Friday, July 09, 2004
Russian oil for Europe - US worries about environment
This story appeared yesterday on the AP wire. As of this morning, no American newspaper has picked it up, including the NY Times and the Washington Post, so I’m linking you to the Moscow Times.
Ukraine has just announced a decision to allow a pipeline to carry lower grade Russian oil from the city of Brody, near the Russian border, to Odessa, on the Black Sea. The oil will then be shipped by tanker to southern Europe. If the deal is completed, Russia will be able to ship 9 million tons of crude a year.
The pipeline was built in 2001 to transport oil from the Caspian northward for sale to Europe, but the Caspian producers—primarily Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan—haven’t been producing, so the pipeline is getting little use. Russia has been wanting to use it to carry oil in the opposite direction, and the two countries have been bickering back and forth about it practically since the pipeline was built.
The story concludes that
The United States has strongly opposed sending Russian oil from Brody to Odessa, saying it will increase Ukraine's dependence on energy from Moscow and increase chances of an oil spill as more oil tankers travel from the Black Sea through Turkey's clogged Bosporus strait.
This caught my eye, because U.S. interest in the environment, especially in matters of petroleum, is practically unheard of. But rather than see Russian oil transported, the U.S. wants Caspian oil developed, which according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, will occur atop this environmental disaster—
Untreated waste from the Volga River--into which half the population of Russia and most of its heavy industry drains its sewage--empties directly into the Caspian Sea, while pesticides and chemicals from agricultural run-off are threats to the Sea's flora and fauna. Thousands of seals that live in the Caspian Sea have died since 2000 due to pollution that weakened their immune systems, and overfishing, especially of the prized sturgeon, has caused a dramatic decline in fish stocks.
Ukraine, resuming nationhood after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, has had a stormy relationship with the Russians, but they get most of their gas and oil from Russia. As a part of the U.S. encirclement strategy, all the former Soviet countries are being encouraged to look to Europe.3
What most people haven’t noticed, because it’s only carried in the print media--if at all--is that U.S.-Russian relations are not all that hunky-dory, despite what you may have heard about Putin’s supporting Bush-Cheney on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection.4 It is my belief that Putin supports Bush because he feels that he will have a freer hand in Chechnya and the former Soviet countries of the Caucasus if Bush is re-elected. To put it more plainly, the U.S. will be weaker under Bush.5
Back in February, the Russians held a huge military exercise. Yuri Baluyevsky, first deputy chief of the Russian armed forces, said the exercise
was prompted in part by Russia's concern about the development of low-yield nuclear weapons in the United States, which he described as destabilizing.
"They are trying to make nuclear weapons an instrument of solving military tasks, lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use," Baluyevsky said. "Shouldn't we react to that, at least on the headquarters level? I'm sure that we should and we are doing that."
Which brings me to another point. Bush administration actions—abrogation of the anti-ballistic-missile treaty and early steps toward development of low-level nuclear armaments, among other things—are leading to a new arms race with the Russians.
Most Americans have no idea just how much damage these people are wreaking. Unfortunately, the messes they’ve made in Afghanistan and Iraq are masking the mischief they’re up to in the rest of the world.
Ukraine depends on imports of energy, especially natural gas, to meet some 85% of its annual energy requirements.[back]
Ukraine's dependence on Russia for energy supplies and the lack of significant structural reform have made the Ukrainian economy vulnerable to external shocks.
Now that the experiment in American unilateralism has failed with the collapse of the adventurist campaign in Iraq, the world returns to the two foundational models for global power relations: multilateralism and multi-polarism.
In discussing the multipolar model, he says this of Russia:
The second major site for the emergence of the New Regionalism is Russia. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has returned to its traditional strategic doctrine of containing encirclement and, if possible, expanding its cordon sanitaire (in this case, restoring it). Putin has made it explicit that Russia has to take care of its own economy and society, pursue an independent foreign policy, and aggressively militarize. The strategic aim of those principles is to regain control over Russia's periphery: to draw Ukraine and Belarus firmly into its orbit and to re-exert influence over the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Specifically, Russia's goals are to edge American bases out of Central Asia and to gain some control over Caspian Sea oil.[back]
Russia is hampered by economic weakness, dependence on oil revenues, the war in Chechnya and an inefficient military. Its effectiveness as a center of multi-polarism will hinge on its ability to generate a sufficient economic surplus to deliver on the promise of a state-of-the-art military. As the re-militarization program proceeds, Russia will attempt to exploit dissidence in the former Soviet republics to its south when that is to its advantage, and to cultivate closer relations with them when that is advantageous. The United States will seek to hold on to its gains in the region, but the question again is whether it will have the resources and will to do so. The former Soviet republics are not eager to fall under Russian hegemony and rely for their independence on Euro-American protection. The Iraq adventure has not changed that. Russia has chosen to pursue a multi-polar strategy, but it is a work in its early stages. [emphasis mine]
The country has been engaged in a partnership agreement with the European Union (EU) since 1998, and the two sides are currently considering a draft action plan which Ukraine hopes will pave the way for eventual integration with the EU. Meanwhile, in September 2003, Ukraine joined Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in creating a "single economic area" designed to coordinate the countries' trade regulations and reduce tariffs. While some observers have criticized this dual-track economic strategy as contradictory, Kiev insists that the newly formed post-Soviet economic bloc will compliment its EU integration strategy and thereby serve the national interest.[back]
4 This silliness was surely a reward to Bush & Co. for keeping their mouth shut on the Russian war crimes going on in Chechnya, though what anyone has to fear from this crew on the topic of war crimes I cannot say. [back]
Russia's future is less certain and the prospects for its positive evolution more tenuous. America must therefore shape a political context that is congenial to Russia's assimilation into a larger framework of European cooperation, while fostering the independence of its newly sovereign neighbors. Yet the viability of, say, Ukraine or Uzbekistan will remain uncertain, especially if America fails to support their efforts at national consolidation.[back]
Russia is more likely to make a break with its imperial past if the newly independent post-Soviet states are vital and stable. Their vitality will temper any residual Russian imperial temptations. Political and economic support for the new states must be an integral part of a broader strategy for integrating Russia into a cooperative transcontinental system. A sovereign Ukraine is a critically important component of such a policy, as is support for such strategically pivotal states as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. [boldface mine]