Russia / Central Asia

 

 

June 5, 2011: The Next European Battleground?

 

Russia’s Geostrategic Predicament and Power Today P1

 

Early Russian Conception of the West: The rise of the West as a concept came with Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. Next Anti-colonial political ideologies took up the Russian framework in the twentieth century: for example, Gustave Von Grunebaum, in his 1965 Modern Islam: The Search for Cultural Identity, claims that Arab and other third-world nationalists are ''taking the road the Russians took little more than a century ago" Finding the West:

 

 

“The collapse of the Soviet Union triggered a resurgence of Eurasianist activity in the 1990’s.-Unlike Western realists who emphasize the State as principal international actors, the Eurasianists support the idea of empires as principle actors.” (Robert Cassidy, Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War, 2008, p.48.)

 

Today we know that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was to a great extent the consequence of a long lasting conflict between the Great Russians - the `core nation' of the empire - on the one hand, and the dominant ethnic groups of the other fourteen national Soviet republics, on the other hand. We also know that  a continuing tradition which emphasises Russia's orthodox and traditional past, an intellectual current has been drawing on western European neo-fascist ideas and adapting them to the Russian situation (increasing conservatism across Russia as a whole, these ideas during the 1990’s had an impact right across the political spectrum). The latter we will investigating in the following part.

 

Introduction: Gorbachev's Last Days

 

Case Study: Russia's Move Towards the Right

 

Global Jihad Case Study: Central Asia P.1.

 

Likely to become a new arena of international interest in the 21st century, not least because of its cocktail of abundant oil and gas, Islamic jihadist groups, dictatorial regimes, and rivalry between Russia, China, Pakistan, the US and Iran. Central Asia P.2.

 

Hydrocarbons and the Great Powers. Central Asia P.3.

When at the dawn of a new year, Moscow ratchet up prices by orders of magnitude, former vassal state began siphoning off Russian exports destined for customers in Europe. Germany's economy minister has announced an about-face in a policy that will have as dramatic an impact on relations with Russia and France as it does on the average German's energy bill. Plus a reading of the just released Blowing Up Russia by Litvinenko (completed just before his dead) makes one wonder. Research Report Russia's Geostrategic Roots Today:

August 23, 2007:  European reliance on the Russian Federation for natural gas supplies -- to the tune of  roughly one-fourth of total European natural gas consumption -- has  been one of Moscow's chief levers of influence over European policy that is about to change now. Comment.

During his speech before he left for the Middle East Putin left Europe with more questions than answers. Comment P.1.
More recently Gulf intelligence sources report that the agreement reached between Putin and King Abdullah is that Moscow will assist in Saudi development of a civilian nuclear program and build six research satellites for the oil kingdom. And that this in turn got Israel worried because it will enable Riyadh to pick up highly sensitive intelligence on its military movements and relay it to Egypt and the Palestinians. We cannot proof or disprove such 'intelligence' info, but it is plausible.

 Comment P.2:  In 2006, the Russians began aggressively transforming the face of Eurasia, and China started to deal with its severe financial problems -- chiefly, by avoiding the consequences. In Europe while Germany settles into its leadership role, France will see the end of its Gaullist era. Predicting the next half Year:

The New Map of Russia

Russia's New Map: The Third Rome

A History of Eurasianism

Russia's New Map P.2: A History of Panslavism

Russia's New Map P.3

World Revolution: The Roots of Modern Russia

How the End of the Cold War Occured

What Led To The Dissolution of The Soviet Union 1991

After the Cold War: America over the Brink

Central Asia: Why The Great Game Heats Up

Why The Great Game Heats Up P.2:Azerbaijan

The conflict between Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has crescendoed in recent months, since Azerbaijan has started seeing the enormous cash windfall from its new pipeline and Armenia has scrambled to secure a protective Russian presence within its borders. But the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is about more than the two states and their disputed territory; the United States and Russia are using that conflict as a foothold to strengthen their positions in the region as they try to expel each other.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have long been deadlocked over the small sliver of land between the two states, though the conflict has been relatively dormant since the 1994 cease-fire. Technically, Nagorno-Karabakh is within Azeri territory, though it is controlled by Armenia. International pressure, lack of support from every nation but Russia and Iran, and fear of Azeri retaliation have kept Armenia from annexing the territory. Azerbaijan has been held back from retaking the land due to international pressure and the Azeri military's relative weakness. Russia has maintained a shaky and controversial balance by supporting both sides.

However, Azerbaijan began to see the possibility of change in 2006 with the completion of its Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. Azerbaijan not only became increasingly pro-Western, but it also saw tremendous new income. Azerbaijan's president has already decided how he wants to spend his country's newfound wealth: on defense. In 2004, Azerbaijan's defense spending was approximately $175 million, but by the beginning of 2008, the country will begin spending at least $1 billion on defense. Armenia recently increased its defense spending by 20 percent -- from $125 million to $150 million, which obviously pales in comparison to Azerbaijan's increase. Azerbaijan's spending will go mostly toward air offensive capabilities, with Armenia's going to air defense, though both now are looking to expand their ground capabilities.

Armenia simply lacks the influx of energy income that Azerbaijan has. The enormous Armenian diaspora inside the United States has ensured that Armenia is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, but Armenia's neighbors -- Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey -- have shunned it economically and politically, leaving it with little opportunity for trade or expansion. The one neighbor Armenia has an open relationship with is Iran. In March, Iran and Armenia opened the Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline; Iran ships natural gas north and Armenia converts the natural gas to electricity to export back south to Iran. The pipeline itself is owned by Russia, as is much of Armenia's energy infrastructure, so Yerevan is seeing little money from the project.

The Armenian-Iranian project is another step in the Armenian-Azeri power struggle and the impetus for Washington to take sides in the power shift in the Caucasus. In March, U.S. President George W. Bush requested a substantial aid cut -- nearly 50 percent of economic aid and 30 percent of military aid -- for Armenia, provoking an outcry from the Armenian-American lobby. Around the same time, the United States announced plans to increase aid to Azerbaijan by about the same amount. The U.S. State Department has cited Armenia's ties with Iran as the reason for the cut, though a larger battle is brewing in the Caucasus.

Russia has watched as Azerbaijan and Georgia -- two of the three former Soviet states in the Caucasus -- grew more pro-Western and caused Russia's strategic set of military bases to slip away. After the 2004 Rose Revolution in Georgia, Tbilisi ordered Russia to begin removing its vast military and equipment from its territory. Officially, Russia said the last of its equipment left Georgia on June 28. Much of the hardware from the Georgian bases was shipped back to Russia, though quite a bit of it was relocated to Russia's large base in Gyumri, Armenia. There is also uncertainty about the relocation of 40 armored vehicles and 20 tanks; Russia says they are back home, and Azerbaijan suspects they are in Armenia.

Baku has formally expressed its outrage over Russia's military ramp-up in Armenia, though Moscow vows it is not supporting Armenia more than Azerbaijan. But Baku is also making larger and more serious threats against the Kremlin. Russia has a strategic and important anti-ballistic missile (ABM) base, Gabala, in Azerbaijan, for which it holds a lease through 2016. This is the same base Russia has offered to the United States for the location of a joint ABM facility. Since Russia began moving farther into Armenia, Azerbaijan has been "reconsidering" Russia's lease.

Though this seems devastating to Russia, the Kremlin does not appear to be caught off guard. In 2005 -- around the time Azerbaijan grew more pro-Western and the BTC was in its final stages -- Russia began construction on an ABM radar base in Armavir, in southern Russia. The base, similar in scope to Gabala, will be completed in December. It is as if Russia realized it would eventually be evicted from Azerbaijan.

Washington could have a unique advantage in the Armenian-Azeri-Russian spat. Though the United States does not want a joint base with the Russians at Gabala, it would not pass up taking the base for itself. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will travel to Baku on July 9 to discuss this idea, along with the possibility of lily pad bases in the country.

An eviction from Azerbaijan does not mean Russia will lose its hold in the Caucasus. Russia is expanding its bases in Armenia and has made plans to expand the small country's energy infrastructure through a series of refineries and deals with Iran. Moreover, Russia knows that a conflict within the Nagorno-Karabakh region would not only cause Azerbaijan to spend a good deal of its money on a war, but also would throw most of the region into chaos -- leaving it vulnerable and ripe for Russia to move in and provide "stability." Nagorno-Karabakh has been a fight waiting to happen between Azerbaijan and Armenia, though now it seems the United States and Russia are behind much of the pressure on these countries.

Temporary Concluding Remarks About Russia Today:

What the Alexander Litvinenko case or what some have called the U.K., Russia Continuation of the Great Game; Russia has reminded the West that it is still around with new missile threats, the elimination of key security treaties and increased meddling outside its borders . Now, the term "new Cold War" is being thrown around pretty frequently in the press. Poisonings, diplomatic expulsions and missile threats were all tactics that the Soviets used against the West, so such actions are expected to be seen again as Russia and the West fall into their former roles.

Thus in the grand tradition of the Cold War, Russia staged a press conferences on 18,2007  to lambaste Western security structures. Here Yevgeny Buzhinsky, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international legal department; proposed a number of possibilities to replace the current strategic formats between Russia and NATO. The three documents that make up the bulk of Russian-Western security understandings are the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE).

START places an absolute limit on the number of intercontinental nuclear weapons both Russia and the United States can field, and the INF does the same for intermediate-range missiles, while the CFE restricts how many pieces of conventional military equipment NATO states and Russia can maintain -- as well as where Russia can station them. Taken together, the three treaties form the framework for Western-Russian relations, and it is that very framework that a strengthening Russia is now challenging. To a certain degree, this is understandable.

The three treaties locked into place the military realities of November 1990. Since then, not only has the Soviet Union collapsed, but the entire Soviet bloc (sans Russia of course), plus the three Baltic states and Slovenia, also has jumped the fence, taking its militaries with it. Add in more than a decade of Russian military decline and the result is a treaty-mandated system that puts the Russians at a grave disadvantage. It is this that the Kremlin seeks to change.

Such logic -- colored by the rhetoric and minutiae of the day -- is the core rationale for Russia's recent decision to halt its implementation of the CFE Treaty, by far the treaty with which Moscow is most dissatisfied. In addition to justifying this action, Buzhinsky also noted during Wednesday's press conference that the INF should be expanded and a successor to START determined.  Thus Russia is not simply trying to amend the security structures that govern its relationship with the West; it is trying to convince the West to help it lock in a new system that is more representative of Russian fears and strengths. The INF currently applies only to the United States and Russia, but because it was signed during the Reagan administration, other states on Russia's borders have since developed respectable missile programs.

However, it will be START that really gets Russian engines revving in the near future. START is the only treaty that seriously limits Washington's defense spending on the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Since the Russian deterrent is one of the very few assets that guarantee Russia an international voice, Moscow desperately wants to preserve it at a level equal to that of the American program. With Washington looking over the Russian horizon toward a possible arms race with the more financially capable Chinese, there is no way any U.S. administration would agree to renew START in order to make the Russians feel better about themselves. The Russians know this, and it is pushing them to threaten to leave the INF altogether in order to maintain at least a semblance of parity: Intermediate-range missiles, while they cannot reach the United States, are much cheaper to produce.

During the Cold War, the Soviets regularly bandied about similar proposals in attempts to use treaties and Western opinion to lock U.S. force structures into untenable positions. As during the Buzhinsky conference, concepts of fairness and partnership were used liberally in an effort to make Moscow's position seem reasonable. This resulted in peace movements across Europe that greatly complicated alliance management for the Americans. After all, the last thing NATO needed -- and precisely what Moscow was after -- was splits in the alliance that could be exploited. This time around, that does not seem to be happening. Europe is perhaps more awash than ever in anti-American sentiment due to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but there have been no mass rallies against U.S. weapons systems or Western parliamentary spectacles against U.S. policy. Most Central European states, such as Poland and Romania, are not buying the Russian line at all, and recent government changes in France and Germany have largely killed the idea of any broad Russian-European rapprochement.

There are structural limitations as well. Disarmament treaties typically only work when there is parity -- and very expensive parity at that -- that forces the two sides to talk. Despite Russia's resurgence, that parity does not exist, so the Americans see no reason to be particularly worried. And, to be perfectly honest, while Europeans -- at a minimum -- remain as nervous about Russia's rhetoric as its hardware, Russia's military degradation is perceived to have been so catastrophic that the Europeans are not breaking ranks. Then again, maybe it is simply that it is hard to play the victim when you are the one who walked away from the CFE Treaty in the first place.

The alliance might be wobbling somewhat, but it has held -- and done so with a much more diverse member list than it boasted in the 1980s. If Russia is going to split NATO and push through a new treaty regime, it will need to do more than simply dust off some old rhetoric.

PS Representatives of transparency advocates Global Witness and Freedom House appealed to the U.S. government this week to help them in their struggle to get former Soviet Union (FSU) countries, including Russia, to disclose the amount of money they receive from oil and natural gas operations -- and to reveal how that money is spent. The concept, known as revenue transparency, is backed by a growing network of organizations and companies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but has received little more than lip service from Washington.

The difference between moves toward transparency in Africa and in the FSU is rooted in the nature of the corruption and the indigenous oil industry. Anti-corruption measures have worked in Africa because the focus has been on convincing single leaders or a leadership clique to make small changes. These leaders have learned that improving transparency and even increasing the amount of money going to the people need not necessarily result in a diminution of their lavish lifestyle. More important, they also have come to understand that they put all of their riches at risk if they ignore the campaigners, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Equator Principles banks and the rest of the growing network of organizations and companies that are demanding increased transparency.

The corruption in the FSU is different. First, African dictators depend on foreign oil companies to bring oil to market and foreign banks to fund projects. This dependence has opened avenues for transparency campaigners that do not exist in Russia. More important, the reason for the lack of transparency is different. African leaders simply want to steal the money. Russia's lack of transparency is critical to its ability to control the oil industry, which it views as an offensive strategic weapon.

According to both Global Witness and Freedom House, Russia's opaque oil and natural gas industry has caused a cascade of corruption throughout the FSU in which ownership of companies, fields and pipelines is not readily apparent -- and where the revenue ends up is even less clear. Because the majority of Turkmen and Kazakh oil and natural gas pass through Russia, they are part of the intricate web of oligarchs, politicians and oil companies at the heart of Russia's government. At the top of this chain is Putin, a leader who is not sending the country's oil revenue to personal accounts in Swiss banks, but instead is enriching his political allies (or allowing them to enrich themselves). Meanwhile, he is holding a good portion of the proceeds in bank accounts in the country's name.

This intricate web is designed to solidify Putin's position (and presumably that of his successor) and also to ensure that the most powerful economic weapon Russia has -- its oil and natural gas industry -- remains a tool of the Russian state. With full Kremlin control of oil and natural gas, Russia has been able to flex newfound muscle, telling Europe that on important issues, including NATO expansion, it must deal with Russia on Moscow's terms.

Controlling corruption in Russia, therefore, is not a matter of convincing a billionaire despot that his billions are secure only if he plays by new rules. Russia is using corruption to secure power that ensures the safety of the state. Unlike in Africa, getting half the pie will not work -- there is no half control for Putin. It is a different ball game.

Global Witness and Freedom House implicitly acknowledged this in their testimony to the Helsinki Commission. They are calling on the federal government to become more involved in EITI and to turn transparency into a priority issue. Their testimony acknowledged that the new center of corruption in the global economy is a very different animal than Africa.

The question is whether the United States will act on this. On one hand, Washington might find that transparency issues strike at the heart of Russia's strength. But as with Cold War human rights advocacy, Western calls for transparency in Putin's oil and natural gas industry are likely to change nothing in Russia.

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