Books on Georgia
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
three military bases and as "peacekeepers" in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
They also have a base in Batumi in Adjania, the latest defector from
Tbilisi's control. 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. But
Russia has skilfully manipulated the situation so that it could, if it
chose to do so, rapidly make Georgia totally ungovernable. In effect
therefore, Russia now has ultimate sanction over Kazak and Caspian oil
flowing through to western markets by pipeline and by Black Sea tankers.
Update No: 281 - (27/05/04)
The Rose Revolution
The Georgians are celebrating a magnificent victory in the Rose Revolution of their new statehood. The May 5th resignation of Adjharia's potentate, Aslan Abashidze, has immensely strengthened the hand of Mikhail Saakashvili, the prime mover of the revolution and the new president.
But revolutions go through a cycle of euphoria and disenchantment. For some the disenchantment is already setting in. After one hundred days there are fears that the fierce anti-corruption drive that is the hallmark of Saakashvili's rule, indeed his whole career, is turning into a threat to respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The government's firm stance against official corruption and tax evasion has brought down many a corrupt official or bigwig of the old regime, that which flourished under former President Eduard Shevardnadze. The West is far more interested now in extending aid, investment and help of all sorts.
A failed state
One has to realise where Georgia is coming from. It is a failed state. Under Shevardnadze it went backwards by miles, corruption and gangsterism taking over. The economy shrank so that a republic that had been number one in prosperity in the former USSR ended up a pauper state.
Saakashvili is learning on the job. As a former justice minister it is not surprising that he is putting the fight against corruption and crime first, especially as it is very popular with the people. His approval ratings are still sky-high. He obtained the support of 86% in the latest opinion poll.
Reports of media harassment have also gathered pace. The prosecution of The Omega Group, a cigarette retailer registered in Ajaria whose media outlets have been critical of Saakashvili's rule, is one of the more high-profile examples cited by media activists. The International Press Institute, based in Vienna, issued a statement in February that expressed "growing concern" about the status of freedom of the press in Georgia.
But Marc Behrendt, head of the OSCE's Human Dimension program, cautions that the problem lies not so much with an attempt by the government to control the press, as with journalists' own reluctance to criticise the government.
"Across the country, there is a sense that if the reform process doesn't work now, it's never going to work, that this is Georgia's last chance. People are almost desperate for the new government to be successful," Behrendt said. "There's a concept that unanimity is seen as a strength, that there's a conflict between being able to be a journalist and being able to be a patriot."
That concept of strength in unity has already begun to take a toll on Georgia's civil society, said Behrendt. As members of non-governmental organizations find jobs in government ministries, he said, the voice of civil society has grown weaker.
"These people don't know the difference between government and civil society at this stage. They're all buddies." Nonetheless, Behrendt added, Georgia's civil society "is still there and it's still stronger than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union."
Ironically, the government's predilection for hires with a civil society background has considerably diminished its willingness to listen to outside criticism from the NGO sector or media, said the representative of one international organization. Given the background of many senior staff, little need is seen to listen to outside voices on questions of reform.
"Unfortunately, the new government sees any kind of consultation as useless. And they don't want to do it," the representative said. "They say it's a great idea, but they don't really see the need for some deep policy work."
Yet failure to start that discussion could mean that support for Saakashvili's reform efforts and understanding of their implications could be limited to the upper echelons of government, the representative said. "You have ministers and deputy ministers and then below that you have no one to talk to . . . Though that policy development process will probably come up, it's worrisome that they're going to lose their first year learning that."
But some analysts urge caution in assessing the government's performance to date. Saakashvili, said Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, " is in the plane and he's learning to fly at the same time."
"People are adapting to a changing situation. They're still learning to be independent . . . This was a lobotomised society. We're recovering slowly, but we're recovering."
While everything about Saakashvili's corruption campaign may not have been "very clean," Rondeli added, "you have to take the first steps."
"This government is revolutionary. Its conducting revolutionary changes," Rondeli said. "But how effective or good its reforms will be is hard to say. You can't change such a situation in one day."
Georgia to sell Su-25 airplanes abroad
Georgia plans to sign a contract in the near future to sell 10 Su-25 ground attack airplanes to foreign countries. "We will sell 10 Su-25 ground attack airplanes within the next few months," Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, said recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
Saakashvili declined to name the countries to which the airplanes will be sold, but unofficial sources suggested that these nations may be Ukraine and Turkmenistan, Su-25 airplanes are assembled at the Tbilaviastroi plant, founded in 1941.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, recently paid his first official visit to Turkey with a clear aim toward strengthening economic and military ties with a strategic NATO member that has been traditionally keen to play a major role in the post-Soviet South Caucasus region. Saakashvili hoped his visit, which comes just weeks after he reasserted his authority over the Black Sea province of Adjara, will pave the way for greater Turkish participation in reviving his country's ailing economy, Radio Free Europe reported.
Mikheil Saakashvili began his visit by meeting his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, at the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara.
The Georgian leader was not be able to meet with Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was on a visit to Romania. Instead, he held talks with Erdogan's deputy, Abdullah Gul, who is also Turkey's foreign minister. Saakashvili was also scheduled to meet the head of the Turkish Army General Staff, General Hilmi Ozkok, and parliament speaker, Bulent Arinc. The Georgian delegation then proceeded to Istanbul for talks with Turkish businessmen, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and members of Turkey's Georgian-speaking community.
Some 50 entrepreneurs, lawmakers, and cabinet members travelled with Saakashvili -- including Foreign Minister, Salome Zurabishvili, Defense Minister, Gela Bezhuashvili, Interior Minister, Giorgi Baramidze, and Energy Minister, Nika Gilauri.
Baramidze said that, as the size of the delegation indicated, the Georgian government attached great significance to the visit. "This visit is of great importance to Georgia. Turkey is not only our neighbour, it is also our partner in a great number of fields which are very important to Georgia, from defence, security, and law enforcement to agriculture and energy," he said. "We will naturally hold concrete discussions along these lines. Talks will also include Georgia's accession bid to NATO and the European Union." One of Saakashvili's first diplomatic moves after his election in January was to dispatch an envoy to Ankara to reassure Turkish decision makers of his commitment to the BTC pipeline.
Economic cooperation between Ankara and Tbilisi began under the previous Georgian administration of President, Eduard Shevardnadze. Both countries have also long been engaged in joint defence projects in which Ankara provides equipment and training for Georgian armed forces. Turkey has also contributed to renovating military facilities on Georgian territory that have been vacated by Russian troops in recent years. Georgia and Turkey have traditionally conducted joint military exercises along their common border and, on 9 February, they agreed to boost naval cooperation in the Black Sea waterways.
Major joint economic ventures include transit through Georgian territory of Azerbaijani crude oil and natural gas meant for Turkish and Western markets. A US-sponsored oil pipeline linking the Azerbaijani capital Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan through Tbilisi is due to be inaugurated next year. It should be coupled in 2006 with a natural-gas pipeline stretching between Baku, Tbilisi, and Turkey's eastern Anatolian city of
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