August 22, 2008

Spanish Daily Views Role of “Energy Map” in Georgia, Russia Conflict

Text of report by Spanish newspaper ABC website, on 21 August

[Article by Dario Valcarcel: "Oil Pipelines and Gas Pipelines"]

Georgia receives oil, lots of oil, from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on the southeast coast of the Caspian Sea. From there it is pumped in great quantities along the BTC, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Pipeline, which starts on the Caspian coast, enters Georgia from the southeast and goes westward across the country and then crossing into Turkey to Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, former Soviet republics, sell their oil through the BTC. Without knowing the energy background of the Georgian conflict it is difficult to understand what is going on in the Caucasus.

The Sarmatia Agreement, signed in 2007, will link the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea with another pipeline that does not cross Russia: from Azerbaijan, it will cross Georgia, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. In a few years, the energy map of Europe has changed. Lithuania is a revolving platform that connects Poland and Belarus with the Baltic countries and with Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg, an enclave created by the land corridor linking Lithuania with the outside world.

Another new oil pipeline starts at the Georgian ports of Poti and Supsa. Poti, near Abkhazia, was just bombed by the Russians. Three ships docked in the port were sunk, along with a Georgian missile boat. It was a response to Georgia's shooting down of four Russian SU-25 fighters and a TU-22 fighter-bomber. Russia and Georgia have been confronting each other without declaring war since at least 1995. In Europe former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is head of the Russian gas company Gazprom, the largest in the world. Perhaps Schroeder is not motivated solely by the money: it is also important to remain at the centre of Russian-European energy commerce. Nordstream, a new Russian-German gas pipeline network is Schroeder's responsibility. E.ON, a large German energy Company, will be the beneficiary of Nordstream's first agreement. Nordstream's gas pipeline will link the Russian coast near St Petersburg to the north coast of Germany.

We could continue to talk like this about energy transport. Transportation of Liquid Natural Gas, LNG, by sea is expensive. Europe has three large suppliers of gas, Russia, Norway, and Algeria. It also has at its disposal -for a price -all the gas in the world (Trinidad-Tobago and Oman supply Spain, at a higher price). This summer we have seen how dangerous dependence on Russian gas is for Europeans (see Paul Krugman, Herald Tribune 16 August 2008). Russia, like every large country, knows its present strength and fears the changes of the future. A decisive change could come from ITER [project to produce new nuclear power plants], but that is the subject of another article. Georgia is demanding to play a part, perhaps an important one, in the international energy map. Despite havinga the necessary territory to b a corridor and recipient of hydrocarbons from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, some qualities are lacking, prudence, for example. It does not appear that this quality characterizes the current Georgian president. A few months ago Mikeil Shakaashvili sent police to a television studio with orders to interrupt a programme that was criticizing him. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, criticized him immediately, saying: you should not only respect the law but also the way European democracies work. That kind of thing is not done.

Law is the first principle of the European Union, a promising project, whose destiny since 1950 has been to overcome constant and gigantic difficulties. Without law, international society would disintegrate. The conflicts of Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have been provoked by Russia and Georgia since the 1990's, have emerged again within Georgia's borders, and thus they are Georgia's responsibility. For Vladimir Putin, the downfall of the USSR has been the greatest tragedy of the 20th Cen tury (some think that Hitler's Holocaust or the purges of Stalin and Mao are every bit as great tragedies). The United States, caught up on the wrong side in this crisis, has in Shakaashvili a problematic ally. But one should not forget that despite his clumsiness, the Georgian president was freely elected, and that is his only strength.

Originally published by ABC website, Madrid, in Spanish 21 Aug 08.

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