Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region

By Michael P. Croissant; Bülent Aras | Go to book overview

12

Georgia: Bridge or Barrier for Caspian Oil?

Michael P. Croissant

Although Georgia does not border on the Caspian Sea, it has emerged as one of the key players in the development and transport of Caspian oil. This is especially remarkable since the tiny republic has faced two secessionist rebellions and several bids to topple its government since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in late 1991. While the future of the country remains in doubt, the regime of President Eduard Shevardnadze has gone to great lengths—often at great risk—to ensure a prominent place for Georgia in the quest to bring Caspian oil to the world market.


GEORGIA'S PROMISE

Favorable Geographic Position

Historically, Georgia has benefited from its geographic position on the Black Sea south of the Caucasus Mountains. Its capital, Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi), was the commercial center of the region as far back as the Middle Ages, and following the Russian conquest in the nineteenth century, Tiflis became the administrative and cultural center of the Caucasus as well as the hub of regional road and rail networks. Although the rise of rival manufacturing and cultural centers in Baku and Yerevan diminished these roles, Georgia's possession of two major Black Sea ports—Batumi and Poti—made it of continued importance to the economic development of the region throughout the czarist and Soviet periods. 1

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia's location and port facilities again made it of key strategic importance. For Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the landlocked Central Asian republics, Georgia offered the shortest transit route to Europe. As relations with Russia became a touchy matter for

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