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Moscow Babylon March 6, 2002
The Pankisi Whore
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 5 of 7
Given Americans' two-faced nature, it's hard to imagine why anyone on this earth likes us. They do, they keep expecting us to be as gentle and sincere as we pretend to be... but folks, citizens of the world, when will you get it?

Pasha would have an easy answer for why people genuinely like America. "Money, money, money."

* * *

I knew that the Georgians loathed Russia, but I didn't realize how intensely.

"The Russians want to control us in an uncivilized way. They use old-fashioned imperialism, military means. We cannot be friends with them," said Giorgi Baramidze, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Security and Defense. "The civilized way to influence a country is through investment and business. The Americans give us aid and training. They're trying to help build us up. The Russians choose military pressure, the eighteenth century method. They threaten to destroy us if we don't do what they say. They directly supported the separatists in Abkhazia, where thousands died and 300,000 became refugees."

You could substitute America with Russia and just about any Latin American country for Georgia and the complaint would be the same. But Americans are on the other side of the world from Georgia, and Russia is a next-door menace they know all too well.

I counted three separate NATO flags and other NATO paraphernalia in Baramidze's parliament office. He told me he had spent a year studying at Georgetown. He looks more "Westernized" than most of colleagues, both in dress and in complexion. Throughout the interview, he rubbed a band of rosary-like beads. He was generally so informal that you didn't feel that awful slimed feeling you normally get with politicians.

"The Georgians helped destroy the Soviet Union because Georgia was one of the first republics pushing for independence," he said; "Sheverdnadze personally helped bring down the Berlin Wall as Foreign Minister. The Russians will never forgive us for that. They want to make an example of Georgia, which is why they have destroyed so much here."

Later, he admitted, "Of course it is not just emotions that is driving the Russians. Georgia is the gateway from Central Asian oil and gas to Western markets. It is either an open gate or closed gate. Russia wants to control those routes, as does the West."


Even here, Russia's maximalist position is softening.

Viktor Kalyuzhny, Russia's sleazy ex-Oil Minister who now represents Russia's interests in the Caspian Sea, has coincidentally softened Russia's long-standing opposition to the US-backed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline which would bypass Russia, as Russian oil companies are switching from a fruitless strategy of seeking total domination over the transit, leaving everyone deadlocked with nothing, towards cooperation with Western multinationals, in the hope of getting in on a piece of the Chevron/BP pie. Better to get a small cut of something huge than to get all of nothing.

This could in part explain Putin's retreat last week over Georgia. Anti-American nationalism is bad for Russian business. It's all just business.

* * *

To Russians, the Georgians are a tribe of ungrateful, half-crazed fuck-ups. Russians first incorporated Georgia into their empire two centuries ago at the request of their king, for protection against the Turks. More recently, Russians built many of Georgia's ports, factories, buildings, roads, though they're not the kinds of factories, buildings and roads that are inspiring school children to write thank you chain letters to retired Soviet officials.

During the Soviet Union days, it was an open secret that Georgians lived better than Russians -- better than anyone in fact excepting maybe the Estonians. At the moment of the Soviet Union's worst crisis, instead of standing by Russia, the Georgians, led by a quasi-fascist nutcase named Zviad Gamsakhurdia, demanded independence and destroyed the centuries-old Russian empire. Once independent, the Georgians turned on each other. The ethnic Georgians were notoriously arrogant, inciting resentment and rebellion among the smaller ethnic groups. After that, the ethnic Georgians started killing each other. Then that ended and there was nowhere left to go but for each Georgian to declare war on himself. When the dust settled, the best they could produce was a regime so horribly corrupt it would ensure that Georgia would never reach Brezhnev-era levels of relative prosperity for generations to come.

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