David Kezerashvili, former Minister of Defence in Georgia, writes "Vladimir Putin wants the West to know BP’s pipelines are on his list".
13 September 2023
As war drags on in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is already hinting darkly at a fresh land grab in neighbouring Georgia which would have severe consequences for the world’s energy supply.
Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin crony and former Russian president renowned for his firebrand style, used a newspaper column recently to threaten annexation of the disputed South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in northern Georgia.
The two enclaves have effectively been under Kremlin control since a short conflict between the two countries in 2008 when Mr Medvedev was in office and I was Georgia’s defence minister.
A peace deal brokered to end the bloodshed stipulated that Russia should withdraw its troops from the area, though it was only a few weeks later that the Kremlin reneged on this agreement by declaring the two regions new independent states. Consequently, Russian troops continue to occupy one-fifth of Georgian soil today.
Mr Medvedev’s column - on the 15th anniversary of his own decree recognising the breakaways - would undoubtedly have been approved in advance by Vladimir Putin. Its message to the United Kingdom and NATO was stark: stay out of the Caucasus — or else.
"The idea of joining Russia is still popular in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he wrote in Argumenty i Fakty newspaper. “It could quite possibly be implemented if good reasons exist.”
He suggested annexation could be accelerated if Georgia took steps towards joining NATO. "We will not wait if our concerns become closer to reality.”
His column came on the very day of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash near Moscow, a reminder that Vladimir Putin usually settles scores sooner or later.
A threat to BP's pipeline
British Petroleum should be worried. Depending on how creative Putin wanted to be in redrawing Russia’s borders, annexation could put it within reaching distance of British Petroleum’s (BP) oil pipelines in Georgia.
In recent years, the east-west pipeline corridor from Azerbaijan across Georgia to Turkey has allowed the West to loosen Russia’s grip over the region's oil exports, while also isolating Iran.
Russia is widely suspected of having tried to bomb the strategically critical 1,100-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in 2008, and its future vulnerability should not be underestimated.
BTC’s capacity is more than a million barrels of oil a day, ample reason for Rishi Sunak and his Western leaders to be vigilant.
Moscow's 'obedient poodle'
Of course, many believe that Putin is already trying to take control of Georgia and its pipelines by stealth, with the ruling Georgian Dream party acting as his obedient poodle.
It has not gone unnoticed that Georgia refused to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, police have recently battled protestors on the streets of Tbilisi over Putin-style legislation that would suppress press freedoms and block its path to EU integration.
With democracy in Georgia already in a parlous state, annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would not only be a disaster for the region, but also for the West, endangering its energy advantage over Russia and unnerving future investors.
Vladimir Putin knows this all too well, and will hurt BP’s interests if we let him.
About David Kezerashvili
David Kezerashvili is a UK-based entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. David Kezerashvili is a founding member of the reformist United National Movement (UNM), the political party which came to power after the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’. The nonviolent uprising was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, who was President of Georgia for two consecutive terms until 2013, and was an early mentor to David. In 2006, David was appointed as Minister of Defence within the Saakashvili government, serving until December 2008.
Read David's exclusive interview in The Spectator here.