On the surface the alleged British spy ring and the pipeline explosion that occurred on the Russian-Georgian border do not seem to have anything in common. The spy ring reminded many of the events of the cold war; the pipeline explosion brought even more tension to Russia and Georgia’s already turbulent relationship. These bizarre events seem to have a little in common though.
There are many Russians who have mixed feelings about Georgia. They feel like the people of Georgia are very unthankful for what Russia has done for it. These feelings rose to an even greater extent when Mikhalie Saakashvili won the presidency in 2003. When the two pipelines exploded on January 22 near the Georgian border, these pipelines supply Georgia’s entire gas supply, the already tense relationship got even worse. Many believe it to be militant Russian nationalists or separatists who operate in South Ossetia and Russia. Mr Saakashvili made it known he felt the explosions were caused by Russia. The Russian foreign ministry responded to these claims saying they were “Hysterical and bacchanalian.”
The evidence is very circumstantial as to whether Russia or Gazprom, the state-controlled gas giant, blew up their own pipelines. The place where the explosion happened was supposedly controlled by Russian security forces. Just as tension seemed to be fading between the two countries over the incident, arguments arose over how the pipeline should be repaired. A representative from Georgia was asked to leave the scene after a dispute with the Russians. Zurab Noghaideli, the prime minister of Georgia, feels the aim of the attackers was to get the Georgian people to revolt against the government.
If so, the plan has failed. According Merab Pachulia, a Tbilisi pollster, anti-Russian sentiment has been hardening and pro-Americanism has been growing. The blame for the incident is likely to fall on Vladimir Putin before it falls on Mr Saakashvili. Many Tbilisi protesters have nick named the Russian president GasPutin.
The explosions came during some very cold weather making it tougher on the people of Georgia. The government brought together some of its interim power supplies to help their country make it through the cold spell. Mr Saakashvili is hoping to persuade the Europeans to see his problems with Russia as something they should be concerned about too.
There are also many Russians who have mixed feelings about Britain. The awkward relations of the two governments were tested on the same day of the pipeline explosion when state-controlled Russian television accused four British embassy staff of spying. Blurry video footage showed the men fiddling with a rock in a suburb of Moscow last year. Concealed within the rock was an electronic device that was enabled to send and receive information from Russian accomplices.
The subsequent news that the British Council, an education and culture agency, was under investigation for alleged financial irregularities seemed to confirm the impression of and old east-west spat. According to the documentary, one of the spy’s mentioned in the rock story was transferring funds to Russian NGOs (non-governmental organizations). The British government has insisted that all of its dealings with Russian NGOs have been legal.
Mr Putin and the FSB (successor to the Soviet-era KGB), have become very suspicious of foreign-funded NGOs. They believe these NGOs may try to form a revolution like the Ukraine “orange” one. This paranoia caused Mr Putin to sign a new law that gives the state’s more power to shut down NGOs it dislikes.
The lessons from the pipeline explosion and rock show that strange and usually unexplained events occur regularly in Russia. The authority’s use of both events testifies to the bad relations between Russia and countries it once called friends.
“High jinks in Russia.” The Economist 28-3 Jan. /Feb. 2006, 47-48.