Geopolitical game in the Caucasus over pipelines

In the political struggle between the US and Russia over energy reserves in the Caspian Sea, the main strategic factor is the control of regimes in former Soviet states that either have reserves of petroleum or natural gas or will serve as routes for pipelines to the West. The battle involves weapons – including incitement of nationalism or traditional rivalries between population groups, encouragement of secessionist movements or various kinds of popular uprisings, destabilization of governments, and removal or assassination of leaders. Georgia, a Caucasian state with a population of 5 million, has in recent years become an arena for US-Russian rivalry in the region. The US is using it as weapon against powerful Russian interests in the area, given that the Baku-Ceyhan petroleum pipeline passes through its territory. For the Russians, however, any loss of their influence there is inconceivable, given the two countries’ history and Russia’s economic and political goals in Transcaucasia, also known as the South Caucasus. The US has had a bridgehead in the Caucasus since the overthrow of former president (and former Soviet foreign minister) Eduard Shevardnadze in favor of pro-US Mikhail Saakashvili. The Kremlin won’t give up without a fight and is fostering secession movements in two of Georgia’s autonomous regions – South Ossetia and Abkhazia which, since the early 1990s, have been leaning toward Russia. The final act in this confrontation, which has brought age-old conflicts to the surface and set off the most serious crisis so far in Russo-Georgian relations, was the arrest and deportation from Georgia of four Russian officers on charges of espionage, followed by reprisals from Moscow.

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