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The Pipeline War: Russian bear goes for West’s jugular

The Mail on Sunday

The Pipeline War: Russian bear goes for West’s jugular

Last updated at 1:00 PM on 10th August 2008

The war in Georgia escalated dangerously last night after Russian jets reportedly bombed a vital pipeline that supplies oil to the West.

After a day of heightening international tensions, Georgian leaders claimed that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, had been attacked. But it is thought the bombs  missed their target.

Their claims came after Russian jets struck deep into the territory of its tiny neighbour, killing civilians and ‘completely devastating’ the strategic Black Sea port of Poti, a staging post for oil and other energy supplies.

Reports last night also said that Russia had bombed the international airport in Tbilisi.

injured woman in georgia

A bloodied woman lies injured in the ruins of an apartment block in Gori after another Russian air strike

Georgian economic development minister Ekaterina Sharashidzne said: ‘This clearly shows that Russia has targeted not just Georgian economic outlets but international economic outlets as well.’

The pipeline is 30 per cent owned by BP and supplies 1 per cent of the world’s oil needs, pumping up to a million barrels of crude per day to Turkey.  


It is crucial to the world’s volatile energy market and the only oil and gas route that bypasses Russia’s stranglehold on energy exports from the region.

As President Bush led the West in intensifying pressure on Russia to halt the bombing in Georgia last night, the two countries were edging closer to full-scale war over their conflicting claims for disputed territory.

blazing apartment in Gori

Under attack: Georgian soldiers in the town of Gori sprint past a block of flats destroyed by a Russian bomber

Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili called for a ceasefire and accused Moscow of mounting an unprovoked invasion that put ‘the entire post-Cold War order of Europe and the world at stake’. 

But Moscow said that the conflict could not be resolved unless Georgia withdrew from its breakaway region of South Ossetia. The alarming developments followed a second day of drama and bloodshed in the pro-Western country in which:

• Russian jets widened the offensive by bombing the central Georgian town of Gori – Joseph Stalin’s birthplace – in an attack on military targets that Georgian authorities claimed killed 60 civilians, and attacked the port of Poti.
• Georgia claimed that Russian troops had opened a new front by moving into another disputed province, Abkhazia, which has also suffered from ethnic tensions.
• Georgia declared a state of war, recalled all its 2,000 troops from Iraq and ordered a mass call-up with reservists being sent to the war zone to ‘defend the motherland’.
• Russia claimed that it had ‘completely liberated’ the capital of South Ossetia Tskhinvali – a claim denied by Georgia – after flying in elite troops in an operation Moscow said was intended to force Georgia into a ceasefire.
•  Georgia claimed to have shot down 12 Russian combat aircraft – but Moscow confirmed that only two planes were missing.
•  Georgia may pull its 35-strong Olympic team out of the Beijing games because of the Russian military attacks, the country’s National Olympic Committee said.

georgian mourning

Anguish: A man cradles the body of a relative in the street after Russian planes bomb homes in Gori, killing five people

The forces of the two countries first clashed on Friday after Moscow sent hundreds of troops and armed convoys across the border into South Ossetia to repel a Georgian attack on rebels allied to Moscow.

Almost 40,000 refugees have already fled to Russia from the fighting, threatening a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Tskhinvali was said to have been ‘almost destroyed’ in onslaughts by both sides. 

Bodies lay in the streets and hospitals were overwhelmed with wounded. 

Most of the 70,000 South Ossetians hold Russian passports and are allied to Moscow, while Georgia is an ally of the US and has applied to join Nato. 

Russian bombers yesterday widened the offensive to force Georgian troops back from South Ossetia by bombing.


Devastation: Troops search a wrecked building for survivors

In his first Press conference since the conflict broke out early yesterday, President Saakashvili said: ‘I call for an immediate ceasefire. Russia has launched a full-scale military invasion of Georgia.’

He reacted furiously to the air strikes on Gori and Poti, saying that it was comparable to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

He also alleged that Russian troops were opening up another front, adding: ‘Hours ago Russia’s Black Sea fleet started to move into Georgia’s territory in Abkhazia. Russian troops and heavy equipment are in upper Abkhazia.’

He said Russia was conducting ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Ossetia and Abkhazia’s Kodoro Gorge region. 

refugees south ossetia

Fleeing: A boy and a woman stare in terror at the carnage from a vehicle as they are evacuated from South Ossetia

The Georgian Parliament has approved a declaration for a ‘state of war’ for 15 days after at least 2,000 civilians were killed in fighting between Russia and the former Soviet satellite.

Overnight, two Russian planes were shot down and 12 of its soldiers were killed – along with more civilians who died during fighting in South Ossetia.

Russian fighter jets carried out up to five raids on mostly military targets around Gori – close to the conflict zone in South Ossetia – but at least one bomb is thought to have hit an apartment, killing five civilians, according to reports.

The Foreign Office upgraded its travel advice to urge against all but essential travel to Georgia. Foreign Secretary David Miliband was under mounting pressure to consider breaking off his summer holiday to tackle the mounting crisis.

Enlarge russia war graphicMr Miliband, on holiday in Minorca, issued his first statement on the the affair late yesterday to call for a ceasefire ‘and for peace talks to start as soon as possible’. 

He also announced that he was sending Sir Brian Fall, the Foreign Office representative for the South Caucasus, to Georgia as part of an EU peace mission. 

Defence Minister Des Browne said a delegation of EU, US and Nato officials was flying to the Georgian capital ‘to broker a ceasefire’. 

The move caps two days of faltering diplomatic activity, in which members of the United Nations Security Council have struggled to convene an emergency meeting. 

Belgium’s UN Ambassador Jan Grauls, who chairs the 15-member council this month, had spoken to his Russian and American counterparts. 

‘Depending on how much progress is made in these bilaterals, we will decide whether we can call a full council meeting,’ his spokesman said. 

President Bush expressed alarm about the escalating conflict and called on Russia to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity.

In Beijing, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was seen to approach President Bush in the Olympic stadium, where they were attending the opening ceremony.

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he witnessed a heated discussion between the two leaders.

‘The President and Mr Putin were in an animated conversation two seats in front of us and I imagine they had a few things on their agenda,’ he said. 

Mr Putin later accused Georgia of seeking ‘bloody adventures’ and trying to drag other countries into a military conflict in South Ossetia.

‘Georgia’s aspiration to join Nato… is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures,’ Mr Putin said during a meeting in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, some of which was shown on TV.

Mr Putin defended Russia’s incursion into South Ossetia and urged Georgia to halt ‘aggression’ against the breakaway region.

‘From a legal point of view, Russia’s actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate,’ said Putin, who flew to the city after attending the opening of the Olympics.

‘We urge the Georgian authorities to immediately stop their aggression against South Ossetia, to stop all violations of all standing agreements on a ceasefire and to respect the legal rights and interests of other people.’

Soon afterwards the US, Nato and the EU called for an immediate end to the fighting and the UN Security Council convened a tense emergency session to try to prevent all-out war.

Georgian forces say they have fought off attacks by Abkhazian separatists, backed by Russian air raids, in the Kodori Gorge region.

Russian forces invaded Abkhazia hours after taking control of most of South Ossetia, said President Saakashvili. 

As the conflict escalated rapidly, Mr Saakashvili said his country had formally moved to a state of war and offered an immediate ceasefire. 

He said Moscow had been planning the assault for months, accused Russia of actions similar to Stalin’s invasion of Finland in 1939 and said ‘the entire post-Cold War order of Europe and the world is at stake’. 

Foreign journalists witnessed an air attack on the town of Gori early yesterday morning and the Georgian government claimed Russian bombers had ‘completely devastated’ the Black Sea port of Poti. 

Russia has reportedly started to bomb civil and economic infrastructure, including the military base at Senaki. Up to 11 Russian jets reportedly hit container tanks and a shipbuilding plant at Poti. 

Moscow has announced it would send reinforcements into South Ossetia and President Dmitry Medvedev has pledged to ‘force the Georgian side to peace’. 

Colonel Igor Konashenkov, a Russian infantry officer, said units of the 58th army had arrived in Tskhinvali overnight and would seek to ‘establish peace. Additional ‘special units’ would arrive ‘in the next few hours’. 

Columns of Russian tanks plunged the two neighbours into war as they filed into South Ossetia yesterday, marking the Kremlin’s first military assault on foreign soil since the Afghanistan intervention, which ended in 1989. 

South Ossetia won de-facto independence in a war that ended in 1992 but has been a source of tension ever since. 

Russian peacekeepers have suffered 15 dead and 150 wounded, the peacekeeping forces were quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. 

‘Now our peacekeepers are waging a fierce battle with regular forces from the Georgian army in the southern region of Tskhinvali,’ a representative of the Russian force was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, who fled with her family to Dzhava, a village near the border with Russia, said: ‘I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings and in cars. It’s impossible to count them now.’

The greatest mismatch in history of war

Georgia’s war with Russia is a David and Goliath battle that, military experts say, the Black Sea state has no chance of winning.

The Georgians are outnumbered and outgunned in every department. Russia has about 697,000 troops, while Georgia has only 19,500 full-time regulars. 

And with Russia’s 1,200 combat aircraft confronting Georgia’s seven outmoded support planes, and 6,000 tanks against 100 ageing machines, there is no contest.

Matthew Clements, Eurasia editor for Jane’s Defence journal, said last night: ‘The Georgian military cannot withstand a full Russian assault. 

‘The Russians have total air superiority and their coordinated operation gives the Georgians no chance of resisting.’


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