Thursday, September 25, 2008

Understanding the Georgia Invasion

Speaking of oil pipelines, here's a timely opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post;
Georgia, located next to powerful Russia, committed a grave mistake in its foreign policy this August. Tbilisi ignored the main virtue advocated by the great practitioners of international relations from Niccolo Machiavelli to Henry Kissinger - prudence - by attempting to regain military control of a seceding region which was supported by Moscow.

Russia exploited the Georgian miscalculation to strike back and to remind everybody that Russia will flex its military muscles in areas considered to be its backyard. Moscow views with trepidation the expansion of NATO, of which it is not a member, toward its borders. Georgian accession to NATO is simply unbearable from a Russian perspective. Russia is threatened by the Western security architecture and will oppose encroachment on areas once Russian-controlled.

Yet this understandable aspect of Russian behavior hides a more ambitious foreign policy goal of controlling the global energy sector, and using such leverage to challenge America in world affairs. The immediate goal of Moscow's military intervention in Georgia was to intimidate the energy-producing countries once part of the Soviet Union, such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, to return to the Russian sphere of influence. The Finlandization of the Caucasus and Central Asia will allow Russia, a great oil producer itself, greater influence over the world's energy.

Oil and gas constitute a strategic commodity that is different from coffee or refrigerators. Control of this commodity bestows considerable political influence. The Russians understand that such leverage can be effective against the energy-hungry European states who are already dependent to various degrees on Russian energy. By its actions in August, Russia decided to challenge America. Vladimir Putin seeks to create a wedge between the US and Europe by further increasing the European dependency upon Russian-controlled oil.

GEORGIA IN itself does not produce oil, but hosts several pipelines transferring oil from Azerbaijan in the Caspian Basin. The Georgian territory helps bypass Russian land and prevents Russia from having a greater handle on moving oil from the Caspian to the West. Therefore, following the invasion, Russian troops took control of the Baku-Supsa pipeline (ending on the Black Sea), which runs close to present Russian military lines. The Russians also threatened control of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (ending on the Turkish Mediterranean shore) by attacking its vicinity from the air. If the Russians remain in Georgia, they maintain control over great amounts of oil slated for the West that hitherto were unaffected by Russian preferences.