Local elections in Georgia are being overshadowed by the country’s rock-bottom relations with Russia. The ballot is being seen as a gage of what impact, if any, the crisis is having on President Mikhail Sakashvili’s popularity. He remains positive: “This is the first ever full-scale local government elections in Georgia, so in a way it is a big democratic step forward. It is significant because we are developing new systems, we are developing a new kind of phenomenon here in Georgia, in order to transform Georgia to a fully-fledged, liberal, European-style democracy,” he said after casting his vote.
The row between the two states over spying allegations is hitting Georgia hard. Russia has cut transport links with its southern neighbour and ordinary citizens are being affected. “Who should take care of us, the government or what? this woman says. Both the Russian president and the Georgian president are fine, but there are still political problems and the people are suffering. Who cares about us? We are losing both visas and money,” one woman at Tbilisi’s near-empty airport said. In another worrying development for Tbilisi Georgia’s biggest gas importer has said Russian energy giant, Gazprom, is seeking a big price rise from 2007. That would pile even more economic pressure on the country.