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: 276 - (01/01/04)
"After the Velvet Revolution"
The Georgian Republic has had 'a velvet revolution,' which is leading to a change of regime On November 2nd elections to parliament were held, which yielded a highly contested result. Mass demonstrations were clamouring ever since election day for the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze, the president since 1992, who duly acknowledged the inevitable and resigned on November 23rd exactly three weeks later.
His removal happened without violence, unlike that of his predecessor, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, eleven years ago that involved a civil war. That he left without resorting to force is the best proof that Shevardnadze was not a dictator of the durable kind, indeed, had democratic leanings to the end. But his regime was a dismal failure for the people, leaving behind a failed state with a ruined economy.
Corruption and crime are rife. Venality extended right up to the top places in the state. The revulsion against the regime in the crisis was widespread and genuine.
The acting president until new elections on January 4th, 45 days later, is Nino Burdzhanadze, the effective opposition parliament speaker, who declared herself president on November 22nd when Shevardnadze was forced to flee parliament. This happened thirteen years later to the day when Margaret Thatcher resigned, another leader who played a key role in ending the Cold War. Shevardnadze was Soviet Foreign Minister under Gorbachev and presided over the peaceful re-unification of Germany, where he is far more popular than at home. He might end up living there in Baden-Baden, where he is reputed to have bought a mansion, although he has denied this. In a way it no longer matters, because Shevardnadze is politically quite defunct.
The elections were clearly rigged in the eyes of international observers, but more importantly in the view of the general public. There was a big discrepancy between exit polls and the final result. This was a bad slip up by the regime in an election, which was otherwise undertaken in a predictable way. Many polling stations were not open and would-be voters were turned away. In one incident armed men in ski masks burst into a poll booth and absconded with the ballot box.
The results when first disclosed were not plausible to the public. The pro-regime bloc, For a New Georgia, won the most votes on 21.3, but no-one knew personally anyone who had voted for it. Opposition parties received nearly 70% of the votes cast. It was obvious that even on this rigged result the regime could not survive.
Defection of Shevardnadze supporters
Shevardnadze took a long time to bow to the inevitable. The situation became desperate when the chief of his own security, Tedo Japaridze, declared the elections fraudulent and demanded a rerun. The strong signal was given to the opposition that, if they pushed against the police lines, the police would give way, exactly what happened on November 22nd. Japaridze, a former ambassador to Washington, knew he would have US support.
The other key figure in the crisis is Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of the opposition party, the United National Movement, which was cheated of first place, receiving 18.08% of the vote, putting it behind not just For a New Georgia, but also the party of Aslan Abishidze, the tough dictatorial president of the virtually independent province of Adjara. Everyone knew the vote would be rigged in Adjara, so much so that, on average, every Adjaran of voting age cast about 1.2 votes for his party!
Saakashvili is now likely to become the next elected president. Like Japaridze he is pro-American, having been educated in universities in Washington and New York. He was a highly regarded justice minister who resigned three years ago in disgust at the corruption that became the hallmark of Shevardnadze's rule.
The pro-US flavour of the politics of Saakashvili and of the other two instigators of 'the velvet revolution,' as the ouster is being called, Jarapidze and Burdzhanadze, is highly important for the fate of the oil pipeline through the republic from Baku to Turkey, set to bring a million barrels a day of Caspian Sea crude to Western markets. This by-passes Russia and Iran, so that the turn of events is not welcome in Moscow or Tehran. The oil pipeline faces opposition from environmentalist who have published a report saying that the project flouts World Bank guidelines on 173 counts. It argues against the development banks extending $700 million in loans. But the BP-led project would impart such a boost to the economy that ecological considerations are likely to be waived.
The Great Game is still being played here and the US is just about to win an important trick. The US ambassador, Richard Miles, has been actively grooming Saakashvili for the succession. 'Shevvy,' as he came to be affectionately called in Washington, was once the US's favourite in the region, but he has clearly outlived his usefulness.
Acting president has an interesting family history
Curiously, acting president Nino Burdzhanadze is the 39 year-old daughter of Anzor Burdzhanadze, a rich businessman, the king of the bakers and butchers in Tbilisi, who was witness at the marriage of a certain Eduard Ambrosevitch Shevardnadze many years ago. Born in the same western region of Goury, the two men have known each other since childhood. The father of Nino was head of the local party, then minister of tourism, while his old friend was escalating the highest reaches of state power, being head of the national party from 1972, opening a long career at the top.
None of this has prevented Nino from becoming an inveterate opposition figure, joining her own formation, the Democratic Bloc, into a close ally of Saakashvili's National Movement. She is fervently pro-Europe and pro-Atlanticist policies, as are all the opposition leaders. They also keep up relations with the liberals in Moscow. A decisive new orientation to the Occident looks to be impending in Tbilisi
BTC pipeline unaffected by events in Georgia
The events in Georgia have not affected work on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, Interfax News Agency quoted Tamam Bayatly, spokeswoman for BP-Azerbaijan, as saying. "All work on the Georgian section of the BTC pipeline is going to schedule and our offices have been open and are open as usual," Bayatly said.
BP is confident work on the BTC pipeline can continue as normal. "The project investors have signed a deal on the project with the Georgian government, and we are certain the deal will be honoured," she said. The future pipeline will stretch 1,767 kilometres (443 km through Azerbaijan, 248 km through Georgia and 1,076 km through Turkey) and will have a capacity of 50m tonnes of oil per year and will require 1.5 million tonnes of oil to fill it.
It is planned to complete construction work in the fourth quarter of 2004 and to start exporting Azerbaijani oil from the port of Ceyhan in the second quarter of 2005.
Participants in the BTC project are: British Petroleum (30.1 per cent), SOCAR (25 per cent), Unocal (8.9 per cent), Statoil (8.71 per cent), TPAO (6.53 per cent), ENI (5.0 per cent), Itochu (3.4 per cent), ConocoPhillips (2.5 per cent), Inpex (2.5 per cent), TotalFinaElf (5 per cent) and Amerada Hess (2.36 per cent).
Georgia vague about what aid it needs - Russian Foreign Ministry
The Georgian side has not specified its need for Russian aid, the Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 29th November, answering an ITAR-TASS News Agency question about reports to the effect that Georgian State Minister, Zurab Zhvania, had appealed to Russia for emergency aid in the power engineering sphere.
"The issues that the Georgian side raised earlier in the power engineering sphere have been almost completely resolved," the diplomat said. "We have no information about new requests in this area."
"As to a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, and Zurab Zhvania, the latter indeed spoke about humanitarian aid for Georgia," Yakovenko said. He stressed, however, that "the Georgian side did not specify its needs."
Georgia's chief minister plans "revolutionary" changes at state-owned firms
The new authorities in Georgia are "taking a revolutionary step by starting the eradication of clan interests at enterprises and facilities that are in state ownership," Georgian Minister of State, Zurab Shvania, announced at a news conference on 8th December, Prime News News Agency has reported
He said that the process would first of all affect the Georgian Railways limited-liability company.
"This is a company that the previous government saw as one of the main sources of revenue while foreign partners saw it as one of the symbols of rampant corruption in Georgia. In reality, it is a very wealthy company that has great potential," Zhvania said.
He said that the three-member supervisory board at Georgian Railways would be abolished and replaced with a board consisting of 15 people, mostly representatives of NGOs that "are capable of economic analysis and have had no business interests," as well as one or two foreign experts.
Zhvania said that two months after its establishment the board will advertise the vacancy of company director. The future director's role will involve "sorting out the current situation in the company, working in a transparent manner, taking into account employees' interests and making it possible for Georgia to reclaim its reputation as a transit country", Zhvania said.
He said that the new government would make Georgian Railways an example for other companies to follow, big or small.
New bridge to ease Georgia-Russia border traffic
A new pedestrian bridge was opened across the river Psou on 28th November near the Adler-Avtodorozhniy checkpoint at the Abkhaz side of the Abkhaz-Georgian border, RIA News Agency has reported.
RIA-Novosti was told by the press service of the North Caucasus frontier regional department of the Russian Federal Security Service that the new bridge over the river Psou would significantly ease border-crossing and the border-checking procedure.
"It is of great significance today at the height of the tangerine season on the Black Sea coast," the press service noted.
Local residents, leaders of Krasnodar Territory, border guards and customs officers took part in the inauguration of the new bridge.
Our analysts and
editorial staff have many years experience in analysing and reporting
events in these nations. This knowledge is available in the form of
geopolitical and/or economic country reports on any individual or grouping
of countries. Such reports may be bespoke to the specification of clients
or by access to one of our existing specialised reports.
For further information email: