Russia Moves South Ossetia Border Markings Deeper into Georgia, Captures Section of Baku-Supsa Oil Pipeline

On July 10, 2015, Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia installed new border signs several hundred meters deeper into sovereign Georgian territory, in the midst of ongoing NATO exercises, termed Agile Spirit 2015 (scheduled to run from in Georgia from July 8 to July 22).  The move ostensibly put Russian forces in control of roughly 1.5 kilometers of the BP-operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline that delivers Azeri oil to a terminal in Georgia.  According to officials from the EU‘s Monitoring Mission, a new border sign was placed 300 meters south of an established marker near the village of Orchosani and another marker was pushed 1 kilometer south near the village of Tsitelubani.  Georgia‘s Foreign Ministry denounced the encroachment of its territory, calling it a blatant violation of the August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement.  BP has so far downplayed the move.  Russia‘s actions threaten not only the pipeline, but also put within several hundred meters the Tbilisi-Gori highway, Georgia‘s main east-west route linking the capital with its Black Sea ports and Turkey.

Since August 2008, Russian forces have occupied Georgia‘s separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Both territories now host Russian military bases.  Moscow has technically recognized the declared independence of each, and , in February 2015, an agreement was signed with the de facto South Ossetian leadership, further integrating the territory with Russia.  The international community, with the exception of Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru, consider both regions to be occupied Georgian territory.

The Kremlin, for its part, has yet to comment on the situation.  Diplomatic relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have been cut off since the August 2008 conflict, although the ‘‘‘Georgian Dream‘ political coalition, which rose to power in 2012, has sought to reset relations with Russia.  Since 2012, Russia has further entrenched its presence in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, installing barbed wire and fences along South Ossetia‘s border with Georgia while seeking to jettison its own border controls and further integrate the territories‘ armed forces and police.

The Baku-Supsa pipeline, also referred to as the Western Route Export Pipeline (WREP), carries Azeri crude oil from Azerbaijan‘s Caspian Azeri-Chirga-Guneshli field to an oil terminal at Supsa, on Georiga‘s Black Sea coast, where it travels through the Bosphorus via tanker to European markets.  WREP is operated by BP on behalf of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), which includes BP, SOCAR, Chevron, Inpex, Statoil, ExxonMobil, TPAO, ITOCHU and ONCG Videsh.  The 829-kilometer pipeline has been in operation since February 1999 and has a maximum capacity of 145,000 barrels per day.  The August 2008 conflict forced the temporary closure of the pipeline for what BP referred to as safety reasons.  Following an explosion that damaged BP‘s other oil pipeline traversing Georgia (i.e., the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan), its Azeri crude exports were re-routed through the WREP, ensuring they would still reach Western markets.