Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has said that Georgia will not buy Russian gas at $230 per 1,000 cubic metres. Georgian officials have said alternative partners will be sought, like Azerbaijan and Iran. But it remains unclear whether that will be a cheaper alternative to Gazprom (Russia’s gas company).

Georgia is upset that it is receiving an elevated price compared to some of its neighbors, who buy the gas at friendly Russian rates. In fact, Georgia is so desperate for cheaper Russian gas that it has begun scaring European leaders about potential politically-motivated Russian gas hikes. The Georgian President spoke about normalizing relations with Russia and avoiding irreparable damage between the two states. This is yet another signal by the Georgian side, that it needs Russia’s cooperation and that the economic sanctions against the country have indeed been effective. At the same time that Georgia seeks a rapprochement, it continues a provocative discourse regarding South Ossetia, claiming that the referendum held in the breakaway region is illegitimate. This Sunday, residents of South Ossetia voted in favor

Russia announced the gas hike following a Georgian-insinuated diplomatic scandal, which had four Russian officers arrested by Georgian officials.

Gas as Foreign Policy

November 5, 2006

Armenia has confirmed that Gazprom will freeze its prices for the country until January 1, 2009 in return for Armenia transferring control of an electricity plant.

The price freeze doesn’t only have to do with the transfer of the electricity plant, but also with the friendly relations between Armenia and Russia. Unlike Georgia, Armenia does not take unnecessary stabs at its neighbor. Georgia’s President Saakashvili is very well known for his anti-Russian stance.

That’s why this year Georgia will be paying double price for its gas. Unless Saakashvili changes his rhetoric.

That’s gas as foreign policy.

Blogging is not about media ethics. But accountability and transparency, I believe, is necessary.

I never intended this blog to be about the Russia-Georgia conflict, but in the last few days I have been drawn to write on this topic. Hence, I have a disclosure to make about a personal bias.

Two and a half years ago, as Georgia had its President Saakashvili sworn in, my cousin’s husband was incarcerated by this new administration. The arrest was political in nature and charges have never been laid since the arrest. It’s been over two years, but the confinement continues.

The Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross and others (I had started a petition) have been involved but without success. Gia Vashakidze continues to be held in a Georgian prison, while his wife (my cousin) is left to raise her child alone in Moscow — and not able to visit her husband.

Because of this, it is sometimes hard for me to accept President Saakashvili’s discourse of freedom. The reason Gia Vashakidze was incarcerated was because he supported a different candidate for the presidency (not Saakashvili); Gia was also an influential General and a deputy defense minister. In his bed for the presidency, Saakashvili thought that sometimes it’s worth to take some freedom away.

Obviously this issue doesn’t make me completely disregard Georgia’s position, but a bias is there. And I feel a need to admit it.

I will try to write on Georgia without compromising a certain level of integrity that I feel I have. But I know that sometimes my emotions may run ahead of me. I apologize in advance.

The Russian Blockade

Progressive Russian publication Kommersant reports that the attitude of Georgians towards their President is not unanimously favorable. Many believe the President has gone too far in his negative rhetoric in regards Russia, rhetoric which has prompted Russian sanctions.

With the harvest in full bloom, this is the best time for Georgian farmers to make money by selling to the Russian market. This season they cannot do this and must now struggle to survive, because their President did not handle a diplomatic situation with the care that it required. Until the Russian blockade was imposed, Saakashvili talked the language of defiance. Once the hard reality set in, he suddenly became open to dialogue and was suddenly perplexed by Russian response. This only goes to show his political immaturity — one of the main tenets of his presidency has been criticizing (rightly so, and not) Russia. This is healthy, but one’s presidency cannot lie on just one raison d’être: denying your neighbor.

War Plans?

This weekend, Georgia replied to Russian President Putin’s suggestion that the conflict may end in bloodshed, and denied having war plans.

This is rather curious as tensions have been rampant in the two separatist (and pro-Russian) regions of Georgia. In fact, on several occasions President Saakashvili has made statements about getting those areas under complete Georgian control — in domestic media, of course.

Curiously enough, the situation that played itself out this fall in Georgia had a very familiar ring to the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict of this summer.

Four supposed spies were arrested and held by Georgia, much like the Israeli soldiers that spurred the violence in Lebanon this summer. Except Russia did not respond with force. And force is what Saakashvili has wanted for so long — painting Russia as an aggressive villain, this is exactly what he needed, the confirmation of the corrupt nature of the Russian state. After all, Russia’s aggression has been Georgia’s (i.e. Saahashvili’s) raison d’être.

Not this time. But tensions are not falling and in all likelihood some sort of military confrontation will take place, unless proper diplomacy is finally exercised by both sides.

Russia’s Shame

The Russian government showed a political immaturity of its own by implementing an anti-Georgian policy within the country. Cracking down on illegal casinos and probing Georgian-owned businesses, the authorities have also began to target simple citizens with Georgian credentials. This is nationalism at its worse and it doesn’t help anyone: nationalistic discrimination is simply unacceptable. It has touched everyone, young and old, as has been reported throughout most major media. (For example, see this BBC story.) When I was on the phone with Moscow 10 days ago, I was told of a 19 year old girl who “looked Georgian” (and was not) being constantly harrassed by police officers to provide her credentials. What threat simple citizens pose to Russia, is simply unclear. And this is shameful state nationalism.

Thankfully, most Russians have realized the level of discrimination and have started to write in to papers to complain. Ashamed of the policy, Russia’s stars have started protests of their own. For example, Russian Actor Stanislav Sadalsky has applied for Georgian citizenship as a sign of solidarity for the Georgians living in Russia. Other members of the entertainment industry have made a statement about the ongoing discrimination.