So, now that Georgia seems to have withdrawn from South Ossetia in the face of the overwhelming force of Russia’s displeasure, the question has to be asked: how on earth did they think they were going to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?
The 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.
The 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).
For 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).
And 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: