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11.01.2009

January 10, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Rublev

BRAVE NATIONALISTS OR HUMBLE PUPPETS?

Common features of Yushchenko's economic defensive and Saakashvili's military offensive

It is well known that the presidents of Ukraine and Georgia have a lot in common. Both Victor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in the process of "colored revolutions", subsequently celebrated by George W. Bush as triumphs of US strategy; both were endorsed by John McCain and Hillary Clinton for the Nobel Peace Prize; both have featured themselves as convinced Euroatlanticists, promising to achieve prosperity for their people with US assistance.

The array of these common features has lately expanded. Raising hysteria over "Russian imperialism" on an international level, Yushchenko and Saakashvili simultaneously applied the weapons of energy isolation to South Ossetia and Transdniester.

Complaining of energy shortage due to the blocked transit of gas across Ukraine, European media overlook the fact that the population of South Ossetia has spent already four months without basic energy supplies, being deliberately isolated by Georgia. European authors and human right advocates are similarly dumb about the unrecognized republic of Transdniester that is undergoing similar treatment by Ukraine.

Until the August 2008 military conflict, South Ossetia received Russian gas via Georgia, as the direct 163-km pipeline link with Russia's North Ossetia will be completed only in late 2009.

The Georgian side claims that during the only existing supply line was damaged during the August war. These allegations don't sound convincing, as warfare did not take place in the pipeline's area. Gazprom's proposals to repair the ruptures were at first just rejected by Tbilisi. Later, the Georgian side officially acknowledged that in accordance with the national law "On occupied territories", gas deliveries to Tskhinval are deliberately disrupted. In this way, Mr. Saakashvili, who originally tried to suppress the breakaway (now independent) republic by fire from Grad launchers, is now trying to "pacify" its citizens with cold.

A similar tactic is used by Victor Yushchenko against Transdniester, though this republic had broken away from not Ukraine but Moldova. On New Year eve, Transdniester signaled SOS: the citizens of Tiraspol and Bendery found themselves without heat due to disruption of gas supply along the Ananiev-Tiraspol-Izmail pipeline. The republic was disconnected from gas supply in the midst of the gas debt debate between Moscow and Kiev, but a week before Russia was forced to close the valve on Ukraine's border. It is noteworthy that the European Commission ignored Tiraspol's signal of a probable humanitarian catastrophe, displaying the same indifference as in the case of South Ossetia's fuel blockade.

The brutality used by Saakashvili and Yushchenko against the civilian population of neighbor states is reverse proportional to their pursuit of their own nations' interest, but directly proportional to the regional goals of the United States.

Saakashvili's adventurous assault on Tskhinval in August 2008 could be interpreted, in particular, by the efforts of his patrons in the US Republican establishment to influence the outcome of the presidential elections in Georgia. However, the effect of the military operation would be dire for the Georgian side in any case.

Even in case Georgian troops had managed to occupy South Ossetia before the Russian military intervened, Georgia would have definitely lost the larger coastal territory of Abkhazia, as Russia would provide additional security guarantees for the latter republic, which was viewed as a much dearer prize for Tbilisi than the tiny landlocked and mountainous South Ossetia.

Why did Saakashvili, who positions as a Georgian nationalist, make a choice like that? We can envision two explanations.

Version I: Saakashvili was so overwhelmed with megalomania that the prospect of entering history as "the winner of the war against the Russian empire" prevailed in his mind over the categories of Georgia's long-term interests.

Version 2: Saakashvili's patriotic rhetoric is not more than a PR trick, as in fact, he performs as a humble puppet of outside forces, ready to use his people as a "human material" for anti-Russian provocations.

Similarly, the Ukrainian people are likely to become the major victim of Victor Yushchenko's contumacy in the gas debate with Russia. In this case, the self-described "nationalist" dooms not only his people but also his own political career.

Regardless from the outcome of the current debate, Russia will remain the primary supplier of gas for Europe. First of all, Gazprom had long gained a reputation of a reliable supplier. Secondly, Russia develops new gas extraction projects in which European companies can get shares. Thirdly, the alternative of nuclear energy development in Europe is still blocked with massive environmentalist phobias.

Meanwhile, Yushchenko's reluctance to pay the debt and sign contracts under new conditions convinces EU states of necessity to build new pipelines, circumventing Ukraine. At the same time, the interest of Western companies in purchase of Ukraine's gas transport network is evaporating due to the careless neglect of its renovation, displayed by the "colored" authorities, and the ensuing exhaustion of pipelines.

The immediate effect of Yushchenko's pertinacity is a fatal collapse of the reputation of Ukraine as a transit country. Is that his real purpose? Regarding his stronger dependence from Washington than Saakashviili's, we have grounds to suggest that he is directly implementing a US scenario.

In its troublesome economic situation, the United States is strongly interested in creating new economic problems both for Russia and the EU. In the goal-setting of this game, Ukraine and Georgia are playing the role of pawns. Thus, we can expect that the effect of Yushchenko's "gas defensive" for Ukraine may be finally as devastating for Ukraine as the South Ossetian offensive appeared to be for Georgia.


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