The Russia-Georgia conflict and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline by Manana Kochladze – This article was first published in Platform’s Carbon Web newsletter, issue 10.
A new Cold War. Punishment of Georgia’s pro-western tendencies. Reincarnation of a strong Russia. A return to a multipolar world. What all these narratives miss is that the Great Game is old, and struggles for Caspian Oil only its latest play. The players, and likely winners, are primarily G8-based multinational corporations and politicians that claim success in creating so-called ‘energy security’, while the perennial losers are local communities and the environment.
Since plans for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline first emerged, the impacts on local safety and security were amongst the main concerns raised by local communities and NGOs. However, the Western governments driving the plans and the international financial institutions that funded them strove to convince the region’s poor that the BTC and parallel Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline would bring economic prosperity and stronger democracy to the region. The reality has been one of misery, increased poverty and now conflict that has displaced thousands of Georgian citizens.
The construction of the pipeline in an unstable region like the Caucasus always looked like risky business, given the existing political and military tensions, particularly along apparent religious and ethnic faultlines. Despite this, project assessments by the oil companies, public banks and export credit agencies did not adequately assess security risks and impacts on local populations. BP fiercely refused proposals from environmentalists to move the pipeline route from the Borjomi Gorge, Georgia’s ecological treasure, to a shorter route closer to Armenian border, with the mysterious objection that it passed close to a Russian military base. This despite the fact that the potential for Russian attacks were never publicly studied.
A few days after a PKK-claimed explosion in Turkey put BTC out of action, Russian jets bombed the pipeline route in southern Georgia, leaving 50 deep craters in the fields along the route. Some missiles landed within 100 yards of the pipeline itself. Several days later, large fires started across the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park in the vicinity of the pipeline, immediately after Russian military helicopters flew over the forested areas.
Russian Premier Putin stated that “Russia’s actions have caused no damage to BTC pipeline”, inadvertently stating that “We are carefully treating our energy facilities and we do not intend to cause damage to anything.” His words strangely echoed BP’s statements that there is no evidence that Russian forces attempted to bomb the BTC line.
As in the James Bond movie “The World is not Enough”, a ‘happy’ end is expected, as at some point Russia and the Western multinationals will agree how to share out Caspian wealth and control over the region. And as in the movie, the misery of poverty and a destroyed environment will be forgotten.
Tbilisi-based Manana Kochladze is founder of Green Alternative (www.greenalt.org) and Caucasus Regional Coordinator of CEE Bankwatch Network (www.bankwatch.org)