Developments in Georgia-Russia Conflict

by on August 14, 2008 · 0 comments

in War and Peace, World News

georgiabattle-map2.gifGeorgian Leader’s Overstated Claims Finally Challenged by U.S. Media & Government

Unsubstaniated claims by Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili on Wednesday, August 13th, are finally being recognized and challenged for what they are by U.S. media and the government. The Associated Press stated that Saakashvili’s false claim that the United States is readying to take over Georgian airports and ports “could have provoked a dangerous Kremlin response.” That claim “was swiftly shot down by officials in Washington, who denied any such designs on Georgian soil. Yet, it was the latest in a string of overstated pronouncements by the American-educated Georgian leader that are further fueling tensions with Moscow,” the AP analysed. Go here for that report. Here’s more from that report:

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili speaks to the media in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Wednesday, Aug.13. (Shakh Aivazov / AP)Saakashvili has been conducting daily interviews in his fluent English on international television networks and making frequent televised speeches at home.

On Wednesday, he said in an interview on CNN that Russian troops were “closing on the capital, circling,” and planning to install their own government in Tbilisi.

Associated Press reporters in the area saw no sign of an impending coup. An AP reporter saw dozens of Russian trucks and armored vehicles heading south from the central city of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi, but they later turned away.

Saakashvili said Russian troops moving deeper into Georgia “even steal toilet seats.”

He later said on Georgian national television that the U.S. arrival of a military cargo plane with humanitarian aid “means that Georgia’s ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. Defense Department.”

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell responded, “We have no need, nor do we intend to take over any Georgian air or seaport to deliver humanitarian aid. … We have no designs on taking control of any Georgian facility.”

First U.S. Humanitarian Aid Reaches Georgia

U.S. Air Force servicemen and workers unload humanitarian aid from a U.S. Air Force cargo plane at Tbilisi airport August 14, 2008.WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. mission in Georgia is not to defend ports but to provide humanitarian aid following Tbilisi’s conflict with Russia, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Thursday. “We are not there to defend the ports, we are there to provide humanitarian aid,” she said. Perino’s comments followed reports that Russian troops had moved in and around some Georgian towns, including the Black Sea port of Poti.

She said the United States has not had any problems with the Russians in getting humanitarian and medical supplies into Georgia.

President George W. Bush spoke with the leaders of Ukraine and Lithuania earlier in the morning about the crisis in Georgia, Perino said. “The president underscored the United States’ solidarity with Georgia and discussed our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts,” she said.

“All the leaders stressed the importance of standing by a sovereign, free Georgia and its territorial integrity, and agreed on the need for Russia to stop the violence, abide by the ceasefire and withdraw its forces,” Perino said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to Crawford, Texas, Friday night from her trip to France and Tbilisi, and Bush will consult with his national security team on Saturday, she said. Here’s that report.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Kristin Roberts)

Russia and Georgia: All About Oil

by Michael Klare / Published on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 by Foreign Policy in Focus

In commenting on the war in the Caucasus, most American analysts have tended to see it as a throwback to the past: as a continuation of a centuries-old blood feud between Russians and Georgians, or, at best, as part of the unfinished business of the Cold War. Many have spoken of Russia’s desire to erase the national “humiliation” it experienced with the collapse of the Soviet Union 16 years ago, or to restore its historic “sphere of influence” over the lands to its South. But the conflict is more about the future than the past. It stems from an intense geopolitical contest over the flow of Caspian Sea energy to markets in the West.

This struggle commenced during the Clinton administration when the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin became independent and began seeking Western customers for their oil and natural gas resources. Western oil companies eagerly sought production deals with the governments of the new republics, but faced a critical obstacle in exporting the resulting output. Because the Caspian itself is landlocked, any energy exiting the region has to travel by pipeline – and, at that time, Russia controlled all of the available pipeline capacity. To avoid exclusive reliance on Russian conduits, President Clinton sponsored the construction of an alternative pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and then onward to Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – the BTC pipeline, as it is known today.

The BTC pipeline, which began operation in 2006, passes some of the most unsettled areas of the world, including Chechnya and Georgia’s two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With this in mind, the Clinton and Bush administrations provided Georgia with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, making it the leading recipient of U.S. arms and equipment in the former Soviet space. President Bush has also lobbied U.S. allies in Europe to “fast track” Georgia’s application for membership in NATO.

All of this, needless to say, was viewed in Moscow with immense resentment. Not only was the United States helping to create a new security risk on its southern borders, but, more importantly, was frustrating its drive to secure control over the transportation of Caspian energy to Europe. Ever since Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency in 2000, Moscow has sought to use its pivotal role in the supply of oil and natural gas to Western Europe and the former Soviet republics as a source both of financial wealth and political advantage. It mainly relies on Russia’s own energy resources for this purpose, but also seeks to dominate the delivery of oil and gas from the Caspian states to the West.

To further its goals in the Caspian, Putin and his protégé Dmitry Medvedev – until recently the chairman of Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly – have enticed (or browbeaten) the leaders of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan into building new gas pipelines through Russia to Europe. The Europeans, fearful of becoming ever more dependent on Russian-supplied energy, seek to build alternative conduits across the Caspian Sea and along the route of the BTC pipeline in Azerbaijan and Georgia, bypassing Russia altogether.

It is against this backdrop that the fighting in Georgia and South Ossetia has been taking place. The Georgians may only be interested in regaining control over an area they consider part of their national territory. But the Russians are sending a message to the rest of the world that they intend to keep their hands on the Caspian Sea energy spigot, come what may. This doesn’t necessarily mean occupying Georgia outright, but they will certainly retain their strategic positions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – for all practical purposes, daggers aimed at the BTC jugular. So even if a cease-fire is put into effect, the struggle over energy resources – sometimes hidden and stealthy, sometimes open and violent – will continue long into the future. [Here’s the article.]

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, the author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books, 2008), and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org). Klare’s previous book, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum has been made into a documentary movie – to order and view a trailer, visit www.bloodandoilmovie.com

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