Friday, August 22, 2008


Alex Lantier

US media claims about Georgian democracy notwithstanding, a key factor in US backing for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in his conflict with Russia has been the emergence of Georgia as a key transit country for oil and gas exports from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea basin.

The August 7 outbreak of hostilities between Georgia and Russia, as Georgia bombarded Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, is the predictable result of the US’s aggressive use of pipeline politics and proxy states to assert its commercial and military influence in Central Asia.

The broad outlines of this policy have governed US relations with the former Soviet republics ever since the 1991 collapse of the USSR. At the time, US investors rushed in to acquire large portions of the former USSR’s economy, notably the oil and gas industries of the Caspian Basin. In the early 1990s, Western energy companies acquired stakes in developing numerous projects, such the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) fields in Azerbaijan, and the Dauletabad natural gas field in Turkmenistan.

From the outset, US firms and advisors pressed the ex-Soviet states to agree to pipeline routes bypassing countries the US viewed as inimical to its interests, notably Russia and Iran. Such pipelines not only deprived US rivals of transit fees and political leverage arising from their ability to cut off pipeline flows, but also gave Washington the opportunity to weld together pro-US regional alliances.

In the mid-1990s, the administration of US President Bill Clinton settled on two main pipeline projects to export Caspian oil and gas while bypassing the territories of Russia, Iran and China. The first was a plan to export Turkmen gas through Afghanistan and Pakistan to ports on the Indian Ocean—a plan that led Washington to support the Taliban in 1995-6 in an attempt to unify and pacify Afghanistan so that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline could be built. The plan ultimately foundered on the Taliban’s inability to conquer northern Afghanistan.


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