Speeches & Statements

President says Georgia emerging stronger from energy crisis

I would like to welcome you all from a city of light and tell you that the energy situation is gradually returning to normal, the most important thing that has happened in recent days. Georgia is now, seven days later, stronger than before. Our people and the government elected by the people have passed a very important test. The aim of these explosions was to demoralize Georgia and give the world the impression that we are weak, a country of extreme weakness with no future. Instead, this sabotage achieved the opposite. It turned out that we have a very strong society. Our society emerged from this crisis strengthened.

The whole world watched on their television screens with admiration how our children, as you have just seen and our elderly faced up to this intimidation and sabotage. Nearly every member of society showed discipline and organization. There was no excessive complaining, chattering or moaning, which is what Georgia's ill-wishers really wanted to see. When foreign reporters interviewed people standing in queues, everyone responded that we have survived worse than this and we will pull through stronger and more successful.

At the same time, over the past few days, we have seen that Georgia has a well organized, united and well coordinated government team. Our energy workers made sure that what these people wanted - the complete collapse of the system - did not happen. We preserved every vital service. We maintained a fair schedule and rationing for the majority of the public, and for the majority of the time we managed to preserve electricity supplies to our people, which would have been unimaginable not that long ago.

Energy workers performed truly heroically. We have also seen how our soldiers have worked tirelessly, doing one week's work in a single night, at the expense of their own health and energy. Our transport workers did everything possible to make sure there were almost no problems for transport despite the very poor weather.

The Tbilisi mayor and local government officials conducted themselves admirably. We managed to organize the work of municipal services and made sure that every vital service continued to function. We have managed things which in the circumstances were almost impossible.

You remember that in previous years when the electricity was shut off, speculators would immediately inflate their prices at the people's expense. This time not only did we maintain the prices of kerosene and other fuels in most places, but, miraculously, we managed to reduce the price of kerosene and bottled gas in many place in Georgia. This means that Georgia has an active, effective government which knows what to do. The police maintained order. Every service worked as best it could.

I would also like to thank members of the [ruling] National Movement. This is not an election campaign, the next elections are almost a year away, but these people abandoned everything and left their families at a time when some political forces were hiding, to do everything possible to help the people, working tirelessly day and night to distribute firewood, fuel, bread and basic assistance to the needy. I think that these people deserve special thanks from me.

At the same time, over these past few days Georgia's position has strengthened. The aim of these explosions was to show Georgians that no-one was there to protect them or take responsibility for them. The opposite proved to be true.

For example, if we are honest, electricity and gas rationing in Georgia has been much worse in the past than it is now. In the years after 1992 it was much worse that it is now but not one person ever said that Georgia was having problems, not a single news agency was interested. You remember that in 1999 they blew up the gas pipeline, stopping supplies to Shevardnadze's government. First of all the government did not raise its voice to disturb anyone and no-one else was interested in what had happened. Within a few weeks Georgia was in complete isolation.

It should be a huge surprise to our ill-wishers that, without exaggeration, Georgia's problem became the main focus of attention throughout the world over the past few days. Every television company began its news bulletins with Georgia. There were analytical articles on the front pages of every newspaper. The most important thing is that no-one accused Georgia, unlike the Russians, of bacchanalia or exaggeration. There was sympathy and they started thinking about what dangers this presents not just for Georgia but for the whole of Europe.

That is a great breakthrough for us. It means that we have become a normal country, one that has friends and sympathizers, where power cuts are international news, because everyone believes that life is returning to normal in Georgia, where people live more humanly than ever before.

You remember well that the main thing we have been working on over the past year is this issue and we held an energy council meeting on exactly this issue a few days before the energy blockade. We have been working intensively to make sure that Georgia is energy secure and independent. For the whole year we have been working on repairing energy infrastructure. We have reached agreement with Azerbaijan. We have reached agreements with other neighbouring countries. We have repaired power lines and for the first time in the history of our energy sector we have started to operate in parallel mode with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the day and in the period when the disconnection took place, we sent our energy minister to neighbouring countries to discuss how to overcome this crisis. It was precisely thanks to this that we were not completely starved of electricity. It happened because we started to operate in a parallel mode with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Fraternal Azerbaijan restricted power supplies to its own people during a spell of very cold weather and gave us gas and electricity. I think that this merits a lot of appreciation.

In the past few days we have been busy holding discussions with Turkey, as a result of which, for the first time, Turkey has sharply increased sales of electricity to Georgia.

We are also working to ensure that as early as next winter Russia's share in the supply of power to Georgia will decrease significantly.

We have done a lot of work and are now preparing a major international competition to develop our hydro resources, so that over the next two, or three years at most, that is by the end of my first presidential term, Georgia is completely self-sufficient in domestically produced energy sources.

You know that a few days ago we opened a new gas turbine plant, an American plant. I started thinking about building such a plant a year ago. It was built in record time. Such plants have not been built in such a short time anywhere else. This was done because we needed it for the resilience of the system. That is very important.

A historic event took place today thanks to the work we did last year to restore the gas pipeline. We did this because we were preparing for such a situation. For the first time since the restoration of Georgian independence, since this morning Georgia has been supplied not only with Russian gas. For the first time Georgia has secured an alternative source of gas. We will, of course, step up our efforts in this area.

We are also stepping up efforts to help the whole of Europe consider using Georgian infrastructure to get supplies from the region for their own consumption. This also greatly enhances Georgia's position and will greatly enhance our country's security in the future. That is why it is our task today to step up such efforts.

When the share of Russian gas decreases, there will be far less temptation to manipulate prices or stage any other kind of sabotage. Russia has increased the price of gas supplies, which naturally leads to higher consumer prices for gas and electricity. However, here too, as a result of the Georgian government's effective work, the Georgian budget will cover the price increase during the winter, the period when this blow would have been felt most acutely. Afterwards, these price increases should be implemented stage by stage so as to minimize their effect on the people. We should pay special attention to the most impoverished sections of society. There should be no people in Georgia who find it absolutely impossible to pay such money. The government should do its utmost to ensure that.

At the same time we should understand that our independence is not merely independence as far as energy is concerned. We have achieved the main thing. Georgia has moved from an era of destruction on to an era of reconstruction. Speaking about the energy sector, since October the Georgian authorities have achieved the main thing, something that political parties kept promising during elections for many years but always failed to deliver: in recent months all parts of Georgia have - bar individual accidents - almost had a round-the-clock supply of electricity. Naturally, once we emerge from this energy blockade, we will continue operating in this mode.

It does not mean that there will never be accidents. It does not mean that there will never be power failures. It does not mean that there will never be restrictions. However, the number of accidents will continue to decrease and the number of restrictions will continue to decrease. Our grid will become increasingly resilient over the next few months. In the next two or three years at most, it will be just like any other European power grid.

But already now Georgia's regions are getting supplies, already now it is possible to create jobs in the regions. We need new businesses. Without electricity, naturally, enterprises cannot work. Without gas, it is hard to import new technologies. However, thanks to the efforts of our energy workers, it is already possible for Georgia's energy sector to operate. That is a major achievement.

Yet, that is just part of the story. The main thing in this reconstruction process is that Georgia is attracting more and more investment. Many tourist facilities are being renovated in Georgia, many roads are being repaired, schools and hospitals are being built, and new enterprises are opening. This year this process will develop on a much larger scale.

Our main answer to blackmail, sabotage and intimidation attempts of any kind should be this: we should get stronger. This is not the time to moan, this is the time to work harder. This is not the time to be disorganized. We have shown them that we are better organized than ever before. We need better organization, motivation and application, so that we achieve everything we have set out to achieve. We should achieve this in order to continue reconstruction and reforms. In order to make all our well-wishers happy and to spite our ill-wishers, we should continue building a better Georgia. We will certainly be victorious on this path.

The last few days have convinced us all that there is no task - the whole world has been watching this - there is no challenge and there is no threat that the Georgian nation will fail to deal with and emerge even stronger and even more confident in itself and its own abilities.

Thank you very much to you all, my friends. We have shown the whole world and, above all to ourselves, how strong and united we are.

This translation is published with permission from BBC Monitoring, Reading UK

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of the President of Georgia

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