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Keep Russia away from our pipeline, MPs demand

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, July 14
The main pipeline transporting Russian gas to Armenia via Georgia was the subject of noisy discussions at the Parliament of Georgia on July 13. Amendments to the Law on State Property would make it possible to sell off this pipeline, previously considered inalienable as a strategic national asset.

Chairman of the Legal Issues Committee of Parliament Pavle Kublashvili said that he had become bored with the discussions about the pipeline. He said that the opposition had been unable to “show the danger the issue poses”, as they had presented no particular questions to the Government and could not therefore receive comprehensive answers. “This pipeline was once the only source of gas supply for our country but this began to change in 2002,” Kublashvili stated.

The opposition maintain that Russia wants to buy the pipeline and this presents dangers for Georgia, whereas the majority claims that the Government won’t sell it to Russia. “No one is going to privatise the main gas pipeline, which already belongs to the Oil and Gas Corporation. Some of the shares of this corporation will be offered but 75% of them will remain in State property. The fact that the pipeline was included in the list of strategic objects which cannot be privatised was inconsistent with the Law on Gas and Oil,” majority leader Petre Tsiskarishvili said, advising the opposition to read laws more carefully. “There is neither a political nor an economic danger in giving the pipeline to a particular private company. It is not necessary to own the actual pipeline because if anyone wants to blackmail us by cutting off the gas they can simply do so from the north like they did in 2006,” Tsiskarishvili concluded.

Levan Vephkhvadze from the Christian-Democratic Movement (CDM) wondered how the Government of Georgia could avoid selling the main gas pipeline to Russia. “Although the Government states that the Law on State Property doesn’t specifically stipulate that this facility would be sold to Russia, it also doesn’t say that it won’t. When the auction is announced and Gazprom applies to participate, will you either click the “delete” button or open a separate folder for Russian requests and ignore them?” Vephkhvadze asked the Government.

Lasha Todria, co-author of the draft law and First Deputy Chairman of the Legal Issues Committee, said that the opposition were asking “dangerous questions”. “Our opponents are simply trying to convince the Georgian people of their negative attitude to the Russian Federation, but they are misleading the people into thinking that we will enter into some kind of cooperation with Russia side, which is not true,” Todria explained. He added that the commission organising the tender for any sale will announce that it will not accept proposals from a Russian company for security reasons. However this did not satisfy Vephkhvadze. “If the main gas pipeline is sold off the company making the best financial proposal will acquire it. It’s common knowledge that Gazprom will be the main interested party. The changes in the draft law will enable Gazprom to create a gas supply network with Iran and establish a monopoly over Caspian region supplies, and this would be like giving an award to Russia,” the opposition MP said, stressing that the West has given Georgia millions of dollars to rehabilitate the pipeline to ensure the security of the NABUCCO project. “Restoring the pipeline was in our interests but is no longer a priority for the Government of Georgia, which just wants to sell everything off,” he said.

Leader of Georgian Troupe and opposition MP Jondi Baghaturia demanded a closed door meeting to discuss the privatisation of the pipeline but the majority opposed this, saying that the Government has nothing at all to hide. “It will be good to hold a special conference where the opposition will have an opportunity to hear realistic arguments from the Government,” Baghaturia said. “This issue should definitely be discussed because the opposition should be familiar with the plans of the Government,” he said, adding that “the Government had removed the pipeline from the list of inalienable facilities to indulge in further geopolitical trade”.

Analyst Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger, “The Government of Georgia had better create a safety mechanism against possible dangers. If Gazprom buys the pipeline Georgia will lose its geopolitical function of connecting the eastern and western energy line. Russia will also gain legitimate authority to secure the facility [with its troops],” the analyst said, stressing that he found the economic motivations of the Government of Georgia quite vague. “The one thing which is clear is that the Government’s decision has not enough of an economic basis. According to the Government the tender commission will ignore any Russian proposal, but there is no relevant legislation which would enable it to do so. If the Government had established the safety mechanism first and then removed the pipeline from the list everything would have been easier to do, but now no one has any right to reject a Russian bid if it offers the best price,” explained the analyst. It is also possible according to some analysts for a Russian company to buy the pipeline in a disguised manner, as the undeclared shareholder of a Georgian company or a completely new organisation, fronted by non-Russians, created specially for the purpose.

Khukhashvili said that the Government of Georgia had taken this unwise step despite being told not to by international partners. “The Government is now talking about this just like Chairman of Gazprom Alexey Miller would do,” Khukhashvili said. He added that he has received indirect confirmation that Georgia is actively lobbying Gazprom to buy the pipeline. Though unable to give any information to support this he asserted that it is quite possible that a kind of a bargain will be struck between the sides.