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Analysis Last Updated: Sep 4th, 2008 - 01:01:20

Driving Russia into enemy�s arms
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 4, 2008, 00:15

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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 Israeli hawks.

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.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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