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Georgia and Russia Nearing All-Out War

Michael Schwirtz, Anne Barnard, C. J. Chivers and Anne Barnard., New York Times
The conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia moved toward all-out war on Saturday as Russia prepared to land ground troops on Georgia’s coast and broadened its bombing campaign both within Georgia and in the disputed territory of Abkhazia.

The fighting that began when Georgian forces tried to retake the capital of South Ossetia, a pro-Russian region that won de facto autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s, appeared to be developing into the worst clashes between Russia and a foreign military since the 1980s war in Afghanistan.

Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, declared that Georgia was in a state of war, ordering government offices to work around the clock, and said that Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of his country.
(9 August 2008)

Georgia: oil, neocons, cold war and our credibility

Jerome a Paris, Daily Kos
This is another diary critical of the West’s position on Georgia.

… First, let’s be clear: there are two reasons only we care about Georgia: the oil pipelines that go through its territory, and the opportunity it provides to run aggressive policies towards Russia.

… OK, first, the oil angle.

Georgia does not have oil, but it is a transit country. This is valuable because it provides the only outlet for Caspian oil and natural gas which is not going either through Russia or through Iran. (See the maps and the wider context in that diary) And after a 15-year tug-of-war, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was inaugurated two years ago: it takes roughly 1 million barrels per day from the Azeri oil fields run by BP to the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, via Georgia. That’s over 1% of world production, and it is fully controlled by Western oil majors. There is also a smaller gas pipeline that follows the same route and brings smaller volumes of gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

These pipelines have been at the heart of the relationship between Georgia and the USA over the past 15 years, but, oddly enough, they have played a very small role in the current crisis. In fact, the BTC pipeline has been cut off for the past few days, not because of events in Georgia (which are in the north of the country, whereas the pipelines go through the south), but because of a bomb attack in Turkey before the conflict started, with claims by the PKK, the Kurdish movement.

The reason the current conflict is not about the oil is because, now that the pipeline is built, that game is, in effect, over. Now, the only thing that could stop the flow of oil is, other than localised attacks (like the one conducted by the Kurds, something that has long been expected, and which was mitigated by building the pipeline on a route that avoids kurdish territory) would be for Russia to actually invade all of Georgia and physically take control of the pipeline, ie an outright act of war not just against Georgia, but also against the US.

The reason for that is that, as part of the process to put in place the pipeline, Georgia invited the US military to set up a base on its territory, near the route of the pipeline. Thus, any attack on the pipeline by Russia would become an attack on the USA.

But the important thing to note is that this base was not set up by the current Georgian government, but by its predecessor, that of Shevarnadze, Georgia’s previous president (and, if you remember, Gorbatchev’s – and the Soviet Union’s – minister for foreign relations in the 80s), which was kicked out of power by Saakashvili’s bunch in the rose revolution a couple of years ago – more on this below. That base was seen as a defensive gambit, and was relatively small. Indeed, with Georgia still hosting Russian military bases (see the map I posted here), anything bigger would be … interesting. Which is what’s happening today.

But before we go into the internal politics of Georgia, the thing to note at this point is that it is oil that brought the West to care about Georgia, but that this was a settled situation, and no longer a source of conflict in itself.
(9 August 2008)
In contrast to Jerome’s analysis, the New York Times backgrounder hardly mentions oil at all: Taunting the Bear .

More articles and discussion at The Oil Drum. -BA

Analysis: energy pipeline that supplies West threatened by war Georgia conflict

Robin Pagnamenta, The Times
The conflict that has erupted in the Caucasus has set alarm bells ringing because of Georgia’s pivotal role in the global energy market.

Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own but it is a key transit point for oil from the Caspian and central Asia destined for Europe and the US.

Crucially, it is the only practical route from this increasingly important producer region that avoids both Russia and Iran.

The 1,770km (1,100 miles) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which entered service only last year, pumps up to 1 million barrels of oil per day from Baku in Azerbaijan to Yumurtalik, Turkey, where it is loaded on to supertankers for delivery to Europe and the US. Around 249km of the route passes through Georgia, with parts running only 55km from South Ossetia.

The security of the BTC pipeline, depicted in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, has been a primary concern since before its construction.

The first major attack on the pipeline took place only last week – not in Georgia but in Turkey where part of it was destroyed by PKK separatist rebels.
(8 August 2008)

Georgia Clash Provides a Lesson on the United States’ Need for Russia

Helene Cooper, New York Times
The image of President Bush smiling and chatting with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia from the stands of the Beijing Olympics even as Russian aircraft were shelling Georgia outlines the reality of America’s Russia policy. While America considers Georgia its strongest ally in the bloc of former Soviet countries, Washington needs Russia too much on big issues like Iran to risk it all to defend Georgia.

And State Department officials made it clear on Saturday that there was no chance the United States would intervene militarily.

… For the Bush administration, the choice now becomes whether backing Georgia – which, more than any other former Soviet republic has allied with the United States – on the South Ossetia issue is worth alienating Russia at a time when getting Russia’s help to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions is at the top of the United States’ foreign policy agenda.
(9 August 2008)