Investment with a view to Kartli04.03.2009 | 09:36
The Georgian President is inviting businessmen from Russia to the country. Admittedly, the time and place he chose to make this gesture were somewhat embarrassing. Yet although Saakashvili's speeches always provoke a response, sometimes a reaction to his excessive emotion, this time he has managed to literally astound both his supporters and his opponents.
So, in spite of his traditionally aggressive rhetoric towards his northern neighbour, Mikheil Nikolaevich devoted part of his speech at an anti-Soviet ceremony to Russian business, noting that despite the political problems, the Georgian authorities welcomed and invited Russian investment into Georgia. And he let it be known unambiguously that the economy was the key towards improving relations.
"We are not opening our doors to Russian tanks, but our doors and our hearts are open to Russian investors and Russian tourists," he said. "Therefore, we welcome any economic cooperation between Russia and Georgia. Therefore, we welcome the fact that we are managing to carry out a degree of cooperation in the energy sector." Carrying on in this vein, the head of state brushed aside the latest allegations put forward by the opposition, who are criticising the authorities for concluding a deal with the Russian state company "Inter RAO UES" over the joint administration of the Inguri hydro-electric power station. In his speech, the president also made a point of noting that, despite all the difficulties, the Russian companies owning energy facilities in Georgia have been working "without any disruptions", and that even during the most difficult period there was "no sabotage whatsoever" from them.
It is clear that Moscow does not intend to comment on any statement made by Saakashvili. Perhaps it was knowing this that Mikheil Nikolaevich bowed to Russian businessmen: he can say that he offered his hand in friendship, but the Kremlin did not see it. We have to admit that by taking this step, he surprised his own opposition which, while accusing Saakashvili of worsening relations with Russia, contends with the Tbilisi regime for the most scathing criticism of Russia. But it could well be that nobody expected this speech from the president to have quite the resonance it has done in Georgian business circles. After all, businessmen have long been waiting for the promised normalization of relations with Russia. For example, the return of wine-makers to the Russian market is the only hope for them to be saved. The radio station Kommersant reports that, as a result of the crisis, they are enduring losses on another major market - in Ukraine. Therefore Georgian business is vehemently supporting Saakashvili's economic proposals.
"The more investors there are, the better it is for the country. Especially if they are Russians, who will be able to take our produce back to their market," thinks the president of the Kazbegi company, Gogi Topadze. However, he is also frightened by the prospect of Russian capital flowing into the leading sectors of the Georgian economy. That's what propaganda does for you! "But the sale of our main prospects for the future - mineral water springs, the railway network, and our port - will always be unacceptable," Topadze continued on radio Kommersant.
Georgian businessmen working in Russia have also responded positively to the signal from Tbilisi. Hence your GeorgiaTimes correspondent was told by the office of the Union of Georgians in Russia that, despite their organization's difficult relations with President Saakashvili (which is putting it mildly), the Georgian diaspora in Russia has viewed his initiative for improving economic connections optimistically. "We are ready to offer any assistance, in fact we will be glad to help Georgian businessmen return to the Russian market," noted our contact.
Only some political commentators are remaining true to their own anti-Russian feelings. Judge for yourselves: "The Georgian economy is under the influence of Russian companies, which has a negative impact on its development," stated the expert Georgi Ivaniashvili. And he went on to say: "If the strategy changes and the Georgian economy starts to be directed at the East, it will bring nothing positive to Georgia. Our strategy is aimed at the West, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that it does not change direction." An assessment which is hard to understand, but one thing is clear - having dealings with Russia is bad. Perhaps he should consult what the businessmen themselves think, though.
But in this crisis which has swept across the world, it is not political commentators, but businessmen whose words will clearly carry the most weight. And they should know just how timely a return to the Russian market today is for Georgia's economy. Even now, during far from the happiest times in Georgian-Russian relations, Russia remains one of Georgia's most important trading partners.