Mr. Bonner is a former foreign correspondent and television writer/ producer. He has published seven books, including three on Protestantism.
Here is what Mensur Akgun, a columnist for the Turkish-language daily newspaper Referans wrote — not mincing words — about Michael Saakashvili’s assault on South Ossetia: “What the Georgian leader did is really insane. No matter what the reason is, provoking a big country like Russia is insane, pure and simple. After all, you are attacking the peace force of a giant country right before your nose and hoping that this country will comply with this and tolerate what you are doing” (tr. Turkish Daily News, August 14, 2008).
The Georgians opened fire on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, shortly before midnight on August 7 using multiple rocket launchers. The barrage continued till dawn and was followed by air attacks that destroyed schools, churches and the main hospital, as well as homes. Russia claimed 2,000 people were killed, but, according to the Human Resources Watch, the city hospital registered just 44 dead and 273 wounded. Crucial from Moscow’s view is that 15 Russian peacekeeping troops stationed there under 1992 accords were killed and dozens wounded. Three days later, about 150 Russian tanks rumbled through the Roki tunnel from the north. They had been on alert. A month earlier, they had taken part in a North Caucasus military exercise. The tanks continued without halting to decimate the Georgian city of Gori (Stalin’s birthplace and the site of a new Georgian military base).
Are Ossetia and Abkhazia breakaways, as Georgia insists, or historical linguistic and ethnic identities? A review of the Soviet divide-and-rule process will demonstrate that the evidence is on the side of the statelets. The mountains of the Caucasus, ranging to above 9,000 feet, are a barricade that has trapped the migration of peoples into a mosaic of ethnicities, with each clan asserting its identity. Ossetians, for instance, are distant descendants of Alans, an Iranian nomadic tribe first mentioned in about 1300. They built a large empire that was destroyed by Huns in the next century. With the Mongol invasions of the following centuries, many fled south across the mountains, hence Ossetian-Alans, as they call themselves.
The issue comes down to the right of self-determination — a right first claimed by American colonists, let us recall. Ossetia held two national elections that endorsed independence from Georgia; Abkhazia shares ethnic and cultural roots with north Caucasian peoples, usually lumped together as Circassians. President George W. Bush cites the insistence of the United Nations on upholding the boundaries of its members, but the United Nations began as a hastily formed World War II institution to prevent wars between the five major powers of the era. It has no authority over self-determination. Georgia became part of the Russian Empire in the eighteenth century, when its king, fearing annexation by the Ottoman or Persian empires, asked the tsars to annex his country. Georgians managed to establish their own state in May 1918, following the downfall of the tsars. That ended when the Bolsheviks arrived in 1921 and smashed all independent entities, including the Georgian state.
Lenin in his early years accepted the self-rule of ethnicities, which he described as “nations,” as a convenient tool to weaken the tsarist regime and win supporters among minorities, but once in power he would not allow the dissolution of the Russian empire. As a divide-and-rule tactic, the Soviets created “national languages” by distorting and adapting various local linguistic variations. The best example is the creation of Kazakh, Uzbek and other artificially separated Central Asian regions, despite a common Turkic tongue differentiated only by dialects.
After consolidating its authority, the Soviet Federation was fleshed out in 1935 as a republic of many ethnicities and languages organized on three levels. A Union Republic (SSR) was at the top, with a constitution, political institutions and symbols, education and media in the nation’s language. Subordinate to it was an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), defined as the territory of a national minority. Like a republic, an ASSR possessed a language, defined borders, a constitution, a university and publishing houses. Next down was an Autonomous District (Oblast, AO), a minority with an official language and control over local affairs, but not entitled to its own university or media.
In practice, everything was controlled through Communist party machinery (the nomenklatura) and only secondarily through local governmental machinery with few local options. When Soviet rule disintegrated under the impetus of Gorbachev’s Glasnost, the nomenklatura glue that held a Soviet republic together dissolved. The assets of an ASSR and AO reduced the cost of declaring freedom. They were not breakaways. They were dominated subjects, retaining memories of freedoms past, reinforced by Lenin’s usage of the term “nation.”
THE DREADFUL ’90s
Georgia had a population of 4.6 million at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Several thousand individuals demonstrated in spring 1989 against an Abkhaz attempt at independence. Gorbachev authorized the use of Soviet troops to crush them, which they did with force in Tbilisi on April 9, leaving 21 Georgians dead on the streets. It was called Black Sunday. Nationalist and anti-Russian feelings increased in its aftermath.
Attention then shifted to South Ossetia. The Soviet Republic of Georgia abolished its autonomy in 1989 and imposed Georgian as the official language. South Ossetia declared its independence in 1992. The Georgians invaded to regain control and were soon defeated. There was a surplus of weapons to be snatched from Soviet armories. North Ossetian volunteers armed themselves and aided their compatriots in a “just” war for home soil. About one-third of the 100,000 people who lived in South Ossetia were Georgian. They fled, mostly to Tbilisi, filling its hotels as internally displaced persons (IDs).
When Abkhazia declared independence in 1989, its population was estimated at about 525,000, of whom slightly less than 20 percent were Abkhazian, while 45 percent were Georgian (the remainder mostly Russians and Armenians). A losing side in a Georgian factional struggle sought sanctuary in Abkhazia, touching off a war between Georgians and Abkhazians. Victory went to the local Abkhaz, aided by ever-eager-to-fight Cossacks, volunteers from the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, and some Russians. The war ended with an estimated 7,000 killed on both sides. About 250,000 Georgians fled, joining the thousands who earlier had left South Ossetia. They too were put up in large hotels that became warrens of hunger and misery. For years afterward, there was hardly a place to sit in Tbilisi not occupied by a woman, often with a child, begging for a few coins.
Georgia came close to collapsing as a “failed state.” It was rescued by former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who was named president after a coup in early 1992. In June1992, he met Soviet President Boris Yeltsin to establish a ceasefire to be monitored by a joint peacekeeping force, including 2,500 Russians, in the two regions. Shevardnadze, aided by Russia, built a state security force and thus become the sole master of Georgia by 1995. Further, his familiar face at the United Nations brought Georgia international recognition.
SAAKASHVILI AND THE “ROSE REVOLUTION”
Mikheil Saakashvili (born December 1967) received a law degree from the Kiev State University (Ukraine) in 1992 and two years later another law degree from Columbia University in New York City. Through family connections, he received an internship in a prominent New York law firm. Shevardnadze, who sought a prominent name to bolster his fading regime, invited Saakashvili through an emissary to return home. He did and was elected to parliament in December 1995 as a member of Shevardnadze’s Union of Citizens of Georgia party.
Saakashvili made his reputation as chairman of a committee to create a new electoral system, an independent judiciary and a nonpolitical police force, gaining high public recognition. He resigned from parliament in early September 2001 at the peak of his fame, saying, “I consider it immoral for me to remain as a member of Shevardnadze’s government.” He warned that corruption “would turn the country into a criminal enclave in one or two years.” (Such heightened speech would become his style.) Saakashvili founded the United National Movement (UNM) to prepare to challenge his erstwhile mentor for the presidency.
OTPOR AND KMARA
The student demonstrations that swept most of Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s did not affect Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia. When he was ousted, the most evil man in Europe, and the most dangerous to oppose, was Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Massive anti-Milosevic demonstrations in Belgrade in March 1991 were quickly and violently dispersed by police. Students instead began to develop symbolic action. The following year, thousands chanting “Slobo, You Are Saddam,” wrapped a mile-long black ribbon around the federal parliament to protest the siege of Sarajevo. But nothing seemed to have any effect.
In the early 1990s, those involved in the mass shows of strength turned to acts of individual courage to deprive the regime of the fear that had become its greatest weapon. They titled their actions Otpor, “Enough.” A recruiting campaign transformed Otpor into a movement of ultimately more than 70,000 activists, including representatives of political parties. Otpor challenged Milosevic by plastering its symbol, a clenched black-and-white fist, and the slogan Gotov Je (“He’s finished”) throughout Serbia.
Milosevic, confident he had neutralized the opposition, called for an election to maintain the appearance of legitimacy. Opposition political parties and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), aided by their international counterparts and many donors, avoided past mistakes by developing firm unity, organizing get-outthe-vote drives and monitoring the results to prevent fraud. Finally, the electorate forced the Milosevic government from power in October 2000.
This inspired students at Tbilisi State University to protest official corruption at their school. In 2000, nearly 2,500 students elected the first student government at a state university in Georgia’s history. Similar student governments were elected in universities across the country. The event that initiated a move for sweeping change was an election in November 2003. It was charged that Shevardnadze’s claim of victory was based on rigging the vote. International observers agreed. By then, Liberty Institute, a Georgian human-rights group, had formed an Otpor clone called Kmara (the Georgian translation of Otpor’s slogan “Enough”). Liberty Institute at that time was headed by former CIA Director James Woolsey. Kmara volunteers were trained by the Belgrade-based Center for Nonviolent Resistance and funded by Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and others. Actually, most of its funds came from the Open Society Institute of the international financier George Soros, who flew several of the new activists, including Saakashvili, to Belgrade to prepare them for nonviolent resistance to the Shevardnadze regime. Soros paid for fleets of busses to carry protestors to parliament. What was publicized as a “storming” of parliament was a peaceful walk-in. Shevardnadze had already announced his resignation and sauntered out a back door. Saakashvili led the way through the front door holding a bunch of roses. Shevardnadze’s resignation was officially accepted the next day.
“WE WON’T FORGIVE THOSE WHO SPIT AT US”
President George W. Bush flew to Tbilisi on May 9, 2005, to welcome the newcomers to democracy, passing along a freshly tarred road with a curve at the end where his car had to slow down to read a huge sign proclaiming it George W. Bush Street. The president later addressed a crowd in the city’s Freedom Square, praising Georgia as a model for democracy movements around the world. To conceive of democracy in the Caucasus defies reason and history. None of its states have advanced politically beyond their tribal origins as extended clans. Each intrigues against its neighbors, yet all clans unite when challenged by a linguistic intruder.
In the following years, the media portrayed Georgia, in the words of Mark Almond of Oxford’s Oriel College, as a version of “Camelot in the Caucasus.” For instance, the British weekly The Economist gushed on August 9, 2004:
Mikheil Saakashvili has the charm and energy of youth, the advantage of good English and a clear commitment to liberal democracy, which he proposes to apply to the whole of his country. His arrival on the scene, his popularity, and his policies offer living proof that things can go right in the southern Caucasus.
It was more likely that things would go wrong, and they did. With each side claiming the other was provocative, there was a tit-for-tat of retaliations. Russia banned the import of Georgian wines in late March 2006, claiming they contained impurities. Wine was Georgia’s secondmost-important export (after fruits), with 70 percent of its production going to its northern neighbor. The ban was disastrous. At least half its grapes were left to rot on the vine.
In July 2006, Georgian police and security forces took control of the Kodori Valley of Saakashvili made a speech in Poland in September 2006 that some Russian media interpreted as depicting Russia as a “barbarous tribe of Huns.”
Capping it all, on September 27, 2006, Georgia arrested four Russians on charges of espionage. The next day, Russia recalled its just-appointed ambassador, Vyacheslav Kovalenko. Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of Russia”s Parliament, warned: “We won’t forgive those who spit at us.”
Saakashvili told reporters the four men would be freed despite “a very solid case of espionage, subversion and trying to destabilize my country.” Aside from the charge of destabilization, typical of Saakashvili’s heightened speech, the others were probably true. Moscow rebutted that the men were arranging the closure of the last of two Russian bases in Georgia, but their activities had the earmarks of Russian military intelligence.
Saakashvili’s mistake was not simply to expel the four men but to attempt to make them examples of
Russia’s earlier retaliatory actions, including a ban on granting visas to Georgians, had the incidental value of emphasizing how dependent Georgia was on Russia. . . . One million Georgians live in Russia as foreign workers.
Russian interference in his nation’s internal affairs. He announced they would be “paroled.” They were to be handed over to the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but not before they Abkhazia, hitherto controlled by local were paraded, one by one, guarded on both Georgian militias. The valley, really a steep sides, before the international media while rift, had no importance. Georgia’s thrust a list of espionage charges against them was an attempt to establish a back way was read aloud. The four were joined by into central Abkhazia. two others, who had holed up in the Russian embassy, and all six left for Moscow the next day.
Russia’s earlier retaliatory actions, including a ban on granting visas to Georgians, had the incidental value of emphasizing how dependent Georgia was on Russia. Mikhail Kasyanov, the leader of Russia’s Peoples Democratic Union, estimated that one million Georgians lived in Russia as foreign workers. It is impossible to determine the actual number because, according to Russian authorities, more than half the Georgians were working illegally and hence not enumerated. Russian lawmakers scheduled debate, but took no action, on a bill that would have barred Georgians living in Russia from cabling money home. Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia’s lower house, said Georgians living in Russia sent home about $1 billion a year.
The crisis subsided by the end of December 2006, when Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko returned to Tbilisi to deliver letters of accreditation to President Saakashvili that he had not submitted earlier because of his abrupt recall. He said he hoped for better days. As an expression of good faith, flights to and from Russia and Tbilisi were resumed in late March, 18 months after the start of the espionage row. Sea links were restored a week later, with Russian passenger steamship travel from the Black Sea port of Sochi to Georgia’s Batumi port. Kovalenko conceded there were bilateral problems but promised that Russia would make every effort to ensure they would be resolved, adding it was up to Georgia to make reciprocal moves.
The question will always be: Why did Saakashvili pull the trigger? There is no doubt it was his action alone. The rocketing of Tskhinvali began with no advance discussion in Georgia’s parliament or foreign office. On August 18, 2008, Tara McCormack, a lecturer in European Union Studies and International Relations at the University of Westminster, wrote an article for Spiked, a British online journal of opinion. “The crisis in Georgia has been depicted in terms of a democratic state bravely standing up to its former colonial master, Russia,” she wrote. As to why Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia, she suggested it “…was an attempt by Saakashvili to resolve his weak position domestically via his international sponsors.”
Ms. McCormack sought a reasonable political answer. But, though the suggestion of insanity offered by Turkish columnist Mensur Akgun cited at the start of this article may be excessive, it is possible to consider some sort of pathology. In an online interview with CNN during the first days of the affair, Saakashvili referred to South Ossetia as “my country,” personalizing the struggle. Then there was the bizarre press conference on August 15, 2008, after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Tbilisi to tell him no troops would be coming to his aid. Saakashvili blamed the Russian invasion on a NATO meeting in April 2008, where Georgia failed to gain admission to that organization. With the stone-faced Rice next to him, Saakashvili went on: “So who invited the trouble here? Who invited this arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here? Not only those people who perpetrate them are responsible, but also those people who failed to stop it.” Apparently the “who” was all except him. He was nearly in tears. Rice later spoke of “an emotional moment.”
A newcomer journalist in Tbilisi, sensing anomalies, noticed the curious fact that almost every public building was decorated with the circle-of-stars flag of the United Nations. He even found a decrepit country school flying the flag. Saakashvili has the flag on his left whenever he appears on camera for television interviews. There is no possibility that the United Nations will accept such a small, remote and troubled nation. It is as if Saakashvili believes he can make the dream come true by flying the flag.
On September 17, 2007, the Christian Science Monitor reported, “Georgia is no free-spirited democratic republic, but an increasingly authoritarian regime that bans overly critical media outlets and criminalizes opposition parties.” A month later, about a half dozen opposition leaders were accused of espionage and plotting a coup. They were arrested and remain in prison, without formal charges or a trial.
In the short term at least, the rocketing of South Ossetia did seem a political success for Saakashvili. When news spread that France’s Nicolas Sarkozy had negotiated a ceasefire, hundreds of thousands of Georgians flooded Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main street, to read poetry and sing songs as if they had won a victory. Then the United States demonstrated support in August 2008 by sending three warships, including the Mount Whitney, the flagship of the Navy’s Mediterranean fleet, ostensibly to deliver relief supplies. (The reason for the subterfuge was that the Montreux Convention of 1936 bans sending ships to the Black Sea without the specific permission of Turkey. The convention specifies that ships transporting aid cannot be barred. Even so, warships would be limited to 21 days.)
“The United States is our great friend,” Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili told reporters. He added: “They have arrived at such a difficult time. It means we are not alone,” ignoring the fact that Georgia was left alone when Russian tanks were roaming widely. As if to make up for this, on September 3, the White House announced a comprehensive aid package valued at $1.1 billion to help Georgia recover from the beating it took after attacking South Ossetia,
Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia did Vladimir Putin an immeasurable favor. Putin, with his swift and decisive response, demonstrated that Russia’s rebirth from the failed Soviet Union was so decisive that it could thumb its nose at those demanding a quick withdrawal from Georgia. As the new president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, said on August 12, the Russians would withdraw only after the “aggressor is punished and its military forces are unraveled.” (As a side issue, a mere threat from the Abkhaz sent the Georgians scurrying from the Kodori Valley.)
GULLING THE GULLIBLE
The most detailed analysis of contemporary Georgia is a November 3, 2007, report by Mark Almond of Oxford’s Oriel College, “Black Roses: Georgia’s Reformers Fall Out; Georgia’s Transition from ‘People Power’ to Caucasian Cockpit.” In the introduction to the 17-page text, which is available online, Almond lists his visits to Georgia: “a dozen times since 1992 on behalf of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group and (in 1995) the Norwegian Helsinki Human Rights Group.”Almond writes:
Georgians have a long history of gulling gullible journalists. After all, fellow traveling was invented by hacks hanging on Stalin’s every word, but any anthropologist or sociologist would point out that young people are the most socialized to the dominant system. It is all they have known. In this case it is all their parents and grandparents knew and served. Far from representing an automatic break with Soviet behavioral norms in Georgia, Saakashvili and his generation exemplified the way Sovietised Georgians operated within a patronage system dominated by a distant all-powerful boss. Shevardnadze saw the sun rise in Moscow, ‘where Lenin lies;’ Saakashvili sees the sun rise in the West, in Washington.
Almond begins his report with two quotations. The first: “Georgia has made stunning progress in carrying out substantial economic, judicial and state reforms … that should allow Georgia to become a prosperous liberal market economy and a full-fledged democracy governed by human rights and the rule of law. Georgia has set an example for the whole region and beyond” (Council of Europe rapporteurs Matyas Eorsi and Kastriot Islami, September 13, 2007).
The second: “The style of Saakashvili’s governance … has made dishonesty, injustice and oppression a way of life. Everyday repression, demolition of houses and churches, robbery, ‘kulakization’, and murders — I would stress — murders, have become common practice for the authorities.” The source was former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, September 25, 2007).
Okruashvili was the best informed. He and Saakashvili were the two leading figures in the purported “Rose Revolution.” Okruashvili later served as prosecutor-general, purging supporters of ousted President Shevardnadze and then as defense minister. There was a dramatic falling out when Okruashvili left Saakashvili’s government in November 2006. Ten months later, he launched a “Movement for a United Georgia” and held a press conference from which Almond borrowed the above quotation. One of his revelations is of particular note: “Three years ago I detained Saakashvili’s uncle, Temur Alasania, for taking a bribe of $200,000, but the president made me release him.” The Alasania clan is one of the most powerful in Georgia. Okruashvili was arrested two days later and taken to Tbilisi’s Isolator Number 7, described by Mark Almond as “the scene of well-documented torture of political prisoners since 1991.” With such “encouragement,” Okruashvili not only recanted his charges but confessed to his own crimes in a video session with interrogators but without his lawyer present. Okruashvili posted bail of almost $6 million and was released. No one asked how a man on a meager government salary who had made his reputation as a corruption fighter had so much money at his disposal.
Defying the American naval expression of “friendship” for Georgians, Russian President Medvedev on August 27, 2008, announced he had signed a decree recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “We are not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a new Cold War,” he said. At a later news conference, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, answered questions about the smallness of South Ossetia. “There are at least half a dozen UN members whose population is less than the population of South Ossetia,” he said. Others pointed to the flourishing European principalities of Liechtenstein and Andorra, both of which are about the size of South Ossetia.
What appeared to be a final settlement was reached in early September, when European Union leaders, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, met with Lavrov at a castle outside Moscow. They agreed that Russian forces in buffer zones outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia would pull back within a month, to be replaced with an international monitoring force including a 200-strong EU contingent. Lavrov termed the agreement a vindication because it included an EU guarantee that Georgia would not use force again against the so-called separatists. After the UN leaders left, he made clear that 3,800 Russian troops would be stationed in each republic, adding: “They will be there for a long time, at least for the foreseeable period. That is necessary to not allow a repeat of Georgian aggression.” It represented a total defeat for Saakashvili. Not only had the states gained defacto recognition, but there would be a UN force to bar future Georgian ambitions.
TURKEY AS A CONCILIATOR
Perhaps there is a final bonus, a search for a thaw in the frozen conflicts that have plagued the Caucasus for almost two decades. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a string of meetings with Russian, Georgian and Azerbaijani leaders, conceived the idea of a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform” to create an inclusive (Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) new approach. At first glance, it seemed impossible. Azerbaijan, for one, was unlikely to warm to cooperation with Armenia due to Armenia’s continued occupation of 20 percent of the Azeri Soviet state. An added complication came in late August 2008. Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze announced that his nation had broken diplomatic relations with Russia because its forces still occupy part of Georgia. Thus it seemed impossible for Georgia to join any organization seeking reconciliation.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul flew to Yerevan September 8 at the invitation of Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan to watch a World Cup qualifying match between the soccer teams of the two nations. Gul’s motorcade from the airport traveled along streets lined with thousands of people holding placards reading in English and Armenian, “We want justice”; “Turkey admit your guilt”; and “1915 never again.” The two leaders watched the game behind bulletproof glass at the stadium, which is only 500 meters from a memorial dedicated to the Armenians killed in World War I. Armenian fans whistled when the Turkish national anthem was played at the start of the game. (The Turkish team won, 2-0.)
According to official Turkish policy, normalization of ties depends particularly on Armenian withdrawal from the former Soviet Armenian Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan (the region and surrounding territory were seized by Armenia in a struggle between 1988 and 1994), as well as an end to Armenian genocide claims and an official endorsement by Armenia of the current borders between the two countries. No one, certainly not Gul, could claim success. At best, Gul told reporters on the plane back to Ankara, “My visit broke psychological barriers in the Caucasus.” He said he had won Yerevan’s support for the new regional grouping in the Caucasus and that there was not even a veiled reference to the genocide issue during a one-and-a-halfhour meeting with Sarksyan. In contrast, the Armenian president raised the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Gul said. “I wasn’t expecting we would discuss the issue at such length,” he added.
Two days later, Gul flew to Baku for a follow-up meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. On his return journey Gul said, “I have seen there the same honest, clear, sincere desire for a solution and respect for the adversary that I witnessed earlier in Armenia.” For his part, Aliyev told reporters he was optimistic, simply saying: “There are some factors and news that give hope.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Moscow will cooperate to set the framework of the new Caucasus mechanism. “This initiative is based on common sense,” he said, adding that the countries of the region should deal with the problems rather than countries from afar imposing their own solutions. This was reference to the fact that the five-nation platform will shut out the United States.
Lavrov had praise for Turkey. While Russia has accused NATO countries of arming Georgia, Lavrov saw Turkey’s NATO membership as no obstacle for Turkish-Russian friendship. This was recognition of a 180-degree turnabout. During the Cold War, Turkey was NATO’s southern flank to isolate the Soviet Union. Now, Russia is Turkey’s leading trade partner, supplying it with up to 70 percent of its natural-gas needs through two pipelines, as well as 56.4 percent of its thermal coal, used in the country’s booming power and construction sectors. Moreover, it is dependable. After Iran turned off its gas to Turkey in 2007 to meet its own domestic needs, Russia promptly filled the gap.
A final offset of the Georgian conflict must be mentioned. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, completed in mid-2003, has a daily capacity to transfer a million barrels of oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey’s oil port on the Mediterranean. Pipelines were extended to Eastern Europe, ending Russia’s virtual monopoly on the supply of oil to Europe. The United States and EU have long urged a start of what is known as the Nabucco pipeline project as another route from the Caspian, bypassing Russia. Plans, which never firmed up in any case, may now be permanently shelved.
Socar, the Azerbaijan state energy firm, citing fears of instability in Georgia, has announced that it expects to reroute 300,000-400,000 metric tons of crude oil in 2008 through Russia, using the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline rather than the BTC link. In addition, Socar, according to a company statement reported by Reuters, is considering pumping 1.3 million to 1.4 million tons through Russia. If there is a final Azeri decision not to risk its supplies through Georgia, this could easily be enormously increased. Another Russian gain.