Georgian leader walks a separatist tightrope

CJ Chivers with his take on current events in Georgia. Like most people, he believes in Russian interference, but is also wary of how the Georgian President has heightened tensions by insisting on the return of the two renegede provinces to Tblisi control.

The stakes are unmistakably high. Russia and the United States have competing interests in the region, a strategic intersection of Asia and Europe, and Russia has been openly supporting the separatists. One Russian newspaper has compared Saakashvili to Fidel Castro, a leader of a tiny nation who has been giving larger powers sleepless nights.

Why Saakashvili risked inflaming tensions with references to violence remains an open question. But now that he has everyone paying attention again, a simple question surrounds him: What will he do next? Saakashvili, for his part, speaks with the air of destiny. In a meeting with journalists and analysts on Aug. 10, he said it was inevitable that the republics would return to Georgia.

He noted that because both are within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders, no other outcome can be acceptable.

“It’s not only about Georgia,” he said. “It’s about world order.”

And in relation to recent events reported by the BBC, it seems that they may be not reporting some things that the local TV channel, Rustavi-2 are. Georgians have informed me that 4 soldiers and 8 civilans were killed on the Georgian side, whether that’s true or not has yet to be verified.

Fighting rages in South Ossetia

Things seem to be descending into chaos in and around South Ossetia.

Heavy fighting has broken out in Georgia’s South Ossetia region, shattering a two-day ceasefire. Two Georgian soldiers died as their base in the village of Eredvi came under attack from South Ossetian separatist forces early on Monday. The ceasefire was agreed on Friday between Tbilisi and South Ossetia, which wants to join Russia. Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili said there would be no more talks following the recent attacks.

This sounds like a powderkeg just waiting to go off. The Ossetians are brave only because they have the backing of Russia. Warning to the international community: this could have huge consquences, perhaps even more so given the oil pipline being built through Georgia.

Georgia wants Russian troops out

Yet more news from Georgia:

Georgia’s parliament has called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops from the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The number of clashes has increased in recent days, including an attack on Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.

The Prime Minister’s convoy came under fire while he was doing a tour of villages neighbouring South Ossetia. This could be the work of Ossestian seperatists or even Russian soldiers, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I think Georgia is right to ask for the removal of Russian ‘peacekeepers’. They are hardly neutral in the affairs of Georgia and its provinces.

Georgia reports deaths in clash

More strange goings-on in Georgia and South Ossetia. The question is who do we believe. I tend to believe the Georgians when they say things like

“external forces [planning] to drag Georgia into a large-scale armed conflict on its own territory”.

Or Russia to you and me.

The Ossetians are blaming Georgia for:

28 people had been injured, and a hospital and a kindergarten in Tskhinvali had been damaged by shelling along with 50 Ossetian homes.”All night they were firing from all types of weapons – mortars, artillery, everything was engaged,” one South Ossetian fighter told Russia’s Channel One Television.

You have to believe two things here. One, An Ossetian fighters claims, and two, a heavily Russian State-controlled TV station. And for State-controlled read Putin-controlled. And you also have to believe that the Georgians would start shelling and then just happen to hit a kindergarten and a hospital. Somewhat emotive targets don’t you think?

So do I believe Georgia when it says:

At least three Georgian villages were hit: Tamarasheni, Kurta and Achabeti. Speaking at a meeting of the Georgian Security Council, President Saakashvili confirmed that three Georgian peacekeepers had been killed.

That sounds much more believable to me. This could get ugly. Followers of Caucasian politics may also be interested to know that ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky visited the other breakaway region, Abkhazia. The BBC reported:

Accompanied by about 40 fellow MPs, Mr Zhirinovsky, a deputy speaker in the Russian parliament, arrived in the region’s capital, Sukhumi, for what he described as a holiday.

You have to like the Russians, they certainly have balls. A holiday my arse. As Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, it was intended to provoke. Not only did Zhirinovsky and his pals visit Sukhumi, but they also decided to do so by ship, just a week after Georgian patrol boats fired on an Abkazian ship, while claiming jurisdiction over the waters off Abkazia.

Georgian coastguards initially impounded the boat in which he was travelling as it neared Abkhazia. It was later released, in what the Georgian authorities described as a gesture of goodwill.

Well what else could the Georgians do?

This all gets more and more intriguing

Kakha Bendukidze

Is this man the godsend of Libertarians and free-market lovers everywhere? Could Georgia be the model for future economies? Or will it end up plunging into war with Russia?

None of my readers know it, but one of my pet subjects is Caucasian politics. I read about it regularly, and discuss it with some very nice Georgian people. I have picked up the odd bit of Russian and Georgian. Raghorakhar Bijou. [loose phonetics].

Here are some choice quotes for people that I know will like this guy, namely Frank.

He says that Georgia should be ready to sell “verything that can be sold, except its conscience”.

Next year “if not sooner” he will cut the rate of income tax from 20% to 12%, payroll taxes from 33% to 20%, value-added tax from 20% to 18%, and abolish 12 kinds of tax altogether. He wants to let leading foreign banks and insurers open branches freely. He wants to abolish laws on legal tender, so that investors can use whatever currency they want. He hates foreign aid it “destroys your ability to do things for yourself,” he says though he concedes that political realities will oblige him to accept it for at least the next three years or so.

As to where investors should put their money, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he says, and continues: “I have shut down the department of industrial policy. I am shutting down the national investment agency. I don’t want the national innovation agency.” Oh yes, and he plans to shut down the country’s anti-monopoly agency too. “If somebody thinks his rights are being infringed he can go to the courts, not to the ministry.” He plans, as his crowning achievement, to abolish his own ministry in 2007. “In a normal country, you don’t need a ministry of the economy,” he says. “And in three years we can make the backbone of a normal country.”

The lesson he drew from the Russian experience, he says, is to change the method of privatisation, not the principle of it. He promises public sales to the highest bidder, and cash only: “no conditions, no promises, no beauty contests”.

Big improvements in business conditions are needed in order to offset big political risks and to keep investors coming. “Other governments make budgets,” he says. “We are making a nation.”