August 27, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Sergey Pravosudov


Warfare benefits not energy transit but energy blackmail

It is no secret that the US establishment regards Georgia as a key ally in the Black Sea region. This country was chosen as the first playground of "colored revolution" across the former Soviet territory. That is not surprising: Washington is interested in securing its influence in the area cross with oil and gas pipelines. When US instructors started training Georgian soldiers, the pretext for that was the necessity to safeguard the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil route and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas route.

At the first glance, the US support of the Georgian assault on South Ossetia is surprising, as warfare does not benefit reliability of transit. The only plausible explanation could be seen in a deliberate effort to intimidate European nations and Turkey that consume energy resources pumped across Transcaucasia. The European Union, whose politicians have lately expressed reluctance to comply with US policies vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan and potentially Iran, was reminded that Washington and its close allies still possess the keys of the Caucasus. The message, addressed to Russia, suggested that the "stronghold of democracy" is not going to idly watch the increasing strength of its economy and diplomacy.

In 1980s, the United States were similarly active in the attempts to prevent implementation of Soviet-European agreements on oil and gas deliveries. Still, the Europeans managed to withstand this pressure. USSR's disintegration was logically followed with return of US-British corporate interests to Baku, and the subsequent propaganda of various versions of alternative transit, reinforced with palm-greasing and subversion.

The newly-built Baku-Ceyhan oil route appeared to be insufficient for serving as a real alternative, contrary to relevant expertise propagated for years before. This fact only served as a pretext for prolonging the alternative route by linking Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan across the Caspian, encompassing Kazakh and Turkmen oil and gas resources as well. Despite arrogant political pressure and scenarios of coups d'etat in Astana and Ashkhabad, the nations of Central Asia prefer to export their resources along the trans-Russian route.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan transit has been precarious from the beginning – the fact pretty familiar to Iran. The major factor of risk is represented with the Kurdish insurgency that regularly plants bombs on Turkish-Iranian pipeline connections. The ensuing problems are usually solved by Russia that increases deliveries to Turkey along the Blue Stream gas route.

In this summer, a Kurdish bomb damaged the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline as well, disrupting oil deliveries from Azerbaijan. The Baku-Erzurum gas transit was ceased as well. According to the comments of Baku, it is technically impossible to export large amounts of gas if relevant amounts of oil are not shipped simultaneously. Who solved the problem? Again, it was Russia that offered Baku to use the Novorossiysk route for a portion of exports.

Under these unstable conditions, the construction of the Nabucco pipeline supposed to deliver Azerbaijan's gas to Europe, looks completely unrealistic. In fact, the infeasibility of this route was exposed at the time when the amounts of gas, extractable on the territory of Azerbaijan, were proven to be insufficient for providing 30 billion cub. m per year to fill the Nabucco pipe. Regarding that certain amounts of this gas are required by the economies of Azerbaijan itself, as well as Georgia and Turkey, the remaining several billion cubic meters for Europe would not "improve the weather" on the European continent.

The idea of connecting Azerbaijan with Central Asian states also with gas pipelines across the Caspian surfaced too late: Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan had already signed agreements on a new pipeline route directly connecting the national gas transit systems with the Russian gas export network.

In fact, the above described option failed due to the greed of US strategists who originally sought to take control over Iranian gas in the times of Mohammad Khattami. After Washington's efforts to promote an even more loyal political regime during the Iranian elections brought an opposite result, elevating Mahmoud Ahmadinejjad to the President's post, the State Department hurried to forbid US corporations to trade with Iran, and tried to coerce European partners to do the same. Only several months ago, France's Total caved in to the pressure, suspending its partnership in development of Iran's New Pars gas province. Not surprisingly, Tehran addressed Russia's Gazprom, proposing partnership in this and other projects. Thus, the complaints of Russia's expansionist energy policy are irrelevant: in fact, Moscow assists nations that get into trouble or are mistreated by the West.

Georgia's assault on South Ossetia, irradiating with new political instability in Ukraine, has made Central European states and Turkey really anxious, displaying fragility of the whole energy delivery system as well as fragility of the EU itself. Quite naturally, major energy consumers preferred to blame Russia, fearing a new split in European ranks, rising from minor Eastern members. The weakness of their argumentation was sarcastically commented by Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, inquiring whether it would make more sense for Russia to negotiate with Europe via the State Dept. The following week, particularly the talks of the foreign ministers of Germany and Russia, displayed the commitment of Central Europe to continue to maintain mutually favorable relations in energy policy.

Efforts of developing alternative kinds of energy as a substitute for oil and gas, broadly discussed in the West as a way of gaining more independence from exports, have proven inefficient. The US Republican Party is strongly pursuing projects of oil extracting in the Arctic. On this background, European states are likely to rely upon traditional energy resources as well. Thus, regardless from political collisions, joint Russian-European energy transport projects, like North Stream and South Stream, are likely to proceed.

Sergey Pravosudov is the Director of National Energy Institute, Moscow

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