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: 280 - (04/05/04)
Consolidating the revolution
The Georgians can scarcely believe their luck. They have had a highly successful revolution, in which no-one died. 'The Rose Revolution,' it is being called, with of course the Velvet Revolution of the Czechs in 1989 in mind.
An enormous amount depends on the capacious shoulders of President Mikhail Saakashvili, the young former justice minister under his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze. A giant of a man, he inspires the sort of respect that de Gaulle did among the diminutive French of his day. He is trusted as an honest man by the population, disgusted with the spectacle of corruption and ill-gotten gains by a band of crooks under Shevardnadze.
He is making a great show of his probity, living not in the presidential palace, but in his modest two-bedroom apartment in central Tbilisi. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity.
Parliamentary elections confirm the presidential ones
On March 28th Georgia had parliamentary elections, which completely confirmed the presidential ones. On April 1st the result was announced. Saakashvili's National movement won over 67% of the vote. The only other bloc to clear the 7% threshold for parliamentary representation was the Industrialists-New Rights coalition, which received 7.62% of the vote. The outcome gives pro-presidential forces an overwhelming majority in the next Georgian parliament.
Saakashvili has an extraordinary mandate. He is certainly a pro-Western reformer, an alumnus of several Ivy League universities and friend of 'the great and good' in the US.
But the Russians know that only too well.
Russia is wary
Putin is far too intelligent to underestimate what has happened in the Caucasus. He knows that his whole career may be decided in this precarious zone. Russia has successfully schemed to place itself in a commanding position. The Kremlin's leverage on this small country is immense, but all the players know that.
How to deal with the new man in Tbilisi is very high on his political agenda. Putin and other Russian observers have been struggling to take a measure on the new boss in the Northern Caucasus. Saakashvili has shown great circumspection in expressing ardently pro-Russian views so far. He knows that to his north he is dealing with a true giant, a colossus. He needs time to become a fixture. Then he can unfold his real programme.
The Adjarian problem subsides
There are three potentially secessionist components of Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adjaria. It is curiously enough only the one that has yet to boil over that really worries Saakashvili, namely Adjaria, the western province that is the obvious route for the Caspian Sea oil, with its oil terminal capital,
Batumi. After a stern ordeal he seems to have faced this one down correctly, although only time will tell here.
The local dictator, Aslan Abashkidze, has decided to play him fair for the while. But this could end any day now.
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline on schedule
All construction work on the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan is going to schedule, BTC Co chief executive, Michael Townshend, told journalists on March 5th. Commenting on an announcement by Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, about possible obstacles facing the project, and some ecological issues, he said that two thirds of the route in Georgia has already been prepared and they are now welding the pipes, New Europe reported.
Townshend said that the pipeline route in Georgia was approved two years ago, and that the company does not plan to change anything, especially as a lot has already been done. He said that in general he does not see any obstacles that might lead to delays in Azerbaijan, Georgia or in Turkey. He said that he returned from Turkey on March 4th, where he met with management from Botas - the project's main construction contractor on Turkish territory.
He said that in Turkey there is a slight delay with certain sections of the pipeline and with the construction of four pumping stations.
There was snow recently in these areas and the company was waiting for the weather to improve before continuing work. Townshend said that the company was recently involved in preparation work, so as to speed up the pace of construction after the snow melted. Earlier, participants in the project said that delays in the construction of the Turkish section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline might push back the launch date from the end of 2004 to mid-2005. However, Botas promised to speed up construction of the Turkish section.
The future pipeline will stretch 1,767km (4,438km through Azerbaijan, 248km through Georgia and 1,076km through Turkey) and will have a capacity of 50m tonnes of oil per annum. Construction work began in April 2003 and it is planned to be completed in the fourth quarter 2004.
The project will cost US$3.6bn, of which US$2.95m will be in construction costs. Participants in the project include BP (30.1%), SOCAR (25%), Unocal (8.9%), Statoil (8.71%), TPAO (6.53%), ENI (5%), Itochu (3.4%), ConocoPhillips (2.5%), Inpex (2.5%), Total (5%) and Amerada Hess (2.36%).
Saakashvili in Yerevan reinforces ties
Presidents Mickhail Saakashvili and Robert Kocharian mutually praised the high level of bilateral relation between Georgia and Armenia during their recent meeting in Yerevan, New Europe reported.
During their first meeting - after Saakashvili's appointment as Georgia's president - they vowed to strengthen bilateral ties, promote regional cooperation and continue to seek integration into European structures. In a joint declaration, they again disavowed recent calls for self-rule in Georgia's Armenian-populated areas.
Saakashvili described Armenia as an "ideal partner," saying that his country has a lot to learn from its neighbour's nation-building experience. He was also very generous in paying compliments to Kocharian. "The president of Armenia left an extremely positive impression on me," Saakashvili told a joint news conference after the talks, quoted by the Armenian Liberty.
"I remember telling my ministers that there are many things they can learn from Armenia," the 36-year-old leader was quoted as saying by AL. "We are going to develop, get stronger and promote peace and stability. In this sense, we have an excellent, ideal partner in Yerevan," Saakashvili underlined.
Kocharian was more reserved in his comments, but noted that Armenian-Georgian summits will now be more frequent than in the past.
Kocharian also noted an "amazing convergence" of the two governments' positions on the situation in Javakheti, the restive Armenian-majority region in southern Georgia which is home to a Russian military base. He said they both believe that the only way to ease simmering tensions in the impoverished region is to address its socioeconomic problems and promote its residents' "deep integration" into Georgian society, AL reported.
The joint declaration implies that Armenia will not seek a status of autonomy for Javakheti which was demanded recently by a junior member of its governing coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
"The parties reiterated once again their commitment to the principle of non-interference with each other's internal affairs, mutual respect for self-rule, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders," it reads.
Touching upon the uneasy Russian-Georgian relationship, Saakashvili suggested that Yerevan, which maintains close ties with Moscow, might "greatly assist" in their improvement. Tbilisi, for its part, is ready to help defuse tensions between Armenia and its regional arch-foes: Azerbaijan and Turkey, he said.
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