Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Georgia: Stable Ally or Forthcoming Flashpoint

Mark Almond, a historian at Oriel College, Oxford, wrote an article on the possibilities faced by Saakashvili, the US backed President of Georgia. Published in the New York Times, the piece airbrushes the destabilising role played by the Russian Federation in Georgia through its backing for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Whereas, the complex game of a state asserting itself within its borders, against a backdrop of rebellion in the Russian Caucasus and troublesome enclaves within its borders.

The duet between Russia and the United States over the role of Georgia is complicated by the prospective oil pipeline that may bring black gold from Azerbaijan to the Black Sea.

Resistance to any rash attack by Georgia could easily spawn terrorism. The pipeline that Washington has promoted to carry oil across Georgia from the Caspian Sea could prove as vulnerable to sabotage as any in Iraq. American personnel operating in Georgia could also be targets if Abkhazians, Ossetians and their friends decide to target the people they see as Saakashvili's sponsors.

Almond's major criticism of Georgia is the corruption and malaise that have disfigured this transition economy since independence. Georgia is in good company with other also-rans: Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and the Ukraine. However, these states are beginning to show signs of liberalisation and growth as they swing towards policies that have worked with their now far richer neighbours. Yet, Almond's criticisms ring true: it is unlikely that a disorganised Georgia could assert control over these secessionist regions without Russian acquiescence.

The potential for terrorist attacks and full scale war are also exaggerated by Almond. Faced by Georgian resolve to assert central control, South Ossetia is subject to a ceasefire and negotiating demilitarisation. Taking on the dominoes one by one has proved a successful tactic so far for Saakashvili, and the potential for a stronger Georgia is high.

(23.00, 17th August 2004)


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