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Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Russian troops remain garrisoned at four military bases and as peacekeepers in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (but are scheduled to withdraw from two of the bases by July 2001). Despite a badly degraded transportation network - brought on by ethnic conflict, criminal activities, and fuel shortages - the country continues to move toward a market economy and greater integration with Western institutions.
Update No: 268 - (25/04/03)
The Georgian republic is in close cooperation these days with the US on military matters. Some 200 US Special Forces are training Georgian troops in anti-terrorism operations, giving them 10 helicopters and other equipment to root out al-Qaeda and other elements lurking in the
Pankisi Gorge in north-eastern Georgia just below Chechnya. A Chechen-al Qaeda link up has been established in the gorge, according to US sources.
This is all building up to a bid by Georgia to join NATO, which Secretary-General Lord Robertson, has spoken of favourably.
NATO backs Georgia accession bid
NATO will provide maximum assistance to Georgia in its bid to join the alliance, Robertson said at a recent meeting with Georgian Foreign Minister, Irakly Menagarishvili, in Brussels. Robertson positively assessed the establishment of Georgia's Coordination Council for Integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures headed by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.
During a recent meeting between Menagarishvili and the Vilnius Ten group (V10) of countries, the V10 members supported Georgia's bid for NATO membership and promised to share their experience in cooperation with the alliance. The countries intend to promote Georgia's interests in Brussels and Euro-Atlantic organisations.
Economy is shaping up
The economic situation has long been dire for many Georgians, especially those who are refugees from the northern province, Abkazia, now effectively independent of Georgia. The government is doing what it can to revive the old market economy of the country, which was spared the worst of Stalinist mismanagement; Stalin was after all himself a Georgian.
IMF mission welcomes 2002 development in Georgia
An IMF mission recently ended its visit to Georgia, during which the country's macroeconomic developments for last year were valued as "broadly encouraging." The IMF report also noted that revenue collection was strong in 2002, although "fiscal pressures persisted due to delays in the transfer of revenue to the central government by the autonomous republic of Adjara". Moreover, "new fiscal pressures have emerged in early 2003, associated primarily with higher spending appropriations, differences in the estimates of privatisation receipts, and weak revenue performance in the first two months of this year", the report further noted.
The pressures were increased by the recent decision to lower electricity tariffs. The plan to increase minimum wages to USD 53 would likewise "substantially" worsen the situation. However, the mission has proposed a set of corrective actions to safeguard macroeconomic stability and reforms.
Power black-out in Baku
On March 30th the capital city suffered a complete black-out of electricity. Shevardnadze blamed the event on sabotage. He may be right. An explosion occurred on the Kavkasioni, transmission line, on which the city's energy needs mainly depend.
At independence twelve years ago a plan to build a hydroelectric power station was shelved. That was in the days of Zoiad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in 1992, his successor being Shevardnadze. His followers, Zviadists, as they are called have never reconciled themselves to Shevardnadze's presidency. It is possible that some of them, nine years after Gamsakhurdia's death, are still active in pockets of Georgia.
Alternatively, rogue elements in the Russian security forces have long gunned literally for the removal of Shevardnadze, including two spectacular assassination attempts. His latest moves towards NATO are black treason to such forces in an ex-politburo member. If Georgia does join NATO, it is not going to be just another member, but a potentially explosive one, moreover right next to Chechnya. Brussels NATO planners may become prone to second thoughts on this matter. But Shevardnadze cannot hold power indefinitely. Apart from his age, the people generally are heartily sick of him, his international reputation notwithstanding. After so many years of waiting to see some benefit from a market economy there is hunger for change at the top.
Georgia to launch 2nd development project
The second Municipal Development and Decentralisation project will take place in Georgia and start in the near future. The project will cost US$31m, Interfax News Agency reported. The first project took place in 1997 and lasted until December of 2001.
During the last project, repairs were made on water networks, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure facilities. Weight will be placed on recuperating local administration bodies such as development and planning. For the period 2003-2006 up to 60 individual projects are planned.
Kazakstan interested in closer cooperation with Georgia
Natia Turnava, the Deputy Minister of Economics, Industry and Trade, Vilen Alavidze, director of one of the departments of the Ministry and Nauriz Aidarov, the ambassador of Kazakstan to Georgia, recently considered prospects for closer cooperation between Georgia and Kazakstan in the Ministry of Economics, Industry and Trade.
Alavidze told www.Sarke.com, that apart from joining the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project, Kazakstan was poised to cooperate with Georgia in the transport and communications sector and was especially interested in the cargo shipment through the TRACECA route (the transport corridor Europe-Caucasus-Europe-Asia) and Georgian ports.
NATO's Robertson to visit Tbilisi
NATO Secretary General, George Robertson announced he will visit Georgia. The Georgian foreign minister said that the visit will be evidence of the growing cooperation with NATO, Interfax News Agency reported.
"In the wake of scaling up cooperation with NATO the Georgian president has ordered establishment of a coordination council on Georgia's integration into Euroatlantic structures," stated Deputy Foreign Minister, Kakha Sikharulidze, at a recent meeting. Georgia declared its intent to join NATO at the Alliance's Prague summit in November of 2002. Georgia has been cooperating with NATO in the building of an individual cooperation programme.
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