The messenger logo

Georgia, Russia and energy

Monday, June 16
Russia “wielding the energy weapon” is a well-worn topic in the European media. When Moscow turned off gas supplies to Ukraine two years ago, governments across the continent were reminded of the political clout such a large energy supplier as Russia possesses. And they were also reminded of the importance of alternatives.

Last week, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski told the US Senate that Russian desire to control energy export routes lies at the heart of its policies towards Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow’s moves over the past few months—a decision in April to increase official ties with separatist authorities, unilaterally increasing peacekeepers in Abkhazia and more recently deploying railway troops there, is all aimed a destabilizing Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime, Brzezinski reportedly said. And this is part of a plan to take control over the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline.

“If the Georgian government is destabilized, Western access to Baku, the Caspian Sea and further will be limited,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to Azerbaijani news agency Today.Az.

Energy routes undoubtedly play a role in Russia’s thinking.

Back in 2005, shortly before the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan went online, a report by the British Global Market Briefings said the pipeline constituted a “significant blow” to Russia’s attempts to take over the energy network in the South Caucasus.

More recently, Moscow seems intent on putting up obstacles to the West’s planned Nabucco pipeline project, which aims to take Central Asian gas to Europe via the Caucasus and circumventing Russia.

Moscow raised eyebrows at the beginning of this month when an official from Russia’s Gazprom pitched an offer to purchase Azerbaijani gas at “market prices.”

That Russia is willing to snap up Azerbaijani gas at market price shows that in this case at least, it prioritizes geostrategic advantage above economic gain.

And a long term Russian deal with Azerbaijan would be a blow for the EU and the US, as it would threaten a major supply source for Nabucco.

Any pondering over energy routes should remind Europe of the useful friend it has in the Caucasus. Whether control over the BTC is at the heart of Russian policy toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia or not, energy will be an important consideration in regional politics here for a long time to come.

A stable Georgia can only help the West benefit more from its strategic relationship with this strategically located country.