The use of the gas factor by Russia as leverage for its policy, at least in the CIS space, is apparent. In particular, the Georgian-Russian relations have just been seriously tied up with that “gas factor.”
As early as in the beginning of the second decade of December, the Georgian authorities with all their actions showed that they are not afraid of the measures of their northern neighbor, calling it as “Moscow’s gas blackmail.” Active contacts of Tbilisi with Rumania, Iran, Azerbaijan, etc, were obviously aimed at searching for the sources of alternative sources of energy.
Moreover, the Georgian side succeeded in reaching an agreement that Tbilisi would double its purchase of natural gas on Apsheron. On December 22, 2005 during the meeting of the President Ilham Aliyev with Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and Energy Minister Niko Gilauri, the parties spoke about possible acceleration of construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum pipe-line and about the “idea of creation of the trans-Atlantic energy concept” in the context of energy security not only for Georgia and Azerbaijan, but the whole Europe as well. Soon Niko Gilauri made a statement that “Baku and Tbilisi agreed on gas supplies to Georgia from Azerbaijan in case of accidents on the traditional gas supply routes and in other emergency situations.”
Georgia continued its search for alternative sources of gas in Kazakhstan as well. In particular,
a news was spread that a Kazakhstani state company “KazTransGas” would become an owner of the gas-distributing company “TbilGazi” in Tbilisi and make substantial investments into that enterprise. Georgia made an attempt to diversify its sources of gas fuel inviting Kazakhstan to its market as well. And it is necessary to consider it as a result of the ambiguity, in which its strategic partner – Azerbaijan put Georgia with its decision “to help in emergency situations.”
Tbilisi’s rush is quite reasonable, taking into account Moscow’s “gas attack” against Kiev, and second, in connection with signing of the contract between the OOO “GasExport” and AO “TbilGazi” (December 21, 2005) on supply of the natural gas to Georgia in 2006 in the amount of 920 million cubical meters of gas by $110 for 1.000 cub. meters, in the meantime keeping the privilege regime of gas supplies for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
It such situation on December 28 the above-mentioned N.Gilauri suddenly announced that Georgian Government does not rule out the possibility of selling the gas pipe-line, laid on the Georgian territory to the Russian company “Gazprom.” Supposedly, in case of serious conditions by Russia, Georgia can put forward a number of demands to the Russian company, including reduction of tariffs for gas for the future 25 years, the right for a part of the gas, supplied via transit to Armenia, and the guaranty to return the gas pipe-line in case violation of the contract.
Some European states and the USA reacted quite painfully for the probable agreement. However, the Georgian Prime-Minister Zurab Nogaideli and the State Minister for Economic Reforms Kakha Bendukidze made appropriate statements, saying that the “USA has always been against selling the gas pipe-line, but Georgia will act proceeding from its own national interests” and that “it is Georgia’s business, whether the gas pipe-line will be sold or not.”
In this connection, processes crystallized within the political life inside Georgia are of special interest. On January 6 the oppositional Republican Party of Georgia blamed at its press-conference the economic team of the Georgian Government for incompetence. Deputy of the Georgian Parliament Ivlian Khaindrava blamed the Georgian Government for its incorrect use of available mechanisms in the talks with “Gazprom.” The Republicans announced their negative attitude to possible privatization of the Georgian gas pipe-lines in favor of “Gazprom,” though insisted on necessity of normalization of the Georgian-Russian relations.
Georgian ruling elite is practically blamed in violation of the national interests of the country. According to Tamar Chkheidze, Chairwoman of the Ilya Chavchavadze Society, the authorities giving up the most important strategic objects to Russia (to which just as to the US they are owed for coming to power) increase Moscow’s influence, to be followed by the growing political dependence of Georgia from Russia.
Another pro-Western representative of opposition, leader of the Christian-Democratic Party Giya Burjanadze said that “Georgia decides who will be its gas supplier on its own.” He added that Georgia should have been concluded a treaty with Russia as early as in 1997, to secure serious investments and gas free of charge.
As it is possible to note the criticism of President Saakashvili inside the country is serious, and such criticism “from the left wing” is even tougher. No surprise that equal dependence of the present power in Georgia from the US and from Russia present authorities has been mentioned.
So an original line in the development of the Russian-Georgian relations can be seen now, because the OAO “Gazprom” also can join the RAO “UES of Russia” there. Then the “circuit” will be closed and the electric and gas energy sectors of Georgia will fall under the full Russian control. Russia respects its obligations on withdrawal of its military bases from the Georgian territory; the Georgian Parliament from time to time demands withdrawal of the Russian peace-keepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Treaty of Friendship, which was mentioned several times by the Georgian and Russian sides, is still in process of elaboration. However, Georgia in the energy sector is seemingly inclined to be fall under the full Russian influence and presence. What is going on in reality?
A Georgian newspaper “Akhali Taoba” (January 15, 2006) published an interesting version of the current developments. According to it, “Gazprom” will be able to get that strategic object and doing so it will establish connection with Iran via Azerbaijan or Armenia. The Georgian gas pipe-line is just the “trump card” that, if correctly played out, can secure much profit.” Despite the fact that there already exists the project of Shahdeniz-Tbilisi-Erzrum, in such developments Russia will be able to supply Europe with cheap gas, which will seriously damage the Turkish interests and increase the political and economic weight of Russia as the basic gas supplier of Europe. Its positions in Caucasus and Eurasia as whole will grow up.
At the same time it is also probable that Saakashvili’s approach is connected with keeping his presidential chair and his political future as a whole. As it is known his “revolutionary” rating has fallen down fivefold. It is also known that despite the grown up budget, the industry in the country does not work. At the same time the United States does hide its intention to support the opposition and oppositional NGO sector, which means green light for alternative candidates for presidency. The scandal related to the Association of Young Lawyers is connected just with those processes.
President of Georgia is desperately searching for new opportunities to preserve the current situation. Otherwise, he will be unable to resist the pro-American opposition and the increasing political pressure from Russia. The expert of “Akhali Taoba” writes that in such situation Saakashvili desperately needs Russia, because it is rich, strong and influential. If Russia gets the gas pipe-line, strategic objects and the whole Georgian economy, and in exchange returns Abkhazia and the Tskhival region back, then it will guarantee life-long presidency for Saakashvili, because Georgians will certainly put unification of Georgia much higher than democracy, America and NATO membership. Does this kind of barter suit Russia? Undoubtedly yes, because it will get not only Abkhazia and Tskhinval region (absolutely unimportant from the functional point of view), but the whole Georgia. Then Moscow will oust Saakashvili, if the US or the same opposition would not do it themselves. Saakashvili is playing a very dangerous game. He has already lost Moscow’s trust and is finally losing Washington’s trust either. To survive in that situation it is necessary to have virtuoso qualities.”
So does Washington really want another change of power in Tbilisi? It is not necessary to hurry with conclusions, like the analysts of the Georgian newspaper do, but rather it seems reasonable concentrate on Russia’s need in completely controllable “energy” access to Iran – that point of view is becoming more and more timely, if take into account controversial development of relations between Iran and USA and EU, and Iran and Russia, just taking for example the scandal with Iran’s “nuclear dossier.” And if the Saakashvili administration this time has decided not to “contradict” Moscow, then we will have to admit that during 2005 Georgia and Russia really reached a strategic compromise. It would be difficult to state that two neighbors have reached understanding on the future status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but as the same Georgian analysts and politicians say, the Georgian authorities are too dependent both from Russia and the USA.
January 20, 2006.