Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Georgia: Why?

So, now that Georgia seems to have withdrawn from South Ossetia in the face of the overwhelming force of Russia’s displeasure, the question has to be asked: how on earth did they think they were going to be able to get away with it?

As has been frequently mentioned over the last few days, Georgia has been trying to join NATO of late – and had it done so already, NATO may well have had to come to her aid when Russia started launching airstrikes. But why would NATO want such a small, impoverished country with a track record of more or less continuous political corruption since independence, even since the Rose Revolution supposedly ushered in a new age of democratic accountability back in 2003?

Georgia pipelinesThe map to the left may indicate why. And yes this is all part of my slowly developing geopolitics of European energy supply theory of relations between Russia and the west (see also theories about Armenia and Serbia – and a denial from Gazprom executive Alexander Medvedev (no relation)). Because, you see, the proposed Nabucco pipeline – designed pretty much exclusively to bypass Russian control over European natural gas supplies by providing an alternate, non-Russian route from the gas fields of Central Asia – is, in part, intended to be supplied by pipelines that run right through Georgia.

Proposed Nabucco pipeline routeThe recent military action has already caused alarm about existing oil and gas supplies (with a nice overview of the current situation from Reuters). But check the map to the left – the proposed route of the Nabucco pipeline, designed pretty much exclusively to prevent Russia from being able to play politics with European energy supply, as has already happened in Ukraine and elsewhere – including, ahem… Georgia (and again).

Nabucco - the missing linkFor more on Nabucco’s significance, check out this handy report (warning, PDF), which contains the handy graphic to the left, demonstrating how Nabucco is intended to be “the missing link” between the giant gas sources of Central Asia and the dwindling gas supplies/rising demand of Europe (all numbers in billions of cubic metres).

Gas supply routes into EuropeAnd so it should all begin to come clear. The West wants Georgia for its strategic value as one of the links in the Caucasian energy chain – the only route from Central Asia to Europe that doesn’t involve passing through less than reliable countries like Russia or Iran. The only supply route for non-European natural gas that will not be under Russian control (as can be seen in the map to the left) – and a direct competitor to Russia’s own planned Blue Stream pipeline.

Georgia, meanwhile, knowing her own strategic importance, seems merely to have overplayed her hand and acted too soon – perhaps assuming that her new Western partners (most of whom have funded the country’s existing pipelines via the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) would be quicker to protect their investment, perhaps assuming that Russia under Medvedev would be slower to act about such things than Russia under Putin. This despite Medvedev being the former chairman of Russian state energy giant Gazprom, the owner of a third of the world’s gas supplies, and the man responsible for the 2006 price hike on Georgian energy supplies.

It’s hard, then, not to think that Georgia’s been rather stupid about this whole affair. Most NATO member states, so keen on the concept of self-determination, are hardly going to look too favourably on forcing a breakaway region to step in line – especially after so many of them have so recently backed Kosovo’s independence. Plus, of course, South Ossetia is largely just rocks and mountains with very little in the way of value. Why not just let them go their own way? They’ve been causing trouble ever since the fall of the USSR – if they want independence so much, then it’s good riddance to bad rubbish, surely?

So, has anyone managed to come up with a reasonable explanation for Georgia getting involved in such a stupid fight? Fistful has had a couple of stabs, but I still can’t see how the Georgian government was this dumb…

Update: See also the map below, which provides a broader regional context along with greater detail – click for (very) big:

Black and Caspian Sea oil and gas pipelines


  1. Pingback: South Ossetia Roundup #2 « Amused Cynicism

  2. Pingback: The West should support Georgia « Amused Cynicism

  3. Interesting graphs!

    As for the why: nationalism is much more alive in Georgia than it is in Europe, and Georgia still has a lot of grievances over the wars it lost in the early 1990s in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Saakashvili has run and was elected on a nationalist platform, which included bringing these breakaway regions back into line. In response, the Russian government has moved to bind them closer to Russia.

    Internal politics is the only way to make sense of it, similar to the decision by Milosevic to launch an offensive in Kosovo back in 1999. Letting these territories go would have taken away Saakashvili’s base of power.

  4. Why can’t the pipeline simply go through Armenia instead or am I being stupid?

  5. Paul – from what I can gather, there’s two complimentary reasons why it’s not going through Armenia:

    1) Turkey aren’t happy for Armenia to be involved (that whole ongoing dispute about the Armenian genocide still souring relations between the two), and as Turkey is the single most essential link in the chain, what they say goes. (I may well be wrong on this, though…)

    2) Gazprom/Russia’s total dominance of the Armenian energy market (so much so that they allegedly even managed to force a reduction in the diameter of the Iran-Armenia pipeline), meaning that there’s been a huge amount of pressure from Moscow to stop Armenia doing anything to undermine Russian control of European energy supplies. My first stab at working out this particular conundrum can be found here – it’s something I’ve been meaning to develop further at some point, but haven’t yet got around to.

    Nanne – I think you’re almost certainly right – that old nationalist/populist chestnut causing trouble again. But it’s still insanely stupid to think they’d be allowed to get away with it – it was never going to sit well with either Russia or NATO, and if you piss both of them off and you’re only a small country in the Caucasus, you’re screwed.

  6. Was the Georgian govt being stupid, or were they ‘encouraged’ by portions of the US govt? Was McCain involved via his Georgia-lobbyist aide? Why ramp up tensions in the area right now?

  7. To add to what nosemonkey said: a pipeline supplying (at least in part) Azerbaijani oil and gas, running through Armenia? Maybe going through Karabakh along the way? Hmm, I wonder…

    The basic situation is that given the locations of Russia, Iran and the Caucasus, there’s no ‘reliable’ route from an EU perspective for a pipeline from the Caspian/Central Asia. (Not that Central Asia itself is particularly reliable either, given where the sympathies of these countries are forced to lie, and given the sanity levels shown by the Turkmen and Uzbek governments in recent years in particular.) The plan therefore ought to be to encourage pipelines all over the place, as a way of hedging our bets and making sure no one supplier has a threatening monopoly. (To be honest though, a lot of the gas will have to come from/through Russia whatever we do.)

  8. Pingback: Russia is kicking Georgia's butt! POW! ZING! - Southern Maryland Community Forums

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  11. A look back at the last month shows, that Russia has been carefully preparing this for a long time by actively fighting georgian air surveillance.
    Their 58th Army must have been waiting with warm engines for the georgians to attack. It’s not a quick reaction force. It appeared in the theater as if it had been already on the move before the georgians fired their first shots.

    If the georgians had succeeded in overrunning South Ossetia, they might have won the opportunity to block the southern exit of the tunnel which connects North Ossetia and South Ossetia.
    The russian 58th Army, the one that is now theatening Tiflis, would still be standing on the russian side of the mountain. The russians would have had to fight their way through whole Georgia vom Abchasia noth-west to tiflis south-east.
    Stopping the georgians from blocking the tunnel made this blitzkrieg possible. A successful georgian attack at the tunnel would have saved tiflis and the georgian government valuable time.

  12. Pingback: Oil and gas pipelines in the Caucasus | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  13. I don’t understand why most bloggers don’t see this for what it is, at total act of aggression on Georgia, a slap in the face of democracy and blunt spit in the face of the USA.

    Who cares about party lines? This country has become so divided by politics that we fail to see aggression that threatens our interest, our allies’ very lives and their existences.

    We should have been joined by Europe and other nations by exacting a response to acts of war that Putin declared by destroying this small nation. Instead we smiled and accepted a thumb to the nose form a nation that will never be trusted nor should they be trusted. PUTIN=KGB

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  15. Continue to let Americans know what they don’t already, throughout the multi-media channels! Remember, The United States of America is populated by almost every ethnicity on Earth. I can show you parts of North Atlanta, Georgia USA that you would think were a spread out version of NYC. There are people from all over the World living here! We even have small European markets with goods from over there. I can state 2 facts of the matters: People will move to the USA broke, or well off when they can not take it anymore in their homelands. ConocoPhillips is an expert in oil & gas pipeline technologies, etc. People can state what they want about the USA, but just watch the Olympics!

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  17. All of this tells us we are prepared to face nuclear giants like Russia because we are desperate to gain control over dwindling energy resources. I am amazed how few people are behind a more intelligent move: get congress to give technology access at Boeing, Lockheed, SAIC and others who clearly have antigravity and zero point energy working. Energy sources like these would free the whole world of interdependence on substance fuels. Also, if we had spent money on Dr. Bogdan Maglich’s helium-3 fusion power, we would not be in this mess. In 1989, he was a breath away from proving a concept that can take 9 grams of helium-3 fuel to attain the energy of 1,000 barrels of crude oil. I personally spent 10 years with this work. Despite signatures from Nobel giants like Seaborg, Gell-Mann, and others, even Al Gore turned us down in Congress.

  18. Pingback: Russia to join Nabucco pipeline project? | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  19. Pingback: Nosemonkey » Blog Archive » Russia to join Nabucco pipeline project?