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How about gas pipeline network?

By Messenger Staff
Monday, July 5
The pipeline which transports Russian gas to Armenia via Georgian territory has again triggered speculation and controversy. The Government has removed the pipeline from the list of strategic objects which cannot be privatised and therefore it can be sold off. This step was immediately criticised very severely by the opposition because in their opinion the country’s economic security is threatened by it.

The question of who might buy this newly ‘non-strategic’ object is vitally important. Selling it has been on the agenda of the Rose Revolution administration for quite a long time, and as soon as this became clear an interested party – yes, you guessed it, Russia - expressed an interest in the pipeline. However the US has always categorically opposed selling it and even allotted serious sums to rehabilitate it. Georgia said it wanted to sell the pipeline to get some money, the USA gave it enough money to rehabilitate the pipeline and probably more, so that should have been the end of the matter, however the Rose Revolution administration has revived it.

Conflicting opinions about this initiative have emerged. Analysts have started pointing out the threat to Georgia’s energy security. Of course those in the Government presumably see this threat themselves, because Russian state owned monster Gazprom is ready to buy it at any price and this will not only increase Russia’s influence in the area but theoretically, and maybe practically as well, give Moscow the chance to deploy security/safety or other forces alongside the pipeline, on Georgian territory, to protect its property. Russia claims that it attacked Georgia in order to protect its own citizens in South Ossetia, so who will guarantee that this will not happen? The possibility of selling the pipeline has created concern in Armenia as well, which sees a different threat. Armenia thinks Azerbaijan could buy the pipeline and therefore make it possible to strangle Armenia at any moment. This of course is an extra stimulus for the Russian-Armenian alliance to get hold of this pipeline, and Russia could get hold of it in a disguised way, financing an Armenian company's purchase of it.

It has been suggested that the Georgian side is gambling again, trying to blackmail the West into paying it a lot of money to keep its pipeline away from the Russians. Some analysts go further and speculate that secret deals have been done between the Russian and Georgian leaderships, because it is known many strategically important objects have become Russian property in a disguised way. After the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 Russia was given management rights to the Enguri hydropower station, the biggest electricity supplier to Georgia. It has often been suggested that Russia also owns Tbilisi's water supply and electricity systems, gold mines in Madneuli and some enterprises in Rustavi. Russian mobile phone company Beeline has been working in Georgia for several years and many more facilities are also now Russian-owned.

The sales or alleged sales of important facilities to Russia have raised many questions, and no persuasive answers have been given to these so far. For instance, despite the demands of opposition members and journalists no copy of the agreement on managing the Enguri hydro power station has been made available. What therefore can the Russian managers do or not do? However, whatever rumours, allegations or doubts exist the Government does what it wants, particularly after the May 30 elections. It has removed Stalin's statue, opened and closed Ministries, reshuffled academic institutions, but that's just what we know about.

PM Gilauri has tried to calm the population by promising to float the pipeline on the London Stock Exchange so that its ownership will be transparent. However the major source of income for the Georgian budget is privatisation, which means selling state property.