Russia's Georgia Invasion May Be About Oil

Pipelines that bypassed Russia could fall under that nation's control.

ByABC News
February 19, 2009, 4:16 AM

Aug. 16, 2008 — -- The conflict between Russia and Georgia is about borders and political power. But dig deeper, and you may find natural gas, oil and a stronger Russia vying for control of those resources are key factors.

"They [the Russians] sent a message that Georgia has been their backyard, was their backyard and will be their backyard," said Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group, who has studied Russia and its economy and was a State Department officer during the Clinton administration. "And included in that is control of the energy transportation routes in that area."

There are three key pipelines that run through Georgia. The biggest, designed to bypass Russia, is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, or BTC, which transports about a million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian Sea through Georgia to ports in Turkey. From there, the oil is sent to Europe and other destinations around the world.

There is a lot of concern in America about Russia's willingness to use oil and gas for political ends, Kupchan said.

There is precedent for such worry. In 2006, Russia cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine when that country refused to accept a price hike. As a result of the move, Europeans from France to Finland were left out in the cold.

The United States and Europe helped build the BTC pipeline as a way to decrease Europe's dependency on Russian oil and gas. Building it through Georgia, a new, Western-friendly democracy, was supposed to be a safe bet.

But experts say the current conflict demonstrates that the supposed "safe route" through Georgia is not so safe.