This article was first published in Platform’s Carbon Web newsletter, issue 10.
British troops dispatched to Georgia to protect the flow of Caspian crude oil from Baku from the encroaching Russian threat.
This was 1919, when Britain took control of the Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti, the outlets through which Azeri oil was transported for onward shipment to Great Britain. The broader aim was to prevent Bolshevik forces from reaching the Rothshild’s Baku-Batumi railway line.
In August 2008, UK and US military and diplomatic muscle is again being exerted to maintain the flow of Azeri oil to the West. While there was no direct military intervention in Georgia during its recent conflict with Russia, US planes airlifted 2,000 Georgian troops out of the Green Zone in Baghdad to return them to the conflict with Russia. Guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, carrying Tomohawk cruise missiles, was one of five US Navy ships to dock in Batumi.
US Vice-President Cheney visited Baku and Tbilisi immediately after the ceasefire. Following a meeting with Bill Schrader, head of BP Azerbaijan, Cheney asserted that Washington’s intention was to ensure a ‘free stream’ of oil and natural gas from the Caspian Basin to the West. Azeri analysts believed that Cheney almost certainly prodded Azeri President Ilham Aliyev to be clearer in siding with the US in any future confrontation, and to allow the US to secure a military presence in Azerbaijan.
As in 1919, UK and US involvement in the Caucasus is heavily shaped by policies directed at maintaining control of export routes for Caspian oil. Pressure is exerted to ensure crude is shipped westwards to European markets, bypassing Russia and Iran and avoiding an Eastern export route to China. The short-term failure in Western attempts to avoid dependency on Russia will likely lead to intensified US and EU pressure for additional pipelines, such as the Nabucco gas route intended to carry Azeri and Turkmeni gas into the EU grid.