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LOOKING AHEAD
26.04.2009

April 22, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Konstantin Cheremnykh

A BLITZ GAME IN OPAQUE LIGHT

Manipulation means to first impose troubles and then to offer help to the troubled side

WASHINGTON'S POLITICAL STYLE: MADE IN USSR

Problems of global energy, and particularly international cooperation in delivery of energy resources, were left outside the framework of both the G-20 summit in London and the jubilee NATO event in Strasbourg. It is clear why the US leadership avoided the subject: US President Barack Obama would like first to achieve guarantees of transit of American cargo to Afghanistan, along with assistance in military operations in the area, delaying the controversial energy issue until a more appropriate occasion.

Mr. Obama tends to abstain from discussions that are not quite favorable for his own the White House's image. Unlike George W. Bush who openly admitted that Washington had arranged a number of so-called color revolutions in transitional states, and that not all of them had been successful, the Democratic leader is reluctant to admit involvement of US influence, particularly, in the unrest in Kishinev, Moldova – though even Lithuanian media disclose hard evidence of participation of local Soros Fund managers, as well as diplomats from the US-steered establishment of Vilnius.

US and British media don't display interest towards an ostensibly similar unrest in Tbilisi, Georgia. The rivaling contenders for Georgian presidency cannot make out whom Washington prefers Ц the incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili, or alternative leaders like Irakly Alasania or Nino Burjanadze. The answer could be attained only by ex contrario logic. In case Washington was seriously committed to implement the second edition of the "revolution of roses", the State Dept would be represented in Transcaucasia not by Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza but by a more experienced official from the elder generation, deployed from another "theater". In case Washington had made its choice in favor of a particular alternative candidate, most of the oppositionist groups, despite ambitions, would have lined up behind the selected lucky bargee. In case Tbilisi was given away to chaos, the military airport of Vaziani would not receive a formidable supply of police ammunition (this fact is similarly denied by Washington). And, finally, in case a "planned revolution" was going to happen, the riot would not coincide with daily diplomacy, involving particularly energy issues.

While the mass media of Russia and newly independent states were busy trying to guess whom Washington is going to support in Tbilisi, local government officials were quietly discussing two regional initiatives: namely, the agreement on strategic cooperation between Georgia and the neighboring Armenia, and the project of transit pipeline, extending across the Black Sea to Ukraine, aka White Stream (the name itself implying rivalry with the Russian- Turkish Blue Stream). It is noteworthy that the original version of this project, hailed by PM Yulia Timoshenko shortly after the "orange revolution" in Kiev, supposed transit of natural gas from the territory of Iran, while the currently discussed option suggests construction of a branch from the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline.

Robert Pirani, chair of White Stream Pipeline Company (based in London, where Ms. Timoshenko had strong connections yet in mid-1990s when she headed Ukraine's electricity monopoly, EESU), naturally, assured the public that the project is not supposed to challenge the long-discussed Nabucco pipeline, and even Ц in some strange way Ц would be helpful for its implementation (which is annually postponed due to huge costs). Mr. Pirani did not comment the "deviation" from the originally designed Iranian route as well.

Months before, Barack Obama's administration displayed readiness to guarantee Iran's direct access to international energy markets. But Mr. Obama cannot admit in public that his Iranian diplomacy has turned a failure: it would be unreasonable for the "President of the Earth" to confess of weakness. Naturally, the VOA website is packed with reports about Hugo Chavez's expressions of loyalty to the White House at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, but the unwinning subject of Iran is not supposed to be covered at all.

The manner of arbitrary selection of political subjects, favorable and unfavorable for the national leadership, is believed to be typical for Russia that had inherited this principle of propaganda from the Soviet past. As soon as US independent media grasp the similarity between the style of Leonid Brezhnev and Barack Obama, the relevant term "lakirovka" (lacquering) is going to be adopted by the US journalist vocabulary.

SALTING OLD WOUNDS

Undoubtedly, the White Stream project, allegedly supported by three grants of the European Union (the officially approved Nabucco, by the way, is financially guaranteed so far by 3%), has not emerged from nowhere Ц as well as the option of the Georgian-Armenian strategic deal). Washington's machine of propaganda is reluctant to miss even a single move in the blitz chess pipeline game evolving with increasing speed.

On March 24, international media marked the joint move of the European Commission and Ukraine's Government with a "!!" sign attributed to an excellent chess move. The joint protocol supposing EU-financed modernization of Ukraine's gas transport system, in addition to purchase of gas by the EU side at the Russian-Ukrainian border, was broadly interpreted as a "powerful blow" at the export strategy of Russia's Gazprom, while the departure of the company's representatives from the event was described as "cowardly flight".

However, on March 27, the Russian side responded to the initiative, utterly neglecting the interests of the energy resources' provider, with an asymmetric move, guaranteeing purchase of the total amount of gas from the Shah-Deniz gas condensate reservoir from Azerbaijan. This was a real blow for the Nabucco project. The credibility of the deal was buttressed with corrected estimation of Caspian reserves of natural gas. At the same time, Baku expressed interest in increase of oil transit along the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, alternative to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan route. That was natural, regarding the unstable political situation in Georgia.

The opposite side could not help preparing a counterattack. Washington hurried to threaten Ankara with suspending IMF's $45 billion loan, simultaneously delivering a carrot of support of Turley's entry in the EU. In addition, the Dialogue of Civilizations summit in Istanbul acknowledged of the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. This new naturally irritated Baku, with its background of a ruthless war with Armenia in 1990s, in which Azerbaijan had lost control of over one fifth of its territory. Azerbaijan's President Ilkham Aliyev refused to attend the Istanbul event, while Foreign Minister Elmar Mamediarov dryly reminded that "in case the border is opened before liberation of the occupied territories, it would contradict to Baku's national interests".

At the first glance, Washington raised the border issue exceptionally in order to soothe the Armenian lobby, very influential in the House of Representatives. However, the coincidence with the border deal with the commemoration of the 1915 massacre in Eastern Turkey, regarded by Armenians as genocide, should be marked rather "??" than "!!". Secondly, Armenia is a nation of a scale that is not supposed to be taken seriously by Obama's administration.

Sober Armenian analysts believe that the carrot, proposed to Yerevan, (which is very attractive, considering Armenia's economic losses ensuing from the Georgian-Ossetian conflict) should not be interpreted as an act of charity or special sympathy towards the small landlocked country. Victor Yakubian reminds that Washington's major priority in the region is not to arrange alternative energy transit in the interests of Europe, but to guarantee secure transit of weaponry and ammunition across Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the Caspian Sea, as the rest of the route is already settled with Central Asia nations. Not surprisingly, Richard Boucher, a Clinton era veteran, hurried to Ashgabat at the same time.

The perspective of Armenia's transformation into a weapon transit hub is unpleasant for Moscow that holds its only Transcaucasian military base in Armenia. Weapon transit along the state border is even less pleasant for Iran. Not surprisingly, Tehran hurried to revitalize construction of the railway link with Armenia. In fact, Iran proposed an alternative to Obama-promoted Turkish deal.

At the same time, not all the Turkish political forces regard the US-pushed deal as an acceptable compromise Ц due to ethnic and cultural links with Azerbaijan. Turkish politicians reminded of the February 26, 1992 tragedy in Hodzhaly, Azerbaijan, where Armenian troops killed over 600 civilians during the war for the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

The transit "carrot" was not universally approved in Armenia as well. In particular, Armenia's oldest political party, Dashnaktsutyun, rejected the arguments of the official media that the opening of the border is more significant, in political and economic terms, than recognition of genocide. The suspicions of Armenian oppositionists were beefed up with rumors in Turkish press about the unofficial part of the deal, considering territorial exchange with Azerbaijan.

The lobbyists from the US Armenian community pretend to overlook the Iranian alternative Ц which for Yerevan experts, relevant advantages are obvious. Meanwhile, Georgian experts fear that in case US cargo is directed along the Turkish-Armenian route, the cargo inflow in Batumi and Poti ports is likely to die out.

The two abovementioned initiatives of Washington Ц a Georgian-Armenian strategic agreement and the White Stream project (designed rather to soothe Tbilisi than to please Ukraine's PM) Ц emerge on the surface on this ambiguous background, being timed to the planned visit of Geidar Aliyev to Moscow and Armenia's President Serge Sargsyan to Ankara and Moscow. As the implications of both moves are doubtful, Obama's Washington downplays the game in international media, and the US taxpayer can guess about Washington's involvement in the game only from the hectic "shuttle diplomacy" of Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza Ц who, by the way, did not express enthusiasm over the change of Tbilisi leadership back in November 2008 when anti-Saakashvili riots broke out for the first time.

In order to evaluate the taste of the carrot, it makes sense to look at the order of events. First, three nations, having most untidy reputations in their regions, "independently" supply Tbilisi with modern weaponry, including reconnaissance UMVs. At the second stage, these weapons crack down on Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, a day after Mr. Saakashvili declared in public that the war was not going to happen. The economic implication of this warfare is most troublesome for Armenia. At the third stage, the United States Ц allegedly not involved in the earlier development Ц kindly proposes assistance to Armenia. What is the net effect of this twofold policy?

CARROTS WITH BLOODY JUICE

The net effect is that the advertised deal exists rather in the international media image than in reality. Meanwhile, each of the neighboring peoples of the Black Sea coastline recalls its pain of old and recent decades, and politicians of each of the states gets into a severe domestic clash, including charges of state treason. All this had happened a lot of times, and such kinds of debates have repeatedly turned tragic for the disputants. Russians realize this better than anybody else, correctly guessing that the "peaceful" alternative is a smokescreen for military corporate pressure.

Russian specialists have not forgotten that similar kinds of manipulation had been taking place in the Black Sea region during the whole period of 1990s, when post-Soviet and ex-Comecon states were infected with the "oilpipe fever", each of them being promised excessive profit in case a pipeline, pulled from the Caspian, crosses this country, the neighbor being promised the same. Russian soldiers, deployed to hot areas of North Caucasus, remember quite well that the assassination of their commander, as well as the terrorist assault on a civil hospital in Budennovsk Ц a town that happened to be located on the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline Ц took place right after the Zbigniew Brzezinski-consulted AMOC consortium declared one or another bid of oil shipment from the Caspian. The Chechen population remembers as well that the radical nationalist movement had emerged from the same oilpipe fever, and does not want the disaster to be repeated.

The old games have to be perceived without surprise, but will due caution. The fact that the former personal rival of the Chechen president was killed in the Arab Emirates right before the well prepared round of US Transcaucasian diplomacy may appear one of the indices that the methods used in the era of the similarly friendly Clinton may be reproduced in a more sophisticated way.

This probability is also confirmed with the visible commitment of most of the top EU establishment (with the exception for the ambitious Sarkozy) to line up behind Obama both in NATO strategy and in approach to energy issues. The notorious Barroso-Timoshenko protocol that demonstratively neglects the interests of Russia is as indicative as the NATO maneuvers in the Black Sea.

Descending upon Europe, Obama has in fact taken it at disadvantage, in the midst of instability, generated by the crisis and menacing the EU integrity stronger than ever before. Sober European minds realize that Russia could serve as an indispensable factor of European consolidation Ц while Ukraine, on the contrary, is one of the many time bombs planted under European walls. If Mr. Barroso cannot calculate this difference, let him ask his predecessors who dealt with Ukraine for years, to calculate the investments in the reconstruction of Chernobyl, and the share of the embezzled donations. Solving this simple arithmetic problem, one could estimate the risks of the current EU-Ukrainian flirt more precisely.


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