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Georgia Now Wants Gas From Russia and Iran

It turns out all the politics in the world can't change a country's geography

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

On September 25th, Georgian footballer-turned-energy minister Kakha Kaladze met with Gazprom’s Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller in Brussels to discuss Russian gas supplies to Georgia and the transit of Russian gas to Armenia. Understandably, the meeting raised a few eyebrows

Two weeks later, Kaladze shocked the West and neighboring Azerbaijan, when he announced that Georgia is not only planning to purchase additional supplies from Russia but also from Iran. 

This sparked a backlash. Washington immediately urged Tbilisi “to refrain from full-scale cooperation with Iran and from becoming open [for Iran]” until the country gets the green light from the United States. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Dondua didn’t hide his frustration and remarked: “Hopefully Iran’s isolation will soon be over.”

Meanwhile, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili made an unannounced visit to neighboring Azerbaijan in order to assure the Azerbaijani authorities that “there are no talks on diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas whatsoever.”

Azerbaijan supplies about 90 percent of Georgia’s gas imports. Besides, Georgia retains 10 percent of Russia’s shipments to Armenia as a transit fee and buys a small amount of gas from Russia.   

Georgian gas consumption has steadily increased since 2011

Unperturbed by Garibashvili’s statement, Georgia’s opposition kept complaining and launched a series of protest actions against Tbilisi’s talks with Gazprom. Tamar Chergoleishvili, head of Georgia’s pro-opposition Tabula magazine and Tabula TV and wife of senior United National Movement (UNM) leader Giga Bokeria, took the lead in organizing the protests. 

Anti-Gazprom protests

If anything, the protests only reinforced the government’s decision to crack down on the party of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now making a fool of himself in Ukraine. Chergoleishvili and Bokeria have recently been questioned by Georgia’s Prosecutor General’s Office about a meeting with Saakashvili, during which they allegedly plotted to overthrow the Georgian government. 

Amid all the turbulence, Energy Minister Kaladze tried to explain that Georgia will have to purchase additional gas supplies from Russia because “there is no possibility to buy additional gas from Azerbaijan.” UNM lawmakers were not convinced by Kaladze’s presentation and condemned the “traitorous step” but their protests have been ignored.  

Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze

As Kaladze was again meeting with Gazprom CEO Miller this week, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the Georgian Dream coalition and the real power behind the government, emphasized that there is nothing wrong with buying Russian gas. Ivanishvili argued that Georgia should diversify its gas supplies and he noted that is already working towards bringing Iranian gas to Georgia.

When Georgian Energy Minister Kaladze visits Iran in mid-November to discuss the issue, Azerbaijan won’t be the only one watching. 

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