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   Vol. 67/No. 45           December 22, 2003  
Rumsfeld praises republic of
Georgia Special Forces for
joining U.S. operations in Iraq
U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the former Soviet republic of Georgia December 5 to solidify ties with its new government under acting president Nino Burdzhanadze. He expressed his “appreciation for Georgia’s critical assistance in the global war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as for the deployment of Georgian Special Forces to “serve alongside coalition troops” in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

On a tour of a U.S.-sponsored military training facility, Rumsfeld noted Washington’s interest in the possibility of deploying additional forces in Georgia, including a “mechanized element.” U.S. Special Forces and Marines are completing a two-year Georgia Train and Equip program for the Georgian military at the center.

In the name of supporting the republic’s “territorial integrity,” Rumsfeld also stated that Washington agrees with the Georgian government that “Russia should fulfill its obligations under the [1999] Istanbul Accords” and withdraw its 3,300 troops stationed in the republic.

The massive protests on the streets of Georgia that forced the November 23 resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze highlighted the continuing crisis of governments attempting to introduce capitalist relations into the workers states of the region. Facing a revolt that culminated in the November 22 storming of the parliament building, the former Soviet foreign minister decided the next day to leave office because the crowds in the streets “were not afraid of anything.”

Shevardnadze, the elected president of the republic since 1995, has long promoted a return to capitalist economic relations within Georgia, while collaborating in the construction of oil and gas pipelines as an “energy corridor” for U.S. imperialism. Working people in Georgia have faced devastating economic conditions since the republic became independent in April 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Workers have resisted government moves to make them pay for the consequences of the economic crisis. Unemployment stands at 20 percent today, and retirees receive a pension of only $6-7 per month. Inflation in the early 1990s reached as high as 15,000 percent, wiping out the value of wages and whatever savings workers may have had.

At the center of popular outrage has been the government’s efforts to force workers and farmers to pay for electricity use. While the administration in Tbilisi, the capital, has worked overtime to secure contracts with U.S. and European companies to build oil and gas pipelines across its territory, energy supplies must be imported to cover one-half of the country’s needs. The principal suppliers, Russia and Turkmenistan, cut off gas supplies to Georgia for a period in 1997 when its government stopped paying the bills. At the same time, Shevardnadze earned the hatred of workers and farmers for trying to force them to pay for the use of electricity that is basic to their survival.

The government set on a course to privatize the energy industry. It took the first steps toward privatization of the distribution of energy in 1998, but has fallen short of its objective of selling off control of the state energy generation system by 2000. Long power outages have been a daily reality across the country, and parts of Georgia are not provided with any power at all. This has sparked continuing protests—in November 2000 demonstrations in Tbilisi brought the capital to a standstill. The shortages and protests continued in early 2001.

Last summer Shevardnadze gave approval to the cutoff of electricity to 23 of the nation’s provinces. The Energy Distributing Company of Georgia, run now by P.A. Consulting, a U.S. company, switched off the power to non-paying regions in August. Shevardnadze announced, “The population must learn to pay for electricity.” Adopting this measure, he said, “is the only way for the country to exist and develop.” In response to such company/government actions, the Washington Post reported, “in one region, the governor and his guards stormed a substation and flipped the power back on. A mayor in another area did the same, whipping out a gun and shooting a transmission insulator to prove he meant business.”

Popular anger at the government boiled over after the November 2 parliamentary elections as opposition parties mounted a convincing campaign among Georgia’s population accusing the Shevardnadze government of rigging the vote. U.S. ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles described the elections as “marred by massive irregularities and voter fraud.” Washington has provided Tbilisi with more than $1 billion in aid the last decade. Only Israel received U.S. financial backing at a higher per capita rate. Official election results, not announced until nearly three weeks after the vote, gave a majority in parliament to parties backing the president.

Protests against Shevardnadze began almost immediately after the election. When demonstrators took control of the parliament building November 22, Shevardnadze declared a 30-day state of emergency. “Order will be restored,” he claimed, “and the criminals will be punished.” By that time, however, military units had joined the demonstrations outside the occupied parliament building and their commanders were pledging support to the opposition forces.

Shevardnadze resigned the next day. “I looked at the huge crowd,” he said later. “I saw in their faces it would be impossible to calm them, that they were not afraid of anything.”

Opposition parties and those at the head of the interim administration are as pro-capitalist as Shevardnadze. Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, a U.S.-trained lawyer who was originally groomed for office by Shevardnadze, promised that no action would be taken against the former president. He announced an end to the protests, and said “People should go home.” Elections for a new president are set for January 4.  
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