Aug 13, 2008 - 4:36 pm
The geography of the Black Sea and limited access to Georgia means that the US is unlikely to seek a decisive or sharp confrontation with Russia there. The US ability to project power into the region is limited. It would be like trying to play a game against someone with a broadband conection while you have dialup. Therefore US involvement in Georgia will be economy of force.
Being on the defensive has the virtue of typing up 3, 4 or 5 Russians for every Georgian. The Russians have to wear out their armor and airplanes to get stuff over the Caucasus. So my fearless forecast is that US involvement with focus on making the Georgians more effective. Besides, Cold War Rule Number Two says “proxy warfare is OK”.
Once Russia takes the Black Sea ports the Georgians can mine them or fire antiship missiles at whatever is in the harbor. Even if this only does minor damage, it would turn the Eastern Black Sea coast into a warzone and since one third of Russia’s shipping goes via the Black Sea, I think Moscow will soon discover they have just blockaded themselves. As I pointed out from the begining of the crisis, this is an air and naval game.
According to these officials, Russian Black Sea ports currently handle more than one third of Russia’s sea-borne exports in terms of tonnage. Total export cargos were reported at 160 million tons in 2006 and are “conservatively” expected to grow to 250 million tons annually by 2010. The port development program ambitiously envisages doubling the existing export capacities, which are currently strained to the limit and distributed very unevenly along the Russian coast.
At present, Novorossiysk alone handles more than one half of that overall export tonnage. The over-congested port’s various terminals loaded a reported 88 million tons of export cargos in 2006.
That figure includes an estimated 60 million tons of oil, one half of this originating in Kazakhstan. Oil loading will increase if the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s line boosts the volume of oil pumped from Kazakhstan to Novorossiysk. Expecting this to be the case, the Russian government is ordering three tanker ships to carry that additional volume of oil from Novorossiysk to Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Burgas, for feeding into the planned trans-Balkan pipeline to Alexandropolis on the Greek Aegean coast.
The USN doesn’t have to control the Black Sea. It simply has to partly deny it to the Russians by making it a doubtful place. Then insurance rates and risk interest premiums will make Putin wish he had never been born.