From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Dec 3 19:15:07 2003
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 2003 21:41:49 -0600 (CST)
From: “Tim Murphy” <email@example.com>
Subject: FW: Politics, pipelines converge in Georgia
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Tbilisi—It looked like a popular, bloodless revolution on the streets. Behind the scenes, it smells more like another victory for the United States over Russia in the post-Cold War international chess game.
Once, the game was played out on a truly global scale, in places such as Angola and Afghanistan, and was cloaked as a fight between capitalism and communism. These days, as Russian power and influence have shrunk, so has the playing field. The fight for influence goes on, but the battlefields have edged much closer to Moscow—former colonies such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and Azerbaijan and Georgia in the Caucasus.
Eduard Shevardnadze used to be one of the chess masters. Yesterday, he was knocked aside like just another pawn.
The roots of Mr. Shevardnadze's downfall go much further back than Georgia's disputed parliamentary election, held on Nov. 2, which even his chief-of-staff has now acknowledged were rigged. They lie to the east, in the oil under the Caspian Sea, one of the world's few great remaining, relatively unexploited, sources of oil.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow and Washington have been jockeying to control the route that will eventually take these enormous resources more rapidly to market in the West. Georgia and neighbouring Azerbaijan, which borders the Caspian, quickly came to be seen not just as newly independent countries, but as part of an “energy corridor.”
The old, Soviet-era pipeline runs from the Azerbaijani capital Baku north into Russian territory, then west to the Black Sea port of Novorossisk, in the process running through the troubled separatist region of Chechnya. Anxious to build a more secure route, Western investors built a second line in 1998 from Baku to the Georgian port city of Supsa. Plans were laid for an even larger pipeline that would run through Georgia to Turkey and the Mediterranean.
When these plans were made, Mr. Shevardnadze was seen as an asset by both Western investors and the U.S. government. His reputation as the man who helped end the Cold War gave investors a sense of confidence in the country, and his stated intention to move Georgia out of Russia's orbit and into Western institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union played well at the U.S. State Department.
The United States quickly moved to embrace Georgia, opening a military base in the country two years ago to give Georgian soldiers “anti-terrorist” training. They were the first U.S. troops to set up in a former Soviet republic.
But somewhere along the line, Mr. Shevardnadze reversed course and decided to once more embrace Russia. This summer, Georgia signed a secret 25-year deal to make the Russian energy giant Gazprom its sole supplier of gas. Then it effectively sold the electricity grid to another Russian firm, cutting out AES, the company that the U.S. administration had backed to win the deal. Mr. Shevardnadze attacked AES as “liars and cheats.” Both deals dramatically increased Russian influence in Tbilisi.
Washington's reaction was swift. Within weeks, U.S. President George W. Bush had sent senior adviser Stephen Mann to Tbilisi with a warning: “Georgia should not do anything that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor,” he said.
After the energy deals with Russia went ahead anyway, Mr. Mann was followed by former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, ostensibly an old friend of Mr. Shevardnadze, who warned the Georgian leader of the need for a free, fair parliamentary election on Nov. 2.
(No such warning was given in neighbouring Azerbaijan, where outgoing president Heidar Aliyev handed the presidency to his son in what observers called a mockery of a vote. Mr. Aliyev had never been as cheeky with the Americans as Mr. Shevardnadze.)
After the vote in Georgia, a U.S. organization called the Global Strategy Group quickly released exit poll results that contradicted the official count, and gave victory to the party of Mr. Shevardnadze's U.S.-educated opponent, Mikhail Saakashvili. Richard Miles, the U.S. ambassador to Tbilisi who also happened to be posted to Serbia when Slobodan Milosevic was toppled by a popular revolt, made the rounds in Tbilisi, lending tacit support to the opposition's contention that Mr. Shevardnadze had to go.
Yesterday, Mr. Shevardnadze went. The U.S.-backed candidate for president, Mr. Saakashvili, won the day. And Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, after telling Mr. Shevardnadze there was nothing more Moscow could do for him, flew from Tbilisi to the coastal resort town of Batumi in the autonomous republic of Adzharia to stir up new opposition.
The game begins again.