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Geopolitics - September 9

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Russia: Folly of the progressive fairytale

John Gray, Guardian
Russia - rich, nationalist and authoritarian - has made a mockery of our leaders' pretensions. The west is no longer in charge
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The current panic about Russia is a curious phenomenon. By any objective standard Russians are freer in the authoritarian state established by Putin than at any time in the Soviet Union. Many are also materially better off. Russia has abandoned global expansionism, and is now a diminished version of what it has been throughout most of its history - a Eurasian empire whose chief concern is protection from external threats. Yet western attitudes are more hostile than they were during much of the cold war, when many on the left viewed the Soviet Union, which was responsible for tens of millions of deaths, as an essentially benign regime.

... Nothing is more misguided than talk of a new cold war. What we are seeing is the end of the post cold war era, and a renewal of geopolitical conflicts of the sort that occurred during the late 19th century.

... Russian energy supplies can be curtailed at will by the Russian government. Economists will tell you the country is too reliant on oil. But the world's oil reserves are peaking while globalisation continues to advance, and Russia stands to gain from any international conflict in which supplies are disrupted.

John Gray is emeritus professor of European thought at the LSE.
(9 September 2008)



How the West is losing the energy cold war

Edward Lucas, The Times
Russia's victory in Georgia is having far-reaching effects as its neighbours rethink the wisdom of selling gas and oil to Europe
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Picture yourself as the autocratic leader of a small-ish former Soviet republic, bubbling with oil and gas and keen to sell it. But where? One route is old, cheap and easy. It leads north, to Russia. But memories of the Kremlin's imperial embrace are still fresh. The other is new, costly and tricky. It goes west, in both senses - via your neighbour, Georgia, and to supply Western customers direct.

Azerbaijan, a country of 8 million people on the Caspian Sea, plumped for the western route. After all, America was the strongest country in the world and Russia - back in the 1990s - was weak. So Azerbaijan supported the building of a $4 billion, 1,000-mile-long, million-barrels-a-day oil pipeline from Baku, its capital, via Tbilisi, in Georgia, to Ceyhan, a port on Turkey's southern coast. BTC, as it is known, is the only oil pipeline from the former Soviet Union not controlled by the Kremlin.
(8 September 2008)



Shut up, Borat - the tinderbox of Kazakhstan oil

Mark Leftly, The Independent
...But all is not as rosy as it seems, now that Russia has reasserted its influence in the region, taming Georgia by force in the dispute over the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On Thursday and Friday, Astana played host to the Third Eurasian Energy Forum, a conference set up by KazEnergy, Kazakhstan's powerful association for oil and gas companies. While senior executives from Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, and political figures including Turkey's energy minister and the ambassador of South Korea in Kazakhstan, gave talks – few made reference to Georgia. Yet the situation there and its potential impact on the energy industry – particularly the security of supply to the West – was what every delegate spoke about privately over shashlik, lukewarm horsemeat and cigarettes.

Kazakhstan is playing it cool, and last week President Nazarbayev offered to mediate in multilateral talks on the Georgian situation. For Kazakhstan cannot be seen to take sides, as it has huge oil and gas interests in both countries. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium pumps oil from Tengiz in west Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea coast; and maintaining good relations with Georgia is the key to diversifying Kazakhstan's exporting routes, as the country is due to link up with BP's $3.9bn Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline through the Kazakh Caspian Transportation System...

...But was the EU – when talking of new supply routes – falling into "the Nabucco trap", wondered one senior oil executive on Thursday. Nabucco is an €8bn (£6.5bn) pipeline that will pump natural gas from Georgia and Turkey to central Europe. The EU is heavily behind the project, as it seeks to alleviate its supply concerns, but the executive says: "Russia is winning. Russia will let the Central Asian states build it. Read Tolstoy's last novel and just change the date to 2008."

Tolstoy's final work was Hadji Murat, a book about an Avar – the Avars are a nomadic people living in Eurasia and the Caucasus – who joins the Russians he had previously been fighting. The implication is that even though Georgia has just fought Russia over the separatist territories, the country is ultimately in Russia's sphere of influence. In the final analysis, then, Russia would control Nabucco, meaning that it would not be the independent-energy route the EU craves...
(7 September 2008)

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