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Monday, August 11, 2008


the oil war no one saw coming

many in the united states have been expecting an expansion of the ongoing resource wars of the mideast later this year in the form of some sort of military conflict with iran. that may or may not yet materialize.

but what is certain is that a different kind of resource war has materialized in georgia over south ossetia.

georgia became the object of an american-financed coup d'etat some years ago as part of a broad imperial geopolitical strategy that the bush white house sometimes called (possibly without fully recognizing the overtones of marat) the global democratic revolution. it is apparent, however, that in many respects the aims of the so-called revolution were very definite and material. in the case of georgia, securing a pipeline route from the baku petroleum fields through territory outside of russian sovereign control was a specific motive, whether or not it operated in conjunction with other, more general or ideological goals. the route has been an object of united states foreign policy in the region since the fall of the soviet union.

While it has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own, Georgia is a key transit point for oil from the Caspian region destined for Europe and the United States. Crucially, it is the only practical route from this increasingly important producer region that avoids both Russia and Iran.

The 1,770-kilometre (1,100mile) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which cost $3 billion (£1.55 billion) to build and was partly underwritten by British taxpayers, entered full service last year. It is the world’s second-longest oil pipeline and pumps about a million barrels a day from Baku, on the coast of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan, to Yumurtalik, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where it is loaded on to supertankers. The route also avoids the congested Bosphorus shipping lane.

construction on the pipeline began previously in april 2003 with the support of unreliable then-president eduard shevardnadze. mikhail saakashvili in november 2003 was made custodian of an newly-established american proxy state as a containment buffer against russia and a pliable domicile of the caspian pipeline route, in what became known in the typical color-coding of gene sharp-inspired coups as the rose revolution. his brutal suppression of a 2004 countercoup consolidated his position, and subsequent election-rigging has cost him the public support of some european governments.

but the place of georgia and the BTC pipeline is primary in american policy, with the support of turkey (who benefits from the terminus).

american politicians are obviously not insensitive -- beyond the remarks of mccain and bush casting russia as the aggressor, further witness american transport planes currently ferrying georgian troops from posts in iraq to the front lines in their homeland and the presence of 1200 american troops in georgia. aggressive plans to admit georgia into NATO should be seen as a method by which the united states could manufacture a cassus bellum in case of any attempt by russia to interfere with the BTC pipeline. other NATO powers demurred, probably in fear of exactly this kind of event, and it is too late for that now.

today there are reports that russia has opened a second front in abkhazia -- including the khodori gorge, a notorious haven for the chechen separatists that russia has battled for years -- along with a direct invasion of central georgia. as mccain has noted, georgia is pleading for a ceasefire -- far from being a humane gesture, having very badly misplayed his hand (surely with american encouragement) saakashvili is now threatened with total destruction with no apparent prospect of explicit american military intervention beyond that already in place with our 1200 interlocutors.

Russia’s emerging aggressiveness is now also timed with America’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan, and the looming confrontation with Iran. These counterbalancing considerations mean that Moscow is in the driver’s seat, administration officials acknowledged.

“We’ve placed ourselves in a position that globally we don’t have the wherewithal to do anything,” Mr. Friedman of Stratfor said. “One would think under those circumstances, we’d shut up.”

One senior administration official, when told of that quote, laughed. “Well, maybe we’re learning to shut up now,” he said. He asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

the most telling aspect is a message from russia not for georgian ears but american ones.

President Bush and other Western leaders have sharply criticized Russia's military response as disproportionate and say Russia appears to want the Georgian government overthrown. They have also complained that Russian warplanes — buzzing over Georgia since Friday — have bombed Georgian oil sites and factories far from the conflict zone. ... Another [bombing raid] hit near key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which carries Caspian crude to the West. No supply interruptions have been reported.

russia has essentially called the american bluff that began with georgia, ukraine, kyrgyzstan and others. the question i asked with respect to ukraine has now been answered, but indirectly in a different venue.

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