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Unravelling the Carbon Web is a project by PLATFORM. We work to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil corporations, to help citizens gain a say in decisions that affect them, and to support the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.

Guaranteeing Insecurity - the Export Credit Guarantee Department

The South Ossetia conflict could easily have been foreseen. But British taxpayers' money was spent on the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline with eyes firmly closed to its impacts on regional conflict, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Documents released to Corner House and Friends of the Earth show that the Export Credit Guarantee Department downplayed the pipeline's security risks when it provided $150- 300 million to the project in 2003. In particular, the threat that the project would prompt a reaction from Russia (although raised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which recorded that Russia viewed the pipeline “as part of a wider American plot to squeeze Russia out of the Black Sea and the Caucasus”) appears to have received scant attention. Instead, the emphasis in government documents was on the BTC pipeline acting as a “project for peace”. Warnings that the pipeline might be a target for the Kurdish PKK attacks or that security provisions would lead to a militarisation of the corridor – with the high risk of communities along the pipeline being subject to human rights abuses – were also ignored.

While the ECGD holds “150 or so” files relating to BTC, there is not a single file that specifically addresses the risks of conflict. A 2003 briefing paper prepared for HM Treasury argued that conflict was not a major “project sensitivity”.

The documents show that before ECGD agreed to support BTC, senior FCO officials identified the need for a detailed analysis of the foreign policy implications of pipelines in the region - but that the study was never commissioned. The proposal for the study specifically mentions the risk that political instability in the Caucasus posed to the “physical security” of pipelines and the threat of Russia “misusing” its “dominant position as transit country”. It was proposed that a BP staff member undertake the project – while remaining on BP’s payroll.

In response to an ECGD request for departmental comments on the BTC project, the FCO replied: “We are concerned that the pipeline runs close to minority ethnic areas in Turkey and that its construction may lead to an increased Turkish military presence in the area. I have discussed this point with the Turkey desk who are satisfied that it is unlikely to result in any problems.” There is no record in disclosed FCO files  that ECGD requested further details – or the basis for the Turkey desk's conclusions, despite their being at odds with the views of others in the FCO.

Tragically, the price for ECGD's casual attitude is being paid by the victims of the violence.