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Entries in World Russia Forum (4)


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:




Meeting With Congressman Rohrabacher

Thursday, April 1, 2011, I met Congressman Rohrabacher in his office in Washington D.C.  Two days earlier the Congressman gave a speech at the World Russia Forum.  In constrast to Richard Perle's speech earlier in the day, the Congressman's speech was not an attack on Russia, but an accurate assessment of Russia's role in the conflict in 2008 and the nation's interest in the Caucasus region and in combatting terrorism.

Congressman Rohrabacher said that Russia did not start the conflict in South Ossetia, but that Georgia had clearly done so.  This was not the first time he has publicly stated this.  In 2008, after the conflict, Mr. Rohrabacher forcefully said in Congress that "the fighting was started by Georgia.  The Georgians broke the truce." and not the Russians.  In the Congressman's speech at the Forum, he also said that Russia clearly has interests in the Caucasus region, just as the U.S. does in Central America. Further, he believes in the right of self-determination for the Abkhaz people.  Finally, his position, like mine, is that NATO should not be confronting Russia as if it represents the threat of the Soviet Union.  Rather, NATO should work together with Russia to meet the common threat of terrorism.

I was delighted to hear the speech and after I approached the Congressman and told him of my business in south Russia and Abkhazia.  Graciously, he and his staff arranged a meeting on short notice before I left town at the end of the week.

When we met in his office, the Congressman had a number of questions about my experiences in Russia and Abkhazia.  We spoke for a full hour and he was interested to learn more about Abkhazia and its history, culture and people.  I was pleased to have the chance to describe the reasons that I support Abkhazia and its independence.  I also told him that Abkhazia is blessed with natural resources, a spectacular coastline and mountains and that it is primed for development due to its location next to Sochi and the Russian market.  I also told the Congressman that I believed that the U.S. had a chance to help develop Abkhazia, thereby not only cementing relations with both Russia and Abkhazia, but also promoting American values of entrepreneurship, business ethics and democracy.  I believe he shares my views on these issues.  

Personally, I found Mr. Rohrabacher to be very bright, informed and a pleasure to speak to.  I told him that I hoped to see him in Russia and would gladly act as his guide.  I was happy to have an audience with the Congressman and I left buoyed by his interest and support.  



World Russia Forum, Washington D.C. March 29 - 30, 2011

I attended the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C. last week.  The Forum, which is run by Ed Lozansky, commemoriated the 50th anniversay of Yuri Gagarin's voyage as the first man in space on April 12, 1961. This year's program included speakers Konstantin Kosachev, the Chairman of the Russian Duma's Committee on Foreign Affairs, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Perle, Duma deputy Dr. Sergei Markov, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Dr. Robert Legvold.

The first afternoon, Chairman Kosachev's spoke on the issues facing Russian- American relations and the refusal by his Congressional counterpart, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to meet with him.  He pointed out issues the Russian government would like to raise with the U.S. Government.  Richard Perle followed with an angry, shocking and finger waving diatribe against Russia and seemed to personally blame Mr. Kosachev for all. For some reason, he was very offended by Mr. Kosachev's comments, which came across as respectful in tone.

Mr. Perle said that the recent START missile treaty was a waste of time and a retreat to "Cold War" era thinking because the U.S. and Russia are no longer ideological enemies.  It was a neat rhetorical trick, considering he and his neocon cohorts have been accused of exactly that- trying to return the US to Cold War policies towards Russia.  Mr. Perle said he believes that reducing the number of nuclear weapons is a waste of time. But can a reasonable person argue that fewer nuclear weapons and reduced tensions is not worthwhile? There was no awareness on Perle's part that the aggressive neocon thinking and resulting American foreign policy during the Bush Administration was threatening to Russian security.  And that the tensions that resulted pushed us closer to a new "Cold War" than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  He also said that the Jackson- Vanik Amendment, which had been much discussed at the Forum, is not applicable to Russia.  Perle also decried the Khodorkovsky trial and imprisonment.  Khodorkovsky has been raised as a human rights issue, but Perle seems unaware that Khodorkovsky was on the radar screen of Lee Wolosky, the man who launched the hunt for international arms dealer Viktor Bout.  Wolosky felt 10 years ago that Khodorkovsky was a bigger threat to American security than Bout and accused him of the very crimes that he was convicted of last year.  So, Khodorkovsky is not Andre Sakharov.

Mr. Perle's speech, while provocative, was also embarassingly inappropriate.  I wondered (and I was not the only one) how someone with an obvious problem containing his temper in a public forum could rise to a high position in government, whatever his intellectual qualifications.

After Mr. Perle's turn at the podium, the audience was given the chance to ask him and Mr. Kosachev questions.  My question to Mr. Perle:  "American policy in the Caucasus is heavily influenced by the Republic of Georgia.  You have said that there are two sides to every issue, but the U.S. Government does not listen to the Republic of Abkhazia's positions.  How can the U.S. have an informed policy on this important region without input from one of the players?"

Mr. Perle replied that "we are talking to them."  This is false and I stated so.  Mr. Perle then said that "we know what they are thinking."  I think most know this is not a substitute for dilplomacy. His answer fell flat and Lozansky mercifully took the podium.   It was a surprising exchange to me because Mr. Perle seemed to be unaware of the situation in Abkhazia.  I expected him to reply with the position that his fellow neocon thinkier, Randy Scheunemann, and Senator John McCain have taken on Georgian territorial integrity, which conveniently and hypocritically ignores a very analogous situation in Kosovo.

There was a positive reaction from the audience to my question and several approached me to say that I had asked a question no one seemed to be asking and that Russians could not effectively raise because no one in Washington listens to them on the subject of the Caucasus.

Later that evening, I went to the Russian Embassy for a reception.  It was a pleasant evening with a lot of, Russian and American attendees of the Forum.  However, people were still talking about Perle's speech.  It is not hard to see how people like this can lead America down an aggressive and confrontational path towards Russia.  There is a double standard applied to Russia when compared to their statements on other nations. Fortunately is no longer the norm in American foreign policy.  Our policy is formulated based upon pragmatism, rather than the zero-sum, confrontational and ideologically rigid, neocon policies that soured our relations with Russia in the last decade. 



World Russia Forum Washington D.C. April 25-27, 2010

April 25- 27, 2010, I attended and spoke at the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.  Monday the 26th a session was held at the Hart Senate Building.  That evening the Russian Embassy hosted a cocktail party.  April 27th, Nadir Bitiev, Assistant to the President of the Republic of Abkhazia and I spoke at the Forum.  That day's event was held at George Washington University.  Nadir gave an overview on Abkhazia and the opportunities for outside investment.  Afterwards, we took questions from the audience for about an hour.  The questions revealed the audience to be well-informed about Abkhazia.  One of the most interesting things to me was the very strong reaction that most of the Russians have to Abkhazia.  Several of the audience spoke about Abkhazia in the same way that an American might speak about Hawaii or even Tahiti. There is clearly a strong cultural memory of Abkhazia as a subtropical tourist paradise for Russians.

Immediately after the session, I had the opportunity to speak to Nicholas V. Sluchevsky, Chairman of the non-profit Stolypin Memorial Center.  He had interesting insights into Russian business and the differences in business practices in the Caucasus, specifically as to how Abkhazia's international isolation and their desire for integration makes it safer to invest in for western investors than many would assume.

I was grateful to have the audience and the opportunity to speak about Abkhazia.  Thanks to Edward Lozansky for inviting me to speak. Nadir was interviewed several times afterwards and we were jointly interviewed by Joshua Kucera of  


Russian Northern Palmira Navy Band performs at the Lincoln Memorial, April 25, 2010