Power Politics

Power Politics: Why Georgia Must be Defended Energetically

Russia’s invasion of Georgia, an act of unprovoked aggression against a sovereign, democratic country, has shown the world exactly what sort of a country the ‘new’ Russia is.

The fall out from the invasion of Georgia will be felt around the world for years to come: the Russian attack directly endangers the security of the west for a number of reasons.

The lack of an adequate international response to Russia’s aggression leaves the door open for a repeat of this scenario. If Russia is allowed to get away with invading and occupying Georgia, it will not think twice before it does the same elsewhere.

Furthermore, if Georgia’s democratically elected government is abandoned by those that share its values in the west, then there is no hope for the further spread of democracy and freedom in the world today.

But aside from these concerns, the west, and especially Europe, must realise that if Russia is permitted to subjugate Georgia then Europe’s energy security will be a dead letter, and that Russia’s strangle-hold on gas supplies to the continent will tighten still further.

Georgia provides one of the only transit points for the vast hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian region. There are essentially two routes for the oil and gas of this region to reach western markets: one is across Georgia, the other is across Russia.

Russia has sought to monopolise energy transit to Europe for many years. By controlling energy supplies, Russia is able to exert immense pressure on downstream countries. The whole of Europe became familiar with this in the winter of 2005 when a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to shortages across Europe.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, and the parallel South Caucasus gas pipeline, provides the only route for the region’s oil and gas reserves to get to the west that is not controlled by Russia. Moscow always opposed building these pipelines, seeking to keep the supplier countries of the Caspian as dependent as the consuming countries of Europe.

The new hydrocarbon portal via Georgia has the potential to dramatically increase the energy security of Europe, as well as to help the countries that supply the oil and gas break away from Russian domination.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that during the Russian attack on Georgia, the pipelines—clearly not military targets—came under aerial bombardment dozens of times.

By targeting the pipelines, Russia was attempting to make sure that a proposed pipeline under the Caspian, and other upstream projects in Turkey and Eastern Europe, do not come to fruition. Plans for the pipeline under the Caspian are well advanced, and if completed, such a pipeline would unlock the vast energy reserves of central Asia for the west. By striking the pipelines in Georgia, Russia is trying to scare the west away from investing in this vital new supply route, and trying to reinforce its hegemony in European supplies. Russia is systematically trying to destroy Georgia’s potential as a transit country

The fact that energy supply routes were a decisive factor in Russia’s war against Georgia is proved by the fact that even after Russian President Medvedev announced an end to military operations, the pipelines were once again targeted in a massive air strike.

Georgia’s railway is another key energy export route. This route had been quite literally derailed since Russian troops blew up a key bridge linking the east and west of the country.

Furthermore, weeks after fighting formally ended, the railway remains mined, and one oil transport train has already been destroyed after running over an anti-tank mine.

Europe and America need to wake up to the fact that this war poses an immediate threat to global energy security.  For it’s own sake, the west must not blindly stumble into a situation where an aggressive, imperialistic Russia is permitted to both monopolise energy supplies to Europe, and to launch unprovoked invasions of countries on its borders.

It is imperative that Europe ensure Georgia’s damaged infrastructure is repaired forthwith. The west must also invest in new energy transport gateways in order to reduce it’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

The threat Georgia faces today is one that other eastern European states could face in the near future. The sooner the international community comes to Georgia’s aid, the safer we’ll all be.