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Feature Story November 13, 2003
Georgia in the Crunch
By Mark Ames Browse author Email
Page 4 of 5
And this is where the global/local connection gets confusing.

Russia. What the hell was Russia's role in all of this?

Any Georgian will tell you that Russia's role has been purely destructive, an attempt to keep control. Russians will answer that the Georgians brought it all on themselves through their hostile, often brutal anti-Russian behavior which drove out hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians.

Russia was behind the carving up of Georgian territory, supporting separatists who control Abkhazia in the northwest and and South Ossetia in the north (which have been practically annexed by Russia) as well as a de facto breakaway region in Adjaria, whose capital, Batumi, is now the site of an annual August Love Parade for Russia's rich techno youth. Russia has military bases in Georgia that it wants to keep. In other words, Russia has been holding a gun to Georgia's head, telling it that if it tries to leave Russia's orbit, it will do so in rags. Georgia has defiantly resisted even to the point of self-destruction -- if you know the sense of pride and self-worth Georgians have, you'd understand it.

Russia and Georgia have been in a kind of war of attrition for the past decade now, with Russia intermittently applying its instruments of torture (separatism, cutting off gas supplies, closing off markets) and Georgia vainly trying to rapidly absorb itself into the West in the naive belief that somehow they can escape their geographic fate. The war of attrition's balance was seriously upset last year with the introduction of American Green Berets. That, combined with the recent groundbreaking on the Caspian Sea pipeline, seemed to radically shift things in Georgia's favor.

The Russians, however, reacted quietly, brutally, and efficiently. Last year, Putin calmed down the hysterics over the American Special Forces in Georgia by proclaiming that it was "no big deal." The White House and Big Oil companies must have been giving each other high fives over that facing of Russia, right in their own back yards! But by this summer, there was no joy in Texasville .

Russian energy monopolies Gazprom and RAO-ES managed to essentially take over the natural gas and much of the energy grid networks in Georgia. On July 1st of this year, Gazprom, which had just bought out Georgia's gas pipelines, signed a secret 25-year agreement to be the sole supplier of gas to Georgia, while at the same time, Tblisi's energy grid was secretly sold to RAO-UES, headed by self-described "liberal-imperialist" Anatoly Chubais.

Washington was, to say the least, not pleased. After the sale, the White House issued a statement expressing its regret that the power grid had been sold off by its American owners, AES. The news caused protests in Tblisi, and the opposition parties slammed Shevardnadze. He reacted dismissively, calling his critics "incompetent." Shortly afterwards, he started to show his anger by attacking AES as "robbers and cheats." This wasn't so much an attack on AES as on the American government which backed AES's investment as part of a national strategic interest.

In fact AES probably had no choice: massive corruption kept AES from even hoping to turn a profit, Russian energy supplies played havoc with its network, and finally, some old-fashioned pressure was applied: AES's chief financial officer was found dead in his Tblisi home.

This not only dramatically increased Russia's control over Georgia, but it raised questions as to how Russia gained control. Who sold it all to them? Which country owned which politician? Could it be possible that Shevardnadze had joined with his old enemies Russia against his closest friend, America? Why would he do it? The oldest reasons of all: power and money. Shevardnadze, and the small clan around him which has stolen nearly everything of worth in Georgia for going on a decade, needs to stay in power at all costs. At some point they must have decided that it was in their best interests to side with the Russians.

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