Gazprom Deal: National Security Threat for Georgia?

On October 17, Journal Tabula announced a protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Russia’s energy giant is believed to be attempting to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground.

Gazprom representatives reportedly claimed that meetings between the Georgian side and the company are held on a regular basis and a new meeting is planned for the near future. They added that the main topics to be discussed at the future meeting will become clear later.

While Kakha Kaladze, Georgian Energy Minister, says he held talks with Gazprom about the transit of natural gas through Georgia, as well as the import of Russian natural gas for commercial operators, it has become apparent that talks between the Russian company and the Energy Minister are underway regarding supply of natural gas to Georgia as well as increasing the volume of Russian gas supply to Armenia via Georgia.

The news came as a surprise for Azerbaijan, currently the major supplier of oil and gas resources to Georgia, who immediately invited the Georgian Prime Minister to Baku to meet the Azerbaijani President on October 10th. It has since been suggested that the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, is set to visit Georgia on November 6th.

The Georgian Energy Minister was not included in the delegation- the reason being that this was a private meeting between the PM and his Azeri counterpart.

Free Democrats leader, former Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania, criticized the visit of the PM to Azerbaijan. “It’s a shame that the Head of the Government of Georgia has to go to neighboring countries like a little boy in order to correct the things spoiled a few days earlier,” Alasania said.

Commenting on Georgia’s non-transparent negotiations with the Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alasania said that “the steps taken by the government in terms of secret talks on energy issues and in particular with Gazprom, would naturally cause confusion and questions with strategic partners.”

According to Alasania, “it is a shame that [they] escalated relations with our strategic partner, Azerbaijan.”

Alasania believes there is little state interest behind the Gazprom deal, which “focuses on more politicized and expensive Russian gas. Therefore, this is another example of how this government is harming our national security with its incompetence, imprudence and intended personal interests.”

The potential deal with Gazprom has been criticized by Georgian security and energy experts who claim the Russian company represents the government’s proxy organization to increase economic and political influence in Georgia.

Georgian media as well as social-media active members of the public assume that Georgian billionaire, former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, who reportedly possesses significant shares in Gazprom, is privately interested in the signing of the deal. Ivanishvili, who is believed to be ruling the country from backstage, has released not official comment on this topic.

Energy Minister Kaladze says: “Any developed country thinks of diversification of its energy sources and here I mean not only import of additional volume from Russia. We are actively working with Iran, as we see today that there is a real opportunity for Georgia to become a transit country due to our geopolitical location.”

Analysis, Zviad Adzinbaia, Georgia Today:

Georgia would do well to remember her exemplary lessons from early relations with Gazprom and her energy overreliance on Russia, when, in the winter of 2006, the Russian company left Georgian citizens without gas. The then-President Saakashvili called the Russian action “a political price” and the ruling government found itself in extreme circumstances in finding an alternative source- Iran. Georgia, like many European countries, suddenly realized that immediate diversification of its energy sector was necessary to secure the future of the country.

Soon after, Azerbaijan began supplying Georgia with oil and gas. Not only did Azerbaijan prove itself a reliable partner for Georgia, but new energy transit projects have since been initiated and launched by both sides, including construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, which joins Europe’s central railway chain.

Even a nascent expert would conclude that dependence on energy from Russia partly equals conceding Georgia’s security and national interests. In fact, Russia has not only occupied 20 percent of Georgia’s sovereign territory, but also incorporates its economic and energy tools against the country to reverse her from her chosen European course.

What should be done? It can at least be assumed that Georgia is under no need of Russian gas resources unless there are some non-transparent political and economic interests from certain parties.

Zviad Adzinbaia

15 October 2015 21:44