Thursday, August 21, 2008


August 20, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Russia Never Wanted a War

THE acute phase of the crisis provoked by the Georgian forces’ assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is now behind us. But how can one erase from memory the horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire city blocks, the deaths of people taking cover in basements, the destruction of ancient monuments and ancestral graves?

Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would not have dared to attack without outside support. Once he did, Russia could not afford inaction.

The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly. Anyone who expected confusion in Moscow was disappointed.

The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.

The news coverage has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis. Tskhinvali was in smoking ruins and thousands of people were fleeing — before any Russian troops arrived. Yet Russia was already being accused of aggression; news reports were often an embarrassing recitation of the Georgian leader’s deceptive statements.

It is still not quite clear whether the West was aware of Mr. Saakashvili’s plans to invade South Ossetia, and this is a serious matter. What is clear is that Western assistance in training Georgian troops and shipping large supplies of arms had been pushing the region toward war rather than peace.

If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader’s foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.

Mr. Saakashvili had been lavished with praise for being a staunch American ally and a real democrat — and for helping out in Iraq. Now America’s friend has wrought disorder, and all of us — the Europeans and, most important, the region’s innocent civilians — must pick up the pieces.
Those who rush to judgment on what’s happening in the Caucasus, or those who seek influence there, should first have at least some idea of this region’s complexities. The Ossetians live both in Georgia and in Russia. The region is a patchwork of ethnic groups living in close proximity. Therefore, all talk of “this is our land,” “we are liberating our land,” is meaningless. We must think about the people who live on the land.

The problems of the Caucasus region cannot be solved by force. That has been tried more than once in the past two decades, and it has always boomeranged.

What is needed is a legally binding agreement not to use force. Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly refused to sign such an agreement, for reasons that have now become abundantly clear.

The West would be wise to help achieve such an agreement now. If, instead, it chooses to blame Russia and re-arm Georgia, as American officials are suggesting, a new crisis will be inevitable. In that case, expect the worst.

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.

These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?

Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.

Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?

A bipartisan commission led by Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator Gary Hart has recently been established at Harvard to report on American-Russian relations to Congress and the next president. It includes serious people, and, judging by the commission’s early statements, its members understand the importance of Russia and the importance of constructive bilateral relations.

But the members of this commission should be careful. Their mandate is to present “policy recommendations for a new administration to advance America’s national interests in relations with Russia.” If that alone is the goal, then I doubt that much good will come out of it. If, however, the commission is ready to also consider the interests of the other side and of common security, it may actually help rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together.

Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.

Mikheil Saakashvili is a war criminal. I doubt he will ever be prosecuted at the Haag.


Russia's Strike Shows The Power Of the Pipeline
By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, August 13, 2008; D01

It was surely not lost on Russia's bully in chief, Vladimir Putin, that the oil giant BP decided to shut down the pipeline that runs through parts of Georgia controlled by Russian troops. Indeed, that was one of the aims of the cross-border incursion.

Putin understands better than anyone that oil and gas are the source of Russia's resurgence as a military and economic power and his own control over the Russian government and key sectors of its economy. It is oil and gas that provide the money to maintain Russia's powerful military, along with a vast internal security apparatus and network of government-controlled enterprises that allow the president-turned-premier to maintain his iron grip on the levers of political and economic power.

A little pipeline history: It was just as Putin was coming to power in 1999 that an agreement was reached to create the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. The project would allow Azerbaijan and its production partner, BP, to bypass Russia and transport their newly drilled oil instead through Georgia and Turkey to a port in the eastern Mediterranean.

Because of its control of the only pipeline system linking former Soviet republics with the West, Russia had been able to extract most of the profit from any oil and gas that these newly independent countries could produce. But with BTC, which had the active support of the U.S. and European governments, Russia would lose its monopoly chokehold, opening the way for Western oil companies to make multibillion-dollar investments in the energy-rich Caucasus states.

No sooner was BTC completed, however, than Western officials began exploring the possibility of other pipelines that could reach beyond Georgia and Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan, which was thought to have some of the world's largest gas reserves. Their interest was not only in "energy security" and the prospect of oil riches for Western energy companies, but also in promoting Western-style democracy and free-market capitalism in the former Soviet republics.

In time, much of their efforts focused on a $12 billion project known as Nabucco, named after the Verdi opera, that would take gas across the Caspian sea, through Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, finally reaching a terminal near Vienna. With Europe already dependent on Russia for a quarter of its natural gas, and that number set to rise with construction of a new northern pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to Germany, European leaders were keen to find alternative sources of natural gas. The effort took on greater urgency in winter 2006 after Russia briefly cut off supplies in its gas-pricing dispute with Ukraine.

Nabucco also became a top priority of the Bush State Department -- in particular, of Matt Bryza, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and C. Boyden Gray, a Bush family confidante who was named a special envoy for Eurasian energy, who began actively courting the leaders of Azerbaijan.

Putin, quite correctly, viewed Nabucco as part of a larger campaign by Washington to contain and isolate Russia and limit the expansion of its burgeoning energy empire. With Gazprom, the state gas monopoly, Putin launched his own competing proposal called South Stream to build a new pipeline to the Caucasus.

Suddenly the Russians were offering to pay Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan multiples of what they had previously offered to secure long-term supply deals. They penned an agreement with Italy and its oil company, Eni, to build a pipeline that would run under the Black Sea from Russia to Europe and end up at the same Austrian terminal as Nabucco. And Russian officials offered highly favorable transit agreements, ownership shares and guaranteed gas supplies to secure transit agreements from Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary.

To industry observers like Ed Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Nabucco has always looked more like a diplomats' pipe dream than a viable economic project. Its promoters had not only failed to secure supply and transit agreements but also had yet to identify an oil company eager to champion the project and finance the pipeline. Now, with its successful military incursion, Russia has raised serious doubts in the minds of Western lenders and investors that a new pipeline through Georgia would be safe from attack or beyond control of the Kremlin.

What we've been reminded once again is that Vladimir Putin is perfectly willing to sacrifice the rule of law and the good opinion of others to protect the Russian empire and the energy monopoly that sustains it. The techniques he used to bring Georgia to heel, while more lethal and destructive, have the same thuggish quality as the techniques Putin uses to silence domestic opposition and to expropriate the energy assets of Yukos, Shell and BP.

For the United States and Europe, this ought to be sufficient warning about the folly of extending membership in NATO or the European Union to every one of Russia's neighbors, particularly when they are unwilling to back it up with military action.

But it also is a reminder of the futility of trying to co-opt Putin by offering him a seat at the G-7, membership in the World Trade Organization or the honor of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. We may not be willing to send troops to Tbilisi, but at the least we should be willing to deny Russian companies the right to raise capital on Western stock exchanges, extend their pipelines into Western markets or use their energy profits to buy up major Western companies.

Vladimir Putin thinks he has looked into the soul of the West and discovered that we need him more than he needs us. It's time to convince him otherwise.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

not the first and not the last of the upcoming Age of Energy Wars. Unless we heed Gore and become a non-carbon based economy. I am not holding my breath.