- TBILISI, GEORGIA - If you
want to understand what's really going on beneath the current election
crisis in the former Soviet republic of Georgia a struggle that threatens
to push the country back into the kind of civil war which killed tens of
thousands from 1989 through 1993 - then you need to pull the camera back.
Way back, to the global level. That's because Georgia is a battleground
not just between local political factions vying for power, but also between
the geostrategic interests of America and Russia, between competing Big
Oil interests, and between the forces of globalization and the forces which
defy globalization (chaos, tradition' isolation).
- Georgia, in other words, is one of the world's key battlegrounds
on every level that matters, and that is why so much is at stake in the
election crisis. Most tiny nations Georgia has a population of about 5
million would relish the thought of being so important; the opportunity
to play off powers and up one's price would seem to be limitless. In Georgia's
case, its location and its importance have been its curse.
- Bad luck not just because it means the Georgians are
surrounded by venal, war-like Caucasus states or brutal, imperial Russia,
but also because, thanks to the Caspian Sea oil, the Americans have been
no less deeply involved in Georgiawith the usual destruction that comes
with American aid and regime support in this part of the world. In Russia,
American-backed aid and loans were a crucial factor in creating one of
the most corrupt regimes on earth and its subsequent default.
- In Georgia, the situation is even worse. America has
given more aid per capita to Georgia over the past ten years than to any
other country besides Israel. The corruption is correspondingly worse:
Georgia ranks far below Russia on the Transparency International corruption
rating, below all CIS countries, below even Papua-New Guinea, and ahead
of only five other nations, including such illustrious examples as Haiti
and Nigeria. You won't see a single result of all those hundreds of millions
of dollars in aid grants everything was stolen' every last penny. So you
have to assume that the aid served another purpose besides establishing
democracy or helping the Georgian people and that purpose is the Baku-Ceyhan
pipeline, the Frontera oil company, and NATO and U.S. Special Forces access.
- The result is that Georgia, which just 15 years ago was
considered the Soviet Union's wealthiest republic, is today one of the
poorest and most corrupt nations in the world, with huge chunks of its
territory in the hands of separatists or local petty despots, hundreds
of thousands of internally-displaced refugees, an infrastructure in such
disrepair it makes Russia look like Switzerland, a ghost town when it comes
to attracting foreign investment and capital. Its impoverished citizens,
who are lucky to receive their wages or pensions, are also weighted down
by a crippling external debt.
- And yet somehow, in spite of this, Georgia is one of
the most charming places on earth.
- In order to untangle the web that connects Georgia's
election crisis to global politics, keep in mind four things: James Baker
III, Ambassador Richard Miles, Caspian Sea oil, and Russia.
- When James Baker was sent out to Georgia this past July
to lecture its President, Eduard Shevardnadze, about the need to ensure
that the upcoming parliamentary elections were "free and fair,"
it must have raised a lot of eyebrows. Eyebrows of the "you've got
to be shitting me" variety.
- James Baker? This is the same guy who Bush Jr. hired
in 2000 to steal the Florida vote, handing the U.S. presidency over to
a tool who lost by half a million votes. The way Baker railroaded Bush
into the presidency has done more damage to American democracy than anything
since Nixon and Watergate. Sending him into corrupt Georgia to demand that
they have "free and fair elections" is like sending Yegor Gaidar
into Iraq in order to advise them on privatization and the transition to
a market economy which Bush also did.
- So what the hell was Jim Baker doing in Georgia playing
the role of some Jimmy Carter bleeding heart? After all, Bush didn't send
him to Azerbaijan' which became the former Soviet Union's first official
dynasty after its pro-U.S. leader handed power to his son in a rigged election.
Nor have we raised much of a fuss about free and fair elections to our
other new friends in the region. Fuss? Tchya, right. Uzbek strongman Karimov
must have received about 100,000 dollars in aid for every American soldier
he allowed to be based in his police state (assuming we have about 5,000
soldiers there). Or you could say that we gave about $1,000,000 in aid
to Karimov for every political opponent he's got rotting in jail, boiled
skin melted onto busted bones. And Kyrgyzstan which just started getting
its big Santa packages from Uncle Sam after it gave us an air base - has
actually slid backwards into deeper authoritarianism ever since Bush started
stuffing its leaders, pockets.
- So why was Baker playing the knit-capped human rights
hippie in Georgia? The obvious answer is that he wasn't. When James Baker
wades into an oil-soaked, unstable region full of corrupt despots, points
at one and tells him he has to play fair this time, it means only one thing:
"You're out, we,re backing new people, and we expect you to go peacefully
- Baker is more than just the man responsible for engineering
the closest thing America has ever had to a coup d,etat. He's also Mr.
Oil. Specifically, Caspian Sea oil. His law firm, Baker Botts, boasts on
its web page, "Baker Botts has been and continues to be the leading
international law firm involved in the reemergence of the oil, gas and
related hydrocarbon transportation industries in the Caspian region and
has one of the most active practices of any U.S. law firm with respect
to other types of investment in the region." The Caspian Sea oil is
set to be pumped out of Azerbaijan and transported via Georgia to the Turkish
Mediterranean sea port of Ceyhan. Former President Clinton had labeled
the oil route a "vital national interest" while Vice President
Dick Cheney named the oil region a vital strategic interest for the first
half of the 21st Century. The U.S. oil firms with Caspian Sea interests
seamlessly tied their interests to America's via their lawyer, James Baker.
Among notables with interests in the Caspian Sea oil are Brent Scowcroft,
Bush Sr.'s National Security Advisor; John Sununu' Bush Sr.'s Chief of
Staff; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security Advisor. Then
there is Frontera Oil, a company set up five years ago specifically to
exploit Georgian oil. Its board includes former Clinton CIA chief John
Deutch and former Texas senator Lloyd Bensten. Frontera's chairman is former
Clinton deputy energy secretary Bill White, who was in charge of formulating
Clinton's Caspian Sea policy.
- As you will see, it's the oil transnationals who decided
on regime change in Georgia, using a sudden interest in Jeffersonian democracy
as the pretext, while indulging the the anti-democratic but stable Aliyev
dynasty in nextdoor Azerbaijan.
- By the way, if you think that Baker is just a dedicated
patriot doing his job for God and country, remember this: Baker Botts is
also the lead counsel for Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi defense
minister, defending him in a lawsuit filed by the families of the victims
of 9/11 that's right, Baker is defending Saudi terror-financiers against
American terror victims. Which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise,
considering that Baker is also the senior counsel to the notorious Carlyle
Group of investors. On September 11th, 2001, Baker was reportedly with
members of the bin Laden family - his business partners - in the Ritz Carlton
in Washington D.C.
- So let me repeat it again: James Baker getting sent to
Georgia by President Bush in order to demand that Shevardnadze hold free
and fair elections is tantamount to a push for a coup.
- Which brings us to Richard Miles, the U.S. ambassador
to Georgia. Miles, who served in the Marines and studied Russian at the
U.S. Army Institute in Germany (read: U.S. intelligence), is a career diplomat
specializing in military-strategic issues and Eastern Europe. Not surprising
then that he played a key role in at least one U.S.-backed democratic coup
and military takeover just a few years ago.
- Ambassador Miles was the chief of mission (effectively
ambassador) to Yugoslavia from 1996 to 1999. He was one of the key instruments
in America's drive to push the Kosovo crisis towards war and eventual occupation
by NATO forces. If you go back and read accounts of Miles, service, he
was first involved with the Serbian democratic opposition in the 1997 elections
and drive to get Milosevic thrown out of power. Miles, biography hilariously
cites his speeches to opposition leaders in which he tells the Serbs about
his alleged hippie days and sit-ins at the Pentagon in the 60s. I dunno,
call me a sin-ic and all, but somehow I have a hard time seeing Ambassador
Miles beating a tambourine and denouncing the pigs
- Despite his and America's efforts, the Serbian opposition
failed to unseat Milosevic in 1997. So American policy moved to undermine
him by backing a different opposition group the KLA and pushing for war
in Kosovo. The following year, in 1998, Miles took a leading role in the
Western "observer" convoys which oversaw cease-fires in Kosovo.
After the war, a BBC documentary revealed that the OSCE mission in Kosovo
was a front for the CIA to gather intelligence on the Serbs, then prepare
for and trigger the war against Serbia.
- In 2000, Milosevic was thrown out of power in circumstances
that look a lot like today's in Georgia: a rigged election leading to street
protests by the U.S.-backed democratic-nationalist opposition and a powerful
youth group; their refusal to recognize the results; and a stand-off which
threatened to spill into civil war. American funding, propaganda, and the
war in Kosovo were all key to getting rid of Milosevic, and it worked,
with Richard Miles running the whole American-engineered coup. The result
was that Milosevic was thrown out of power, a pro-U.S. government took
power, aid started to flow, and American bases in Kosovo look secure for
a long time to come. Miles wasn't there to oversee the final stage of the
coup and takeover that he spearheaded in 2000, he moved to the ambassadorship
in Bulgaria, speeding this tiny "New Europe" nation into NATO's
orbit, a move effected, some allege, by funneling aid through friendly
yet corrupt Bulgarian politicians.
- Miles was named U.S. Ambassador to Georgia in March of
2002. Roughly ten years earlier, he had been named ambassador to Azerbaijan'
the first leg of the Caspian Sea oil pipeline, and he served there long
enough to watch approvingly as Haidar Aliyev established his decidedly
- Miles was named ambassador to Georgia last year at a
crucial moment. America had just introduced its first units of Special
Forces ostensibly to train special Georgian battalions to rid the Pankisi
Gorge of supposed Al Qaeda terrorists. It caused an uproar in Russia and
was one of the key moves which drastically cooled relations between Russia
and America. The Al Qaeda rumors were generally recognized as a bogus excuse
to introduce American forces, thereby pulling Georgia deeper into America's
grip. Not that the Georgians minded most welcomed the arrival of the American
Green Berets, naively believing that they would protect Georgia from the
Russians and reconquer lost territory. This move backfired and the Russians
now have more control over Georgia than any time since the collapse of
the Soviet Union' but more on that later.
- In his Senate confirmation hearings in Washington that
year, Miles began his statement, "President Shevardnadze will retire
in 2005. As you well know, three years is the blink of an eye in the world
of politics. A top priority of U.S. policy on Georgia during this critical
period will be to help Georgian political leaders and Georgian society
to prepare for a peaceful and democratic transition of power in 2005."
- Sounds nice on the surface, but what it means in the
local context is this: America is not only going to make sure that this
"transition of power" takes place, but how and to whom. Here's
how: "As we engage with a new generation of leaders, we will also
maintain a partnership with President Shevardnadze in his commitment to
advancing democratic and market economic reform and fighting corruption."
Leaving aside the black humor America partnering up with Shevardnadze
to fight corruption is about as insane as Hitler partnering up with the
Iron Guard to fight anti-Semitism in the Balkans his mission was clear:
to put into power younger, more pliant Georgian politicians. Shevardnadze
was bad for stability: he is 75 years old, grossly unpopular, too wily
- And this is where the global/local connection gets confusing.
- Russia. What the hell was Russia's role in all of this?
- Any Georgian will tell you that Russia's role has been
purely destructive, an attempt to keep control. Russians will answer that
the Georgians brought it all on themselves through their hostile, often
brutal anti-Russian behavior which drove out hundreds of thousands of ethnic
- Russia was behind the carving up of Georgian territory,
supporting separatists who control Abkhazia in the northwest and and South
Ossetia in the north (which have been practically annexed by Russia) as
well as a de facto breakaway region in Adjaria, whose capital, Batumi,
is now the site of an annual August Love Parade for Russia's rich techno
youth. Russia has military bases in Georgia that it wants to keep. In other
words, Russia has been holding a gun to Georgia's head, telling it that
if it tries to leave Russia's orbit, it will do so in rags. Georgia has
defiantly resisted even to the point of self-destruction if you know the
sense of pride and self-worth Georgians have, you'd understand it.
- Russia and Georgia have been in a kind of war of attrition
for the past decade now, with Russia intermittently applying its instruments
of torture (separatism, cutting off gas supplies, closing off markets)
and Georgia vainly trying to rapidly absorb itself into the West in the
naive belief that somehow they can escape their geographic fate. The war
of attrition's balance was seriously upset last year with the introduction
of American Green Berets. That, combined with the recent groundbreaking
on the Caspian Sea pipeline, seemed to radically shift things in Georgia's
- The Russians, however, reacted quietly, brutally, and
efficiently. Last year, Putin calmed down the hysterics over the American
Special Forces in Georgia by proclaiming that it was "no big deal."
The White House and Big Oil companies must have been giving each other
high fives over that facing of Russia, right in their own back yards! But
by this summer, there was no joy in Texasville .
- Russian energy monopolies Gazprom and RAO-ES managed
to essentially take over the natural gas and much of the energy grid networks
in Georgia. On July 1st of this year, Gazprom, which had just bought out
Georgia's gas pipelines, signed a secret 25-year agreement to be the sole
supplier of gas to Georgia, while at the same time, Tblisi's energy grid
was secretly sold to RAO-UES, headed by self-described "liberal-imperialist"
- Washington was, to say the least, not pleased. After
the sale, the White House issued a statement expressing its regret that
the power grid had been sold off by its American owners, AES. The news
caused protests in Tblisi, and the opposition parties slammed Shevardnadze.
He reacted dismissively, calling his critics "incompetent." Shortly
afterwards, he started to show his anger by attacking AES as "robbers
and cheats. This wasn't so much an attack on AES as on the American government
which backed AES's investment as part of a national strategic interest.
- In fact AES probably had no choice: massive corruption
kept AES from even hoping to turn a profit, Russian energy supplies played
havoc with its network, and finally, some old-fashioned pressure was applied:
AES's chief financial officer was found dead in his Tblisi home.
- This not only dramatically increased Russia's control
over Georgia, but it raised questions as to how Russia gained control.
Who sold it all to them? Which country owned which politician? Could it
be possible that Shevardnadze had joined with his old enemies Russia against
his closest friend, America? Why would he do it? The oldest reasons of
all: power and money. Shevardnadze, and the small clan around him which
has stolen nearly everything of worth in Georgia for going on a decade,
needs to stay in power at all costs. At some point they must have decided
that it was in their best interests to side with the Russians.
- Washington must have sensed that it was losing control
over Georgia and its leadership. In early June about 6 weeks before Baker
flew to Tblisi to give his famous civics lesson to Shevardnadze President
Bush sent his top energy advisor, Stephen Mann' to Tblisi to warn him that
"Georgia should do nothing that undercuts the powerful promise of
an East-West energy corridor." He added, "Support for any competing
gas export pipelines at this stage would be destructive for Shah Deniz,"
a separate U.S.-backed gas pipeline that will travel from Azerbaijan to
Turkey via Georgia. In other words, the Americans were losing Georgia,
and Bush sent Mann in to warn Shevardnadze not to let it happen. Clearly
the US had word of what was going on with Gazprom and RAO-UES. But they
were unable to stop it.
- Now the menacing appearance by James Baker one month
later in Shevardnadze's office, lecturing him about free and fair elections,
makes more sense. America was losing Georgia to the Russians. Goodbye Caspian
Sea oil, the world's last untapped ocean of fuel. Goodbye NATO bases and
forward momentum. Sure, Shevardnadze had done a lot for America in the
past Baker still talks about their warm personal friendship - but that
was then and this was now. One can see the chairman of ExxonMobil saying
to Baker, like Jeff Goldblum in Deep Cover, "I know you like Shevardnadze
and so do I, but[sharply wipes right palm of hand over left palm]...he's
gotta go." By sending Baker, the Vladimiro Montesinos of the Bush
Administration' to tell Shevardnadze to make sure his elections were exactly
the kind of elections Baker had denied to his own countrymen' Bush was
sending a message: he had declared war on Shevardnadze.
- This article appeared in <http://exile.ru/178/>issue
#178 of the eXile
- Mark Ames
- The eXile