- Title: VARIOUS: Georgia blames Russia for gas cut-off and calls it an act of sabotage
- Date: 23rd January 2006
- Summary: PROTESTERS IN FRONT OF THE RUSSIAN MILITARY HEADQUARTERS IN THE CAUCASUS/ MILITARY HQ SIGN
- Embargoed: 7th February 2006 12:00
- Topics: International Relations,Energy
- Reuters ID: LVA3YNG0BWMO3QKYEHA154M09VFR
- Story Text: Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili on Sunday (January 22) accused neighbouring Russia of cutting gas supplies to his country and triggering an energy crisis just as sub-zero temperatures hit the tiny Caucasus state. The temperature in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday was minus 5 Celsius (23.00 Fahrenheit), bitterly cold for a country known for its sub-tropical Black Sea seaside resorts. Energy officials said Georgia's gas reserves would run out by 5 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Sunday evening.
Queues formed outside shops selling kerosene, firewood and gas canisters. School children were told to stay at home on Monday. Residents queued in the cold to fill their gas canisters. One, Zaal Udumashvili, from Tbilisi said, "I have been standing in the line for about two hours, and nobody knows if there will be enough gas for today." Russian officials blamed anti-Moscow insurgents in its southern region of North Ossetia, where explosions knocked out the main pipeline that exports gas across the border to Georgia and onward to its neighbour Armenia.
But Saakashvili, who has irritated the Kremlin by pushing his ex-Soviet state closer to the West, said he did not believe the Russian explanation and blamed Russia for sabotaging Georgia's energy system. He said he believed it was an attempt by Russia to force Georgia to surrender ownership of its domestic gas pipeline network to Moscow -- the subject of long-running negotiations. Neither he nor Georgian officials offered any evidence for the accusations. Ukraine's pro-Western leadership said Moscow was using its huge energy resources as a political weapon. "I think the world should wake up to this kind of behaviour. Yesterday it was Ukraine, today it is Georgia and tomorrow it might (reach) everywhere where Russia sells its gas and electricity," Saakashvili later told Reuters. But the chief spokesman for Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, Sergei Kupryanov said that there was a criminal investigation into the blasts and that Gazprom was doing all it could to restore gas supplies as soon as possible. A Gazprom official in Tbilisi said Russia would send extra supplies through another pipeline to neighbouring Azerbaijan so it could ship it to Georgia. Georgian officials are in talks with Azerbaijan for emergency supplies of gas. The pipeline to Georgia was knocked out overnight by two explosions in quick succession on two sections in a mountainous part of North Ossetia. Officials said it will be at least two days before gas starts flowing again. Russian news agencies quoted unnamed security officials as saying they suspected anti-Moscow insurgents, who periodically carry out attacks in the mainly Muslim Russian side of the Caucasus that includes Chechnya, were to blame for the blasts. Saakashvili said Georgia was suffering the same fate as Ukraine, which had its supply of Russian gas cut off earlier this month in a contract dispute, and in the process reducing supplies to major European states.
"Basically what happened is totally outrageous and we are dealing with an outrageous blackmail by people who do not want to behave in a civilised way," said Saakashvili. Within hours of Georgia's gas supplies being cut off, the high-voltage electricity line linking it to Russia was also severed at a point inside Russia about 200 km (120 miles) west of the pipeline blasts. Russian officials said a pylon had been blown up, news agencies reported. Georgia imports Russian electricity to supplement its own supplies. Georgia has for years suffered from chronic energy shortages but the latest crisis comes during unusually cold weather. Armenia receives all its gas via the same pipeline as Georgia, though a nuclear power station generates much of its electricity.
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