Monday, August 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Expert Admits Russian Interest in Blocking Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 18 – A leading Moscow State University expert on the post-Soviet states argues that the Russian Federation’s main goals in Georgia did not include blocking the flow of oil through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, but she says that “the possibility cannot be excluded” that Moscow was pursuing “other goals” including that.
In an interview to MGU’s Information-Analytic Center on the CIS countries, Natalya Kharitonova, the general director of that body, said that “considering the love” Russian and Western experts have for focusing on energy issues, “one ought to have expected” that there would be a discussion of oil in the Georgian conflict (
Many experts, she points out, connected the August 6 PKK attack on the pipeline which stopped the flow of oil and the beginning of the military conflict, with some of them implying if not saying outright that either the one led to the other or that the two together were part of a general plan to force Azerbaijan to seek alternative routes for the export of its oil.
“Baku, forced to significantly reduce the pumping of oil, immediately stopped using the Baku-Batumi and Baku-Kulevi rail lines again in connect with military actions in Georgia.” The Baku-Supsa line had already been stopped for “technical reasons,” Kharitonova says, but “in official versions are being invoked almost exclusively political reasons.”
Now as a result, Azerbaijani hydrocarbons are flowing through Russian territory on the Baku-Novorossiisk line, but because Baku can export only 7 to 8 percent as much via this pipeline as via Baku-Ceyhan, she added, “Turkey intends to buy additional supplies from Russia and Iran” to compensate.
Not surprisingly, given the impact all this is having on both the economic well-being and geopolitical relations in the region, the Moscow scholar says, Tbilisi has accused the Russian government of planning to disrupt such flows as part of its military effort, although such suggestions have been dismissed by Russian and Western specialists.
But now other explanations are springing up. Some, Kharitonova notes, are saying that the disruption was the “work of Georgian provocateurs” who were looking for something to blame Russia that would attract the attention of the West, while others are saying this is yet another effort to disrupt the NABUCCO program.
Most of those making these suggestions, however, offer little or no evidence to back up their claims, but the Moscow specialist points out that there are two obvious things going on. On the one hand, Iran is getting more active and is now talking about building a Neka-Dzhask pipeline to compete with Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and thereby increase Tehran’s influence.
And on the other, Russia has two clear motives for an interest in the stopping of the BTC pipeline. First of all, it has never wanted to see the construction and operation of oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russian territory. And second, it has an interest in “forcing Western countries to put pressure on Georgia” to draw back so that the oil can flow.
“There are a large number of versions” of why this has happened, Kharitonova notes, and she “suggests that one ought not to ignore any of them,” although she adds that it would be a mistake to fail to see that what has happened in Georgia and with the BTC may be nothing more than “a simple coincidence.”
But she ends by acknowledging that “there are too many interests” intersecting in this part of the world to ignore the ways in which those who produce oil, those who transport it and those who consume it are in geopolitical competition. Indeed, she says, it is time to talk about “geo-economics” when it comes to oil, gas and politics in the Caucasus.

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