Georgia accuses Russia of land grab, set to escalate tensions with the West

In a move that could exacerbate Moscow’s standoff with the West, Russia has been accused by Georgia of violating international law after it had erected new border markings in the disputed South Ossetia region. Reports suggest that this amounts to seizing part of a BP operated pipeline.

Many locals complained that they lost their lands as a result, with Russia not allowing the locals there telling them the place was out of bounds for them. According to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, a one mile section of the Baku-Supsa pipeline which is beneath this land taken over is now what is called the occupied territory. Critics say this surprise operation of Russia is a part of its creeping annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which is another territory that broke away from Georgia.

The Baku-Supsa pipeline carries up to 145,000 barrels of oil a day from Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil fields to Georgia’s Supsa terminal on the Black Sea. Its strategic importance was made clear just before the 2008 war, when BP had to use it to re-route oil to western markets after its larger BTC pipeline across Georgia was closed by an explosion. The two regions have been occupied by Russia since 2008 where it allegedly violated international law after the war with Georgia in the same year.

This latest move by Russia is seen by critics as Moscow trying to oppose the former Soviet republic from joining the EU and NATO, which is on similar lines with regard to Russia’s position on Ukraine. The recent joint military exercises between US and Georgia were also not taken positively by Russia which perceived it as an attempt by  the US to influence Georgia to join the alliance. Diplomatic ties between Georgia and Russia still remains suspended after the war, but Georgia’s special envoy to Russia Zurab Abishidze has vowed to raise the dangerous provocation at a meeting with Russian officials later in the week.

With Russia already facing sanctions from the EU and US, this could further worsen the relations between Russia and the West. Many of them see this as an expansionist posture by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a revival of the ‘Cold War’ era. While the West has been focusing on the Iran deal over the past few days which was clinched on July 14, 2015, it may now get back to focusing on this region. Expect tensions to escalate over the next few days if Russia doesn’t keep a check on its actions in its extended neighbourhood.

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