Western concern over oil and gas pipelines through Georgia

LONDON, August 10, 2008 (AFP) – Western concerns are growing over the impact of bloody clashes between Georgia and Russia on a key oil pipeline through the region from the Caspian Sea to the West, analysts say. While Georgia does not produce oil itself, US and European energy firms have counted on the pro-Western country — sandwiched between Russia and Iran further south — to host a conduit for oil and gas exports from Azerbaijan.

Since President Mikheil Saakashvili took power in 2004 two new pipes have been built, and the explosion of violence between Georgia and huge northern neighbour is threatening those, notably the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.

As if vindicating those concerns, the head of Azerbaijan’s state oil company said Saturday that oil exports had been halted via the Georgian ports of Batumi and Kulevi due to the clashes over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

That announcement came shortly after Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said that Russian warplanes had staged a raid near the 1,774-kilometre (1,109-mile) BTC pipeline, the world’s second longest.

But British oil giant BP downplayed that report, saying it could not confirm any such Russian bombing. “We are