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Georgia Gets Gas; Russia Refutes Blame
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Gas started flowing to Georgia yesterday after an explosion shut off supplies from Russia, of which Georgian officials accused deliberately triggering an energy crisis in its small ex-Soviet neighbor.


Russia says Sunday's two explosions in its North Ossetia province, knocking out the main pipeline taking gas to Georgia, were the work of pro-Chechen insurgents and warned Georgian leaders to tone down their rhetoric.


"This morning, partial supplies of gas to Tbilisi resumed," Presidential Chief of Staff Georgy Arveladze said. "It will take several days to resume gas supplies nationwide."


The supply cut is the latest to hit Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors, some of which say the Kremlin is using energy supply as a political weapon against those that have opted to shift toward the West and away from Moscow's sphere of influence.


The additional gas for Georgia is coming from neighboring Azerbaijan that takes much of its gas via a separate pipeline from Russia.


Officials with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said the company was pumping an extra 2-3 million cubic meters a day to Azerbaijan for Georgia that is experiencing an unusually harsh winter.


Georgia's relations with Moscow have been prickly since a pro-West government took power two years ago with officials often charging the Kremlin of meddling in the affairs of the country it once ruled.


"It was a deliberate action against Georgia," Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio, without offering any evidence to support her claim.


On Sunday, President Mikhail Saakashvili called it "outrageous blackmail," likening it to a contract dispute earlier this year in which Russia cut off gas to another West-leaning neighbor, Ukraine.


Moscow rejected Georgian accusations, warning the country's leadership that it was risking relations with Russia.


"Moscow is pretty much used to the behavior of the Georgian government," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by RIA News Agency. "What we see is a mixture of parasitic attitude, hypocrisy ... based on hopes to find Western patrons for their anti-Russian course.


"If Tbilisi has made up its mind to finally spoil relations with Russia, it must have calculated all consequences of such a policy," the statement added.


The explosion came just after further talks between Georgian and Iranian officials about a possible gas pipeline to Armenia and on to Georgia, which would reduce Georgia's dependence on Russian gas.


(China Daily January 24, 2006)


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