The Path To Energy Security

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By Mikheil Saakashvili
Monday, January 9, 2006

TBILISI, Georgia -- Last week Russia announced that it would halt and then -- not long after -- that it was restarting natural gas shipments to Ukraine. It was a momentary crisis that should have wide-ranging ramifications for the economic security of Europe and raise questions about any notion of a role for Russia as a reliable energy supplier. Russia's arbitrary cutoff sent a clear message to the European Union: There can be no energy security when an undependable neighbor is willing and able to use its energy resources as a weapon in political influence.

We in Georgia watched these events with great interest for two major reasons. Last August, Georgia and Ukraine initiated the creation of the Community of Democratic Choice. The CDC held its first meeting in Kiev last month and began to mobilize democracies to work toward our common goals. In the course of the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, respectively, our peoples chose to develop open, democratic societies and set out to reorient our economic and political ties to the West. We believe it is critical to our future safety and economic security that we integrate ourselves with Euro-Atlantic structures, which is why we are working to gain membership in NATO and the European Union. We are constantly striving for good relations with our giant neighbor, but the Russian government's recent actions are yet another example of that country's attempts to influence nearby countries. Because of our democratic solidarity with Ukraine, our Black Sea neighbor, we shared the outrage expressed in Europe at Russia's heavy-handed action.

We also expressed support for Ukraine because of our own experience. While this was the European Union's first experience with a politically motivated cutoff of natural gas, Russia has attempted to pressure Georgia this way on many occasions. That is why we seek diverse sources of energy. In the wake of these dramatic events, it is critical that the E.U. move to diversify its energy sources and develop new transportation routes for its supplies. The fig leaf of "market rates" that Russia traditionally uses as cover to jack up prices or to cut off energy supplies is disingenuous at best. There is nothing "free market" or "market rate" behind Russian energy prices. Manipulation of energy prices and supplies is a critical tool of those in Russia who believe that hydrocarbons are the best means of political influence. In Georgia, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two areas that are outside of our control and whose separatist authorities are directly controlled by Russia, receive natural gas free -- hardly a practice free-marketeers would applaud.

Russia uses not only its energy supplies but also the vast energy transportation network that former Soviet states inherited -- and depend on -- to exercise energy control. For example, when Russia demanded steep price increases in natural gas from my country, we approached Kazakhstan and reached a preliminary agreement to purchase gas from it at a genuine market rate. But Russia's Gazprom refused to allow shipment through Russian territory, thereby scuttling the deal. It gets worse. The E.U. should take note that in December 1999 Georgian natural gas from Russia -- our sole supplier -- was cut off for no reason in the dead of winter and was restored only through U.S. intervention.

For Georgians, our path is clear: We are moving aggressively to diversify our energy sources and transportation networks. The recently completed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which brings natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey and crosses Georgia is a critical piece of this effort. For Europe, the Black Sea states hold the key for new routes to bring in energy supplies from the Middle East and Central Asia. We are willing to work closely both with our European partners and with Russia to make the whole system transparent, predictable and immune to -- or insulated from -- political shocks.

The writer is president of the Republic of Georgia.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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