Georgia’s relationship with its big neighbor to the north took a sharp turn for the worse this week as disputes opened up with Gazprom over transit fees, followed by an accusation today that Russia fired a missile into Georgian territory. In regards to the transit fees, Georgia is demanding that Gazprom pay them $2 million cash for transit fees to Armenia over the past three months. According to the structure of the agreement, the Georgians can either take 10% of the gas as payment or receive the cash equivalent. Apparently Gazprom has wasted no time in responding to this demand, and has rejected Georgia’s debt claim arguing that they are strictly compensated for transit fees through supply – not the cash equivalent. RIA Novosti has quoted an unnamed Gazprom official who acknowledges that Georgia did not use its alloted quota of gas (having received sufficient supply from Azerbaijan), but denies that there is any agreement regarding compensation.
Georgian officials carry away the engine of an alleged Russian missile (Photo: Reuters)
Then today Tbilisi accused Russia of firing a guided missile into its territory near the village Tsitelubani, about 40 miles outside of the capital. Russia has denied that it violated Georgia’s sovereign airspace, but Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili called upon the Ambassador for discussions, and took a group of reporters out to the site to examine the debris, where the remains of the unexploded missile revealed Cyrillic writing on the fins and other parts. Eduard Kokoity, the leader of Georgia’s separatist South Ossetia region (backed by Russia), has accused Tbilisi of firing the missile themselves: “It was a provocation staged by the Georgian side, aimed at discrediting Russia.” Both the price dispute with Gazprom and the accusations of airspace violations underscore the enormous tensions surrounding the Georgian government’s efforts pull out of the orbit of Russia’s political influence. As we know from exceptionally clear statements from the Kremlin, Georgia and most other former Soviet states are considered to be part and parcel of the renewed Russian empire – and Moscow has already demonstrated the extent of their willingness to reassert this influence.