Books on Georgia
Update No: 321 - (03/10/07)
Turmoil came to Georgia at the end of September. It involved a
dismissed and resentful defence minister, an angry mob and a possible closer
alignment of the opposition ahead of elections next year.
Saakashvili defends arrest of former ally Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
on September 29th defended the arrest of a former minister, who had accused him
of plotting murder, as opponents vowed to continue protests that have drawn
thousands to the streets. In a clear reference to tensions with Moscow,
Saakashvili also said that "ill-wishers" were seeking to sow chaos in
Georgia. Up to 10,000 people demonstrated in Georgia on September 28th against
the arrest of former defence minister, Irakli Okruashvili, who was detained
after alleging that Saakashvili had ordered the killing of high-profile figures,
including a prominent businessman with links to the opposition. "Okruashvili's
allegations are false and he knows it very well," Saakashvili said in
televised remarks after interrupting a foreign trip to return to the capital,
Tbilisi. "Georgia, unlike many other places, enjoys freedom of the press.
Everyone can say whatever they want and as much as they want. But you cannot
blackmail people who have a clear conscience," Saakashvili said. The
protest outside parliament marked the most serious challenge to Saakashvili's
authority since he took office. It was held in the same place where thousands of
demonstrators chanted Saakashvili's name during the 2003 "Rose
Revolution" that swept him to power. Okruashvili's supporters accused the
president of trying to silence a potential rival and said the arrest undermined
Saakashvili's credentials as a democratic reformer. Georgia's opposition parties
vowed to continue demonstrations calling for the resignation of Saakashvili and
his government. They did not specify when the next protest would be held.
"The protest movement in Georgia is rapidly gaining force," said Levan
Berdzenishvili, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican Party. Long fractured
by infighting, most of Georgia's opposition parties agreed at a meeting on
September 29th to unite under one banner. "We will use all legal forms of
protest. We are preparing for an electoral revolution," Berdzenishvili
said. Saakashvili later travelled to a Georgian-controlled area on the border of
the breakaway region of Abkhazia, where he hinted that Russia had a hand in the
turmoil. "Georgia has ill-wishers who wait for any mistake to devour
us," he was quoted as saying by Interfax. "Our ill-wishers know very
well that when Georgia is united, it is invincible. But they know there is
always a percentage of traitors they can use... to cast Georgia into chaos.
"Saakashvili's vows to bring his country into NATO and the European Union
have infuriated Moscow, which has cut travel links with Georgia and imposed a
ban on key Georgian exports. Saakashvili returned to Georgia on September 29th
from New York, where he had been speaking before the UN General Assembly. A
Georgian court ruled on September 29th that Okruashvili would spend two months
in pre-trial detention during an investigation into charges of corruption, money
laundering, abuse of power and negligence. After being fired last year,
Okruashvili re-emerged recently with an announcement he was forming an
opposition party, the Movement for United Georgia. Though he produced no
evidence, he alleged Saakashvili had ordered him to kill prominent public
figures while he was a minister. Georgia is to hold presidential and
parliamentary elections next year, and analysts said Okruashvili had the
credibility and power base to pose a threat to Saakashvili in the polls.
Saakashvili has cultivated close ties with Western countries, in particular the
United States, which has provided substantial economic and military aid to the
small mountainous state on Russia's southern border.
The US and NATO loyalists supreme
It is curious how powerful atavism is in the history of nations and their
inter-relations. The Poles distrust the Russians and the Germans, with excellent
reasons in both cases. The Georgians dislike and distrust anything coming out of
old Muscovy. The Russians can do nothing right in their view.
A Russian plane penetrated their airspace in August and launched a missile, only
the latest in a long list of grievances.
As for the US, it can do no wrong. Is there any other country where the main
boulevard to the capital's airport would be called President Bush Avenue?
Actually, there are several - the Kurdish entities in Iraq. The Kurds - and the
Marsh Arabs - are the only beneficiaries of the sorry mess in Iraq.
The Georgians find it only too easy to identify Saddam with any Russian leader
(he was in fact a great admirer of Stalin). Russia and Saddam's Iraq were bosom
friends. That makes both of them bosom enemies of the Georgians.
Georgia currently has 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, the largest contingent after the
US and the UK. The number was increased from 850 in July after Georgia's
parliament approved a proposal by President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is fiercely
pro-American. The Georgian president and the ruling party have been working to
build closer ties with the United States and other Western nations in a bid to
gain NATO membership, the most desired of goals.
Nevertheless, Georgia's defence minister says that his country will reduce its
military presence in Iraq to 300 soldiers by next summer. Davit Kezerashvili
told reporters on September 14th that the planned cut is part of a previous
agreement with the United States. Kezerashvili says no reduction is expected
Russia out; BP in
The Russians may be boycotting Georgia - and harrassing Western companies, such
as BP and Shell, as well under the new Putin Doctrine. This is the successor to
the Brezhnev Doctrine - that socialist countries should never be allowed to
revert to pre-socialist ways. The Putin Doctrine is that everyone, once Soviet,
should be made to revert to the Russian sphere and mores if possible.
Georgia, for all that it engendered their godfather in Stalin and their supreme
executioner in Beria, never will.
BP knows that; and is investing in Georgia, to the tune of £300m in 2006. A
similar amount is expected to be registered for 2007, It is hoping to recoup
thereby what it is losing in recalcitrant Russia.
It all concerns the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is taking Central
Asian energy westwards to Turkey and the Mediterranean, Since June last year
when the pipeline was commissioned, it has pumped 130m barrels of oil and 160
tankers have been delivering them from Ceyhan.
There is something symbolic about this. The East is disgorging its mineral
riches to the West. The West is dispensing its lucre and way of life to the
East. Georgia is after all now a liberal-democracy in a way that Russia is not.
Action Plan for the economy and security
Amid a cabinet shake-up, President Saakashvili is initiating an ambitious new
"action plan" to stimulate economic growth and promote security.
The plan features a significant boost in military spending, taking this year's
defence budget to about $767 million. In addition Saakashvili's new programme
pledges to create 100 new agricultural processing companies and 100 new
hospitals, to build roads to 200 villages, to increase teacher salaries and
introduce "niche" specialty training programs for students. The plan
also contains a bold promise to deliver annual growth of up to 15 percent, while
helping to attract some $2 billion in foreign investment "to put Georgia on
the list of the [World Bank's] top 20 business-friendly countries." (The
country ranked 37th last year.)
To finance the programme, the government has proposed amending the 2007 budget
to allow for a 430 million-lari (about $259.6 million) increase in state
spending. Most of that hike will go to military spending, which would amount to
up to 4.5 percent of the Gross National Product, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli
At a September 8th appearance before the parliament's Defense and Security
Committee, Deputy Defense Minister Vera Dzeneladze stated that the additional
defence funds will be devoted to the construction of a new military base in the
western region of Imereti, as well as for procurement of weapons, equipment and
new communication systems, according to local media reports.
While many pro-government MPs have lauded the government's drive and vision, one
legislator has expressed concern that the plan could push inflation to dangerous
levels. Parliamentarian Vladimer Papava, a senior fellow at the Georgian
Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, fears that a
large inflow of foreign currency into Georgia - from privatization and foreign
investment, in particular - could hamper the country's price competitiveness for
exports, which are declining, while encouraging an already rampant reliance on
imports. The phenomenon, known as Dutch Disease, is usually associated with
countries undergoing energy-production booms.
"We are seriously under the Dutch Disease, and the government is doing
nothing about it," Papava asserted. "This is our number one
Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli has forecast inflation for 2007 at less than 8
percent, down from an earlier projection of 10 percent.
Both Papava and Niko Orvelashvili, the senior expert at the Georgian Economic
Development Institute, however, question the estimate. In July 2006, Georgia's
annual rate of inflation was put at 14.5 percent, a figure that sparked strong
criticism from the International Monetary Fund.