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Saakashvili on Russia and Energy Politics

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From the Wall Street Journal’s featured weekend interview with the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili:

At one point I ask him if security and dealing with Russian threats are a top priority. “We have two limbs of Georgia which are currently detached,” he says, careful not to sound provocative, “and we have a hostile, powerful northern neighbor, even more powerful every day with oil money. But we can’t be living in a state of gloom and paranoia. . . . When the Russians imposed the embargo on our wines, we simply found new markets. Like-minded countries such as Poland and the Baltic states actively sought out our products. “When Russia cut off gas supplies, we had to work on developing new sources. So we’re developing hydro-power and coal and nuclear energy. Next year, we’ll be fully supplied by Azerbaijani power. . . . Everyone said we’d never survive but our success gives confidence to everyone else.” Mr. Saakashvili notes that his country had to diversify its markets anyway. “Georgia’s natural strength is its role as a crossroads both culturally and geographically. It was always a kind of bridge on the old Silk Road. So we’re building up our highway system; we’re completing our rail link from Batoumi to Istanbul through to Europe; we’ve got the new international airport there. “Eastwards we’re connecting all the way to China via a ferry across the Caspian. It will offer an alternative to the trans-Siberian railway. And of course, the same goes for pipelines such as the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline which goes through Georgia.” I ask him if the Russians are making a big push now with maximum pressure while they can, realizing that before long, consumer countries will develop alternate supply routes to avoid Russian strategic pressure. “No, I don’t think the Russians are calculating logically or strategically,” he says. “I think it’s an emotional and volatile process for them. Logically, they should realize that stable relations all around will pay off for them more in the long run. Instead they’re driving countries to find alternative partners . . .” He also speaks about Russia’s domestic anti-Georgian campaign. “It wasn’t working very effectively until they actually went to all the schools and asked for a list of all the children with Georgian names. Suddenly, the parents realized this was serious. That and the endless corruption of the Russian system became unbearable for them — so now we have tens of thousands of qualified Georgians . . . coming back and repatriating their money to Georgia.”