Power Struggle for Georgia
The Cold War has long been over, but a political battle seems to be brewing between the United States and Russia for influence over the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Russia has been attempting to exert more influence within its post-Soviet republics. Georgia, in its heyday, was called the “fruit basket” of the Soviet Union. It also occupies a vital place geographically in the resource-rich Caucasus region.
Last November, when Eduard Shevardnadze resigned as Georgia’s president, Moscow complained that he did so under “forceful pressure.”
Washington supported the regime change. Into office came an American-trained lawyer, Mikhail Saakashvili. Saakashvili is a strong advocate of the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (btc) pipeline to open next year—in which the U.S. has heavily invested. The route will transport crude oil from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. Georgia’s capital, Tblisi, is the hinge city in the pipeline that creates competition to a pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk (see “Breaking the Bottleneck” in our January issue for more on this).
Washington’s strategy is to keep Russia in check—especially after its president gained massive political leverage in the recent parliamentary elections. Russia stands to challenge U.S. global dominance in the one area where Moscow may still have pull. And Washington is doing all it can to ensure this does not happen.
The U.S.-led war on terror has brought American troops increasingly closer to the Russian border—even into countries where Russia has a military presence. And now, the U.S. is calling on Moscow to withdraw its military from its bases in Georgia. Though Russia has pledged to do this, it says it will take at least 11 years. Washington wants this expedited.
Tensions are rising in a way that has some analysts calling it a “miniature cold war” (Stratfor, January 9).
“This is a volatile region, made more so by unstable governments and by Russian and U.S. competition for military power. It would be folly to predict that the great powers É will renounce the economic, political and strategic goals over which they are now contending so intensively—and decide to start cooperating” (Asia Times, Dec. 19, 2003).
Watch to see just how far the U.S. is willing to go to maintain its strategic influence in Central Asia—and watch as Russia grows in political and military clout as it seeks to rebuild its historic, imperial glory.