Tbilisi has blamed Moscow for masterminding a “series of sabotage acts” against Georgia after a high-voltage power line and two vital gas pipelines exploded in Russia’s North Ossetian region early on January 22. President Saakashvili said that Georgia is now experiencing the worst sabotage carried out by the Russian Federation as of late and described the neighboring country as “an unprincipled blackmailer.”
Two blasts that occurred within 20-minutes of eachother hit the main and reserve gas pipelines in North Ossetia, cutting off the gas supply to Georgia and Armenia. In Russia’s Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, between the villages of Karachaevsk and Uchketin, a high-voltage power line delivering electricity from Russia to Georgia was also blown up several hours after the other two explosions.
The Russian General Prosecutor’s Office has initiated a criminal case for the “deliberate damage of property” over the explotions of the gas pipelines. Russian officials said the explosives used were equal to 700-800 grams of TNT. Reportedly, it will take at least four days to restore the main gas pipeline.
Consumers rushed to gas stations in Tbilisi and spent hours in queues to fill their gas stockpiles immediately after officials announced that the gas supply was expected to stop by Sunbday evening.
President Saakashvili made a televised addressed on Sunday and called on Russia to “immediately restore the gas supply.”
He said that the explosion of the two gas pipelines was “heavy sabotage” against Georgia “carried out by the Russian Federation.”
He also said that the Russian officials’ response and explanations of the current situation are “absolutely unsatisfactory and contradictory.”
Saakashvili said that Georgia has always been a victim of pressure from Russia. “We have to deal with an unprincipled blackmailer, I can not call it [Russia] otherwise,” Saakashvili said.
“Threats like these were heard from the Russian politicians: you will be left without heat, without electricity… And this happened when it is the coldest winter in Georgia,” Saakashvili added.
He said that against the background of persisting blackmail, Russia has demanded that Georgia sell its trunk gas pipeline.
“We are ready to consider any kind of commercial proposal, but we will not do anything in the event of blackmail,” Saakashvili said.
“Those in the Kremlin should understand that they will fail to achieve anything with blackmail,” he added.
Saakashvili also said that he has ordered that courses in the schools and higher education centers be halted until the gas supply is restored.
Shortly after the President’s televised addressed, Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili convened a news conference and blamed Russia for masterminding sabotage against Georgia.
“It is a fact that this is one of the unique cases when one country carries out sabotage against another in such a covert way. You know that last year was marked by several terrorist acts in Georgia, but all of them have been investigated and it seems that [certain forces] will not dare any more to mastermind terrorist acts on the Georgian territory,” Merabishvili said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Chechelashvili said at a news conference that Georgian diplomatic missions have been instructed to inform the leadership of respective countries about the latest developments.
He also said that Georgia expects that Azerbaijan will start supplying gas to Georgia based on a bilateral agreement between Tbilisi and Baku.
But Chechelashvili also warned that the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan might not operate at full capacity because of “technical conditions.”
“This pipe has not been in operation for a long time and some technical flaws might occur. So it is very difficult to say what amount and when exactly gas will be supplied, although we are receiving hopeful information in this regard,” Chechelashvili added.
Officials also say that it will take at least two days to fill this pipeline with Azeri gas.
Representative of the Russian energy giant Gazprom Georgia Davit Morchiladze said at a news conference on January 22 that Gazprom is ready to provide Georgia with gas via Azerbaijan. He also said that Gazprom will increase its gas supply to Azerbaijan so that the latter can provide gas to Georgia.
Morchiladze said that Georgia was receiving about 7 million cubic meters of gas per day. In the event that gas is delivered via Azerbaijan, Gazprom will be able to provide Georgia with 4-5 million cubic meters of gas per day.