The USA Energy Security “Caucasus” Vector: Why Did Cheney Visit the Region???

Thanks to the eruption of military conflict between Georgia and Russia, big interest from the international community in Georgia is not going to be strange and odious.

The official visit paid by the USS “Mount Whitney” to Poti sea port to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia, and US Vice-President Dick Cheney’s arrival in Tbilisi at the same time, signal America’s serious geopolitical intentions towards the Caucasus region. Among these are certainly America’s own survival interests, the most important being in promoting the energy security agenda.

The reaction to the conflict from the incumbent Bush Administration, which has open links with oil industry conglomerates (such as the so-called “Texas Group”) clarifies why attention is being paid to post-Soviet nations, like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine, which have the potential to diversifying energy transit not only at regional but also at global levels. The itinerary of Vice-President Dick Cheney (an unofficial lobbyist for energy giant “Haliburton”), who started his trip in Azerbaijan and will end it in Italy, demonstrates what his concrete mission is and how it will be pursued in conjunction with geoeconomic goals at large.

The aims of Cheney’s visit can be categorised thus:

1) To promote the “political ox” of a pro-Western community under the aegis of GUAM (which at this stage is unfortunately without its “M” i.e. Moldova) and to sustain its long-term goals and missions by shoring up democratic values in the area.

2) To demonstrate official support for existing oil and gas projects (like Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum, “White Stream”- Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine-Poland, Baku-Supsa and the “Trans-Caspian mega project”) which make the Caucasus region the most attractive area for promoting energy diversification to the European Community. The American position on protecting Euro-Atlantic energy security is crucial not only from purely commercial but also from political standpoint. It is important to note that after Cheney’s visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry came out with an interesting statement about blocking the construction of any kind of pipeline under the Caspian seabed, both for environment reasons and because it might harm existing Iranian and Russian energy projects in the country. The emergence of fierce competition between Russia and the USA in the realization of controversial energy projects is quite solid and fixed.

3) To beef up security arrangements in the wider Black Sea area which are vital to promoting the NATO geostrategy against terrorism, WMDs, drug and arms smuggling, aggressive military warfare, the missile strike menace, etc.

4) To explore the possibility of disruption of the energy delivery from the Caspian basin to Turkish port of Ceyhan, which has already been converted into a prominent hub for accumulating oil reserves from Iraq and Azerbaijan and may in future store and transport onwards Central Asian reserves from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This port is important for the USA’s concrete energy security goals. It reinforces the “West-East” geoeconomic corridor and makes it possible to decrease American dependence on Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula oil delivery which could be harmful in case of military operations against Iran.

These are the most obvious reasons for Vice President Cheney’s visit, against the backdrop of a fall in the price of oil worldwide that serves the interests of the main consumers of the energy resources i.e. the USA. Full-scale realization of the “Caspian-Caucasus” energy projects (Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan oil production per year is 76.25 million tonnes) will further decrease oil prices at global level and, having calculated Russia’s dependence on oil revenues, it is clear to the US that such further diversification of energy deliveries will harm the economic development of that country.

However, it is no longer that simple. In contemporary Russia diversification of the energy supply to the West would not be so drastic a catastrophe, thanks to the development of Russian conglomerate “Gazprom” by Putin’s administration since 2001. The “Gas Expansion Strategy” undertaken by the Kremlin since that period has reduced the effect of any possible Russian “oil shock.” Putin’s lobbying efforts for the gas industry are very evident and have made possible “Gazprom’s” monopolisation of gas delivery from the Eurasia space, particularly Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and its European gas transportation system acquisition bids, as seen in Austria, Hungary, Serbia, etcetera. Putin’s work has seen European dependency on Russian gas imports increase from 40% in midst of 90-es of the last century to 60-65% in the first period of 21st century, with the figure set to increase further. The retail sail price for 1,000 cubic metres of gas has been steadily increasing from an average $150 up to $400-500 for the year and its oligarchic domination of the gas delivery market is making Russia a most aggressive and dangerous player.

Now the Kremlin’s wantsto create a “GAS OPEC,” involving such politically “exotic” states as Algeria, Iran, Venezuela, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, in which Russia is to be the leading nation. This step would really be a direct threat to the democratic world which undermines basics of global energy security in the 21st century.

[Source: By Dr. Vakhtang Maisaia. Georgian Times, Tbilisi, 09Sep08. Dr. Vakhtang MaisaiaChairman, Foreign Policy Association of Georgia]

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