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January 24, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Rudakov

THE CHIMERA OF AN "OIL-AND-GAS MONSTER"

Targeting Russia, US propaganda whips Germany

When leading US mass media start talking about Russia, their mission of informing masses turns an effort of mass propaganda. Their January production is no exception from this rule. One of the most flagrant examples is the January comment in Newsweek, authored by Owen Matthews, typically entitled "No More Mr. Nice Guy. (Vladimir Putin slaps down hapless Belarus. But eventually the hard-fisted Russian president will find that the name of this game is blowback)".

What is this article peculiar for? Most visibly, for a concentrated array of negative stereotypes and propagandist stock phrases, used nowadays in the anti-Russian (and not only, as we'll later see) media warfare. Those stock phrases, like bricks, assemble into a repulsive and ominous image of Russia, wittingly transplanted into an already brainwashed ordinary brain.

Let us focus on the essence of these ideological patterns, assembling the terrifying picture of an "oil-and-gas monster", challenging the whole universe of freedom.

The propagandist myth number one is the myth about a ruthless Russia, which is said to offend and humiliate its neighbors among newly independent states. Owen Mathews insists that for the leadership of Russia, to "set scores with uppity allies like Lukashenka" and to "show who's boss" is "more important than weighing the consequences for Russia's reputation". Matthew's colleagues in the propagandist workshop keep strongly persuading the reader that "energy weaponry" is used for blackmail and punishment of political opponents.

These arguments could sound more convincing if those authors elaborated on the conditions proposed by Gazprom to foreign purchasers. The two most known examples of gas price bargain of the recent time were taking place with Ukraine’s president Victor Yuschenko (December 2005) and Byelorussia's president Alexander Lukashenko (January 2007). One of the two is regarded in the West as a model democratic politician, the other as "the last dictator of Europe". While Yuschenko is pulling his country into NATO, Lukashenko is the author of the idea of a Russia-Belarus Union.

From a geopolitical standpoint, Yuschenko is Russia's foe and Lukashenko is Russia's ally. Both of them, at the same time, would prefer to purchase Russian gas for the cheapest possible price, receiving it on the same (or almost the same) terms as Russia's domestic consumers. Both were holding a harsh bargain – and both eventually achieved a double reduction of the original "European market price" Gazprom was insisting upon.

Other price debates were not followed with internationally echoed media warfare. An example is Russia's relations with Moldova which now purchases gas for a relatively low price in exchange for yielding ownership of its gas transport company. It is noteworthy that Moscow and Kishinev are far from being friends; still, Gazprom does not draw any political demands (like recognition of Transdniester Republic's sovereignty), referring only to the logic of the market.

The same logic is followed in Gazprom's relations with Georgia which, as it is well known, is in a permanent conflict with Russia; which does not agree to sell its gas transit stocks to Gazprom and purchases gas without any privileges, like West European countries. Still, nobody demands Georgia's exchange commitment for some political moves, such as to recognize sovereignty of the pro-Russian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or to keep on tolerating Russia's military bases on its territory. At first, Michael Saakashvili dubbed the European gas price "political" and swore to never agree for purchase of gas from Russia. Eventually, he changed his mind and ordered that the trade agreement with Russia be signed without much fuss.

Gazprom's efforts to shift towards market conditions of gas trade with Azerbaijan could be hardly displayed a political act as well. The Gazprom-proposed European price was considered by Baku as too high, and Azerbaijan preferred to cease gas purchases from Russia, adjusting its industry to fuel oil (as the republic drills sufficient amounts of its own oil). Still, this debate has never been described as blackmail – which would just sound ridiculous about a country identifying itself as "Kuwait of the Caspian".

Myth number two is about the "hapless" Europe, affected by Russia "with similar disregard". As Owen Matthews reports, a Moscow-based Western diplomat, "not authorized to speak on the record", told him that once, his side "could maybe forgive" Russia's behavior but "twice, no". It is curious to know which country the off-record diplomat represents. Is he European or American? My suspicion is in favor of the latter option.

Despite Western Europe's closeness to Russia, appeals to "punish Moscow" are traditionally heard from the other side of the Atlantic.

It is equally true that Russia is facing real problems with transit countries, frequently demanding additional price preferences, threatening otherwise with unlawful pump-out from the transit pipeline. In order to secure its guarantees of stable delivery (as well as to save on transit payments), Russia is driving gas mains along sea bottoms.

The "Blue Stream", connecting Russia and Turkey along the bottom of the Black Sea, is already in function. Now, Russia is launching a similar "North Stream" project, designed to connect the gas transport networks of Russia and Germany along the bottom of the Baltic. These efforts seem to deserve appreciation from the United States, which regularly displays strong compassion with its allies in Europe. Instead, we face a hysteric from the other side of the Atlantic, as the mentioned projects are also a "threat" for someone. Namely, for the energy security of Poland and the Baltic states – the countries which have actually been capitalizing on their transit role for fifteen years. Is that logical?

The argument is beyond logic. It is substituted with propagandist hypnosis, imposing the interpretation of any move of Russia as "dangerous" and "ominous". For instance, six months ago the United States was blaming Russia for selling gas to Minsk for a domestic price with a special purpose of "subsidizing the dictatorial regime". Now, Russia is again to blame – for increase of those prices, though comparatively moderate. Instead of applause for pressure upon the notoriously "rogue" dictator, Russia is facing a reprimand for "blackmail".

From these observations, we logically proceed to the third myth Owen Matthews' article is irradiating. That is the myth of the "Russian threat", allegedly encountered by any purchaser of Russian gas. Newsweek's comment dwells upon measures to be undertaken for self-protection. Those are based not on diplomacy and financial settlements but emphatically, on construction of a number of – rather costly – pipelines circumventing Russia, as well as purchase of condensed gas from other suppliers. In his proposals, Matthews is quite candid: "Yes, it's more expensive—but it's independent of pipeline politics". Actually, the options he is raising are not only more expensive but more risky, regarding the fact that the list today's major gas suppliers is dominated with either countries with an unstable domestic situation, like Indonesia or Algeria, or the states strongly following the fairway of US policy, such as Qatar or Australia. Therefore, the prompted choice of alternatives is spectacularly restricted.

Other alternatives to export of Russian fuel, proposed by Washington's politicians and authors, are even more unrealistic (see our November 06, 2006 interview with Sergey Pravosudov, Director of the National Energy Institute).

Meanwhile, why not ask what is today's "political dependence" of the Europeans from Russia is expressed in? Could Matthews and his colleagues name at least a single example of its effect in international relations?

Why doesn't Mr. Matthews just point his finger at those who are haplessly politically dependent? Does he mean East European states, where the United States – not Russia – is going to deploy elements of its anti-ballistic missile system? Or, the Baltic states, where all the three presidents have been picked from US or Canadian nationals? Or maybe, that is Germany, which dared to strike an agreement with Russia on the notorious North Stream, just for the purpose of getting even more Russia-dependent?

As a matter of fact, European nations are really challenged with political dependence. But this is dependence not from Russia but from the United States of America which unscrupulously and arrogantly intervenes in European affairs, treating its own allies more ruthlessly than Stalin treated some Warsaw Pact members. The United States and the major West European nations are bound with a common military ("protective") NATO partnership; still, until recently, Europeans were not urged to coordinate any economic policy decision with Washington. By today, times have changed: the US demands that Europe act opposite to its economic benefit, purchasing fuel anywhere but Russia.

This pressure goes far beyond expressions of "free opinion" by Owen Matthews etc. The United States have already succeeded in launching a kind of "economic inquisition" in Europe, where Gazprom's "stooges" in economic ministries are now being searched for. Most indicative is the scandal around Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt, exposed last autumn of possessing shares of Vostok Nafta, a Russian-Swedish joint venture involved, in particular, in trade of Gazprom's stock. This fact alone was sufficient for suspicions of corruption, supposing that in his official position, the minister would play in the "ominous" hands of Gazprom. The scandal, lasting for several months, nearly resulted in Bildt's resignation. Only in mid-January, when Bildt sold all of the notorious shares, Sweden's prosecution lifted its charges. Imagine what would happen if Mr. Bildt appeared to be a possessor of Chevron's or British Petroleum's stock. You will say: nothing. And that is true. However, ownership of Gazprom's securities is regarded as a political crime as serious as membership in the US Communist Party in the era of McCarthy's special commission.

Major European countries, having a will and possibility to get rid of the American pressure, are doing their best to succeed. Germany appeared to be in the vanguard of this process, regardless from the name and political language of its General Chancellor. Today's economic potential of Germany greatly exceeds its political weight, and the commitment for cooperation with Russia reflects, contrary to sundry propagandist patterns, its claim for a new role in global policy, a role corresponding with Germany's economic might.

The recognition of this fact clarifies the considerations behind the new American brainwashing campaign. Targeting Putin and Russia, which remain immune to US propaganda (the Russian public using to feel suspicious towards its political leaders who are too much appraised in the West, since the time of Mikhail Gorbachov), Owen Matthews is actually whipping Angela Merkel and Germany – for their attempt to loosen the iron grip of the US ally.

Owen Matthews' article appeared right before the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, focused on the prospects of bilateral energy cooperation. This coincidence is hardly accidental.

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