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Monday, October 22, 2012

Georgia’s October 2012 Legislative Election: Outcome and Implications



Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Georgia’s continued sovereignty and independence and its development as a free market democracy have been significant concerns to successive Congresses and Administrations. The United States and Georgia signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership in early 2009 pledging U.S. support for these objectives, and the United States has been Georgia’s largest provider of foreign and security assistance. Most recently, elections for the 150-member Parliament of Georgia on October 1, 2012, have been viewed as substantially free and fair by most observers. Several Members of Congress and the Administration have called for a peaceful transition of political power in Georgia and have vowed continued support for Georgia’s development and independence.

In the run-up to the October 2012 election, Georgia’s Central Electoral Commission registered 16 parties and blocs and several thousand candidates to run in mixed party list and single-member constituency races. A new electoral coalition, Georgia Dream—set up by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili—posed the main opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, which held the majority of legislative seats. A video tape of abuse in a prison released by Georgia Dream late in the campaign seemed to be a factor in the loss of voter support for the United National Movement and in the electoral victory of Georgia Dream. According to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the election freely reflected the will of the people, although a few procedural and other problems were reported.

In the days after the election, Saakashvili, Ivanishvili, and other officials from Georgia Dream and the United National Movement have met to plan an orderly transition, including the appointment of a new cabinet. Ivanishvili has pledged that GD will continue to support Georgia’s democratization and anti-corruption efforts, and its European and Euro-Atlantic orientation.

The White House has described the election as “another milestone” in Georgia’s development as a democracy, and has called for Ivanishvili and Saakashvili to work together to ensure the country’s continued peaceful transition of power. The Administration also stated that it looked forward to strengthening the U.S.-Georgia partnership. Several Members of Congress observed the election, and several Members of the Senate issued a post-election statement commending President Saakashvili for his efforts to transform Georgia into a prosperous democracy, and pointing to the competitive and peaceful election as evidence of his success. At the same time, they raised concerns about some bickering and unrest in the wake of the election, and cautioned that the future of U.S.-Georgia relations depends on the country’s continued commitment to democratization.

Some observers have suggested that relations between the two parties in the legislature and between a Georgia Dream cabinet and the president may well be contentious in coming months, as both sides maneuver before a planned 2013 presidential election. Saakashvili is term-limited and cannot run, but the United National Movement plans to retain the presidency. Under constitutional changes, the legislature is slated to gain greater powers vis-à-vis the presidency, so a divided political situation could endure for some time. In such a case, statesmanship and a commitment to compromise and good governance are essential for Georgia’s continued democratization, these observers stress.



Date of Report: October 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R42777
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests



Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

U.S. policy toward the Central Asian states has aimed at facilitating their cooperation with U.S. and NATO stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and their efforts to combat terrorism; proliferation; and trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons. Other U.S. objectives have included promoting free markets, democratization, human rights, energy development, and the forging of East-West and Central Asia-South Asia trade links. Such policies aim to help the states become what various U.S. administrations have considered to be responsible members of the international community rather than to degenerate into xenophobic, extremist, and anti-Western regimes that contribute to wider regional conflict and instability.

Soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian “front-line” states offered over-flight and other support for coalition anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also endorsed coalition military action in Iraq. About two dozen Kazakhstani troops served in Iraq until late 2008. Uzbekistan rescinded U.S. basing rights in 2005 after the United States criticized the reported killing of civilians in the town of Andijon. In early 2009, Kyrgyzstan ordered a U.S. base in that country to close, allegedly because of Russian inducements and U.S. reluctance to meet Kyrgyz requests for greatly increased lease payments. An agreement on continued U.S. use of the Manas Transit Center was reached in June 2009. In recent years, most of the regional states also participate in the Northern Distribution Network for the transport of U.S. and NATO supplies into and out of Afghanistan.

Policymakers have tailored U.S. policy in Central Asia to the varying characteristics of these states. U.S. interests in Kazakhstan have included securing and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear and biological weapons materials and facilities. U.S. energy firms have invested in oil and natural gas development in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and successive administrations have backed diverse export routes to the West for these resources. U.S. policy toward Kyrgyzstan has long included support for its civil society. In Tajikistan, the United States focuses on developmental assistance to bolster the fragile economy and address high poverty rates. U.S. relations with Uzbekistan—the most populous state in the heart of the region—were cool after 2005, but recently have improved.

Congress has been at the forefront in advocating increased U.S. ties with Central Asia, and in providing backing for the region for the transit of equipment and supplies for U.S.-led stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Congress has pursued these goals through hearings and legislation on humanitarian, economic, and democratization assistance; security issues; and human rights. During the 112th Congress, the Members may review assistance for bolstering regional border and customs controls and other safeguards to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combating trafficking in persons and drugs, encouraging regional integration with South Asia and Europe, advancing energy security, and countering terrorism. Support for these goals also has been viewed as contributing to stabilization and reconstruction operations by the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. For several years, Congress has placed conditions on assistance to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan because of concerns about human rights abuses and lagging democratization (the Secretary of State may waive such conditions). Congress will continue to consider how to balance these varied U.S. interests in the region.



Date of Report: September 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 69
Order Number: RL33458
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Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests



Jim Nichol, Coordinator
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Russia made some uneven progress in democratization during the 1990s, but this limited progress was reversed after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999-2000, according to many observers. During this period, the State Duma (lower legislative chamber) came to be dominated by government-approved parties, gubernatorial elections were abolished, and the government consolidated ownership or control over major media and industries, including the energy sector. The Putin government showed a low regard for the rule of law and human rights in suppressing insurgency in the North Caucasus, according to critics. Dmitriy Medvedev, Putin’s long-time protégé, was elected president in early 2008 and immediately designated Putin as prime minister. President Medvedev continued Putin’s policies. In August 2008, the Medvedev-Putin “tandem” directed military operations against Georgia and recognized the independence of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, actions condemned by most of the international community. In late 2011, Putin announced that he would return to the presidency and that Medvedev would become prime minister. This announcement and flawed Duma elections at the end of the year spurred popular protests, which the government addressed by launching some reforms (such as the return of gubernatorial elections) and by holding pro-Putin rallies. In March 2012, Putin was (re-)elected president by a wide margin. The day after his inauguration on May 7, the legislature confirmed Medvedev as prime minister. Since then, the Putin administration appears to be tightening restrictions on freedom of assembly and other human rights.

Russia’s economy began to recover from the Soviet collapse in 1999, led mainly by oil and gas exports, but the decline in oil and gas prices and other aspects of the global economic downturn beginning in 2008 contributed to an 8% drop in gross domestic product in 2009. Since then, rising world oil prices have bolstered the economy. Russian economic growth continues to be dependent on oil and gas exports. The economy also is plagued by an unreformed healthcare system and unhealthy lifestyles; low domestic and foreign investment; and high rates of crime, corruption, capital flight, and unemployment.

Russia’s armed forces now number less than one million, down from 4.3 million Soviet troops in 1986. Troop readiness, training, morale, and discipline have suffered, and much of the arms industry has become antiquated. Russia’s economic growth during most of the 2000s allowed it to increase defense spending to begin to address these problems. Stepped-up efforts have been launched to restructure the armed forces to improve their quality. Opposition among some in the armed forces, mismanagement, and corruption have seemingly slowed this restructuring.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States sought a cooperative relationship with Moscow and supplied almost $19 billion in aid for Russia from FY1992 through FY2010 to encourage democracy and market reforms and in particular to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the past, U.S.-Russia tensions on issues such as NATO enlargement and proposed U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe were accompanied by some cooperation between the two countries on anti-terrorism and non-proliferation. Russia’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, however, threatened such cooperation. The Obama Administration has worked to “re-set” relations with Russia. The Administration has hailed the signing of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010, the approval of new sanctions against Iran by Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council in June 2010, the accession of Russia to the World Trade Organization on August 22, 2012, and the cooperation of Russia in Afghanistan as signifying the “re-set” of bilateral relations. Congress is considering legislation(H.R. 6156 and S. 3406) to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.



Date of Report: September 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 82
Order Number: RL33407
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