He was not telling the truth, though. It is a fact that the Transcaucasus region is where the geostrategic interests of Russia and the USA cross. The two countries' struggle for control over the energy resources of the Caspian Sea and ways to transport them has tightened the Caucasian knot in world politics. The Transcaucasus, including Georgia, is one of the geopolitical areas that determine the balance of forces on the planet. Russia has a rather strong historical position in the region.
A Terek settlement built in the 16th century at the request of the North Caucasian rulers became one of the first Russian fortresses in the region. Numerous Adyg, Kabardin, Avar and other embassies came there to seek Russia's protection from the Turks and Persians, who forced the Caucasian ethnic groups into the mountains. In the second half of the 18th century, Georgian kings willingly agreed to rapprochement with the Russian Empire, which they saw as a powerful ally in the struggle against the Turks and Persians. Russia did not conquer lands, oust the local population or force Russification on them in its advance to the Caucasus. No other country in the world has Russia's experience in Caucasian policy. Moreover, the bloodless advance of the Russians to the Caucasus is a unique case in western Europe history.
The visit of President Mikhail Saakashvili to Russia, planned for early February, will become his first official foreign engagement. This means that Tbilisi views Moscow as a key player in the region.
One indisputable US priority in the region is to establish control over the strategic energy ellipse that embraces 16 states, including part of Georgian territory. The ellipse includes the whole of the Caspian Sea and about 90% of Iran's territory that links the Sea with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Prominent US political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski labelled the region the "Eurasian Balkans," which points to the key role of the Caucasus and Transcaucasus in controlling Eurasia. Moreover, the author of "The Grand Chessboard" thinks this is the centre of world power.
The USA cannot accept its energy dependence on other players on the world scene, knowing that the price of such dependence may prove to be too high. According to the spring 2001 report of the Council on International Relations, the USA has come too close to the brink of the most serious energy crisis in its history. Moreover, the USA has barely 3-5 years to solve its energy problem. The authors of the report conclude that America cannot attain energy independence.
US policy in the region focuses on financial assistance to the Transcaucasian and Central Asian countries in a bid to encourage them to sell their oil and gas on the world markets bypassing Russia. In other words, the USA wants to preclude Russia's monopoly on oil transportation.
John Rockefeller used to say that he who controls oil transport also controls oil production and refining. This is especially true of the Caspian oil fields, which are located far away from the oceanic transportation routes. Russia's main geopolitical advantage in the transportation of Caspian oil is that it has the world's largest pipeline system. The output of the fuel and energy complex exported by pipelines accounts for 30% of Russia's trade. The overall length of Russian mainlines is 217,000 kilometres and Tengiz-Novorossiisk pipeline is the main export route for Caspian oil.
The rivalry of the leading world powers in the Transcaucasus will grow stronger in the near future. The developments we are witnessing now are only the prelude to the main geopolitical game in the region. However, it would be better for everyone concerned if the sides did not view it as the endgame, where victory for one side means defeat for the other.
Moscow, Washington and Tbilisi must understand an essential truth: when there is no stability and peace in the Caucasus, no one in the triangle will gain what it wants. For the USA, this means Caspian oil. So far, investors are not convinced by projects to develop and transport it, simply because of the lack of regional stability. The main goals of Russia and Georgia are to defeat separatism and preserve their territorial integrity. And the main goal of everyone is to eliminate international terrorism in the region.
However, these goals can only be attained through close co-operation between Moscow, Washington and Tbilisi. The understanding of this may yet encourage the sides to stabilise their relations and smooth over the sharp angles in their triangle.