by Jerry Gordon (Aug. 2008)
I was one of several bloggers on an extraordinary call from the combat zone in Georgia with intrepid journalist Koba Liklikadze (“Koba”) of Radio Free Europe- Radio Liberty (RFE-RL) network courtesy of the Heritage Foundation arranged by One Jerusalem. It was about the confused and disheartening aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Georgia. An invasion provoked by the KGB thugs in the Kremlin led by Premier Vladimir Putin and affirmed by his ‘puppet’, Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. This invasion had two objectives: squashing Georgia as an independent liberal democracy in the ‘near abroad’ and seizing control of the strategic Baku–Tiblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline that bypasses Russia. Russia scored a victory in the geo-political war for control of world energy resources.
Left - Koba Liklikadze RFE-RL correspondent in front of Russian tanks 40 Kms from Tiblisi, Georgia, August 15, 2008
As one analyst in a Christian Science Monitor report noted, this was a war about oil.
The 1,100-mile BTC pipeline provides only about 1 percent of the global demand for oil. But, as Prof. Michael Klare of Amherst College notes, "There's not a lot of spare [crude oil] capacity" in the world.
In the long-running struggle for control of Caspian oil and gas and influence in the ex-Soviet states of that region, the clash has been a blow to US clout.
"The Russians come out of this as winning this round," says Professor Klare. "They are the power brokers in this part of the world…. But there will be more skirmishes to come."
Klare, author of "Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy," sees the conflict as "not a battle for democracy," as portrayed by Washington. "It was a battle for energy," he says.
Oil reserves underneath the Caspian Sea are believed to be huge, perhaps as much as 200 billion barrels. That compares with the estimated 260 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia.
With the signing today of the cease fire by Russian President Medvedev following that of Georgian President Saakashvili, yesterday, and withdrawal from the Georgian town of Igoeti by Russian occupying troops, the message is clear: “Moscow Rules”. Saakashvili and his plucky Georgians, may have been ‘wimped out’ by the West. The exception to that may have been the graphic solidarity exhibited by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine at a protest rally in Tblisi, the Georgian capital, Wednesday.
President Bush from his Crawford Ranch, with Secretary Rice at his side fresh from her trip to France and Georgia, put out a warning to Russian leaders as noted in this AP report:
Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s signing Saturday of a cease-fire plan was an important development — "a hopeful step."
"Now, Russia needs to honor the agreement and withdraw its forces and, of course, end military operations," in Georgia.
The Russian foreign minister Lavrov said Thursday that Georgia could "forget about" getting back two separatist regions in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both much aligned with Russia.
RFE correspondent Koba was reporting live on the movement of seven Russian tanks 12 Kms east of the captured Georgian town of Gori-Stalin’s birthplace- less than 40 Kms from the Georgian capital of Tblisi. On this engrossing call were RFE President Jeffrey Gedman and Georgian Service director David Kakabadze reporting from Prague. Watch this background briefing on the Russia- Georgia confrontation by RFE-RL Georgia Service director, Kakabadze, here.
My blogger colleague, Ann Lieberman of Boker Tov! Boulder had a telling report on the call with Koba and the RFE team, aptly entitled: “Russians control
one TWO thirds of Georgia?” Read it here.
Lieberman reported on the RFE team’s response to a question I posed:
Jerry Gordon asked about the oil pipeline, and it was pointed out that this pipeline is the ONLY one that bypasses Russia, taking Caspian crude to Western access. Apparently, it's been threatened, but not damaged. BP did interrupt/stop the flow of the pipeline for a couple of days, but on Tuesday, this resumed.
Koba’s call from the field was filled with reports on the brutal Russian occupation, use of cluster bombs in Gori, looting by paramilitaries from the Northern Caucasus Islamic provinces, and the massive flight of refugees from Gori - 80% of the population fled. He noted the killing of four journalists last week during the Russian assault in South Ossetia. Koba told of a dramatic live reporting of a sniper attack on a Georgian woman TV journalist. He talked about Russian ‘hits’ against Czech and Turkish journalists stealing and trashing their gear. Koba saw no indication that Russian troops and tanks were withdrawing at the time of the bloggers call. In fact he reported movement forward deeper into Georgia.
Blogger Avi Green of Tel Chai nation asked about how the West could help vis a vis diplomatic and relief efforts. Koba’s RFE colleague, Kakabadze noted the arrival of giant US C-17 aircraft in Tblisi disgorging humanitarian aid, food, medicine and more than $1 million in donations. However, Kakabadze noted that “while the international reaction was quite strong, it was too late.” Russian generals, he noted, had made a point of the possible targeting of Poland and the Ukraine, should they sign up for the US sponsored missile defense shield. Kakabadze noted that Putin does not accept Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO. Chancellor Merkel of Germany indicated at the April Bucharest NATO meeting that the Georgian and Ukrainian membership application plans (MAPs) were ‘too early.’ Pres. Bush had wanted both countries to obtain MAPs. NATO members at the April Bucharest conference rejected membership plans for both countries. Russian Premier Putin took that action as a ‘green light’ for military maneuvers against Georgia.
The Russian provocation began in 2006 with the ejection of Georgian citizens from Russia, embargo of Georgian goods, and trade sanctions. These economic thumbscrews applied by Russia didn’t work. The Georgian economy, privatized in the wake of the “rose revolution” following the election of American-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili, had spurred growth. Note this comment on the Georgian economy in the latest CIA Fact Book:
Despite the severe damage the economy suffered due to civil strife in the 1990s, Georgia, with the help of the IMF and World Bank, has made substantial economic gains since 2000, achieving positive GDP growth and curtailing inflation. Georgia's GDP growth neared 10% in 2006 and 2007 despite restrictions on commerce with Russia. Areas of recent improvement include increased foreign direct investment as well as growth in the construction, banking services, and mining sectors. In addition, the reinvigorated privatization process has met with success.
While this remarkable bloggers’ call from the field was going on, a news conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and embattled Georgian President, Saakashvili was held in Tbilisi. Saakashvili made note that he was signing the cease fire agreement that had been negotiated by French President Sarkozy with Russian President Medvedev, earlier in the tumultuous week. The Georgian President noted that the agreement had all the hallmarks of the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938. Saakashvili chronicled the blatant Russian provocations in a speech in Tblisi, yesterday. As reported in Investors Business Daily:
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his side, revealed in graphic detail how Russia had gone about subjugating his country. Russia systematically built up the rail infrastructure in Abkhazia to make it easier to send in troops, Saakashvili said. They began building tank bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"They started to bring in lots of military specialists, reconnaissance," he said. "They brought in paratroopers. We screamed to the world, stop it! And there were some statements from Washington, but I have to tell you that for most of the European countries . . . there was pretty muted and quiet reaction to all this."
The trouble started when Europe balked at letting Georgia join NATO last spring. At the time, Saakashvili complained. Then, when Russian planes repeatedly violated Georgian airspace, he complained again. Though the signs were clear, he was ignored.
Now we see what Russia was preparing. The brutality and lack of humanitarian concern shown by Russia's poorly disciplined troops in attacking Georgia are shocking.
• Russia used SS-21 missiles, one of the deadliest weapons in its military's arsenal, on areas they knew contained civilians.
• Russian aircraft dropped incendiary devices on Georgian forests to create fires, panic and terror.
• Putin's forces also dropped cluster bombs on civilian populations, knowing full well those munitions' main use is to kill and maim people, not destroy buildings or damage property.
• Troops have looted, robbed banks, stolen goods, murdered, burned towns and raped women as part of a terror campaign.
Clearly, the West lost this round in the petroleum wars with Russia over Georgia. The objective of establishing the BTC pipeline going back to the Clinton era was to foster competition in the world energy markets. The EU in particular, and many former Warsaw Pact countries, are vulnerable to the strong arm tactics of the KGB thugocracy in the Kremlin particularly with regard to natural gas deliveries.
The plan was to follow up the BTC pipeline with a parallel one that would deliver gas from the Caspian Basin via an extension through the Balkans to the EU. Now that prospective route may have been stifled by the Russian invasion of Georgia. Energy analyst Klare in the CSM report noted:
Such a pipeline would offer serious competition to Gazprom, the giant Russian oil-and-gas conglomerate. Russia supplies one-quarter of the oil and half the natural gas consumed in Europe, and the revenue is seen as key to Russian prosperity. The European Union has been keen on the Georgia plan as a way to gain bargaining power and reduce the risk of supply cutoffs.
But the Russia-Georgia war may have reduced the prospects for such a gas pipeline getting financing and European backing.
"I wouldn't hold my breath," says Klare. He advocates that the US, EU, Russia, and the Caspian states develop a comprehensive regional energy plan for Caspian oil and gas.
After this week, only a steel hand in a velvet glove by the US and NATO will achieve parity in the energy wars. Negotiating with the Russians, after what happened in Georgia this week, is just not in the cards.
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