I can’t help taking a minute to return to Lionel Beehner’s “Why Russia Matters Less Than We Think.” In regard to how Russia’s as energy colossus shouldn’t worry Americans, he writes:
Russia is an energy powerhouse. Maybe, but little of its natural gas goes toward American consumers (indeed, Stolichnaya ads notwithstanding, we do remarkably little trade with Russia). Even Moscow’s energy imports to Western Europe are dwindling, as its share in natural gas imports shrunk from 50 percent to 42 percent between 2000 and 2005. Better to pay closer attention to the politics of Nigeria or Venezuela.
It seems that Beehner might have spoke too soon when suggesting that we should look at Nigeria at the expense of Russia. According to the Financial Times, America’s watchful eye over its imperial domains need also glance at Russia when peering at the politics of Nigeria. FT’s Matthew Green writes, “Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy group, is seeking to win access to vast energy reserves in Nigeria in a move that will heighten concerns among western governments over its increasingly powerful grip on gas supplies to Europe.” An unnamed senior Nigerian oil official says that Gazprom has offered to invest in Nigeria’s oil infrastructure in exchange for having a large stake in developing the West African country’s natural gas reserves. Says the unnamed Nigerian oil official:
“What Gazprom is proposing is mind-boggling. They’re talking tough and saying the west has taken advantage of us in the last 50 years and they’re offering us a better deal … They are ready to beat the Chinese, the Indians and the Americans.”
Gazprom’s entrance into Nigeria would put it up against Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil, three Western companies that have long dominated Nigeria’s vast oil reserves. Given that Nigeria is a top supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States, if the Gazprom-Nigeria deal goes through, the notion that “Russia doesn’t matter” will sound far more nonsensical that it does now.
If Gazprom does enter Nigeria, I wonder how long it will take before they are paying Nigerian troops to crush anti-corporate activism in the Niger Delta as Chevron has been accused of doing. I would imagine not long at all.
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By Sean — 5 months ago
By Sean — 10 years ago
On Friday, Tbilisi broke diplomatic ties with Moscow in protest to statements that Russia plans to absorb South Ossetia and Abkhazia in “several years.” Moscow responded by closing its embassy in Tbilisi.
The EU also stepped up warnings against Russia by announcing it would suspend talks for a long term partnership agreement as long as there are Russian troops inside Georgia. The Russians, using something called “salami tactics,” looks to divide Europe from itself and from the US. And who are the targets of Russia’s culinary karate chop? Germany and France.
American Vice President Dick Cheney has left the building for Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Too bad. I as looking forward to his speech at the RNC. In Azerbaijan, Cheney looks to secure energy agreements to prevent Baku oil from going to Russia. “The U.S. is afraid that Azerbaijan will begin sending its energy resources through Russia instead of Georgia, and this question will be one of the main points of the visit,” says Vafa Guluzade, a Baku-based political analyst and former presidential adviser.
Cheney’s trip to Georgia and Ukraine are to let both nations know that the US has got their back. Or, in the words of Mark Parris, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, “Cheney’s mission is to stiffen [their] spine.” The Wall Street Journal sees Cheney’s trip to the region as a possible signal of a tougher American policy toward Russia. One wonders how traction said policy would get in an Administration that has four months left in power. Perhaps the $1 billion economic aid package to Georgia is a sign of commitment. Cha-ching! It just goes to show that it pays to be a proxy.
The Christian Science Monitor is looking for cracks in “Putin’s kingdom.” The CSM article is really quite a silly. First, forget the fact that Putin isn’t President anymore, yet he keeps being treated as he is. Who is really in charge can be debated to the end of time. But a few Russian policy experts disagreeing with Putin somehow means that there are “cracks in his kingdom”? Please. “The strong man has started to show his weaknesses,” writes Paul Quinn-Judge. I thought serious analysts would understand the difference between reality and the cult of personality.
If you really want some laughs see Ed Lucas babbling about the Britain’s politicos kowtowing to the “oil-fueled fascist kleptocracy ruled by secret police goons and their cronies.” Ed, keep pushing those book sales up, up, and up.
The real President of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, however, is just getting started. Perhaps people should be paying more attention to him rather than Prime Minister Putin. As the interview above shows, Dima has a vision. In this vision Russia defines its own destiny, and presumably the destinies of its “near abroad.” This so-called the “Medvedev Doctrine” is predicated on five points:
“Russia recognises the primacy of the basic principles of international law, which define relations between civilised nations. It is in the framework of these principles, of this concept of international law, that we will develop our relations with other states.”
“The world should be multi-polar. Unipolarity is unacceptable, domination is impermissible. We cannot accept a world order in which all decisions are taken by one country, even such a serious and authoritative country as the United States of America. This kind of world is unstable and fraught with conflict.”
“Russia does not want confrontation with any country; Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop, as far as possible, friendly relations both with Europe and with the United State of America, as well as with other countries of the world.”
“Our unquestionable priority is to protect the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they are. We will also proceed from this in pursuing our foreign policy. We will also protect the interest of our business community abroad. And it should be clear to everyone that if someone makes aggressive forays, he will get a response.”
Spheres of influence
“Russia, just like other countries in the world, has regions where it has its privileged interests. In these regions, there are countries with which we have traditionally had friendly cordial relations, historically special relations. We will work very attentively in these regions and develop these friendly relations with these states, with our close neighbors.”
There are a few new develops concerning the aftermath of the war. Georgia has admitted using cluster bombs in a letter to Human Rights Watch. The letter emphasized that the bombs “were never used against civilians, civilian targets and civilian populated or nearby areas.” But they whole thing with cluster bombs is not when they were used. The problem is with the unexploded bomblets left after their use.
HRW’s allegations that Russia used cluster bombs has yet to be independently confirmed. For an excellent breakdown of HRW’s allegations see Moon of Alabama. Here’s the main thesis:
The ammunition in question is of Israeli origin and was used by the Georgian military. The Georgian Ministry of Defense has now admitted as much. HRW now also acknowledges this in a new press statement. But it continues to claim Russian use of such weapons. It does so by pointing to its own older reports which clearly misidentified Georgian cluster ammunition as Russian made. HRW has still to show any proof for its continuing accusations against the Russian Federation.
Georgia has released casualty figures for the war. There were 169 soldiers and 69 civilians killed. And what of the figures deaths at the hands of marauding Ossetian militiamen? After all, cleansing is messy business.
Finally, I direct your attention to Tony Wood’s “What Condoleezza Said” in the London Review of Books. The article is for subscribers only but I know that JRL carried it today. I found this passage about the rapid increase of Georgia’s military budget deserving of more discussion.
The arrival of Saakashvili changed the picture considerably. His push for Nato membership, and the funds and equipment supplied by Washington, gave military substance to his determination to regain control of the two territories. Georgia’s military spending went from $84m in 2004 to $339m in 2006; in July 2008, the Georgian parliament approved a budget which raised it to $1bn. Since 2004, Saakashvili has alternated between conciliatory offers of autonomy within Georgia and implicit threats to resolve the situation by force. The Ossetians were offered autonomy in 2005, but rejected it, and in 2006 voted for independence in a referendum Tbilisi did not recognise. Instead, in spring 2007 Saakashvili set up a parallel pro-Georgian government in South Ossetia – copying the Kremlin’s policy in Chechnya in 1995 and 1999. Retaking either territory by force, however, was still militarily unfeasible.Post Views: 345
By Sean — 11 years ago
Two steps back, one step forward. It’s not the Watusi. It’s certainly not the hokey-pokey. Perhaps it’s a waltz. Whatever the dance step Vladimir Putin is leading Russia’s political future with, it’s certainly keeping everyone on their toes. Let’s just recap the last few weeks. Prime Minster Mikhail Fradkov resigns only to be replaced by a seemingly unknown technocrat and Putin ally Viktor Zubkov. This move caused many to immediately shoot Zubkov to the top of the successor list. Others were more cautious, seeing Zubkov’s becoming Prime Minister as simply a way to Putin to have an ace in the hole against the Kremlin clans. Zubkov is said to be an outsider of sorts and not beholden to any clan, that is of course if you don’t think Putin has a clan of his own. Further Zubkov, as the head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, has access to what RFE/RL’s Victor Yasmann calls “a unique political weapon“: intimate knowledge about the legal and illegal flow of capital in and outside of Russia. In Zubkov, Putin has his own financial spy.
But Zubkov’s nomination was only the beginning. A new PM surely meant a new government, and the speculation over which fresh faces would inhabit the cabinet kept everyone on edge. But last week’s announcement proved hardly climactic. No one was surprised by the sacking of German Gref and Mikhail Zurabov and the removal of Vladimir Yakovlev, the head of Regional Development, made no stir since no one cares about regional development anyway. Most were surprised that Gref and Zurabov lasted so long. The appointment of two women, Tatyana Golikova to replace Zurbaov as Health and Social Development Minister and Elvira Nabiullina to take over for Gref as Trade Minister, caused some statements about the cabinet’s feminization. Who would have ever though Putin was a partisan for affirmative action. The Presidential cabinet got two new ministries, the revival of the Federal Fishing Agency to be headed by Andrey Krainy and a committee on youth, the head of which has yet to be announced. (I suspect Nashi’s Vasili Yakamenko will eventually fill this position.) On the whole, however, the big surprise was that there was no surprise, though according to Kommersant’s Andrey Kolesnikov Putin even kept his own ministers on pins and needles as to their future until the last minute.
Though the Russian government’s “reshuffle” was lackluster, Zubkov, surely seasoned by his years on the kolkhoz, already appears to be a force to be reckoned with. His first cabinet meeting began with a session of “criticism” for the government’s failures to implement reforms, infighting, and neglect of fulfilling regional requests for resources. Zubkov then pulled an old arrow from the quiver of Soviet governance and ordered his minister’s underlings to the provinces. Next, Zubkov made a tried and true Russian political move. He began an anti-corruption campaign, calling for the Duma to adopt an anti-corruption law that’s been languishing since 1992. As of now the Russian Criminal Code has no laws explicitly defining corruption. And though anti-corruption campaigns are usually no more than a populist ruse, (anti-corruption and anti-bureacratism were favorites in Soviet times), Zubkov might have actually scared the Russian elite into thinking that he’s serious. A few weeks ago Zubkov created the Investigation Committee under the Justice Ministry especially for investigating corruption. The Committee took its first casualty on last Thursday when a man dressed in black pumped three bullets, including one “control shot,” into Nazim Kaziakhmedov, a chief investigator on the Committee, as he left the Bakinskii Dvorik restaurant in northeastern Moscow.
Zubkov’s exhibition of a strong hand in governance only propelled his status as a possible successor to Putin. So far he’s deflected reporters inquiries, saying that wants to score some successes as PM before moving to something bigger. Assumed front runners Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev now seem to have taken a back seat in the presidential “chatter.” Even Putin threw his own curve ball or sorts. After praising Zubkov as “highly professional,” “a man of integrity with sound judgment, responsibility, and wisdom” and “a man of strong character and expensive experience” (platitudes that are sure to spark jealously in his inner circle), Putin contended that “there are at least five people can run for president and can be elected. It’s good that another person [Viktor Zubkov] has appeared. Russian citizens will have a selection of candidates to choose from.” Who the five are, besides Zubkov, he didn’t say. Interestingly, Boris Kagarlitsky thinks Putin is just winging it as a means to keep it interesting.
And here today we witness the newest Putinian dance step. United Russia’s party congress has begun, an event that will surely be overshadowed in the West by its fascination with political nobodies like Garry Kasparov. And lo and behold who is sitting at the top of United Russia’s Duma candidate list? Why it’s Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin himself! Putin gleefully accepted the nomination from the party in power. This of course immediately sparked questions about him becoming Prime Minister after the elections. “As far as heading the government is concerned – this is a quite realistic suggestion but it is still too early to think about it,” Putin answered. According to the Financial Times, while some might argue that Putin the Duma candidate is all part of an elaborate plot to bring back Putin the President in 2012 and thereby trampling Russian democracy for the umpteenth time, there is one class that will be happy: the vampires of the global financial class. “Irrespective of one’s view of Putin’s democratic credentials, markets respect the stability and prosperity he has brought to Russia, and should react positively to the latest development,” says Tim Ash, an economist at Bearns Steerns in London. And why wouldn’t it? Russia might be, in the words of Dmitri Trenin, a “very rough, brutal and cheerful capitalism”, but it is capitalist nonetheless. And the only capitalists that hem and haw about Russia lack of “democracy” are usually the ones losing their shirts. Lots and lots of people are making lots and lots of money, meaning that Putin is and will continue to be good for business. Having him close to the Russia’s political helm in the future will no doubt put many capitalists in Russia and abroad at ease. So if Putin wants to take one step forward after taking to steps back, there is no doubt in my mind that some will be urging him to take a few steps more.Post Views: 416