Michael Totten is in Georgia, and he has filed a long, excellent dispatch from Tbilisi that puts the present conflict into the context of Georgian history going back to the breakup of the Soviet Union, and of the ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus. There is lots of information I haven’t seen anywhere else; the bottom line, to oversimplify greatly, is that the Russians started it.
Russia, of course, has now recognized the districts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, only they aren’t independent, they’re occupied by Russian troops. This action has been denounced by the West, but the reality is that no one has an army in the region that can effectively challenge the Russians. The secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia appears to be a fait accompli.
One of the principal purposes of Russia’s invasion was to fire a shot across the bow of the petroleum-producing countries to Georgia’s east. As we noted here, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is economically critical because it gives Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan a way to sell their immense oil and gas resources into the Western market without going through Russia. By slicing deep into Georgia, Russia has made the point that those countries cannot count on an oil future independent of Russia. EurasiaNet writes:
Although energy flows are slowly returning to normal, many oil analysts say that Russiaâ€™s blitz on Georgia, as well as the lingering presence of Russian troops in the country, has sown doubts about the reliability of energy corridors across Georgia. As a result, planned expansions of the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipeline network, including a trans-Caspian Sea route (TCP), seem to have hit a wall.
Striving to take maximum advantage of the sudden turn of events in the Caucasus, Moscow is pressing the Caspian Basinâ€™s three leading oil & gas producers — Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — to up their export volumes via Russia. The Kremlinâ€™s strategic position in Georgia gives Moscow added leverage in its new energy discussions with Baku, Ashgabat and Astana. …
Russiaâ€™s energy offensive is perhaps focused most of all on Azerbaijan. Baku is the key US energy partner at the moment, but Moscow has been working for several months to turn Baku. In June, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller extended an offer to purchase large volumes of natural gas at “European” prices. …
Azerbaijan has given no indication that wants to accept the Russian purchase offer. Yet, there are signs that the Russian-Georgian spat has dented Azerbaijanâ€™s faith in the export routes via Georgia. On August 25, the Azerbaijani state oil company, SOCAR, revealed that it would ship oil to Iran for export. The deal — reportedly covering the export of 300,000 barrels over a two-month span — was necessitated by lingering uncertainty about Georgia.
For the moment, there is no serious threat to Georgian independence, but the episode has clearly played out to Russia’s advantage. It is a timely reminder that in the absence of military capability, diplomacy and world opinion are worthless.
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