The move has attracted wide attention, but US-Georgian military links are nothing new: in 2001, Georgian pilots were trained at US military bases, and US aid including military assistance to Tbilisi, was increased by nearly $100 million. The shipment of helicopters to the beleaguered Shevardnadze is also old news: an American military delegation traveled to Georgia early last year, where deputy defense secretary Otar Shalikashvili chief American advisor for US-Georgian military affairs, and brother of General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff met with Georgian defense minister David Tevzadze. The subsequent announcement that the US would be sending 10 helicopters to the Georgian air force attracted zero attention. In the post-9/11 world, however, an arms shipment and the dispatching of US troops (“advisors”) to this tumultuous region is showing up on journalists’ radar screens. While Georgia once rated only a deputy secretary, Rumsfeld’s December visit to Tbilisi during a five-day tour of the region was marked by mutual declarations of increased cooperation, and a budding US-Georgian military alliance.
THE PANKISI PROBLEM
The irony of our intervention in the Caucasus on behalf of the last Gorbachevite is that we are doing it in the name of a “war on terrorism.” Yet Shevardnadze has openly taken up the cause of Chechen independence, and has furthermore provided a de facto sanctuary for Al Qaeda-allied Chechen rebels in the infamous Pankisi Gorge, where drug dealers, Chechen terrorists, and every criminal element within a thousand-mile radius has apparently congregated in a Caucasian Coventry. Russia has long demanded that Georgia police this area. On at least one occasion Russian bombers took off in hot pursuit of the kidnapping murdering terrorists who commit their crimes and then flee to the safety of Georgian territory. Without taking action against the terrorists, Shevardnadze denounced the [November 27, 2001] Russian bombing of the Pankisi Gorge, and was rewarded with declarations of American support.
BIG OIL IN THE CAUCASUS
In shipping arms and aligning the US openly with Shevardnadze, and pledging to lift sanctions against Heydar Aliyev’s neo-Stalinist regime in Azerbaijan, Rumsfeld’s December visit signaled increasingly open support to the GUUAM alliance of nations Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova against their Russian, Abhazian, Ossetian, and Armenian antagonists in the region. True, sanctions were also lifted against Armenia, but since these were never justified to begin with they were imposed as a result of American “evenhandedness” toward the war over Nagorno-Karabakh the net effect was to make several oil companies very happy. For this paves the way for commercial ties, and the oil companies are already heavily invested in the prospect that Azerbaijan’s oil fields could generate over $2 billion a year. Georgia stands to make over $500 million annually from transit fees alone. Although most oil companies would prefer to transport Caspian oil through Azerbaijan and on down to Iran, the US government has for many years opposed this economically rational solution and insists on the alternative Baku-Ceyhan route.
THE BALKAN CONNECTION
Another pipeline, which will be used to transport Caspian oil to Europe and beyond, will run from Burgas, a Bulgarian port on the Black Sea, through Macedonia to the Albanian port of Vlore, on the Adriatic. A mysterious consortium known as Ambo, with backing from Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP Amoco, Agip, and TotalElfFina, is behind the project. Gee, I guess it’s just a coincidence that wherever US troops and “advisors” go, there is some oil pipeline in development.
THE GREAT GAME
These developments show that opponents of the Afghan war were right about the real motives behind the US invasion. Instead of hunting down Osama bin Laden, who conveniently got away, the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Andrew Sullivan axis of evil is intent on endless wars of conquest in Central Asia. This bold incursion into the oil-rich Caucasus confirms what a few on the Left and even fewer on the Right have been saying all along: this is a war for oil. The Great Game, as they call it, is being played out in the Eurasian heartland, and the players are the big oil companies and the governments that hope to cash in on what is being touted as the biggest oil bonanza in history. Kipling’s Kim expressed the direction US foreign policy is taking:
“Now I shall go far and far into the North, playing the Great Game…”
OUR FRIENDS, THE AZERIS
But what does playing this game have to do with eliminating Osama bin Laden and his Islamist legions except as a general pretext for inserting US forces into the region? The reality is that our alleged “allies” in the war on terrorism in the Caucasus are precisely those countries which have proven most useful to bin Laden & Co. As Yossef Bodansky points out, no country in the region was friendlier to the radical Islamists than Azerbaijan, and yet when Rumsfeld visited and pledged the repeal of sanctions, the all-powerful “President” Aliyev absurdly burbled: “Azerbaijan has always been against terrorism. We are willing to continue our cooperation in this field.”
OUR FRIENDS, THE GEORGIANS
As for Georgia, Shevardnadze’s friendly relationship with Chechen rebels, including units with some loyalty to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, is well known in Russia, albeit not in the US. When what had to be Russian planes in spite of Putin’s denial bombed the Pankisi Gorge, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher roundly denounced the Russian anti-terrorist campaign, even as the US was bombing Afghanistan:
“We have consistently supported the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia. We are deeply concerned about these intrusions which undermine stability in this region, and we’ve raised the situation at senior levels with the Russian government in the past and will do so again in the near future.”
IT SEEMS LIKE ONLY YESTERDAY
Getting Al Qaeda-affiliated militants, who, as Bodansky shows, were streaming into the region prior to 9/11, is apparently secondary to playing the Great Game which demands an alliance with Shevardnadze and Aliyev. If the US were serious about fighting terrorism in the Caucasus, they would allow Russia to go in and clean out the pockets of infestation encouraged and shielded by Shevardnadze, who has utilized terrorist elements in his battle against Abhazian rebels. It seems like only yesterday that Shevardnadze was denying there was any Pankisi problem. As Interfax News Agency reported on a Shevardnadze news conference in Tbilisi:
“The recurring statements by Russian officials about the presence of Chechen terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge ‘are not based on the facts’, Shevardnadze said. The president reminded the press about his recent trip to the Pankisi Gorge and said he ‘did not find any terrorists there.'”
If the US is opening up a new front in the “war on terrorism” in the Caucasus, then why is the Bush administration siding with those who have harbored terrorists against the only force fighting them in the region? If this isn’t about oil and power politics and, again, it’s just a coincidence that the new US envoy to Afghanistan is a former Unocal employee involved in an oil pipeline project then why is Russia being excluded from the developing “anti-terrorist” operation in the Caucasus?
APPEASING THE EUROPEANS
The complete fraudulence of the “war on terrorism” is confirmed, at this point, beyond the shadow of a doubt. The sham is becoming increasingly brazen, as a war against bin Laden now relegated to the role of omnipresent phantom segues effortlessly into a war for US-Western European hegemony over the central Eurasian landmass. This is one extension of the war that the Europeans, notably EU honcho Chris Patten, will applaud. Before a visit to the region last year, Patten declared that the EU must consider extending its borders to include the Caucasus:
“The European Union cannot afford to neglect the southern Caucasus. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan form a strategic corridor linking southern Europe with central Asia There is perhaps as much oil under the Caspian sea as under the North sea and a huge amount of gas there and in central Asia – good news for energy-hungry Europe.”
A DEFT MANEUVER
Perhaps the wily old commissar can even get the Abhazian and Ossetian rebels, who have long chafed under his repressive rule, officially classified as “terrorists.” Meanwhile Osama bin Laden remains at large, and his former allies are raking in US tax dollars and otherwise enjoying the many benefits of an alliance with the Americans.