Georgia’s crucial ‘energy corridor’

Georgia’s geopolitics redefine the relationship between Russia and the West.

Baku - Tbilisi - Ceyhan pipeline

The BTC oil pipeline is the second-longest in the world, carrying 1.2m barrels of crude every day

In two short weeks, Georgia has redefined the relationship between Russia and the West and created a vastly different global dynamic.

For many people, this war was never really just about territory or ideology, it was about influence over a vital energy corridor to the West.

Georgia is home to one of the world’s most important pieces of infrastructure, a pipeline which carries oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

Construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline began in 2003 and was completed in 2005.

Even then Georgians knew it would probably make this country much more important to the rest of the world.

The BTC pipeline is the second-longest oil pipeline in the world, carrying 1.2 million barrels of crude every day on a journey from the Caspian Sea, straight through to the Mediterranean.

It stretches from Baku in Azerbaijan, through Georgia, passing very close to the capital Tbilisi and then travelling on to the Turkish coastline where the oil is shipped to hungry western markets.

Oil and influence

Across Georgia, sporadicly placed steel markers are about the only obvious indication you will find of the pipeline, but buried underground is what some say is the real story behind this war.

The conflict was said to be being fought over the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but as with many other struggles, oil and influence have played their part here as well.

Archil Gegeshidze, a Georgian political analyst, says this “energy corridor” made the region increasingly important for the West.

“Since this region became more important for the West, that increased the chances of integration with the West, which made Russia furious and uncomfortable with it”.

The recent conflict has caused the US to have a significant re-think of how it relates to Russia, cancelling planned joint-military exercises and warning of serious long-term implications.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said last week that the current situation could harm the relationship “for years to come”.

Perhaps the first real evidence of this was Wednesday’s strategically timed signing of the missile defence shield plan with Poland.

European questions

Russia has been accused of a “geopolitical crusade” in the past [EPA]

But it is not just the US.

Europe too has been realigning itself, according to the dividing line drawn out by the conflict.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor went to Russia to serve Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s president, a stern warning about his behaviour, before travelling on to Tbilisi where she notably switched her position on Georgian membership of Nato.

Germany, with France, had initially been the biggest roadblocks to Georgia’s bid to join Nato. Now, Germany is vocal in its support.

Nato was trying to engender goodwill between its members and Russia, but that position has very quickly changed.

Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, Nato’s secretary-general, said on Tuesday: “There can be no more business as usual with Russia”.

Soviet strength

There has also been a fortification of the relationship between pro-Western former Soviet States.

The leaders of Ukraine, Estonia, Poland and Estonia all travelled to Tbilisi last week in a significant show of solidarity with the Mikhael Saakashvili, Georgian President.

But, Russia may not particularly care.

The US and Europe are to some degree reliant on Moscow – Russia, afterall, talks directly with North Korea and Iran.

Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, who was in Moscow on Wednesday, may be just another leader who prefers dealing with Russia.

It may be the ideology, territory, or indeed this pipeline which is to be blamed for turning a relatively small territorial conflict into a broad international dispute.

Suddenly global dynamics have shifted, and Georgia finds itself sitting on the faultline.

Source: Al Jazeera