07TBILISI2439, GEORGIA BI-WEEKLY UPDATE SEPTEMBER 28

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI2439 2007-09-28 13:23 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1190
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHSI #2439 2711323
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281323Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7777
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TBILISI 002439 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM ECON GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA BI-WEEKLY UPDATE SEPTEMBER 28 
 
 
1. This cable contains current items of political, 
economic, and social interest concerning Georgia during the 
weeks of September 8-28. 
 
New CEC Chair to be Chosen Soon 
------------------------------- 
2. On September 23, a special Selection Commission under the 
President's administration completed acceptance of applications for the 
position of the Central Election Commission (CEC) chairman, vacant 
since previous Chairman Guram Chalagashvili was appointed head of the 
National Energy Regulatory Commission in August.  By all accounts the 
leading candidate is Levan Tarkhnishvili, chairman of the Supervisory 
Board of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), who is said to be 
associated with influential ruling party MP Giga Bokeria.  The other 
two candidates are obscure and listed as "temporarily unemployed" in 
their application materials.  The Selection Commission will recommend 
two candidates to the president by September 29, who in turn will 
choose one for the Parliament's approval within 7 days. 
 
Russian Ambassador Predicts Extinction of Georgian Nation 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
3. On September 21, at a meeting of the Georgia-Russia Friendship Fund, 
Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko said Georgia was a 
"relict" nation "on the brink of extinction" in terms of demographics. 
The statement touched off a firestorm of criticism from Georgian 
officials and commentators.  Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze said 
"I would advise Kovalenko to worry about Russia and its demographic 
problems, and we will take care of Georgian problems ourselves." The 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Kovalenko for explanation, and 
Georgian students staged a rally outside Russian Embassy demanding 
Ambassador?s apology.  The comments even drew criticism from opposition 
figures who have themselves expressed concern in the past about 
demographic trends in Georgia.  Kovalenko refused to apologize, saying 
he was referring to the findings of a Georgian research institute and 
was truly concerned about Georgia's huge demographic problem, "which 
needs to be urgently addressed." 
 
Georgian Armed Forces to be Increased 
------------------------------------- 
4. On September 12, President Saakashvili began the process to increase 
the size of Georgia's armed forces, submitting to Parliament a bill to 
increase personnel from 28,000 to 32,000.  Members of the ruling party 
justified the decision as necessary given Georgia's participation in 
international peacekeeping missions, as well as to increase defensive 
capacities within Georgia.  Opposition spokesmen disagreed, arguing 
that current Georgian armed forces are fully capable to face present 
challenges.  They also argued that it would be more expedient to 
enhance the professionalism of the Georgian army instead of boosting 
its size.  On September 17, despite the critisism from the opposition 
parties, the Parliament approved the President's initiative. 
 
Improving Relations with Belarus? 
--------------------------------- 
5. Georgia's Interior Minister Vano Merabishvli paid an official visit 
to Belarus on September 17, meeting with President Alexander 
Lukashenko, who expressed hopes for restoring the positive relations 
Georgia and Belarus enjoyed in the Soviet era.  Lukashenko said 
previous confrontations between the two countries should be 
disregarded.  Georgia and Belarus agreed on opening diplomatic missions 
in each other's countries and on security cooperation, but put higher 
emphasis on boosting economic ties.  Lukashenko stressed that the level 
of trade did not correspond with the potential of the two countries and 
set a target of increasing the current USD 25 million trade turnover up 
to USD 100 million in the near future.  Lukashenko dismissed the 
ensuing speculation of some journalists that the visit was aimed at 
building an anti-Russian coalition, saying that "only people with a 
morbid imagination could conclude that Minsk and Tbilisi are getting 
together against Russia." 
 
Higher Price for Azerbaijani Gas 
-------------------------------- 
6. Sources in both countries have confirmed the intention of Azerbaijan 
to increase gas prices for Georgia.   Georgia's Energy Minister 
Alexander Khetaguri reported that talks on the issue have already begun 
and will be completed in a near future.  His Azerbaijani counterpart 
confirmed this shortly afterward.  Currently, Georgia pays USD 110 per 
1,000 cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas compared to USD 235 for Russian 
gas.  According to Georgian media, Azerbaijan's gas price could grow by 
up to USD 60, which would entail an inevitable increase in gas tariff, 
already increased significantly for two consecutive years.  Currently 
Azerbaijan is Georgia?s sole supplier, as deliveries from Russia were 
suspended in late spring due to low consumption level.  However, with 
Georgia's increased demand in late fall and winter and Azerbaijan's 
inability to fully meet the demand, Georgia will have to resume import 
from Russia.  Unofficial press report
s claim Russia is planning to 
demand a higher price as well. 
 
TEFFT

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