August 12th, 2008
09:37 AM ET

Russia-Georgia: It's all about oil

Michael T. Klare
Author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books)
Professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.

South Ossetia, Abkhazia, the Republic of Georgia – these war-torn areas may appear to be unimportant places in distant, unfamiliar locations, but they possess immense geopolitical significance in the growing struggle between the United States and Russia over the global transport of energy. It is for this reason that conflict has broken out in the region, and for this reason that the major powers are so concerned over the outcome.

Georgia and its breakaway provinces do not themselves contain any significant reserves of oil, but they are strategically important because of their role as an “energy corridor” between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. The former Soviet republics that ring the Caspian possess large reserves of oil and gas, but the sea itself is landlocked and so any energy being shipped out of the area must travel on land, largely through pipelines.

Moscow would like to transport most of this oil and gas via pipelines that traverse Russia on their way to Europe, giving it control over the ultimate flow of these supplies – along with the economic benefits of being the middleman. But Washington is wary of allowing so much energy to come under Moscow’s control, and so has favored alternative routes that cross the Caucasus, bypassing Russia. Hence the strategic importance of Georgia.

It was President Clinton who first conceived the idea of turning Georgia into an energy corridor for the transshipment of Caspian oil to Europe and the West, and it was he who laid the groundwork for the construction of a pipeline from Baku on Azerbijan’s Caspian Sea coast to Tbilisi in Georgia and thence onward to Ceyhan on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – the BTC pipeline.

For all his disdain of Clinton, George W. Bush eagerly embraced this endeavor and saw it through to completion in 2006. Bush also provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Georgia to ensure the safety of the new energy conduit.

The Russians, needless to say, were aghast at this intrusion of American power in what they viewed as their historic sphere of influence, and did everything they could to prevent construction of the BTC line. When these efforts failed, they evidently viewed Abkhazia and South Ossetia as their ultimate trump
cards: As daggers point right at the BTC jugular. Push us too far, they seemed to be saying, and we’ll sever your vital oil connection.

Into this high-stakes geopolitical struggle stepped Mikheil Saakashvili, the irrepressible president of Georgia. With the U.S. Department of Defense showering him with weapons and President Bush singing his praises, he seems to have reached the conclusion that Russia would surrender South Ossetia to Georgian forces without putting up more than a token fight. In this, he seriously misjudged Moscow’s determination to retain the enclave as a strategic asset aimed at the BTC pipeline and the Americans. It is this, more than anything else, that explains the severity of the fighting in the Caucasus today.

It should be clear from all this that Russia will not back down easily. By overplaying his hand, Mikheil Saaskashvili jeopardized Georgian security and invited brutal Russian retaliation. But Saaskashvili probably would not have acted as precipitously as he did if he had not been egged on by key figures in Washington who were all too happy to use him as a pawn in their geopolitical contest with Moscow. President Bush thus bears a moral responsibility to work with Russian leaders in devising an equitable solution to the crisis, one which results in an immediate cessation of hostilities, a rapid Russian withdrawal from Georgian territory, and a negotiated settlement to the status of the two enclaves – without further provocations by Saaskashvili.

Filed under: Georgia • Global 360° • T1
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Eden Mesfun

    Alot of the imformation here was very enlightening for me; thankyou for posting it. I have to admit, I'm no scholar, and I'll be very blunt to point out that Russia is a growing power. It won't be long before they become one of the world's greatest super powers through their oil. I feel like Russia's just flexing it's military muscle; something it hasn't done in a while, to show the other top powers of its comeback.

    I personally feel bad for Georgia. It seems like they were mislead by America. For a country with such high moral values, this was disapointing. We gave them the finances in weaponry, yet when they needed us, America did nothing.
    I also feel that this conflict is the first of many that will follow, because of oil. America is one of the highest consumers in oil. There's definitely more conflict to come considering what little oil we have left.

    August 22, 2008 at 2:37 pm |
  2. Mr. Sumner

    Also agree with Jimmy....very good point!

    August 12, 2008 at 7:20 pm |
  3. Jimmy

    Yes I am a Georgian. Living in Augusta, GA. I am an Obama supporter and not a huge fan of GW. However, now is not the time for politics. This is NOT a test of national security credentials. This is a time when our one and only Commander In Chief, GW, should be speaking on US policy. Until elected and sworn in, both candidates should not try to make points but should let him do his job.

    August 12, 2008 at 6:59 pm |
  4. Mr. Sumner

    * To the person who posted name Chris- Hemet California. LOL. That as funny but sadly true. On a side note about this situtation.

    As the previous bloggers have stated before, I myself an African American stand with the people from Georgia as they go through this dark period. I want to send my prayers and blessings and hope that this cease-fire agreement will take hold and create immediate peace between both nations, although death and animosity still lingers in the air. I also want to as a young African American, apologize for the feeling of betrayal and neglect for our response through these troubling times. You know people talk about Russia's history and "track record" on how it treats fellow man along with there own people. Some would say that Russia has a dark past. Might I add though.....DONT WE ALL! The American Government has no right to talk about someone and there history to human rights, when then this country till this day is racially divided and socially torn between different religious, racial, economical, and political parties. You can't for once talk down on Russia for there past when The United States has such a dark history. A history of intrusion, false accusations, hate, and unjust to there own Americans as well as other nations. I for one have seen it first hand. How can the American government talk to another nations leader in a chastising manner about nuclear weapons and the US government is the one who opened up Pandora’s box. I mean we don’t even acknowledge the event that took place on Aug. 6th 1945. Even when there are still survivors alive this present day. To all those Georgians that have the feeling of betrayal done by the U.S, I apologize on my country's behalf. For my whole life and from my experiences and the visions that are embedded in my mind, along with the stories of unjust and demoralizing events that have taken place. I understand the betrayal that you feel, and my prayers and blessings go out to The people of Georgia, Russia, Iraq, and Darfur. The American Gov. has failed us all. We are all equal, no matter ethnicity or your religious background. The respect we must have for one another is automatically mutual, which is something that the Americans who have been miss-guiding us don't understand. One love to all, and may all who read sleep in peace without fear.

    August 12, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Danny

    Your blog censorship is surely more stringent than that of any autocratic regime! I submitted a post with a simple question: "Did or did not CNN use the footage of a destroyed Tskhinvali while describing the destruction of the Georgian town of Gori?" Of course, my comment was blocked.

    YouTube shows a video of a Russian cameraman testifying that it was, in fact, Tskhinvali. Having walked the city up and down, he could name the exact location where the footage took place. Can CNN confirm or dispute this allegation, or will you just keep censoring the posts?


    August 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm |
  6. James Dylan

    The US has no hand to play when it comes to negotiating with Russia; we can't even bluff. Are we going to go to war with them? Hardly. The President of Georgia is a fool to think his plan to take his neighbor would gothout response. Russia was just looking for an excuse. The European Union needs to handle this, but of course they have never had even the illusion of power.
    Putin has destroyed Russian democracy by naming himself Prime Minister, in effect removing all power from elected officials. This is the beginning of Cold War 2. Let me say, missle defense systems; a new arms race.

    August 12, 2008 at 6:31 pm |
  7. Eric

    What the heck is going on!? It' is all about ego and control with our current leaders, not only politically but financially. What has me really upset is a brief report I heard about Ms. Rice suggesting that we would help rebuild Georgia! Where is this coming from and what is wrong with this picture?

    We invade a country and naturally feel responsible for recontruction. But when another country invades a country, we also feel responsible? Even though a country we are rebuilding is sitting on billions of dollars? As a struggling restaurant owner, trying to keep my taxes paid and having our government threatening to come in and take my money to cover another country's rebuilding and cover other failing economic disasters because of this, seems all wrong.

    I am so disgusted with this whole picture. Why am I so worried about keeping my employees, paying my vendors and keeping my business operating when it seems not one person in our government is concerned about what is happening to the distruction of small business owners here in our own country.

    Eric, Palm Springs, CA

    August 12, 2008 at 5:52 pm |
  8. Rebecca, Shreveport, LA

    Instead of the US telling everyone else what we are going to do about this whole mess, we need to say, "hey, Russia, Georgia, we helped mess some things up here, so tell us how we can help." I think it's best that European nations be more involved in this, as they are the one's who get a huge amount of oil from Russia. There is an obvious connection with oil and pipelines with this invasion, so there must be some kind of solution made FAST- but the US has no clue what's actually going on there and should just shut up, and instead, seek advice about how we can help, not make the situation worse. The only thing that is clear to me is that it is totally inappropriate for Russia to attack and kill civilians of Georgia, especially when it is obvious that the Georgians believe in and support their government.

    August 12, 2008 at 5:48 pm |
  9. GF, Los Angeles

    Interesting gas prices haven't gone up in the wake of this war. Are the oil companies finally realizing that America has had enough with the rate hikes and unbelievable profits and have ditched their cars for public transportation?

    August 12, 2008 at 5:27 pm |
  10. Jim, MI

    I am counting down the days with excitement when the videos and photos from S. Ossetia are sent out when the journalists and the Red Cross gets there. Right now we are only seeing what the US and Georgia want us to see.......the one sided story.

    When the atrocities are shown many people that have sided with Georgia are going to see how crazy Saakashvili really is. Even his own bodyguards say he has delusions that people are going to kill him and he just starts running in circles.

    I think oil only has a small part to play here.....of course it factors into the mathematics but not to a large degree. The facts – Saakashvili picked a fight with someone expecting his new buddies to back him.....and they did not.

    So at the end of the day what has been done. He has killed 2000 people out of a population of 70,000. Had another 30,000 flee into N Ossetia and Russia. Destroyed whole cities and intentionally killed women and children. I am not talking about causalities that always happen in war. We are talking about shooting women and children in the street as they run for cover. Our press is not showing this but many of the European stations now have video.......this should be very interesting when the videos hit BBC.........I doubt CNN will show them since they have shown 100% bias to Georgia.

    August 12, 2008 at 5:24 pm |
  11. Colin Foster

    Why is CNN being misleading? Georgia invaded South Ossetia which is a Russian speaking province. The vast majority of people in South Ossetia don't want to be a part of Georgia! Georgia has been murdering people in that province. Russia stepped in to show Georgia that it can't strong arm a people who want nothing to do with Georgia. CNN is making it seem as if Russia is trying to take Georgia over! I'm forced to ask the question, is CNN deliberately misleading the American public? I watch the news like an evangelical misinterprets the bible ( a lot!), and no one is telling the story correctly. Does CNN want another cold war? My roots in this country go back 17 generations, and being an American is about questioning the lies purported by so called self-proclaimed patriots. And McCain, today I AM NOT A GEORGIAN!

    August 12, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  12. Chadwick Mobley

    Today I was looking at a world map trying to make since of this mess in Georgia. Perhaps I am reading to much into this but from I see, this attack may not have anything to do with Georgian sovereignty. Look at a map of the region. If Russia gains control or destroys the oil pipeline that runs through Georgia that brings oil to world markets from the Caspian Sea, and Iran (Russian Ally) makes good on threats it made in early July to close the Straits of Hormuz. That is two of the worlds largest passageways of energy to the west. Now imagine, Russian attacks on Alaskan oil refineries and pipelines, which for the Russians would take no effort to do being that they are a hop, skip, and a jump from Alaska's shores. With the majority of our armed forces bogged down in the middle east and with the majority of our oil imports in the hands or either Iran or Russia, how could we fight back.
    I think that this attack on Georgia is not being taken seriously enough. Russian forces need to withdraw immediately or UN and the US must act firmly and decisively before valuable security assets fall into the wrong hands. If energy policies were important last week, then after seeing this situation unfold our nation needs to take drastic and immediate actions to break our addiction not only to foreign oil but to oil in general.

    August 12, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  13. Demothenes

    So The New Russian Superpower has played its hand at the right time.They were certainly not ingnorant about it, Launching a full assault on A week country who has troops in and abrod. Not to mention the Olympics.Good Timeing Seeing as how the U.S. wouldnt want to make a single move during this time.However The U.S. cant make a move.Simply put the country has no way to fight a war with Russia right now. Its not possibly it simply dosent have the forces! A sad day for U.S. Allies to see the way we support them. No support what so ever. Sad day indeed..

    August 12, 2008 at 3:20 pm |
  14. Melissa, Los Angeles

    It's really sad what the world is coming too all because of oil. We will have more wars as long as we're all dependent on oil. I can't imagine what we'll leave behind for our children if we don't start changing to alternative energy.

    August 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm |
  15. Surafel Melaku

    You bet it is! Oil. By the time olympic ends and over 1000000 cars that the Chinese president restrain start running, expect the oil price go up at all time high.

    August 12, 2008 at 3:07 pm |
  16. Dave

    Bush seems to have to stick his nose in every little conflict that happens around the world. Maybe him being in Bejing will keep him from doing something stupid.

    August 12, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  17. Mike

    Now we all seen that speculations about oil are just baseless.
    It is clear to understand who is right and who is wrong in this conflict: the thousands of southern ossitians flee to Russia, not to "pro-western democratic" Georgia. This simple fact tells it all.

    August 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  18. Chris - Hemet, Ca.

    That's not fair. I thought we were the only country that could invade another country for oil????

    August 12, 2008 at 2:28 pm |
  19. Josh Coker

    Make no mistake folks-Russia is an inch away from returning to communism,at least publicly. Putin is an old school soviet. Did anyone catch the Georgian president saying that one of Russia's bombs that hit the ground was a dud and it said" this is for the US,this is for NATO"? This is a very sensitive situation and we need Obama's smooth personality to calm this thing down,too bad he can't until next January.

    August 12, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  20. Ali

    well, bush have messed up big time, it seems that every country is with united states whatever happens, but they are standing with united states not because they want to but because they have no choice, why bush is saying attacking georgia is disproportionate, just because then there will be no bases in north of iran for US... and russia is aware of this fact that if he let go georgia this time, his security will be in danger, because georgia is next to russia and if us establish missile bases in georgia then russia will be unsafe and exposed to threat of being destroyed anytime...
    one more thing, when russia is attacking georgia, it is disproportionate, but is it proportionate for US to attack afghanistan and iraq, are they not the weak and small countries as compared to US?... if US didn`t listen to any country and invaded afghanistan and iraq, then US have no right to stop or condemn russia to invade georgia...

    BUT, i myself condemn killing people infact innocent people, either its russian either georgian either american either afghan or either iraqi... one more thought i have is why isn`t there peace in world? the reason whcih clicks in my mind is that if everyone become peaceful then who will buy ammonition and new weapons from US or Russia which both are world`s main seller of weapons and they generate large amount of revenue from this business...

    August 12, 2008 at 1:59 pm |
  21. Jolene

    Well, this doesn't surprise me. Looks like oil dependence is truly becoming more of a global issue. It's just sad that human life has to suffer over these conflicts. Thanks for explaining all this. It was helpful and informative.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 12, 2008 at 1:48 pm |
  22. Franky

    "Russia-Georgia: It’s all about oil"

    Hmmmmm, doesn't it remind you of something?? LOL!!!

    You know, while we're focusing on the candidates hairstyles on how they look at this, I think the bigger question is, what kind of influence we have on the world??

    I'm not gonna go as far as to say that Russia is gonna continue this to other countries. Trust me, Russia is crazy but they ain't stupid enough to cause conflict with other neighbors.

    I just don't think is a good sign that they used Iraq as an example. Russia is crazy enough, trust me. But I don't think they're crazy enough to get involve with other nations...

    August 12, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  23. Vasili

    Who cares... there are no differences between US and Russia in regards to the OIL.

    And who cares about innocent people dying in South Ossetia– Georgia ??? NO ONE!

    Look a few month back former Yugoslavia …. Kosovo ….

    August 12, 2008 at 1:00 pm |
  24. Pat

    McSame is a real piece of work. The man who was in constant step with President Bush when he led the surprise "Shock and Awe" attack on Iraq now claims that Russia should be subjected to World Opinion!
    America was the subject of World Opinion at that time and still. Negative World Opinion. I guess McSame has conveniently forgotten that the Bush Administration played a lead hand in the Georgia Battle now ongoing! And I guess he's also forgotten that it and has been America's greed for Power and Oil Revenues that has inflamed many battles in many Nations over the last several decades.

    This the same man who claims he will keep the Iraq war going for a hundred years if that's what it takes to bring success is now calling for a cease fire between Russia and Georgia! If he wasn't so pathetically hypocritical he might make me smile !

    August 12, 2008 at 12:58 pm |
  25. Oseden

    Murder of Russian peacemakers and genocide of ossetic people – here the unique reason of the armed opposition on Caucasus. Saakashvili – the fascist. And Russian people will always destroy fascists.

    August 12, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  26. mary

    A few years ago, Georgia was part of Russia. Then, the CIA began instigating skirmishes and aiding in the revolt against Russia. Immediately the US sent in troops to guard the border along the Caucasus.

    August 12, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  27. Subash

    Saaskashvili is the stupidest politician in the world Or may be the cleverest .Hey now he can win elections on basis of rising nationalism in his country. But at what cost life of innocent people.?????????????

    August 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm |
  28. Disabled Vet

    Russia has one thing on its mind, becoming a Super Power again… No let me take that back, THE ONLY SUPER POWER! For the last decade Russia’s government is doing everything it can to enrich its country. For the last 20 years our leaders Democrat and Republican; Republican and Democrat alike do everything they can to enrich “THEMSELVES”. I hope we as American start to see the difference before it’s too late.
    I like Obama and McCain and I believe either would be a better president than Bush but, neither will make a real difference till Congress and the Senate pull their collective heads out of their rear… I can only name a few people in Washington that seem to be working hard for the American citizen and if you’re wondering their names aren’t Polosie, Reid, or Romney….

    August 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm |
  29. Gary Chandler in Canada

    Since this conflict started, CNN has yet to report on the 2 referendums that S Ossetians passed to become free and independent of Russia and Georgia!!!!!???????????????
    S Ossetia is a bit like Tibet in this way; let them have their freedom!
    S Ossetia is NOT a break away state of Georgia, as CNN keeps head lining. Since the break up of the USSR, Georgia, ITSELF, has recognised S Ossetia as an autonomous state.
    Along with Russian and Ossentian soldiers, Georgia has supplied forces to keep the peace between the Ossetian majority and the Georgian minority.
    Last Friday Georgia, suddenly, decided to annex S Ossetia and invaded. They were repelled by Russia. The Georgian president should be considered a war criminal!

    August 12, 2008 at 11:31 am |
  30. Heather

    You are right.I seem to recall Russia shutting off fuel to Lithuania.

    August 12, 2008 at 11:22 am |
  31. Gary Chandler in Canada

    CNN has reported that S Ossetia is an autonomous nation, a break away province, a province of Georgia.
    Which one is correct, and it is IMPORTANT for understanding and making comments and decisions?
    Think of S Ossetia a bit like Tibet, only China has stronger historical claims over Tibet than Georgia has over Ossetia.
    Georgia, itself, has recognised S Ossetia as an autonomous nation after the break up the USSR. S Ossetia is NOT a break away state, like CNN keeps saying.
    While there is a minority population of Georgians there, like the Chinese in Tibet, the majority is Ossentian with Russian passports.
    They have passed 2 referendums with over 95% majority. Russia recognises the refernenda but the US does not. While S Ossetia is not internationally recognised as an independent nation, NEITHER is is recognised as a province of Georgia.
    It is an autonomous state that wants to be independent!

    August 12, 2008 at 11:15 am |
  32. deborah, OH

    Of course, it's all about oil! This country needs to WAKE UP, & get busy trying to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I don't think it will be one answer, but several ideas put together. Then, maybe, the temptation to get involved in these 'wars' will go away–not as long as Bush in office–but, maybe, someday.

    August 12, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  33. dariel

    Understand something, Clinton not Bush started this mess. Bush just helped it along.

    The truth of the whole thing is, Russia realized the importance of oil to the future economy while "ALL" our leaders Dem and Rep. didn't. Shame on everyone who has been in Washington for the last 30 years. YES OBAMA and McCain included!!!

    This isn't a specific party fault. THEY ALL SCREWED IT UP. And if we don't change our thinking real soon on OIL and alternative energies there will be only ONE TRUE SUPER POWER and it won't be us...

    August 12, 2008 at 10:36 am |
  34. Annie Kate

    How many wars does Bush have to have his finger in (either with direct forces in the war or encouraging someone else along the path of war) before he is done or happy? Sometimes I think Bush's main goal was to mess up the world as much as he could for the rest of us; they say Warren Harding was the worst president we have had in history because his administration was so corrupt – I think Bush is going to give him a good run for his title.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 12, 2008 at 10:09 am |
  35. Pat

    Why am I not surprised that the Bush Administration played a leading hand in this battle! Except for Africa's struggles, it seems America has been a key player in all current and past battles around the world!

    August 12, 2008 at 10:00 am |
  36. Cindy

    It is obvious that Russia wants to control Georgia so that they can control the flow of oil. Why else would they want that territory back? They want to be the "big" hancho that everyone has to go through to get to the oil and to get the oil back out to them.

    Russia wants to be a major player once again in the world and I think they'd do anything to get there.


    August 12, 2008 at 9:46 am |