The gloves are finally off. Russia and the West are not
partners but competitors. And despite the diplomatic-speak that bordered on
gushing at times, they always were. Speculation as to whether a new Cold War
lurks on the horizon is over with the talk having gloomily turned to the
specter of a major conflict in Europe reminiscent of World War II.
If Washington can form coalitions of the like-minded, Moscow
can too and, in fact, it is doing so to the detriment of Western interests.
Those who believe the row between Russia on the one side and the US and Europe
on the other is genuinely over two Georgian breakaway enclaves are na�ve. At
the core of this argument is a global power play based largely on the control
of energy and the routes of pipelines that deliver it. Georgia�s usefulness to
Washington and Brussels is not linked to shared democratic values. It rather
revolves around Georgia�s role as a secure oil conduit and its geography
enabling NATO to camp out on Russia�s borders.
The Russians have long been concerned about the $4 billion
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline conceived by the US to deliberately cut Russia out
of the supply chain, as well as efforts by Western energy giants to collar oil
and gas from the Caucasus and the Caspian. In addition to its military and
economic prowess, Moscow is aware that its own energy resources as well as
control over those of its neighbors provides Russia with the global clout it�s
been seeking ever since the end of the Cold War. It will not relinquish its
influence a second time by falling for Western promises that until now have
been consistently reneged upon. Examples of these include America�s unilateral
trashing of the ABM Treaty and promises made to President Gorbachev that NATO
would not expand beyond Germany. It�s clear that Washington and its European
allies were planning on coexisting with a toothless post-Soviet Russia -- a
poor relation guaranteed not to murmur even when its economic interests were
trampled upon in Iraq. But then they didn�t foresee oil prices breaking the
$140 a barrel ceiling causing Moscow�s coffers to overflow along with its newly
reborn national pride.
With Western leaders vying over who can pour the most oil on
an already volatile situation (Britain�s Gordon Brown currently heads the
belligerency table) while the US erects a missile shield in Eastern Europe,
opens a new military base in Bulgaria and urges the NATO to take in Georgia as
well as the Ukraine, it�s little wonder that Moscow feels vulnerable.
But make no mistake about Russia�s hitting back on numerous
fronts. Europe, heavily reliant on Russian energy, potentially stands to be the
biggest loser the closer it comes to winter. Nevertheless, �New Europe� that
includes former Soviet republics wants to see Russia punished with sanctions or
isolation and is being cheered on by the UK. �Old Europe� comprised of France,
Germany and Italy would prefer a more diplomatic approach to mending the rift.
�Old� and �New� Europe is also in disagreement over a timetable for Georgia and
the Ukraine to become paid-up members of NATO.
While the upstarts and old guard battle it out as to how
best to handle their gargantuan neighbor, Moscow has clinched a new pipeline
that will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to Russia, much to Washington�s
irritation, and signed a contract that will give it virtual control over
Turkmenistan�s gas exports.
Russia has also put out feelers for the establishment of a
global gas cartel, an idea that it has discussed with Venezuela, and which is
certain to put cartel members on a collision course with the White House.
Venezuela has also invited three prominent Russian companies to take over from
their American counterparts, ExxonMobil and Conoco Philips.
Further, according to China Daily, it has agreed with
Beijing on an energy initiative that would involve Russian oil and gas heading
away from Europe toward Asia.
Famous the world over for its chess players, Russia is becoming
adept at petrocarbon politics, a game it appears to be winning. However, in
this �game� the stakes are even higher than who gets what at which price.
Russia is developing closer military and economic ties with
China as well as military-technical ties with Syria. Moscow is also negotiating
with Iran to set up a minimum of two military bases on its soil -- one in
Eastern Azerbaijan and the other on an Island in the Gulf -- in return for
accepting Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which would
guarantee Iran�s security in the face of external aggression. Such an alliance
would not only threaten Western interests, but the fragile regional power
balance would be substantially altered. Indeed, it is rumored that Russia has
agreed to supply Tehran with the cutting edge S-300 missile system to help
protect its nuclear facilities from airstrikes -- particularly irksome for
Lastly, Russia has signaled it�s keen to restore military,
economic and intelligence ties with Cuba and is thought to be seeking a naval
base in Vietnam. With the benefit of hindsight it�s hard to believe that
European leaderships don�t regret disrespecting Russia at a time it was
emerging from decades of darkness and could easily have been incorporated into
the EU, NATO and the WTO. Monday, an EU summit held in Brussels was convened to
discuss the contretemps. How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.
If Russia had been accepted by the big boys as �one of us�
rather than being written off as a �has-been� to be barely tolerated, today it
would have so much to lose it would be obliged to toe the Western line.
Instead, Mother Russia is back redrawing the lines of global power and crowning
herself queen in a new bipolar world.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.