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GEORGIA



 

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Key Economic Data
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 3,937 3,324 3,100 126
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 830 650 590 145
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 348 - (16/12/09)

The Kiev-Tbilisi axis
The Georgian and Ukrainian presidents have a lot in common. They both detest and are detested by Vladimir Putin, the strongman of Russia. They are not in the Kremlin's good books.

In 2008, Russia and Georgia went to war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. It was not Mikheil Saakashvili's greatest hour. The Georgian president is a remarkable man, tall, dark and handsome and fluent in five languages. But he is a political simpleton. It was not sensible to take on the Russian army on his own, without the backing of Washington.

But then President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine was not very adept either in taking on Moscow in 2004, while accepting the hospitality of the KGB in September of that year, who poisoned him and left him a rather less handsome man than of yore.

Fait accompli
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are lost to Georgia for good. That is something which the Georgians may need to realise.

Late Tsarist Russia regarded the Caucasus as its own backyard. One just has to read Lermontov or Tolstoy. On the rebirth of Russia in 1991, it relinquished state power over the three republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. But as a sort of trophy of its nineteenth century conquests, it held on to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where it is genuinely popular with the local inhabitants. Abkhazians and South Ossetians like the Russians. Indeed they prefer them to the Georgians. For one thing Russia can give them generous welfare payments and pensions.

It is extraordinary that Saakashvili should have got it into his head to take on the Kremlin – as if he didn't have enough problems on his plate.

Georgia is potentially a great place. It is well-situated in a splendid part of the the Caucasus, between Russia and Iran. It is buffeted by two fine seas, the Caspian and the Black Sea. It is mountainous and watered by many streams. It has many natural resources. It is renowned for its marvellous scenery, great coastline, fine brandies and wonderful wines. The Georgians simply need to cultivate their wonderful garden.

Georgia makes hefty Afghan contribution
Tbilisi has agreed to deploy nearly 1,000 troops to Afghanistan. It is sending two light companies and a heavy battalion, slightly fewer than 1,000 soldiers, to Afghanistan next spring to serve under US command.

An infantry company of about 170 Georgian troops is already in Afghanistan, serving under French command after arriving in November.

Georgia was also a key contributor to US-led forces in Iraq, where 2,000 of its soldiers served in a dangerous zone near the Iranian border until 2008, the second-largest presence among US allies in Iraq after Britain.

Its troop commitment in Afghanistan, which might qualify as the largest contribution of any country per capita, has taken place as more than 40 nations prepare to boost total troop numbers to around 150,000 for a new offensive against insurgents.

By doing so, Georgia is making investments in its own security against Russia. Amid continued tensions with Moscow after last year's war with Russia, the former Soviet republic is keen to strengthen ties with NATO and is making one of the largest contributions to the US-led surge in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Tbilisi is hoping the move will not only boost its links with the Western military alliance, but also give its troops much-needed combat experience that could be used in another conflict with Russia or with Georgia's Russian-backed separatist regions.

President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia's contribution in Afghanistan is directly linked with the country's security in the face of threats from Russia. "While our allies ... are concentrating on other issues, our enemy is becoming active. The sooner the Afghan situation is resolved and the sooner the war in Iraq is over, the more Georgia will be protected," he said in a speech on December 4 to soldiers from one of the country's artillery brigades.

Pointing out that, unlike some European countries, Georgia is not barring its troops from combat operations in Afghanistan, Saakashvili said that the mission would also bring valuable experience. "This is a unique chance for our soldiers to receive a real combat baptism. We do not need the army only for showing off at military parades," he said.
Georgian officials say this is to prove that after five years of actively seeking membership, Georgia belongs in NATO. "Georgia is aspiring to become a full-fledged NATO member so we need to demonstrate that we want not only to consume but also to be a provider of security," said Giorgi Baramidze, minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Few expect Georgia to join NATO anytime soon. But Tbilisi is hoping for some benefits even without membership and that its contributions won't be forgotten if Georgia faces another conflict with Russia, said Tornike Sharashenidze, an analyst with the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. "Our participation in peacekeeping operations is the kind of contribution that will be remembered when we want to appeal to our friends for assistance," he said.

Post-war tensions still high
Last year's conflict saw Russian troops pour into Georgia to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the rebel region of South Ossetia, which had received extensive Russian backing for years.

After occupying swathes of territory and bombing targets across Georgia, Russian forces withdrew into South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent states.

Tensions remain high around both rebel regions. Tbilisi has accused Russia of illegally occupying South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and of boosting its military presence in both territories. Moscow meanwhile has accused Georgia of rebuilding its army and preparing to retake the regions by force.

Baramidze said Western backing was crucial for Georgia during the conflict and could be vital again. "Russia would have swallowed all of Georgia without the Western support we had," he said.

"Certainly Georgia is seeking security (by participating in international missions). If we want to survive as a democratic, free, European nation, we need security guarantees."

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