Monday, November 12, 2007

Caspian Caucasian Oil Intrgues

The recent pronouncements of Vladimir Putin regarding U.S. intentions regarding Iran seem to have rekindled more post cold war paranoia, however on closer examination the great energy game has more to do with the tension than the usual American Russian rivalry.
What especially bears watching is the the breakdown of democracy in the countries that the U.S. thought would help ensure it's access to Caspian oil. These are places that the U.S. thought were going to be members of the "Color Revolutions" that seem to have lost their bloom.
A good example is Georgia, a way station on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline to circumvent Russian influence in the Caspian. The Harvard educated savior of democracy, Mikheil Saakashvili, has shut down opposition operations to preserve his power. According to the International Hearld Times:

"These are critical days in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The survival of the country's hard-won democracy, its aspirations to join NATO and the European Union and the once-glowing international reputation of its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, are all suddenly on the line.

Saakashvili is largely to blame for this abrupt crisis. On Wednesday, he betrayed the spirit of the pro-democracy "Rose Revolution" that swept him to power four years ago - declaring a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties, silencing critical news media and ordering a police crackdown on opposition demonstrators.

A day later, under intense domestic and international pressure, Saakashvili agreed to early presidential elections in January, accepting one of the main opposition demands. That concession is welcome, but it will only mean a return to democracy if full civil liberties are restored immediately, allowing opposition candidates a fair chance to campaign."

An even more egregious example of a country straying off "democracy's" path would be Azerbaijan. Here journalists that suggest that Azerbaijan's support of U.S. interests in the area might involve Azerbaijan in a war with Iran are basically thrown in jail for fomenting terrorism and ethnic hatred. As per IFEX:

"Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of "Realny Azerbayjan" and "Gundalik Azerbayjan" newspapers and a well-known critic of the Azeri authorities, was convicted of terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion on 30 October for an article he wrote about Azerbaijan's support for U.S. military operations in the region.
The terrorism and ethnic hatred charges derive from an article Fatullayev wrote in "Realny Azerbayjan", in which he argued that the government's support of the United States' position on Iran makes Azerbaijan vulnerable to attack from Tehran and could revive ethnic tension within the country. Read the article here:
- English: "

The Moscow News offers what appears to be a more likely explanation of all these goings ons:

"Washington's foreign policy line in the Caspian region is geared toward several goals. Priority is given to creating conditions where Moscow would be unable to exercise control over U.S. energy projects. The United States is currently trying to justify its plan to increase its influence on the Caspian with the pressing need to boost security along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. There has been increasing talk in the West about the need for NATO's military presence in the Caspian region.

"The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is considering the possibility of providing security for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline," said Robert Simmons, the NATO secretary general's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia. "The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs to Turkey, a NATO country, and passes through the territory of Azerbaijan, a NATO partner. The protection of energy infrastructure includes the security of this oil pipeline in addition to other energy infrastructure facilities." He said that terrorism is the biggest threat to the pipeline.

Washington is also seriously concerned by the prospect of a full blown war breaking out between Turkey and ethnic Kurds based in the north of Iraq. The White House is no longer attempting to hide its fear of bomb attacks against the oil pipelines leading from rebellious Kurdistan. Furthermore, the Americans do not rule out that possible terrorist attacks could be carried out on orders from Tehran, while Washington is on the verge of war with it.

The Iran problem is yet another plausible excuse for the U.S. to strengthen its military presence in the Caspian: the Pentagon needs logistic bases in the region should it decide to use force against Tehran. The Americans intend to use Azerbaijan's territory in an anti-Iran campaign. Washington has already provided $30 million to beef up the country's coast guard. Now the United States has earmarked $135 million as part of the Caspian Guard Initiative, a framework program designed to coordinate activities in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with those of U.S. Central Command and other U.S. government agencies to enhance Caspian security. The program assists the two countries in improving their ability to prevent and, if needed, respond to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, drug and human trafficking, and other transnational treats in the Caspian region. According to some reports, the Pentagon has already built two radar stations, as well as command and control facilities in Azerbaijan. In addition to that, as part of Baku's partnership plan with Brussels, Azerbaijan's Navy and Border Service will be provided with advanced, state of the art military hardware and equipment.

NATO has also finalized a long term program to provide military support for all pipelines along the Caspian-Turkey-Balkans route. A NATO contingent is already present in the region, in particular at former Soviet military bases in the Azerbaijani towns of Kurdamir, Nasosnoye and Gulli: "temporary mobile forces" have been deployed there since the spring of 2006. Their strength, according to different estimates, varies between 750 and 1,300 troops, but is expected to double in the foreseeable future. This force is also designed for "strategic missions" in Georgia, its principal function being to "protect" the Azerbaijani-Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline."

The question that really looms for Americans is what price will their SUV culture be worth in the long run. The Department of Defense can now probably realistically be renamed the Petroleum Protection Service. How many Lives per Gallon does your gas/blood hog get?

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