Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has made increasing efforts to regain its former dominance over the South Caucasus region with rich energy resources and attractive geopolitics. The region has also been of strategic importance to international powers, especially the United States (US). Although its strategies were mapped out during the Cold War years with specific goals and priorities, the current geopolitical scenario is very different from the past, with access to energy resources and export routes. The United States is also pursuing increasing influence in the region with new approaches. Also, US and Russian energy policies address energy security and its pipelines from the South Caucasus, focusing on eliminating each other.
US-Russian Competition Policy in South Caucasus Energy Security
Over the past decades, the confrontation between the US and Russia has been a significant issue in the South Caucasus region. Given the US and Russia’s new goals, namely access to hydrocarbon resources, take over its extraction and export, and increasing influence in this region’s geopolitics have gained more importance among others.
This region, however, has rich energy resources in the Caspian Sea, owned by the Republic of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, due to its proximity to Georgia and Armenia’s two republics, the Caspian energy route is located more to the West, especially to Europe, making Russia more sensitive to its energy policies. While Russia’s policy of further influence in the region has regained its former position, Russians have entered a new game with Americans called the geopolitical game, the oil game, the oil pipeline game, or the big game. With its adopted policies and strategies, Russia emphasizes its role and importance as the oldest and most accessible route for the region’s energy transfer to world markets. It will never miss this opportunity. Russia seeks to make the traditional monopoly on energy sales and transfers to Europe a top priority in its foreign policy and energy policy, and not miss out on this sales and transfer agency.
In contrast, the US energy policy in the South Caucasus region is based on the premise that Russia will not again become a serious competitor that can equal the US regarding the balance of power. In that sense, Russia’s role in the region is minimized, and the Russian oil empire is broken. Therefore, the US approach to the South Caucasus’s energy has been formulated to maintain a strategic pattern by controlling energy reserves and the security of oil pipelines and preventing increased Russian influence in monopolizing sales and transferring to Europe.
One of the critical consequences of the new geopolitical rivalries between Russia and the US in Eurasia for controlling and accessing energy resources and their transmission routes is that energy has become a top EU foreign policy priority in relations with neighboring countries and regions such as the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Europe desires to gain access to new gas resources to get rid of its dependence on Russian gas. In recent years, natural gas consumption in Europe has increased at a fixed rate of 5.2% per year. Environmental policies and the development of gas-fired power plants are among the main reasons for the increase in gas demand in Europe. Besides, the need to diversify energy imports, especially gas, in Europe has received much attention because most of Europe’s gas comes only from Russia, Norway, and Algeria. Therefore, increasing the potential for gas and other energy resources has become a political priority in Europe, which the US uses it in directing its energy goals.
While the traditional monopoly on the sale and transfer of energy to Europe and the sale and transfer agency is at the heart of Russia’s energy policy in the region, in the US energy policy, the issue of energy security and pipelines for the transfer of energy from the South Caucasus has been formulated with a focus on the elimination of Russia. The US has welcomed the multi-pipeline theory of energy transmission and has proposed an alternative blueprint for exporting oil and gas from the South Caucasus to Europe.
The US approach to energy management trends in the South Caucasus is reflected in oil pipelines’ security. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is an important part of the US energy policy in the South Caucasus. By supporting this pipeline, the US government is pursuing attaining security in the energy sector. The pipeline is so important to the US government that the US officials have strongly and effectively supported the pipeline through the South Caucasus for their benefit and against Russian routes. Despite the lack of logic and economic efficiency, by injecting considerable financial resources into this project, they have made it difficult for Russia to achieve its monopolistic energy transfer goals in the South Caucasus region.
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About the author:
Amin BAGHERI is an Iranian research fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran, Iran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, political science, and conflicts in the Middle East. You can see more of his work on Twitter @bghr_amin.