Rep. of Georgia Update

16 martie 2004

Looks like big trouble is brewing in little Batumi.

For those of you interested in the Republic of Georgia, read below.

As many of you remember, the Republic of Georgia suffered a US-backed coup in November 2003. The new President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili , is an English-speaking westerner who was partially funded by George Soros .

Since his election just two months ago, Saakashvili has been very busy visiting foreign capitals and leaders and lining up US and western support (read: OSCE) for several policies. More or less, these policies are:

  • Right to preserve Georgian territorial integrity.

What does “preserve Georgian territorial integrity” mean? Since 1990, the country that is officially one country is in actuality four different ones. There is Georgia proper with its capital at Tblisi, the autonomous republic of South Ossetia, the autonomous republic of Abkhazia and the autonomous republic of Adjara. South Ossetia is on the border of the Russian Federation state of North Ossetia, and S. Ossetia is nearly de jure a part of the Russian federation. The majority of the people in S. Ossetia are either Ossetians or Russians or other non-Georgians (including Chechens). Abkhazia is in nearly the same situation, only it is more purely Russian and is one of the hottest and trendiest places for Russians to vacation (it’s on the beach – see map). Adjara on the other hand is populated by ethnic Georgians who speak Georgian (as well as a host of other languages). While most Adjarans speak Georgian language, most Adjarans are Muslims while most Georgia Georgians are Orthodox Christians.

Included in this category is pressuring the OSCE to pressure Russia to diminish its military presence in these three “autonomous” regions.

  • Consolidation of new Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey oil pipeline

Included in this is increased western investment in military bases (US has one coast guard cutter in operation in Azerbaijan plus a contingent of Special Forces in Rep. Georgia). The pipeline is scheduled to be in full operation very shortly and Rep. Georgia will receive a fat slice of transit fees.

  • Pressure to keep the international aid flowing

Rep. Georgia is literally one of the most corrupt nations on the face of the planet and the US and international donors knows it. They/we keep the aid money flowing because it’s a simple and effective way to bribe the ruling government to toeing whatever line its much bigger and nastier neighbors want (whether Russia, as in the past, or the US).

I should mention here that the self-imposed ruler of Adjara is Aslan Abashidze. More on just what life in Adjara is like can be found by reading this travel narrative.

All that being said, nationwide parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held March 28, 2004. Yesterday (March 14), Saakashvili attempted to enter Adjara but was turned away by Adjaran forces. Despite the fact Adjara is called an “autonomous” region, it is in essence nearly completely an independent state. In a better world it probably would be. It makes an excellent income from its port and capital of Batumi where a lot of petroleum-bearing ships dock (and pay fees).

An excellent map of the country/regions can be found here.

Ok, so we’re up to speed. Saakashvili attempted to enter Adjara on Sunday but was turned away. Now he’s got his forces (including tanks apparently) mustered around the town of P’oti and is threatening to place an embargo on Adjara if they don’t capitulate.

Obviously, there’s plenty going on here, so let’s take the players one at a time. First up is the Saakashvili version of what’s going on:

Georgian President Mikhail Saakshvili could make another attempt to enter the Ajarian territory with support of armed units on Monday morning, Tbilisi-based sources told Interfax early on Monday.

A large Georgian military unit has been concentrated several dozens of kilometers from the Ajarian administrative center, Batumi, the source said.

Unconfirmed reports said the unit includes regular troops from the Georgian Interior Ministry Forces, a special assault task force, armored vehicles, including tanks, and marine warships. The unit is standing about 30 kilometers from the River Choloki near Poti and about 80-90 kilometers from Batumi.

The Interfax sources did not rule out that attempts to enter Batumi from the seaside could also be made after dawn.

The sources said Saakashvilii at least twice tried to enter Ajaria on Sunday but was barred by local residents.

Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze told an Interfax correspondent he had talked on the phone with Saakashvili on Sunday. Asked to describe the conversation, Abashidze replied, “He (Saakashvili – Interfax) told me, ‘They are barring me from entering Ajaria’, to which I said, ‘Of course they are, because you’ve got commandos and tanks behind you’.”

The Tbilisi sources said no martial law has so far been imposed in Ajaria, so denying information earlier spread by a number of Russian media outlets.

At the same time, the sources said the Ajarian authorities could order “full mobilization,” a measure envisioned by a state of emergency that Abashidze had declared back in mid-February.

Now here’s the Adjaran rebuttal so to speak:

The Head of the Adjara Autonomous Republic Aslan Abashidze thinks that the actions of the Georgian President Saakashvili aim at breaking up the country.

“Under the leadership of the country’s first president the South Ossetia was lost as the consequence of a mistake; under the leadership of the second president we lost Abkhazia and part of Samegrelo.

The third president continues the same course, however, this time we speak about Adjara. It is the plan which keeps on working”, declared Aslan Abashidze in his interview to Adjara-TV. Moreover, Abashidze considers as “difficult” the phone conversation with Michail Saakashvili which took place on Sunday, and the demands (about controlling the customs point and the port) made by the President he considers as “incomprehensible and illogical”.

“There are no problems with the control of the customs point and the port, and there is no need to use tanks and to shed the blood”, said Aslan Abashidze. “Abkhazia and the South Ossetia were brought to separatism, were made to drop out of Georgia. Why should we do the same with Adjara?” declared Aslan Abashidze.

They want to appoint everybody themselves, said Abashidze and emphasized that this problem did not exist. He himself will present to Michail Saakashvili the candidates for the post, whose appointment he will confirm afterwards.

So you can see it’s fleshing out to actually be a grab for Adjara’s rich customs intake as well as testing his OSCE backers to protect him from Russia. In case I forgot to mention it, Russia still maintains a naval base at Batumi.

Here’s Radio Free Europe‘s take on the situation:

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has held an emergency government meeting ahead of tonight’s deadline (2030 Prague time) for leaders in the Adjaria autonomous region to accept Tbilisi’s authority or face economic sanctions.

Long-running tensions between the central government in Tbilisi and the Adjar leadership heightened yesterday when Saakashvili was forcibly prevented from entering the region.

In response, Saakashvili issued a one-day ultimatum to Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze to accept Tbilisi’s authority and start disarming his paramilitary forces or risk a blockade and economic isolation.

Reports say Georgian armored personnel carriers could be seen near the Adjar border, and Adjar television reported that Georgian forces and heavy weapons were concentrated near Poti.
The government meeting was taking place in Poti, a port city near the Adjar border. Saakashvili later told reporters the crisis threatens Georgia’s existence as a state.

“Either we now will all stand together and once and forever put a curb on banditry, feudalism, and treason in Georgia — I can’t call it otherwise, this is treason — or we will stop existing as a state. And Georgia will disappear. But I must warn you that nobody will be able to do this during my presidency,” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili said air, land, and sea routes to Adjaria would be blocked and that authorities would move to freeze foreign bank accounts belonging to Adjar officials. He stressed, however, that the problems must be resolved peacefully.

Abashidze, in response, today imposed a curfew.

International efforts are now under way to diffuse the crisis.

Russia, which has a military base in the Adjar capital of Batumi and has been a traditional supporter of the Adjar leadership, has warned Tbilisi against the use of force. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko has said all responsibility for a crisis would rest with the Georgian leadership.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul today said Turkey supports Georgia’s territorial integrity. He said “Adjaria is part of Georgia and stability in the Caucasus is in the interest of Turkey and the region.”

Abashidze today, in an interview with Batumi TV, warned that Saakashvili’s actions could lead to Adjaria’s split from Georgia.

“On the grounds of mistakes made by one president [Zviad Gamsakhurdia], we lost South Ossetia. The second president [Eduard Shevardnadze] completed this process and we finally lost South Ossetia. He also lost Abkhazia. The third president goes in the same direction and now Adjaria is in focus,” Abashidze said.

Georgian analyst Archil Gegeshidze, of the Tbilisi-based Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, says a confrontation between Abashidze and Saakashvili was probably inevitable.

I’ll skip the end of Gegeshidze’s quote because he’s obviously a Saakashvili shill but it’s there if you want to read it. You can see quite clearly what’s at stake here though, and it looks like Turkey is backing the “winning side”, that is, the new pipeline via Georgia rather than the “old” way of shipping it via Batumi.

Last but not least, OSCE pitches in:

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, flew from Tbilisi to the western port of Poti to meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday and urged him to continue talks in order to resolve tensions around Ajara.

The Chairman-in-Office received assurances from President Saakashvili that force will not be used and was told that the Georgian leader had invited the Head of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara, Aslan Abashidze, to meet him later in the day for talks.

In a separate phone conversation, Minister Passy called upon Abashidze to accept the offer and engage in a dialogue to resolve the differences between the two sides.

During his meetings with Georgian leaders, the Chairman-in-Office said the 55-nation OSCE would spare no efforts in supporting the territorial integrity of the country. “We are committed to promoting democracy in Georgia and will work hard to secure a peaceful future for the people of the region,” he said.

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office expressed hope for a rapid easing of tension in Georgia so that the 28 March parliamentary elections can be conducted in a free and fair manner.

Yeah, yeah sure sure. Anyway once the March 28, 2004 elections go off “democratically” then the massive foreign investment in the area can begin. After all, we westerners know we got a steady man at the helm.

Meanwhile one of the State Department’s arch villains, Dick Miles, stated the US won’t get involved. I guess he means “not further involved than the deep, deep involvement we already have”. I hate that guy.

Anyway, that’s the scoop from Batumi. Will keep you posted!


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