November 9, 2007
Big Players and the Stakes in the Unrest in GeorgiaBy Douglas Hanson
The US and its Coalition allies can ill-afford to ignore this week's developments in the small but geo-strategically significant Caucasus nation of Georgia. Major outside players including Vladimir Putin and Rupert Murdoch are involved in a story involving media and politics.
World attention has been focused on the chaotic situation in Pakistan, and for good reason. Whoever gains control of the South Asian nation will also get the keys to a nuclear arsenal and an infrastructure that potentially can supply Al-Qaeda with an atomic weapon or the materials to make one. But that is not the only important theatre of struggle.
The events in Georgia, including unrest involving some 50,000 people and President Mikhail Saakashvili's crackdown, are not just a political fight between the ruling government and the opposition. It is part of a complex struggle involving the old Russian guard, business oligarchs, and a media outlet in the continuing battle with leftist tyrants masquerading as "progressives."
The six-day demonstration that started last Friday had been anticipated for some time. A full month prior, opposition parties gathered thousands of people from virtually every region in Georgia. Local rallies were reportedly peaceful with the exception a clash in Zugdidi. As people flooded into the capital of Tbilisi, the organizers emphasized that the rallies were going to be peaceful demonstrations whose goals were to obtain fair and democratic elections, and were in no way designed to effect the resignation of President Saakashvili or other members of his administration.
This lofty goal was quickly overshadowed by rumors from the Party of the People that the government was "preventing participants from coming to the rally." Later, a report said that ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili had been forced to leave Georgia. The report was from an activist representing the Movement for United Georgia, an organization that not coincidentally, had been founded by the former Defense Minister himself.
Then things headed south. President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a 48-hour state of emergency, while riot police used water cannon, tear gas and batons to clear rioters from the parliament area and to allow free flow of traffic. Interior Minister Spokesman Shota Utiashvili told the Voice of America (VOA) that,
Opposition leaders went into full drama mode with activist Ivlian Khaindrava comparing Saakashvili to the Bolsheviks:
For his part, Shaakashvili faulted Russia for supporting the demonstrations. This would seem to be another case of "he said, she said," except for that fact of Russia's outright confrontation with the country and NATO, and the opposition's focus on the government shut-down of the "independent" media outlet IMEDI TV. A recent message forwarded to me from the opposition decried the closing of the TV network by SWAT teams in Tbilisi. There were also pleas for international intervention to help pressure Saakashvili's government to "stop the persecution of innocent people" and to stop the "ongoing political terror in Georgia."
However, a closer examination of IMEDI media reveals that this was not a case of a neutral news organization being shut down by a bunch of jack-booted thugs. It in fact, involved a network of corrupt business arrangements leading back to -- of course -- Vladimir Putin.
The man behind IMEDI TV is Badri Patarkatsishvili, who is considered "one of the most famous Georgian oligarchs." Since 2001, he has been one of the biggest investors in the in the country; some estimate his contributions to be in the tens of millions of US dollars. In addition to having majority ownership in IMEDI, Patarkatsishvili also invested heavily in the Kulevi oil terminal on the Black Sea and in the real estate market. He was also a founder of the Federation of Georgian Businessmen (FGB), a powerful business lobbying group. He has been a powerful economic force for the region, and at face value, he has been good for Georgia.
But has his past influenced the present unrest?
Patarkatsishvili was not always a booster for the new Georgia. After the collapse of the USSR, he along with another "New Russian" by the name of Boris Berezovsky, had been one of the moneymen who attempted to usher in the market economy under Boris Yeltsin. Later, both men helped Putin to seize power. As is the norm in this part of the world, the Kremlin did an about face and sought to evict these same oligarchs who had taken advantage of the post-collapse chaos. Putin sought to "cleanse" the country of those "who had sucked the blood of the nation." In 2001, Berezovsky fled to London, and six years later, Patarkatsishvili did the same. Officially, both men are still on the lam from Russian authorities.
After having personally experienced Putin's betrayal, one would think that Patarkatsishvili's IMEDI media would have presented a fair and balanced view of the demonstrations in Tbilisi. But one would be wrong. It is now known that Patarkatsishvili has been directly financing the opposition parties, thereby casting suspicion on the independent nature of his TV and radio stations and their pro-opposition coverage. IMEDI has been a consistent critic of Shaakashvili's government, and the revelation of his support of the opposition places the oligarch in a serious conflict of interest.
Riding to the rescue to help solve this mess is none other than Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. When the American Left notices, expect the usual reactions. In Tbilisi this past Wednesday it was announced that News Corp,
News Corp already holds 49 per cent of IMEDI, so it will now increase its holdings to 51 percent and take temporary control of the company. Irakli Rukhadze, a member of IMEDI's Supervisory Board, put the transfer of shares in a diplomatic light. He noted that Patarkatsishvili graciously decided to,
Patarkatsishvili's departure and his abdication of direct control of IMEDI to News Corp has caused the opposition parties to go ballistic; further evidence that the demonstrations and charges of political terror were to a great extent promoted by the oligarch and his media conglomerate. The opposition parties are trying to rearrange political alliances to effectively counter Shaakashvili's National Movement bloc, and are scrambling to find a replacement leader to salvage what turned out to be a politically suicidal week of demonstrations.
The President of Georgia went on TV yesterday to propose early elections in January of 2008; four months ahead of schedule. He also vowed to lift the nationwide state of emergency, saying "the situation is stabilizing." Knowing Shaakashvili's modus operandi since the successful operation in the Kodori Gorge in 2006, he wouldn't offer up such a deal unless he was in a position of strength. So it seems that President Shaakashvili has for now won another round in the fight against global socialism and one of Putin's former (?) business associates.
It's somewhat of a mystery why Badri Patarkatsishvili first helped Putin to power, was kicked out of the new Russia, invested heavily in his homeland, and then seemingly allied with Putin once again to muck up the works in the Caucasus. He reportedly foresaw his departure, since a year ago he had sold his shares in the Kulevi oil terminal to the national oil company of Azerbaijan. Nicolas Landru of Caucaz/europenews puts it as well as anyone when he says:
And so it goes in the Byzantine world of Eurasian politics.
Douglas Hanson is national security correspondent of American Thinker.