Ambassador William Courtney writes:
The tragic fighting in Georgia, coming after months of Russian military provocation and now outright invasion, must cause a reexamination of the fundamental elements of U.S. and NATO policy. As one outcome, Moscow will again become a primary preoccupation of Washington and the Atlantic Alliance.
Following are some of the elements which this assessment and policy shift should address relative to Russia, Georgia, and Russia’s other neighbors.
Russia’s threat to Georgia is wider than South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Over a number of months Russia has mounted incursions and attacks by combat aircraft into Georgia, added troops in Abkhazia, and sponsored separatist unrest. Georgia rose to recent bait and Russia pounced with organized forces. In the future Moscow will base much more military power in the two separatist areas. Russia will pose a belligerent threat to Georgia’s independence and seek to bring about a compliant regime in Tbilisi, one which will back away from seeking NATO admission. As it did in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution, Moscow will try to undo the Rose revolution by backing friendly political forces. In contrast to the effort in Ukraine, Moscow will leverage its new military buildup dozens of miles from Tbilisi to make more explicit threats to achieve its objective. Few Georgian political figures with a wide following will rush to Moscow’s embrace.
Russia’s actions in Georgia send a message to all of its neighbors. Ukraine has said Russia’s Black Sea fleet must leave the Crimean port of Sevastopol after a lease expires in 2017. Russia’s action in Georgia suggests that Moscow will consider threats to Ukraine to agree to keep the fleet at Sevastopol, where it has been based for over two centuries. Other threats could emerge. Moscow’s mayor and the head of the Duma commission on Commonwealth of Independent States are demanding that Crimea be returned to Russia. Estonia has faced a cyberattack from Russia. More pressure on
the Baltics, and Moldova over Transdnistria, can be expected. Russia’s action in Georgia is meant also to intimidate Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and other neighbors to the south.
Energy export routes through Georgia and Azerbaijan, are opposed by Moscow but emerging as a source of world energy exports. The US has long backed increased development and diversification of world energy sources. Moscow has opposed every pipeline for bringing Caspian basin oil and gas to world markets, but the United States has strongly supported them and not objected to economically sound export routes through Russia. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and U.S. and European energy companies have backed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Built at a cost of nearly, $4 Billion, it began operation in
2005 and at capacity will export one million barrels of crude oil per day to world markets. A smaller Trans-Caspian pipeline, from Azerbaijan to a Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa (near Poti), carries nearly 150,000
barrels of crude per day; capacity may grow four-fold. Finally, Russia strongly objects to a proposed $5 Billion Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, from Turkmenistan under the Caspian Sea to Baku, Tbilisi, and Erzurum in Turkey. Heretofore, all Turkmeni gas has passed through Russian export pipelines, and brought Turkmenistan only a fraction of the economic rent generated by the gas. Russia claims that as a Caspian Sea littoral state it has a veto right over any undersea pipeline.
The United States and NATO must defend these energy export routes. The West has made no formal pledge to defend the energy routes, or Georgia, in part because Moscow under former President Yeltsin seemed disinclined to threaten them
militarily. Nonetheless, strong US and European support for Caspian energy and NATO’s inclusion of the region’s states in the Partnership for Peace Program, taken together, have created implied security commitments. Russian control of Caspian energy would force Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan to submit to Moscow’s will across a wide range of political, economic, and security issues. NATO should call an emergency meeting of ministers to agree on how to foster a lasting solution to the conflict in Georgia and assist it to deter and repel Russian military incursions into Georgia beyond the separatist areas. If NATO were to fail in this task, U.S. and European Caspian energy policy and the Partnership for Peace would be rendered meaningless.
“Independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty” have meaning. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has constantly repeated this mantra with respect to the new independent states. It is not clear that sufficient thought and political attention have been given to what these words mean when contested. This debate should get underway in the West and in the region, and involve NATO, the EU, OSCE, and other relevant institutions.
Military aid is required, some of it right away. For several months Russia has treated all of Georgia as a free fly zone for its combat aircraft. Halting this should be an urgent priority for the US and NATO. Georgian air defenses ought to be augmented immediately. They should protect Tbilisi and other major cities and the oil export terminals and pumping
stations. Second, consistent with the Montreux Convention the United States and NATO should rotate warships in the Eastern Black Sea to help assure the security of oil export facilities and tankers. The United States and NATO ought immediately to replace the Georgian patrol boats which Russia has destroyed, and help Georgia develop a modern maritime domain awareness capability and a stronger navy and coast guard, with aviation and anti-ship assets. Third, a permanent U.S. military presence in Georgia will be required to deter Russia from purposeful attack and lessen the risks of miscalculation about the Western response to aggression. A base with U.S. combat aircraft and special forces could serve also as field training facility for troops from Georgia and other countries, complementing training at the Marshall Center
and elsewhere. Fourth, protecting Georgia’s energy export facilities and pipelines will require more dedicated military effort than before. The United States and NATO should train and equip additional Georgian battalions for this purpose. The energy interests of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan are directly affected, and a cooperative security architecture for Caspian energy should involve these countries as well.
–Amb. William Courtney, Washington, D.C.