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Georgia roundup

Another roundup of news over the past month or two, this time devoted to Georgia, and marginally more successful than my attempts with Azerbaijan.

Here's what's going on: disputes with Russia, threatening to leave the CIS, police behaviour, the ubiquitous oil, and the ramping-up of competition for local elections at the end of the year.

Let's start with the international stuff. Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has been talking to Vladimir Putin: nobody seems to think it will make much of a difference, but Russia doesn't want trouble during the G8 summit in July. Georgia's relations with Russia have been declining steadily over the past decade, as under first Eduard Shevardnadze and now Mikhail Saakashvili Georgia strongly aligned itself with Europe rather than Russia. The hostility is now fuelled by a Russian ban on wine exports from Georgia, and in the longer term by Russian support for separatists in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The dispute with Russia has led to Georgia threatening to leave the CIS. Since the CIS is now completely overshadowed by GUAM in the West and by the SCO in Central Asia, leaving it might not mean much - apart from the likelihood that Russia would retalliate with serious trade sanctions, destroying a large amount of Georgia's export earnings. On the other hand, Russia has overplayed its cards by threatening much of this whether or not Georgia leaves the CIS, so in Tbilisi it probably appears that Georgia doesn't have much more to lose. Saakashvili will be meeting Bush on July 5, where no doubt America will offer some degree of public or private support to Georgia in its battles against Russia.

Georgia is also trying to look out for itself; it massively increased arms spending last year, increasing it by 143% to $146m. This apparently puts the country in a suitable position to host a conference on the eradication of small arms

So much for the grand strutting on the world stage. Internally, it's the usual oil, violence, and a half-hearted stab at democracy. Now the pipeline is complete, worry about what happens to the temporary workers on it who are now unemployed

Meanwhile, for some reason Georgia is trying to privatize its energy industry. Western companies are unlikely to trust Georgia enough to invest there, but Russian companies won't be put off by entanglement in yet another post-Soviet nightmare system. So Saakashvili is implementing a policy likely to give Russia control over one of his country's key indusries?

Local Elections are coming November, including election of the mayor of Tbilisi, a potentially significant figure. Saakashvili is behind the current mayor, Gigi Ugulava. Likely opposition candidates are Koba Dvitashvili (Conservative) and Salome Zourabichvili (Georgia's Way, a new party)

Police behaviour is being questioned very strongly; in January a Georgian was beaten to death by police, in an incident which gained wide public attention and led to calls for the Interior Minister to resign Prisoner abuse is an issue since the death of seven prisoners in a Tbilisi jail in March.

Finally, Murdoch is making his way into the Georgian market. Is it a total sign of my ignorance that I think this could be a good thing? The more forms of free press the better, as far as I'm concerned.