West again throws weight behind dictatorship to guarantee oil supply

Georgia on their mind

The west has once again thrown its weight behind a dictatorship to
guarantee oil supplies

The Guardian (UK)
April 1, 2004

By John Laughland in Batumi

In 1918, when Lord Balfour was foreign secretary, he said: “The only
thing which interests me in the Caucasus is the railway line which
delivers oil from Baku to Batumi. The natives can cut each other to
pieces for all I care.” Little has changed in world geopolitics since
the end of the first world war, when the Black Sea port of Batumi in
Georgia was briefly under British rule. Although an oil pipeline from
Baku to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey is planned, it will
take years to complete. When it is built, it will deliver oil
exclusively to the American market, but for the time being Caspian oil
still trundles across the Caucasus to Batumi in trains.

This is why, in Sunday’s partial rerun of last November’s
parliamentary elections, the world’s media concentrated exclusively on
the prickly relations between the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and the
autonomous region of Adjara, of which Batumi is the capital. This is
in spite of the fact that Adjara, unlike Abkhazia and South Ossetia,
has never declared independence from Georgia. The standard- issue
media fairy-tale pits a democratically elected Georgian president,
Mikheil Saakashvili – who overthrew his predecessor Edward
Shevardnadze in a US-backed coup last November – opposing an
authoritarian regional leader in Adjara, Aslan Abashidze.

This is not how the Georgians see things. In an interview with a Dutch
magazine, Sandra Roelofs, the Dutch wife of the new Georgian president
and hence the new first lady of Georgia, explained that her husband
aspires to follow in the long tradition of strong Georgian leaders
“like Stalin and Beria”. Saakashvili started his march on Tbilisi last
November with a rally in front of the statue of Stalin in his
birthplace, Gori. Unfazed, the western media continue to chatter about
Saakashvili’s democratic credentials, even though his seizure of power
was consolidated with more than 95% of the vote in a poll in January,
and even though he said last week that he did not see the point of
having any opposition deputies in the national parliament.

In Sunday’s vote – for which final results are mysteriously still
unavailable – the government appears to have won nearly every
seat. Georgia is now effectively a one-party state, and Saakashvili
has even adopted his party flag as the national flag.

New world order enthusiasts have praised the nightly displays on
Georgian television of people being arrested and bundled off to prison
in handcuffs. The politics of envy and fear combine in an echo of
1930s Moscow, as Saakashvili’s anti-corruption campaign, egged on by
the west, allows the biggest gangsters in this gangster state to
eliminate their rivals.

History is repeating itself: it was on the back of an anti- corruption
campaign that Shevardnadze became first secretary of the Communist
party in Georgia in 1972. Following his stint as foreign minister of
the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, he returned to his former fiefdom,
which he ran as a brutal dictator from 1992 to 2003. He was as
assiduously lauded by the west then as his protege and successor is

And as for the operetta “revolution” staged against Shevardnadze’s
regime last November, it has allowed a changing of the guard within an
unchanged power structure. Not only was Saakashvili minister of
justice under Shevardnadze, but the thuggish Zurab Zhvania, the prime
minister, had the same job under Shevardnadze, during which the worst
abuses of power (now denounced) occurred. The head of national
security is the same, and all the members of the former president’s
party have converted to the new president’s party. Shevardnadze’s old
party has disappeared.

That November’s “revolution of roses” was stage-managed by the
Americans has been admitted even by the new president himself, who has
said that his coup could not have succeeded without US help.
Abashidze also confirmed it on Saturday in Batumi, when he said that
his discussions with the American ambassador to Georgia, Richard
Miles, had convinced him that nothing can happen in the country
without a green light from Washington. Georgia, Russia’s backyard, and
the country used as a base by the Chechens, is now as thoroughly
controlled by the US as Panama – and for much the same reasons. As in
Central America, economic devastation has been the handmaiden of
political control, reducing what was previously the richest Soviet
republic to a miserable, pre-industrial subsistence.

As we know from Tony Blair’s visit to Libya, the west is happy to make
alliances with dictatorships if strategic interests dictate. Georgia
certainly qualifies on that score. And events in the Caucasus are
connected to events in Iraq. Because of the intensity of Iraqi
resistance to US and British occupation, oil is not flowing from there
as freely as had been hoped. Hence the imperative quickly to secure
other sources of cheap fuel for America’s gas-guzzlers. In Libya as in
Georgia, western support for dictators, in the name of strategy, may
be the oldest trick in the book. But it is also the most

John Laughland is a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group

Copyright, Guardian Newspapers Limited, Apr 01, 2004