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Killing overshadows developing conflict between Russia and Georgia
RECENTLY, TENSIONS in the relations between Georgia and Russia have been rising dramatically. According to the Russian press the catalyst for the conflict was the arrest in mid-September of four Russian Army Officers based in Georgia on the charge of spying. President Putin said Russia would not succumb to people who "talk in the language of provocations and blackmail".
Russia has begun an economic blockade of Georgia. Rail and air connections have been cut, postal services suspended and money transfers blocked. This blockade has been in addition to the already existing trade sanctions against Georgian wine and mineral water that have been in place for several months.
An officially sanctioned campaign against Georgians living in Russia, that can only be described as the early stages of ethnic cleansing, has started. Businesses owned by Georgians were closed down on the most frivolous of excuses.
Well-known Georgians in culture, including Russia's best known statue artist, Zarab Tseretelli, suddenly found the tax police at their doors to investigate their accounts.
But it is the poorest layers of Georgians who suffer the brunt of the attacks. Many from the Caucasian states and Central Asia are now working as cheap, often slave labour in markets and building sites throughout Russia. Over the past week these workplaces have been raided by police and Georgians having any discrepancies in their documents, and many without have been rounded up and put into holding camps awaiting deportation.
Already hundreds have been deported back to Georgia. Typically, in Moscow, school headteachers have received letters asking for the names and home addresses of all children of "suspect" nationalities, so that the authorities can track down their parents.
When the Western powers bother to raise these scandals with the Russian leadership, it is implied that they are due to the over-zealous actions of the police and immigration authorities.
But these actions should be seen in the context of the instructions given by President Putin last week that all food and commodity markets should be checked to ensure that the interests of the "native Russian" population are being observed. This is widely interpreted to mean that people "with faces of Caucasian nationality" should be kicked out of the markets.
These attacks get significant although not whole-hearted support from the population. According to an opinion poll by the All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, 71% agreed with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's characterisation of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's administration as a "bandit government". But only 40% back the economic blockade of Georgia. 37% supported deporting all illegal Georgian immigrants.
Even according to official statistics at least three foreigners a month are killed in racist attacks, usually by fascist skinheads. Hundreds of others suffer attacks. In addition there has been a marked increase in arson attacks on synagogues and violent ethnic clashes.
The instigators of such attacks, for example the fascist "Movement against Illegal Immigrants" are only encouraged by the stepping up of the harassment of non-Russians by the police.
THE RECENT increase in tensions may have been sparked by the arrest of the Russian officers but it is the result of the continuation of the geo-political conflict that has continued throughout the post-Soviet period.
Following the 'Rose revolution' of three years ago, Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvilli has taken the country firmly down the road of strengthening relations with Western, particularly US imperialism. Even the road from Tbilisi's airport has been renamed George W Bush Street!
In part this western orientation has been helped by the construction of a new oil pipeline, which has led to a growth in Foreign Direct Investment, mainly by companies such as BP. This has led, as in other countries of the former Soviet union, to a one-sided economic growth with, in particular, a rapid growth in real estate. Other sectors are lagging behind. And wages and conditions for workers are appalling.
Whilst Georgia has turned headlong towards the west with the stated aims of leaving the Commonwealth of Independent States and joining NATO and the EU (the first soon likely, the second not likely in the near future), Saakashvilli has also moved to bring the country's two pro-Russian breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia under central control. These two areas account for one-third of the land area and slightly more of Georgia's economic interests.
In the early 1990s Abkhazia, in particular, was convulsed by a brutal ethnic conflict which was only 'resolved' after a peace agreement reached in 1994, which left the area under the effective control of Russian 'peace-keeping' troops. This arrangement provides Russian imperialism with a lever to try and maintain influence over Georgia. Russia has also attempted to use its control of energy supplies and communication centres to threaten the Saakashvilli government.
Kodiri Gorge in Abkhazia has now become the epicentre of new tensions. The Russian government have long complained that Chechen separatists have been using the area as a refuge, and now Saakashvilli has moved to restore control.
At the end of September he openly led a government delegation, defended obviously by Georgian troops, into the Gorge. This was condemned as a breach of the peace deal by both the Abkhazian and Russian governments.
On several occasions in the last couple of months the present 'cold war' has threatened to break out into open and hot hostilities. The situation in South Ossetia has also been far from stable.
The Russian regime has asked the UN Security Council to condemn the provocative moves of the Saakashvili government following the arrest (and then release after a few days) of the four Russian officers. Needless to say the US blocked the move.
Russia's fury at Georgia, especially its continuing attempts to join NATO, could well lead to open clashes in the relatively near future.
FOREIGN TROOPS, whether future NATO or Russian should be withdrawn from all the Caucasian territories. The economic blockade and racist attacks must be stopped. The wealth and resources of the region, including oil, pipelines, transit points and agricultural riches should be taken out of private hands and used in a democratic, planned way in the interests of the peoples of the region.
Nations and republics should have the right to self-determination, and minority groups and ethnic regions guaranteed the right to autonomy, with cultural and language rights and the right to self-defence.
But on the basis of capitalism, whether of the western-orientated or Russian variety, it is clear that the situation in the Caucasus will only get worse. Workers' organisations are therefore needed that can unite the working people in each country in the region in a common struggle against economic hardship and for democratic and social rights.
Workers' parties are needed that can organise and lead the struggle against the clans and elites that currently rule and exploit the region in their own interests. This would lay the basis for the end of capitalism in the region and the establishment of a genuine democratic and free confederation of workers' states for the peoples of this long-suffering region.
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