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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le « grand jeu » de Moscou et Washington

by Bruno Odent

Moscow and Washington’s grand game.

Translated Friday 22 August 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

The conflict is due to increasing antagonism between the United States and Russia in the context of a struggle to control oil resources.

The conflict in Georgia is a new phase in the test of strength which the Russians and the Americans have been waging in the region for over fifteen years. The United States and its successive presidents consider Central Asia and the Caucasus to be highly strategic places and have made a considerable effort to establish a presence in all the former Soviet republics. This naturally worries the Kremlin, whose concern is to prevent the dismantling of the Russian Federation, following that of the USSR. In a certain way, this conjures up the specter of the “grand game” played in the 19th century by the Tsarist and British empires for the control of these regions, which are rich in natural resources and are traversed by important trade routes.

These frictions have become all the more intense lately since Vladimir Putin and the other Russian rulers have demonstrated their determination to resurrect Russian power as the country’s intensely nationalistic capitalist system gathers strength.

The Georgian conflict illustrates this increasing antagonism and probably also a certain realignment of the balance of power between the two empires. It is all the more dangerous for both regional and world peace as the two players have utilized nationalist and secessionist aspirations to realize their goals. The main victims in the clash of empires are consequently the peoples inhabiting the country, whether they be Georgians, Ossetians or Abkhazians.

The American push to establish a presence along the whole southern flank of the Russian Federation has two geo-strategic goals: on the one hand, “containing” Chinese and Russian power; and on the other, controlling a highly oil-rich region. Specialists believe that the Caspian Sea reserves form some of the biggest oil reserves on the planet.

From the very beginning of the century, Washington has managed to set up a whole network of military bases in several Central Asian countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It has developed a privileged relationship with a whole series of local potentates who, like the Uzbek Islam Karimov, often have little to do with the human rights precepts. The United States has stridently put forward elsewhere these precepts to justify its interventions, or simply to classify a country as an ally, a trustworthy partner, a potential partner or a rogue state. A similar effort has been made in the Caucasus to complete the set-up, if necessary by widening the NATO perimeter.

On the question of control of oil resources, which evidently has become even more sensitive today with skyrocketing prices and the conviction that a shortage of this raw material looms in the medium term, Georgia plays a decisive role. Anchoring the country in the “Western bloc” is indeed a means of guaranteeing the transit of Caspian Sea crude oil and natural gas directly to Western markets. (See our map).

Up until 2005, much of this oil and natural gas transited Russia in pipelines to the Black Sea port of Novorossisk. Since that date, the construction of the Baku-Tbilissi-Cerhan (BTC) pipeline, which ends directly on the Mediterranean Sea, and the construction of the South Caucasus [natural gas] pipeline (SCP) have made it possible to avoid Russia. This consequently reinforces the strategic significance that Georgia has acquired in a concept of international relations that dates from another century.

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