Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russia, Georgia, Two Oil Pipelines, and the European Union

If you're not a bit confused by the conflict between Georgia and Russia, you're not paying attention.

The last news I read, an hour or so ago, said that Russia was continuing to honor the truce and peace agreement by rolling more troops into Georgia, cutting off a major east-west highway in the process.

Also, that the events in Georgia are some kind of plot by the neoconservatives.

And, that Russian aggression is crushing Georgia's democracy.

It's a Neocon Plot!

Revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle's online SFGate: This "garbage issue of brave little Georgia struggling for its survival from the grasp of the Russian bear" is a plot by a cabal of neoconservatives. The neocons, we're told, are trying to influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

I'm not making that up. I've put excerpts from "Georgia war is a neocon election ploy" (SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle (August 13, 2008)) at the end of this post.

The short version of the 'plot' argument is this: a former lobbyist for Georgia, Randy Scheunemann, is Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's senior foreign policy adviser now.

Scheunemann is "one of the neoconservatives who engineered the war in Iraq," which apparently proves that the Georgia war was engineered to elect McCain.

An interesting assertion, to say the least.

I don't quite buy the 'neocon plot' idea, but the author is right about a few things. For example, American conservatives often do not trust Russia completely.

It's Russia Aggression! (and They're After Oil)

Right Side News, whose philosophy is somewhat different from the San Francisco Chronicle's, published an opinion about the Russia-Georgia conflict:

"Georgia is a small country bordering the Black Sea and sandwiched between Russia and Turkey. Two regions of Georgia bordering Russia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - declared independence in the 1990s. After bloody battles both regions did manage to achieve de facto independence.

"But there's an important difference between the two struggles. Abkhazian separatists engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing to make their state, which previously had a plurality of Georgians, more ethnically pure whereas South Ossetia remains a diverse region with some villages aligned with the separatists and others with Georgia.

"Few people even knew South Ossetia existed before the weekend. But the pipelines that run through the region supply an enormous amount oil and gas to Europe." ("The Russian bear is alive and well - following a brief period of hibernation" Right Side News (August 13, 2008))

It's strange, reading a conservative article that reminds me of the 'it's all about oil' explanation for the war in Iraq.

Georgia, Russia, Land, and a Little History

Russia has had a problem with Georgia for quite a while.

For starters, Georgia is one of the satellite countries that the Soviet Union controlled, until the workers' paradise started unraveling. (Curiously, the 1991 coup was in August, too.)

For the last 17 years, Russia has been adjusting to a reality where it isn't the center of the communist world, with dominion over a swath of little countries from the Baltic to the Middle East.

I've posted before, about Russia's issues with its nearly-landlocked position. Arguably, losing the Soviet Union's client states made Russia's difficulties in getting to the ocean worse.

Adding insult to injury, Georgia wanted to join NATO. Russia, perhaps understandably, didn't want its former possession to join NATO. Georgia's application for NATO membership was deferred in April, 2008: because conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia hadn't been resolved. It's hard to discount assertions that separatist groups in those areas weren't getting help from Russia, considering how their actions benefited Russia.

Who Ever Heard of Georgian Oil?

There are "minor coal and oil deposits" in Georgia. More to the point, there are two major oil pipelines that run from the Azeri section of the Caspian Sea, through Tbilisi, a number of oil export ports, and Turkey: but not Russia.

These pipelines are particularly valuable to the European Union, which would like to find a source of oil other than Russia. (More at
"FACTBOX: Georgia's importance as an energy transit state" Reuters (August 12, 2008).)

Today, armored transports are rolling Russian troops toward Tbilisi and other key positions in Georgia. Russia says it doesn't plan to take over Georgia, or overthrow the Georgian government. This is all a peacekeeping operation, Russian leaders say.

That's possible. But I'd find that assurance more believable, if Russia wasn't acting as if it was conquering territory that included a rival oil supplier's pipelines.

It's Not That Simple: It Never Is

Russia had a reason for invading Georgia: Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia.

Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia because of pro-Russian forces there. Maybe Russia was supporting the pro-Russian forces. Stranger things have happened.

Georgian and Russian leaders are swapping stories about atrocities, which may or may not be true.

In common with any situation that involves human beings, it isn't simple. I don't think that the Georgian government is entirely without fault. I also seriously doubt that Russian leaders are unaware that, if they can pull off their conquest of Georgia, they'll own an oil supply line that could have been a competitor for their oil exports to Europe.

There are nuances and subtleties, of course, and a complex history. But right now, it looks to me like Russia is likely to end up with a 'plan for peace' that gives the European Union one less source for oil.

News, views, and resources:

Excerpts from the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate

Plus my comments:

"Is it possible that this time the October surprise was tried in August, and that the garbage issue of brave little Georgia struggling for its survival from the grasp of the Russian bear was stoked to influence the U.S. presidential election?..." ("Georgia war is a neocon election ploy" SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle (August 13, 2008))

I think this best captures the 'plot' angle:

"...Scheunemann is at the center of the neoconservative cabal that has come to dominate the Republican candidate's foreign policy stance in a replay of the run-up to the war against Iraq. These folks are always looking for a foreign enemy on which to base a new Cold War, and with the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, it was Putin's Russia that came increasingly to fit the bill.

"Yes, it sounds diabolical, but that may be the most accurate way to assess the designs of the McCain campaign in matters of war and peace. There is every indication that the candidate's demonization of Putin is an even grander plan than the previous use of Hussein to fuel American militarism with the fearsome enemy that it desperately needs...." ("Georgia war..." SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle (August 13, 2008))

The author names names, including a neocon who is " of the neoconservatives who engineered the war in Iraq...." "Randy Scheunemann, for four years a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, ending his official lobbying connection only in March, months after he became Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's senior foreign policy adviser." ("Georgia war..." SFGate/San Francisco Chronicle (August 13, 2008))


Anonymous said...

While this article starts with words " if you're not a bit confused with Russia -Georgia conlfict..." It seems that the author is confused a lot ... While oil pipelines are, with all the honesty, a prerogative of the US government rather than Russian thus leading to undeniable "friendship and support" between Georgia and US. Russia that has enough of its own oil to care about lives of thousands of its people in South Osettia cannot be accused of aggression against Georgia.
If you're a bit interested in finding out more about this conflict - simply look at who was the initial aggressor - you will be surprised to find out that that was Georgia. Facts sapeak for themselves...

Brian H. Gill said...


Russia exports oil.

Europe is a major consumer of Russian oil.

Europe is somewhat dependent on Russian oil.

The Georgian pipelines are important because they are not (or were not) in Russian territory.

"They are particularly valued by the European Union because they reduce dependency on Russian supplies and do not cross Russian territory." ("FACTBOX: Georgia's importance as an energy transit state" Reuters (), as cited above)

As to Georgia being the aggressor, Russia agrees with you.

Georgia did, against American advice, send troops into South Ossettia: to deal with problems caused by organizations which seem to be backed by Russia.

The Christian Science Monitor has done an imaginative job of finding another bad guy in this situation: but that's a topic for another post.

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