Recent years saw an assertion by some specialists about another World War (III) taking place on account of conflicts over sharing of water and its resources. However, considering the latest oil and other energy politics, it is easy to speculate about a quick war on global range over squandering of energy resources by the greedy Western and other energy hungry nations. That would be in continuation of the current US-led terror war in Arab word for controlling their energy resources. That is the reason why USA is undecided about declaring “final victory’ over its “enemies” in Islamic world.
Energy and pipeline issues dominate the global politics today as never before because of the urgency in ensuring and securing energy resources from all available regions. Many analysts have built up their arguments for the current Georgian-Moscow fiasco, perhaps rightly, around the global energy and pipeline politics. Following the breakup of the erstwhile Soviet Union into constituent smaller nations, the energy needs topped the agenda of the global as well as regional debate. Many powers including USA and China are competing with one another in gaining profitable business with the energy bedded countries in Eurasia region of which Russia is the dominant player. The newly emerging energy hungry countries like China and India vie with one another for Central Asian energy resources with and without the approval of Moscow controlling the energy timetable of former Soviet space.
For the same “energy” and “pipeline” reasons Russia and Georgia had a brief war because USA wants to use Georgia for its pipeline project bypassing Russia but an emergent Russia objects to the NATO plan of skipping Russia in shipping energy resources to Europe. As the military action in Georgia winds down, a clearer picture is emerging on the ground. Russia seems intent on solidifying its hold over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but is not making claims on other parts of Georgia.
Focus on Pipelines
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) is one of several pipelines running from Baku. When the conflict started on August 8, concerns immediately were raised about the BTC pipeline, which pumps nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day from Azerbaijan to Turkey‘s Mediterranean coast, where most of the supply is then shipped to Europe. Russian forces did destroy one key bridge on a Georgian railway line, disrupting oil exports to Georgia‘s Black Sea ports. A fuel train was in flames in central Georgia on August 24. Georgia and US-led West are angry with Russia for its target of pipelines in Georgia. Georgian officials reported several times during the conflict that Russian warplanes had tried but failed to bomb the pipeline directly.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan is fully functional and work has started to refill it. But in the weeks since the pipeline stopped working due to a fire along the Turkish section, much has changed along the pipeline’s route due to the Georgian-Russian conflict. Further, there are fears that the conflict between Russia and Georgia might threaten existing and planned Caucasus energy routes seen by the West as vital supply corridors that avoid Russian territory.
An energy expert at the European Council, points out the strategic difference for Russia between the two export routes. The Russians, always want people to believe they have a limited agenda, so they bombed the railway that brings Azeri oil to Georgia, and BP has been forced to stop its shipments of Azeri oil to Georgia by rail because the bridge has been bombed. But they wouldn’t bomb a pipeline which is not directly linked to supplying Georgia. That would give the West justification to accuse Russia of aggression against the West or the region beyond Georgia itself.
Georgia maintains good relations with its direct neighbours Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey and participates actively in regional organizations, such as the Black Sea Economic Council and the GUAM. Georgia also maintains close political, economic and military relations with Israeland Ukraine. The growing US and European Union influence in Georgia, notably through proposed EU and NATO membership, the US Train and Equip military assistance programme and the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, have frequently strained Tbilisi’s relations with Moscow. Georgia’s decision to boost its presence in the coalition forces in Iraq was an important initiative.
When Georgia, presumably on the suggestion of the NATO/USA, attacked South Ossetian region that has declared independence from Georgia in 1992, it was done with a view to using that region for the proposed pipeline to pump energy for Europe, apart from strengthening the Georgian case for NATO membership. Russia quickly retaliated the attack on Georgia not just to defend its supporter Ossetia and flush out the Georgian forces from there, but mainly to defend the area from “misuse’ by the USA. The USA and European Union have been supporting construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline to bring Azerbaijani and, more importantly, Turkmen and Kazakh natural gas to Europe — eventually more than 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Nabucco is scheduled for completion in 2013, but, owing to the independence issue, no work has been done so far in laying the pipeline. Russia is unhappy, because USA is keen to skip Russia in the pipeline project.
Georgia is currently working to become a full member of NATO. In August 2004, the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia was submitted officially to NATO. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council of NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of Georgia and Georgia moved on to the second stage of Euro-Atlantic Integration. In 2006, the Georgian parliament voted unanimously for the bill which calls for integration of Georgia into NATO. The majority of Georgians and politicians in Georgia support the push for NATO membership. Currently, it is expected that Georgia will join NATO in 2009. Similarly, recently Russian Duma voted to recognize both Akhazia and Soputh Ossetia.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC pipeline) is a crude oil pipeline that covers 1,768 kilometres (1,099 mi) from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It connects Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan; Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia; and Ceyhan, a port on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey, hence its name. It is the second longest oil pipeline in the world after the Druzhba pipeline. Supported by the USA, construction began in April 2003 and was completed in 2005.The first oil that was pumped from the Baku end of the pipeline on May 10, 2005 reached Ceyhan on May 28, 2006 after a journey of 1,770 km.
The pipeline starts from the Sangachal Terminal near Baku in Azerbaijan. The route of the pipeline crosses Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Ceyhan. Parallel to the BTC pipeline runs the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline, which transports natural gas from the Sangachal Terminal to Erzurum in Turkey. Between Sarız and Ceyhan, the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline will be laid along the same corridor. The project also constitutes an important leg of the East-West energy corridor, gaining Turkey greater geopolitical importance. The BTC pipeline also supports Georgia’s independence from Russian influence. Former President Eduard Shevardnadze, one of the architects and initiators of the project, saw the construction of the pipeline through Georgian territory as a certain guarantee for the country’s future economic and political security and stability. This view has been fully shared by his successor President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Even before its completion, the BTC pipeline was affecting the world’s oil politics. The South Caucasus, previously seen as Russia’s backyard, is now a region of great strategic significance to other great powers. The U.S. and other Western nations have consequently become much more closely involved in the affairs of the three nations through which oil will flow. Some have criticized this degree of western involvement in the South Caucasus, arguing that it has led to an unhealthy dependence on undemocratic leaders. The countries themselves though have been trying to use the involvement as a counterbalance to Russian and Iranian economic and military dominance in the region. It is seen similarly by Russian specialists claiming that the pipeline is aimed to weaken the Russian influence in the Caucasus.
Russian bombing in Georgia was focused on some of the “strategic” locals, including pipelines. Russians wanted to create the strong perception that they are the deciding factor in the region and were dealing with a limited set of problems, which are Georgia-centered. Bombing BTC would have been too open an aggression, an act unrelated to the issue at hand. Russia didn’t need to damage the pipeline to show who’s in charge in the Caucasus. “The pipeline itself was not bombed, of course, but the bombing did come awfully close”, argues an expert. It is understood that the Russians have put themselves into the position to be able to have some measure of control over the pipeline even if they have not hit it directly.
Russian interests and Developing Strategy
In addition to the real, short-term “humanitarian” reasons for the quick military action in Georgia, there are broader political, economic, and strategic interests at play in the Kremlin’s calculus of war. Moscow supports South Ossetia for energy and national interests’ reasons. Similarly, Russia also supports the freedom move of Abkhazia. It is important as well to mention Abkhazia’s strategic importance for the Black Sea Fleet. The port at Sukhumi is comparable to the base Russia leases from Ukraine at Sevastopol and is better than the one at the Russian city of Novorossiysk.
Russia has a territorial expansion plan for future reference. With freedom seeking Chechnya fully brought under brute control of Kremlin, in 2001, Russia passed a law on the procedures for accepting new subjects of the Russian Federation, including territories that do not have common borders with Russia. Lawmakers at the time were open about the fact that they had in mind regions like South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdniester, and, possibly, Nagorno-Karabakh. The law establishes rather complex conditions for acceptance, including the approval of the government of the country of which the region is currently a territory and the holding of an all-Russia referendum on the issue. However, the law exists and amending it to suit the Kremlin is not a problem in Russia.
The Kremlin wants to legitimize its troop movement in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Kremlin is keen to gain South Ossetia to be added to North Ossetia in Russia since many Russians demand it as a lesson for Georgia and USA. Prompted by the recent Georgian attack on South Ossetia, Moscow is now developing a plan to boost the profile of South Ossetia. Immediately after the close of war, therefore, Russian premier Vladimir Putin announced that the government has allocated 10 billion rubles ($408 million) for “reconstruction work” in South Ossetia. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said this money will be including in the federal budgets for 2008-11 and will be placed under a special fund controlled from Vladikavkaz. It seems unlikely anyone would invest such a major sum in a tiny region with a population of less than 80,000 without any ulterior motives.
Russia‘s new strategy in Georgia seems to be taking shape. Even though much of the troops have been moved out of Georgia, some Russian forces will remain in the “separatist” enclaves in the form of quasi-peacekeepers until Russia resolves the political questions of their status vis-à-vis the Russian Federation. During his August 13 meeting with the de facto heads of both regions, Medvedev virtually promised as much. It would seem that he had in view the possibility of letting the two regions join the Russia-Belarus Union State, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), or the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. As part of that process, Russia will likely try to legitimize its military presence in the regions by signing permanent basing agreements with them and ending the need for “peacekeepers.”
The main trophy for Moscow in the conflict is clearly Abkhazia, which in Soviet times was called the pearl of the Black Sea coast. The region lies just 30 kilometers from Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Russian government is expected to invest around $30 billion in that event, and Abkhazia is playing an important role in the process of “absorbing” that investment. The region has long been known as a zone for laundering criminal capital from across Russia and, particularly, from Moscow.
Russian had expected that Georgian attack would go against its President Mikheil Saakashvili, but the matter turned around quite contrarily. The brief war with Russia has only rallied Georgians around their president, whether they like him or not. Georgia was part of the USSR before it became independent following the disintegration of the Soviet Socialist system. IN the past thee were many pro-Russia leaders in Tbilisi, but the scenario changed gradually and now most of them anti-Russia. In Georgia, now as a result, even including the opposition there is not a single public figure or group that espouses a pro-Russian line. The overwhelming majority of Georgians want only one thing at the moment — for Russian troops to leave the country immediately. Any questions about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s political responsibility have been put on the back burner.
As for South Ossetia and Abkhazia joining the Russian Federation, that is a distant perspective. Such a move would be intimidating to the other CIS countries, many of whom are already fretting about the possibility of redrawing the post-Soviet international borders. This applies first and foremost to Ukraine, which is worried about Russian pretensions to the Crimea and the Donbas region, worries that increased when the Russian Duma voted in May to urge the renegotiation of the bilateral treaty on the border between the two countries. Such concerns have a legitimate basis beyond mere rhetoric.
An Observation: Reliable partner or Supporter?
Arms race, militarization, nuclearization of international politics and weaponization of the Space have complicated the already tensed relations between and among nations of difference systems and levels of development. Search for energy resources cheap rates by pressure tactics is the spoiling the international relations.
US-led seeks a reliable support in the Kremlin that would firmly stand by the US actions any where n the world, but Moscow insists that it could at best only be a reliable partner in international maneuverings but declined to be any reliable supporter. Russia‘s military campaign this month in Georgia was a reminder that there is always a risk in running energy supply routes through this volatile part of the world — a fact that is hitting home with potential investors in planned Caucasus natural-gas or oil pipelines.
Clearly, the August 2008 military action in the Caucasus has made the prospect of transporting oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and other non-Russian routes seem potentially perilous. The BTC pipeline looks secure for exports to Europe, albeit under the increased watch of Russia, as is the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline that runs along nearly the same route as the BTC. But the big question now concerns plans for future pipelines. Nabucco faces competition from the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline project that runs nearly the same route as Nabucco and targets essentially the same consumer market. But USA opposes this. Given the outcome of the Georgian-Russian conflict, potential investors will have to consider which of the two pipelines is more likely to be built first.
Moscow cannot hit the economic interests of NATO. Moscow is wise enough to see the difficulty of assimilating territory settled by people who are hostile to it. Chechnya remains a glaring example. However, since hostilities eased in the Caucasus, Russia‘s Gazprom has managed to conclude a deal with key Caspian gas supplier Turkmenistan. The details of that deal are unclear, but it appears Ashgabat has agreed to sell even more gas to Gazprom for resale.
Western media admit the fact that Russia has always met its contractual commitments, that it’s been an extremely reliable supplier at least to Western Europe over the past four decades, but Moscow is accused of using energy supply to control its former Soviet space. A specialist states: “But at the same time the political perception is something else and now the political perception is that Russia is not a reliable supplier, or, at least it’s a politically problematic supplier…. This will again increase the legitimacy of energy policies aimed at substituting away from gas, not necessarily only from Russian gas but from gas itself.”
Still, Europe and USA would not let Russia decide matters by itself and Europe has to appease Moscow for economic reasons. Europe and Gazprom simply need each other too much. “Gazprom needs Europe as much as Europe needs Gazprom — more, in fact. It is believed that European gas sales account currently for about 60 percent of Gazprom’s total revenues. Losing that would hurt the company very much.
Russia may have won a Pyrrhic victory in Georgia. Its dominance in the Caucasus is almost beyond question now, but its image is badly tattered. West now paints Russia as an aggressive power that would invade its neighbors even at the slightest provocations. But in the end, just having those supplies may not be enough. Russia‘s image in Europe has suffered from the military action in the Caucasus — and that could spur a change in European energy policies.
West wants Russia to be a perfect pro-west to play junior partner role. Power of the Kremlin cannot be underestimated by the NATO or US-led Western powers. In the end, Moscow‘s military and political efforts in the region will help solidify its position of Eurasian energy hegemony. As a concession to customers in Europe, the Kremlin is being pressured to allow alternative pipelines to be built to avoid losing revenue from sales in the West. After all, Europe may now see diversifying away from natural gas as preferable to a future as a captive customer of Russian gas supplies.
Back to the theme of prospects of WW-III, it is almost certain the USA-led anti-Islamic nations with huge piles of weapons toilets, including nuclear, keep jumping out to invade Muslim nations even without any real threats or causes. Since energy resources occupy the top item on many big economies and developing ones like India and Israel, the war on oil and pipeline related issues cannot be ruled out readily. As the desire of nuclear states to showcase their arms toilets is increasingly growing, the danger to the security of weak nations and the entire humanity becomes quite real. Future security issues, with two emerging blocks, as before the 1990s led by USA and Russia, confronting each other, therefore, would further complicate the international relations gravely. But then, when arrogance supersedes reality, nothing can stop the anti-Islamic forces from destroying the entire world as if for fun.