Donors to pledge aid to Georgia

BRUSSELS -- Western donors meeting in Brussels are expected to pledge more than USD 3bn to help rebuild Georgia, two months after its conflict with Russia.

Barroso speaks during the donor conference (Beta)
Barroso speaks during the donor conference (Beta)

Officials from some 70 countries and organizations are attending a conference hosted by the European Commission and the World Bank.

However, Russia has not been invited to the conference.

In August, Moscow ousted Georgian troops from Georgia's rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Kremlin later recognized the two territories as independent states, drawing criticism from Western nations.

Russia is still keeping more than 7,000 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

As one EU official explained, the donors' conference supports Georgia's territorial integrity and Russia has a different interpretation of that.

The Brussels conference is meant to send a strong signal of support and confidence in Georgia in its hour of need.

Some key donors have already announced their pledges: USD1bn from the US and USD 700m from the European Commission. More is expected to come from EU governments and international bodies like the World Bank.

Opening the conference, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "It is what I will describe as the moral imperative to help a neighbor in need. The European neighborhood policy is more than words, it's about actions."

He said that by helping Georgia, a key energy transit country, the EU was also helping itself.

As winter approaches, the focus will be on resettling almost 65,000 refugees whose homes were burned and looted in the war.

But much of the aid is for long-term needs, rebuilding infrastructure and restoring the confidence of foreign investors in Georgia's once fast-growing economy.

Spread over three years, it is a hefty bill, amounting to almost USD 700 for each one of Georgia's 4.6 million people.

Critics say an inflow of more than USD 3bn into such a small country risks fuelling corruption.

In an open letter to the conference, six Georgian opposition leaders urged donors to strictly monitor the funds allocation.

They said this would ensure that the money reached the displaced people and helped economic recovery, rather than strengthening the administration of President Mikhail Saakashvili, which they said had provoked Russia's military intervention in August.