Nov 29, 2006

Putin's up to no good

Besides having people poisoned in London, he's also conducting a vicious campaign to unseat Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Mr. Putin's methods are brutal. He has expelled at least 1,700 Georgians since October, cracked down on Georgian-owned businesses, made repeated statements about preserving the Russian market for real Russians, and demonized Georgians as a criminal class. He has doubled natural gas prices two years running and cut off all direct rail, air, road, sea, and postal links between the two countries. Russia has also waged an aggressive international disinformation campaign to raise doubts about Mr. Saakashvili — I have heard astonishing, wholly undocumented charges about his alleged corruption and his "hot-headed" style in Berlin, Brussels, and even Washington. In Tbilisi today, you can hear an ugly word for this that rises out of the depths of 19th-century Russian history: pogrom.

In fact, the 38-year-old Saakashvili represents almost everything America and the European Union should support. He led the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that overthrew the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. He then opened the country to Western investment, presided over a dramatic turnaround in a once-hopeless economy, and instituted massive reforms of the police and civil service. While these efforts have not been perfect — Freedom House and other nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern about an overly cozy relationship between the government and the main media, for example — Georgia has climbed further up the World Bank's latest annual reform survey than any other country.

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