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YELTSIN SAYS PUTIN WILL LEAVE OFFICE IN 2008. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin told the weekly magazine "Itogi" of 30 January in an article marking his 75th birthday that Russia lacks the "political or national prerequisites" for the kind of popular revolt that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, Interfax reported. He argued that Russia managed to avoid bloodshed in the early 1990s "although we were close to it in 1991 and 1993." He stressed that "we did not change everything immediately, but our path from totalitarianism to a normal, sound, and civilized society was correct." Yeltsin defended his policies in Chechnya and his choice of Putin as his successor. "I tried to find a man whose fundamental values are freedom, the market, and progress together with civilized states. I thought it important for him to have a strong will.... Russians felt his strength and elected Putin president," Yeltsin said. He also expressed confidence that Putin will step down at the end of his current term in 2008 and not attempt to change the constitution. Yeltsin said that he is living off his pension and book royalties. "I published three books, which have been released in 60 countries.... Writing is my living," he added. PM

CONTRACT KILLER RING REPORTED BROKEN. A Russian Interior Ministry official said on 30 January that the authorities are holding 14 people suspected of belonging to a Ukrainian criminal gang believed to have carried out over 50 contract killings, RIA Novosti reported. PM

For millions of Georgians, much of the first month of the New Year was anything but happy. Braving a cutoff in heating supplies after deliveries of natural gas from Russia were disrupted by explosions that shut down the main pipeline, the Georgian population struggled for two weeks to endure a severe energy crisis amid record cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

The crisis was precipitated by twin blasts that heavily damaged the main Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline on 22 January, cutting off gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili both implicitly blamed the explosions on Russia. The crisis deepened over the next few days after damage to a gas-compressor station on the Russian side of the Azerbaijani-Russian border reduced emergency supplies of gas from Azerbaijan and high winds and snow incapacitated a high-voltage power line in eastern Georgia.

The short-lived, yet profound, energy crisis has demonstrated the fundamental vulnerability of the Georgian state, especially in the face of Russian pressure and intimidation, raising stark questions about Georgian security in general, and energy security in particular.

Despite being somewhat obscured by the larger clash between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas, the Georgian crisis also holds geopolitical implications for regional security and stability. Of particular concern is Russia's leveraging of energy as a tool of influence. For Georgia, however, the key question is much less theoretical, and much more immediate, and focuses squarely on two related aspects of national security.

The first lesson to be drawn from the energy crisis is that the Georgian concept of energy security has been seriously hampered by a mistaken emphasis. To date, Georgian energy security has been defined by a focus on pipeline security, with too little attention devoted to seeking energy diversification, promoting greater self-sufficiency, and pursuing alternative suppliers. Although these strategic needs were clearly articulated in the recently unveiled National Security Concept of Georgia, action has been put off as officials await the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline.

The second factor, the most important consideration for national security, stems from the highly unsatisfactory state of Georgian military reform. There is a profound disparity between the upbeat declarations of the Georgian government and the desolation of the Georgian military. Georgia's pursuit of NATO membership, for example, may be seen more as a delusion of grandeur than a realistic goal.

Officially, the Georgian leadership is committed to transforming its armed forces in order to better defend the country, participate in coalition operations, and make Georgia a viable candidate for NATO membership. To achieve this, Tbilisi has taken some steps toward structural reform and to adopt Western and NATO operational principles, most notably seen in the effort to consolidate civilian control of the military, introduce budgetary efficiency and transparency, and improve financial management.

The current state of the Georgian armed forces still falls far short of the minimum NATO requirements, however. First, the overall reform effort has been uneven. Some senior military leaders have openly opposed it, and reluctance and resistance within the Defense and National Security ministries is widespread. This has been matched by a serious lack of policies to guide the day-to-day activities of the military and mid- and long-term plans to shape and then build the Georgian armed forces.

Second, there are still basic problems with all three branches of the Georgian armed forces. The Georgian Army's doctrine comprises a contradictory combination of U.S. and Soviet military doctrine, with little or no effort to adopt Western doctrine above the level of battalion. To make matters worse, the army has rejected external training programs aimed at closing this gap.

True, there has been some progress to date, as the Georgian army now employs a mix of conscript and professional (contract) soldiers, with the 1st and 2nd brigades comprised of professional soldiers, and the 3rd and 4th brigades (created during the integration of the Interior Ministry forces) made up of conscript soldiers. But serious problems with army equipment and maintenance remain unaddressed, and acquisition planning is still deficient.

The much smaller Georgian air force, despite a consistently small budget, has seen some improvement since 2000, with an increase in the number of its SU-25 combat aircraft from seven to nine and the planned procurement of three new air-surveillance radars later this year. But overall, the Georgian air force is still only capable of providing limited air support to the land forces and basic casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations. The air force is further hindered by a complete reliance on Soviet doctrine and Soviet-style organization, shortages of support equipment, and a dependence on the Tbilisi International Airfield as the sole location able to accommodate larger military transportation needs.

The Georgian navy, in many ways the most inferior component of the armed forces, has no clear mission or operational doctrine, and lacks the most basic resources necessary to maintain seaworthy ships or conduct training missions. The navy is clearly the lowest priority for Georgian defense, in terms of policy, financial support, equipment and facilities.

In contrast, the Georgian coast guard, which is part of the Border Guard Department and, therefore, subordinate to the Interior Ministry, is the most effective and impressive force in Georgia today. Responsible for border security, the coast guard polices Georgia's 286 kilometers of coastline, manages the 12 nautical miles of territorial water and the 12 nautical miles contiguous zone, and secures the country's two principal ports, Poti and Batumi, as well as a third port currently under construction just north of Poti.

The limited success to date of Georgian defense reform suggests that the country's strategic orientation toward Europe and the military relationship with the West, mainly through NATO and the United States, has not yielded the hoped-for results. Yet, there is an interesting paradox in that Georgia's path toward NATO membership is dictated by short-term gain rather than longer-term sacrifice, insofar as Georgia is opportunistically exaggerating its vulnerability to Russian pressure in a bid to persuade NATO and the West that it is in their interests to intensify strategic cooperation.

Thus, it is the process of reforming and building the Georgian military, not its eventual success or NATO membership, that is paramount for the present Georgian government because doing so will not only strengthen the central state, but enhance its options for resolving the inherently political problems of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts by military means. Restoring Georgian control over those breakaway regions would deprive Russia of a permanent source of leverage on Georgia comparable to the stranglehold Russia has had to date over Georgian gas supplies.

KYIV SIGNALS RETALIATION OVER RUSSIAN FOOD-IMPORTS BAN. Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivskyy told journalists on 30 January that Kyiv may impose a ban on Russian meat and dairy products unless Moscow lifts a similar ban on Ukrainian food exports, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Russia banned the import of all Ukrainian livestock products earlier this month, claiming that veterinary controls in Ukraine are inadequate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006). "Such trade wars do no good and affect producers on both sides. The Ukrainian side still hopes that Russia will revise its decision and the tension will be eased," ITAR-TASS quoted Baranivskyy as saying. Baranivskyy added that Russia's unwillingness to discuss Ukrainian meat imports ban forced him to cancel his planned visit to Moscow on 30 January. JM

ROSUKRENERGO HEAD SAYS GAS PRICE FOR UKRAINE SET JUST FOR SIX MONTHS OF 2006. Oleg Palchikov, executive director of the Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo, said on the Ukrainian television channel Inter on 30 January that the price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas for Ukraine will remain unchanged only for the first half of 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Thus, Palchikov confirmed critical voices from the Ukrainian opposition asserting that a framework gas agreement concluded by Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Gazprom, and RosUkrEnergo in Moscow on 4 January set the price of gas supplies only for six months, while simultaneously establishing a tariff for Russian gas transit across Ukraine for five years (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 10 January 2006). "This price is clear for us in the first half of 2006," Palchikov said. "In the future it will depend on the price of gas purchased [by RosUkrEnergo] from Central Asia." Kyiv and Moscow have not yet signed an intergovernmental agreement specifying volumes of gas supplies and gas transit to and across Ukraine in 2006. Kyiv is reportedly making this signing contingent on obtaining full information about the shareholders of RosUkrEnergo, which became the monopolist of Russian and Central Asian gas supplies to Ukraine under the 4 January deal. JM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR BETTER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. Vladimir Voronin said on 30 January that he hopes relations with Russia will improve in 2006 after the difficult period they went through last year, Interfax reported the same day. In a statement released by the presidential press service, Voronin said he hopes that "warmth and mutual confidence in relations with Russia will be restored in 2006," adding that the "strategic partnership with Russia defines the future of our country." Voronin also said he appreciates "U.S. support for Moldovan democracy and territorial integrity" and progress in relations with both Ukraine and Romania. BW