Current Geostrategy in the South Caucasus

Posted in Asia | 15-Dec-06 | Author: Dr. Marcel de Haas

In recent months, relations between Georgia and Russia have deteriorated. The clash between these two states is only a symptom of the broader strategic positioning of the West and Russia in and around the South Caucasus. In this scenario, at regional and global levels, countries and organizations are involved in a struggle for power and energy security. Considering these two issues, what is the current situation in the South Caucasus and what can be expected in the future?

Affecting the region are the political-military and security policies of the actors involved. These actors include Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and their "frozen" conflicts of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, the leverage of regional powers, such as Turkey and Iran, and of global powers, such as the United States, Russia and China, is part of the power configuration in the region.

In addition to countries, international organizations are also involved in this game. At the regional level, there is the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (B.S.E.C.), the Black Sea Force (BLACKSEAFOR) the Caspian Sea Force (CASFOR), the cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (G.U.A.M.) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (C.S.T.O.) within the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.). At the global level, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) and the European Union also exercise political weight in the South Caucasus.

Energy Security

In addition to the power configuration is the issue of energy security. Energy security is high on the international agenda, as the United States, the European Union and N.A.T.O. have expressed their concern about threats to energy security. E.U. countries as a whole currently import 50 percent of their energy needs (the U.S. imports 58 percent of its oil), and will import 70 percent by 2030. Furthermore, E.U. countries import 25 percent of their energy needs from Russia, which may rise to 40 percent in 2030 (another 45 percent comes from the Middle East). Besides this growing dependency, it has became clear that the energy instrument is an essential part of Russia's external and security policy after it used this to force Ukraine to pay a higher gas price at the end of 2005.

The geopolitical importance of the South Caucasus is also based on the presence of energy resources. Stability in the Caucasus is a vital requirement for the uninterrupted transport of Caspian oil and gas. The Caspian Sea region (the South Caucasus and Central Asia) contains about 3-4 percent of the world's oil reserves and 4-6 percent of the world's gas reserves. In itself, the Caucasian share of global oil and gas reserves is not considerable. However, in light of the uncertainty over the reliability of Persian Gulf supplies, as well as the possibility that Russia may use energy delivery as a power tool, the transport of Caspian and Central Asian (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) energy supplies to the West via the Caucasus has gained vital importance.

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The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].

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