Turmoil in Georgia - Shevardnadze overthrown

FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004

On 23 November the former darling of the West, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia was forced to resign after three weeks of mass protests against his re-election in a rigged ballot. Tens of thousands of demonstrators had taken to the streets of Tbilisi and on 22 November stormed the parliament building, unopposed by the army or police. Parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze is now acting president and hopes to hold presidential and parliamentary elections within 45 days.

Shevardnadze became well known as the Soviet foreign minister who with Gorbachev led the USSR to collapse and counter-revolution. Following the break up of the Soviet Union he returned to his native Georgia to become president in 1992. However Georgia, like other former Soviet republics, was too weak to exist independently and became the plaything of foreign powers. Under Shevardnadze Georgia became dependent on US imperialism which provided the country with $1bn over the last ten years, second only to Israel in per capita aid. Despite this, Georgia fell into ruin as the economy collapsed, electricity supplies frequently failed and the country’s once famously fertile agriculture declined. Where socialism had promoted co-operation between the different nationalities within the country, capitalism promoted conflict. Civil war broke out in the early 1990s and Georgia disintegrated, as the national autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia effectively split from Tbilisi under warlords with the encouragement of Russian expansionism. The pro-Russian government of the Adjaria region responded by closing its borders with the rest of Georgia so cutting off rail links to the country’s main port Batumi. Following Washington’s declaration of the War on Terrorism, US military forces arrived in Georgia and set up base.

It is Georgia’s geographical location in the Caucasus that is its misfortune. The country finds itself in the middle of the competition between Russian expansionism to the north and the path of US imperialism’s route into the oil-rich Caspian Sea to the east. The US is eager to tap into the immense Caspian oil reserves unhindered by Russia. At the moment oil from Baku in Azerbaijan is exported via Russia. However, with strong US backing, British Petroleum is planning to build an oil pipeline from Baku via Georgia to Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, its entire route being in the US sphere of influence.

Civil unrest is not helpful on the route of one of imperialism’s lifelines. For some time the US ambassador in Tbilisi Richard Miles had been shamelessly grooming US-trained lawyer Mikhail Saakashvili to succeed Shevardnadze while US officials warned the former president that his days were numbered. US funded pollsters exposed vote-rigging by Shevardnadze and US-supported ‘non-governmental’ organisations helped agitate for his removal. One of Saakashvili’s campaigning points is the removal of Russian military bases from Georgia. Imperialism now wants to see the dispute settled. However it is unlikely that calm can remain for long as the people’s expectations of a better life will not be fulfilled while Georgia is dependent on the imperialist powers that ruined it.
Ed Scrivens


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