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8 Mar, 2010 07:43

Gas aftershock from Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia

People in the South Ossetian town of Leningor survived a war, but are now struggling to make it through the winter. They say that since Georgia’s devastating attack in 2008, it has blocked vital gas supplies.

Georgia claims the pipes are damaged, but people in Leningor say it's a cruel pretext to deprive them of fuel. They have taken to the woods, chopping down trees for the fuel they need during the harsh winter.

“It’s cold, if you don’t have a stove. It’s wintertime after all…” says Aleksandr Asaev, one of those who became dependent on wood for heat after Tbilisi cut gas supplies to the area more than a year ago.

But the small stove can’t warm the whole house.

“It’s tough without gas… a stove takes a lot of time and effort… it’s hard for me, because I have to walk with a cane, with a crutch,” Aleksandr says. The man is waiting for summer to have his leg operated on in St. Petersburg.

And it’s not just private houses that need energy in Leningor. The lack of gas means the local hospital has also been forced to use wood-burning stoves, and conditions are tough there.

The South Ossetian government says there’s little they can do. The area had gas before Georgia attacked South Ossetia two years ago – but now Tbilisi claims the pipeline is worn out and it’s impossible to get gas to this area, a region which Georgians call Akhalgori.

“We already proved that we have the willingness to provide the Akhalgori region with gas. But actually we have no capability to operate in that region, and correspondently we are not able to provide the gas,” said Mariam Valishvili, Georgia’s first deputy minister of energy.

Local officials disagree though. The pipe wasn’t damaged during the conflict, as there were no military operations here in the summer of 2008, they say. Nor do they believe the pipeline’s worn out, as Tbilisi claims.

“Georgia is constantly looking for some pretext, trying to convince you that the system should be checked and seeking to prove that South Ossetia is indebted to Georgia. But this demand has no legs to stand on,” says Deputy Mayor of Leningor district Aleksandr Baratashvili. “They say they can supply us gas, with the proviso it shouldn’t be made available to the Russian border guards deployed in our area. I think it’s absurd.”

People like Aleksandr Asaev and children in the local orphanage are caught in the middle of this dispute, trying to keep warm in the interim. There is a hidden problem though: the beech woods that are being cut are worth a lot of money and could substantially help the local economy – but they’re going up in smoke instead.