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.