Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Russians are coming

Mark Almond, (not that one) argues that the West is still fighting the cold war against Russia.
Iraq's bitter experience before and since 2003 shows that fossil fuels are no use if you cannot export them. Export or die is the watchword of energy-rich states. Insurgent attacks on pipelines in Iraq reminded America that Kiev, not the Kremlin, controls the bottleneck of Russian energy exports.

Ukraine's Orange revolutionaries repaid their western sponsors by switching the direction of the Odessa-Brody pipeline to suit US strategy last year. Around the same time, America and Britain were gloating over the completion of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that cut Russia out of Caspian oil exports. Next they announced a trans-Caspian pipeline to suck central Asia's gas westwards without passing through Russia, let alone paying Putin transit fees. The west is making the running in global pipeline politics, not the Russians. In reality, the west advances as Russian troops retreat from the Caucasus and central Asia. Gazprom is upping prices to ex-Soviet republics to compensate for Moscow's loss of geopolitical clout.
Did Ukraine really switch the Odessa-Brody pipeline to suit "their western sponsors" or did they do it because it served Ukrainian interests to be less reliant on Russian goodwill? According to this source, from 2004 the Russian request to reverse the pipeline would have strengthened Russian influence in energy markets in Ukraine and Europe. The original, and final, decision will lead to greater ties between Ukraine and Europe. Surely, this is a good thing.

There are valid reasons why the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is a bad thing. There are enviromentnal, social and political impacts which are less than good. It also supports the autocratic regime of Ilham Aliev. This is not one of the world's most enlightened regimes. It gets criticism from every human rights organisation going, including Human Rights Watch who issued a damning report on the November 2005 elections.

But this does not support Mark Almond's thesis that Someone is still fighting the cold war, but it isn't Russia. The chill wind that has been blowing towards the Kremlin for decades is still coming from the west.

At a time when Putin has signed laws governing the activities of Human Rights groups any chill wind blowing toward the Kremlin is of Russia's own making.

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