Gas pains in pipelineistan*
As Chomsky is fond of saying, if you really want to know what is going on, read the business news. It doesn't fart around with the platitudinous rhetoric about freedom and democracy that routinely spills out of the mouths of venal politicians. Which is why news that Russia is once again aiming to turf out western oil companies currently involved in oil and gas projects within Russia's vast Siberian wilderness, where the largest natural gas deposits in the world are found, is of significant note and further establishes the ongoing narrative of pipelines and imperial missions.
It was only last fall that Russian authorities claimed that Royal Dutch Shell was violating environmental regulations and forced the company to sell off controlling interest in the Sakhalin II project, routinely described as "the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas development," which was promptly bought up by Russia's state-owned petroleum company Gazprom. While nothing changed "on the ground," the new ownership resulted in a new-found compliance with environmental laws, just as Vladimir Putin had predicted. Prior to this petroleum putsch, Putin's regime had essentially appropriated the Yukos oil company through what many believe was a front company for Gazprom. Yukos had been owned by vocal critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who now languishes in a Russian prison on largely trumped up charges, though the dispatch of the inconvenient Khodorkovsky appears to have been a mere side benefit to the larger agenda of consolidating oil and gas production under the Gazprom umbrella.
And now the Russian government is about to relieve British BP of its controlling interest in the Kovykta gas field, which is (was) BP's largest natural gas project in Russia and which will also be acquired by Gazprom. Located near Lake Baikal, the Kovykta gas field is conveniently near to new and expanding Asian energy markets, where economic growth is now thought to be hobbled by unmet energy demands. Furthermore, ExxonMobile is also under pressure from "environmental regulators" and this may too lead to Gazprom acquiring majority interest in the Sakhalin Island project.
All of this movement on the part of Putin's government more than indicates a drive to monopolize the gas market throughout Asia and Europe. Putin has leveraged Russia's already strong control of gas supplies to send messages to erstwhile Soviet block countries for their complicity with western interests such as NATO. Attentions were first pricked a few months ago when Iran proposed the idea of a gas cartel to the Kremlin. Putin appeared to embrace the idea. So much so, that now Russia has recently signed gas agreements with the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which also appears to seriously undermine US plans for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline (the so-called TAP or TAPI with Indian involvement). Of course, with Afghanistan failing to be drawn to heal by US and NATO forces, plans for the TAPI, while officially readying for "accelerated" construction, are in fact stalled under the extent mayhem.
With Putin's overbearing direction, the Kremlin continues to assert control over Eurasia's energy supplies. The new and emerging markets of China, India and Southeast Asia will only grow more dependent on the supplies that we can see are now being planned as a cartel wherein Iran -- if it is not bombed "back to the stone age" -- and Moscow are destined to become the main players in the world's future energy markets. It is with this view in mind that continued US military posturing in the regions of both the Middle East and Europe can have no good or useful outcome. Both Tehran and Moscow know they've got a lock on the vast new energy markets throughout Eurasia and there is little the US can do about it other than threaten military action. Ultimately, this is why we have seen Moscow and Tehran in a firm embrace, with China indicating that it, too, will not find further US military aggression in the Middle East at all tolerable.
None of this is meant to indicate that the volatile admixture of Muscovite monopolistic authoritarianism and Iranian mullahocracy is going to have beneficent results for world markets. At this point, no ones knows what such a blend might bring. But while it is almost certainly unlikely under this sabre-rattling administration, the US needs to recognize that there are ways that such collusion might have been addressed, and could be addressed now, to the benefit of all. In fact, the current collaboration between Moscow and Tehran (and China) might have never arisen had it not been for the utterly misguided fantasies of those who imagined the US as the agent of a "benevolent global hegemony," especially when that "benevolence" is to be delivered by 500 lb bombs, white phosphorous and 20mm cannon rounds.
* Thanks to Pepe Escobar for the term, pipelineistan, from his book, Globalistan, How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War. Nimble Press, LLC, 2006.