of the conflict zone, did not report hearing or seeing any Ossetian artillery attacks in the hours before Georgia bombarded Tskhinvali. Rather, they reported to an American political officer that “the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali began at 2335 on Aug. 7 despite the cease-fire.”

Just after Georgia's invasion, U.S. Ambassador Tefft cabled the Bush Administration suggesting a coordinated response to those unsure of "Georgia's absolute innocence."

Although there is a new Ambassador in Tbilisi, apparently staff is just as uncritical of Georgian actions as before.  Mr. Wingate believes that Russia is occupying Abkhazia, that I should go to Georgia and allow Georgian officials to arrest and imprison me as they have others who travel to Abkhazia through Russia and that the employee who threatened to break my neck just "did not want me to be successful."

Even though the threats are from Georgia and Abkhazia is a safe place, the Abkhaz authorities have given me protection.  Contrast this with the American Embassy's reaction. 

Why is no one in the media looking into the cozy relationship between Georgia and the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi? Why does the American Embassy parrot Georgian propaganda?  Why does Georgian leadership get a free pass on human rights issues?  The Fuks case?  The visa free travel they have instituted for people from Chechnya and Dagestan?

One last point that is completely ignored by the media and virtually every politician (save Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who has been a lone voice of reason) is that every single conflict involving Abkhazia and South Ossetia has been started by Georgia.  If Georgia just left Abkhazia and South Ossetia alone, there would be no violence.   Mr. Wingate calls Abkhazia a "hot spot".  That is not accurate.  The only region where there  has been any volatility in Abkhazia since the early 1990's is the border with Georgia.  Guess why? Yup.  The Georgians come across the border and start it.  Then the U.S. government and Georgia claim it is unstable and discourage tourists and investors from coming.

By the way, neither Senator Boxer's office nor the US Embassy in Tbilisi has yet replied to me.....

 

Bruce Talley

Republic of Abkhazia

May 12, 2011