Oiling the Waters, Venezuela and Georgia

SF Gray Panthers Newsletter, upcoming Oct. 2008 issue

Oiling the Waters

These days, it’s still all about oil. Recently, Russia sent a long-range tactical bomber, the TU160, to oil-rich Venezuela for “flight tests over neutral waters,” and in November will send a naval squadron, including a heavily armed nuclear power cruiser, for joint exercises with the Venezuelans. For the first time in 60 years, the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet has been deployed to direct naval operations in the Caribbean and Latin America. After supporting numerous attempts to dislodge President Morales of Bolivia and President Chavez of Venezuela, presumably to get more US-friendly leaders in that region so rich with oil, both US ambassadors have been expelled from those countries. The US government denies any hand in it, but remembering Arbenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, Noriega in Panama-overthrows (three of many) organized and financed by the US government, denied at the time, and since confirmed by historical record-few informed observers are convinced.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, military forces in Georgia, trained and supplied by US and Israeli “advisers,” have attempted to regain control of breakaway territories South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Underlying this effort is another conflict about oil-in this case from around the landlocked Caspian Sea.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, major Western energy firms descended on the Caspian basin to sign deals with the former Soviet republics. But to get the oil and gas to markets in the West, they had to use a pipeline-and all existing pipelines were controlled by Russia. In the mid-1990s, President Clinton oversaw the construction of the BTC pipeline, which carries oil and gas from Azerbaijan through Georgia and on to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where it can be loaded onto tankers headed for international markets. Because the pipeline would run through some major conflict zones, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Clinton decided to build up the Georgian army, awarding the country more military and economic aid than any other Caspian country ($302 million from 1998-2000 alone), and President Bush has continued and expanded this support.

When Vladimir Putin took over the Russian presidency in 1999, he pushed for state control over energy resources and for domination of the conduits used to export oil from the Caspian region as a way of rebuilding Russia’s economy. The BTC pipeline did not fit into this plan. The Russians supported independence movements in Georgia’s provinces of South Ossetia and Abhakzia, both adjacent to the pipeline, continuing the instability in the region and sowing doubt on the reliability of Georgia as a corridor for energy delivery.

When the European Union announced plans to build a $10 billion natural-gas pipeline from the Caspian that would bypass Russia entirely, and the US and Europe began dangling membership in NATO before the Georgians and Ukrainians, Russia was bound to respond. Georgian President Saakashvili’s decision to invade South Ossetia gave them the excuse they needed. Whether that invasion was discouraged by the US remains in doubt (US military advisers were in the country at the time), but its outcome cannot have been to US liking. The Georgian army is now in total disarray, Russia has recognized South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, and the BTC and other proposed pipelines are within easy range of Russian guns.

What lessons are normal people supposed to draw from all of this? Increase the US’s military might and try to dominate the world’s oil and natural gas? That strategy hasn’t worked so well in Iraq. End US dependence on foreign oil and “drill, baby, drill” in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Analysts say it will be no short-term help, and minimal long term. Nuclear power? Many studies indicate that once we’ve used up easily accessible uranium, which would happen soon if we relied on large amounts of nuclear power, it will take more energy to extract and process the less accessible uranium than can be produced by it. Pouring money into wind, solar, and wave power, combined with dramatic conservation seem our best hope. But where’s the political will? So far, it’s all about oil.


The Bush Administration Checkmated in Georgia, Michael Klare,  Tomdispatch.com, Sept. 4, 2008

Georgia and U.S. Strategy, Mike Whitney, Counterpunch.org, Aug. 14, 2008

Georgia war rooted in US “self-deceit”, Gareth Porter, Asia Times, Aug. 26, 2008

Planning for Cold War and Beyond, Bruce K. Gagnon, OpEdNews, Aug. 22, 2008

The Puppet Masters Behind Georgia President Saakashvli, F. William Engdahl, Online Journal, Aug. 29, 2008

Russia and Georgia: All About Oil, Michael Klare, Foreign Policy in Focus, Aug 13, 2008

Welcome to the New Cold War, Pepe Escobar, Real News, Aug. 21, 2008

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