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LOOKING AHEAD

April 12, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Konstantin Cheremnykh

THE FIASCO OF THE "NEW BABYLON"

The Nabucco project stumbles against collective sabotage of possible partners

 A RELUCTANT STRONGHOLD

In early April, Western media were flooded with alarmist speculations over the probable emergence of a "gas OPEC". The addressee of the warnings was certainly Central Europe, the major consumer of natural gas, while hegemonic designs were ascribed to Moscow and Tehran.

Actually, Russia and Iran shared a moderate line on the sensitive issue at the international summit of gas-producing countries in Doha, Qatar. The idea of an alliance of gas producers, as an analogue to the existing OPEC, was most actively raised by the "rogue" governments of Venezuela and Bolivia. This indicates that the real target of a "gas conspiracy", if it exists, is rather Washington than Brussels.

The persistent concern of the United States over Europe's energy security is acquiring rather grotesque forms. On March 22, the subject of Europe's "gas independence" served as a pretext for vociferous statements in Washington, on the occasion of a not very significant diplomatic event – namely, the visit of Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mamediarov. The Memorandum on Cooperation, signed by him and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was described as a document of an epochal meaning. From media comments, one might conclude that Azerbaijan's present task is to save Europe as soon as possible Ц naturally, from Russia's gas export monopolism. On behalf of US corporations, Baku was promised guarantees of sufficient supply of the Azeri-Turkish (Baku-Erzurum) gas pipeline from the territory of Kazakhstan, along the contemplated link across the bottom of the Caspian.

The same issue of alternative oil and gas delivery to Europe was in the focus of the talks between the US State Department and the European Union, represented by Energy Commissar Andris Piebalgs. Again, the two sides discussed the sweet and sparkling gas from Central Asia, supposed to conveniently cover the 500-km distance across the sea bottom (not yet divided by the countries of the Caspian basin), rushing from here to Erzurum, then again diving, to boldly spring out again in Romania, and to race from here across Bulgaria to Austria. In this way, the "captive" Central Europe would be saved from Gazprom's imperial pressure. The Eurocommissar stuttered, faltered, turned red and pale, and eventually promised to urge the major sponsors, namely Austria's OMV and Gaz de France, to hurry up with investments.

The discussed project, for some reason, was entitled Nabucco, after a pretty imperial name of King Nabucodonosor. According to EU's calculations, it could reach profitability not earlier than in 2015, under conditions of stable high world fuel prices. Still, the US propagandists were insisting since last autumn that the project could be implemented already by 2011, earlier than Gazprom's North Stream, as well as the European branches from Gazprom's Blue Stream – a ready functioning underwater link between Russia and Turkey.

This propaganda could sound convincing both for Central Europe and the ex-Soviet republics of Transcaucasia, if the State Department's officials were not simultaneously pushing conditions, having nothing common with peaceful gas consumption, and with peace generally. Before the fanfares over Azerbaijan's exceptional transit role faded away, Assistant Undersecretary Matthew Bryza could not help expressing hope that Azerbaijan, for the sake of a most advanced strategic self-assertion, to, convey its military airdromes to the US side – "for a case of emergency".

The reaction from the official Baku was opposite to that expected by the State Department. Robert Simmons, NATO's Special Representative in the Caucasus, hurried to Baku to clarify that the airdromes are needed by the US side for support of the operations in the far distant Afghanistan. This interpretation was, however, too bizarre – especially regarding that Azerbaijan had been repeatedly urged to allow the US side to use its strip of territory along the border of Iran for "special occasions", and for (definitely, temporary and "portable") military bases.

Eventually, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense issued an official statement, saying that Baku "is not going to create advantages and conditions for using its territory by any foreign states against its neighbors”. "The United States should look for another ally in Transcaucasia", RealAzer agency sniped.

The State Department's new hooks and crooks around the airdromes did not impart more confidence to Washington's energy transit arguments. Rovshan Ibragimov, senior foreign policy analyst from Gafghaz University (Baku), claimed in an interview to the Eurasian Home website that the so-called "multi-vector policy pipelines", sold to his country today, and particularly the trans-Caspian pipeline and Nabucco, "may turn costly but useless ventures", reminding that "implementation of certain projects is followed with political risks".

One can surfeit the former Soviet republic, which agreed to participate in a "Russia-deterring" partnership of GUAM, with a profusion of compliments. But firstly, this very abbreviation, deliberately echoing the name of a tiny Pacific isle stuffed with US missiles, sounds humiliating even for a small country like Azerbaijan. Secondly, attempts to impose deployment of air force bases exactly threaten to turn the flourishing seaside republic into a colonial isle. Thirdly, these bases are too obviously destined for the neighbors, sharing not only borders but faith with the Azeri people. Fourthly, the promised energy transit benefits are too much dependent on many other countries, some of them far from stable – exactly due to political Grecian gifts delivered from the heedless trans-Atlantic.

 

TRANSMISSION OF DISOBEDIENCE

The list of those unstable countries was added – exactly in the end of March Ц with Ukraine, the central player in the bold GUAM. Curiously, the very destination of the anti-Moscow bloc was to accomplish, after a decade of debate and bargain, the "alternative" (i.e. Russia-circumventing) oil transit route through Ukraine's Odessa and Brody to Poland. In this case, the declared purpose was also "salvation of Europe". And this very "strategic" Ukraine, promised similarly enormous transit profits (also from the fabulous Nabucco, in which Kiev hoped to gain a share), encountered a desperate political stalemate instead of prosperity.

One could just wonder what Matthew Bryza was counting upon, preparing a propagandist cocktail from gas and air "emergency". The tangible fact is that Washington's propagandist endeavor turned an unprecedented collective sabotage.

On the very day when the Secretary of State was struggling to dazzle the Azeri minister with her habitual smile, Ferenc Gyurcsany, Prime Minister of Hungary, was meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and expressing skepticism exactly over the prospects of the gas pipeline project, named after the glorious King of Babylon, who ruined Jerusalem in year 587. Openly expressing his commitment to cooperate instead with Gazprom, Gyurcsany seemed to be quite prepared to a new "popular revolt", starting on the same day in Budapest – this time obviously with no fear.

Five days later, speaking to an official EU delegation in Astana, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin was similarly adamant, expressing doubt of expediency of his country's involvement in the Trans-Caspian pipeline. This statement would mean not so much is the minister were not heading to Ankara.

On April 5, yet before Tazhin's arrival, the government of Turkey said the word of its own. It was announced that Turkey is not going to participate with Gaz de France in the Nabucco project – under the formal pretext of France's stand on the issue of the genocide of Armenians in 1915.

Ankara's demarche, superficially interpreted as revenge to the EU for its reluctance to accept Turkey, would mean not so much outside the context of other circumstances:

- that days before, Kazakhstan's leadership struck a deal with Moscow over involvement in the Bulgarian-Greek oil connection;

- that the neighboring Turkmenistan, the supposed provider of gas for the Transcaspian project, had just agreed on development of a newly-discovered major gas field with Beijing, not Washington;

- that today, Washington’s propaganda sounds hardly 10% as convincing as fifteen years ago.

 

BRING THE BILL, PLEASE!

A great power retains its authority while its decision making is as powerful as unexpected; while its leading politicians arouse respect; while it diplomats behave themselves in the countries of service.

During the last fifteen years, CIS countries have not just got used to Washington's propaganda. They have studied US ways, and learnt to distinguish unequal but real partnership from useless manipulations, and political guarantees from downright bluff.

During the last five years, the distance between verbal guarantees and real political behavior, especially in the efforts of spawning "colored revolutions" across Eurasia, had become too obvious even for a small clerk in Tashkent and Astana, Yerevan and Bishkek.

The White House is still fed with the illusion that those post-Soviet savages, Kazakhs and other ignorant "Borats", are unable to analyze and to derive lessons from experience of neighbors. This illusion was dispelled by the President of Kazakhstan, who recently made his own didactic comments over the events in Ukraine, reminding about the four-years-ago efforts of Victor Yuschenko, then-focused on getting rid of his predecessor Leonid Kuchma, to push the very administrative reform which paralyses him today.

In Eastern Europe, politicians also remember how the fabulous Nabucco was initially designed – that originally, in the era of Mohammad Khattami, it was supposed to include Iran as a key provider of gas; that it was supposed to intersect the Constanca-Triest oil and gas corridor; that the official consultant of this ostensibly European project was Brooking Institute's president Henry Owen; that this veteran of US policy was embraced in Iran as the very person who tried, back in 1969, to prevent Israel from purchase of military nuclear technologies. Looking out at the anti-Semite posters at his windows last autumn, Ferenc Gyurcsany must be recollecting all this better than anyone else.

One could rely upon an everlasting gratitude for "liberation" of Central Asia and Eastern Europe from the infernal Communism – if the reminiscences of those times were exceptionally negative, and if the fall of this Communism paved the way to prosperity, not to empty bluff. One could very convincingly, with figures and facts at hand, threaten energy-dependent governments with Moscow's imperial designs Ц if it was Moscow which tried today to drag the post-USSR countries into a war with its closest neighbors, to spawn "popular self-defense movements" under their government's windows, and to justify its manipulations with its own, self-inflicted military-political difficulties.

The Nabucco project will not work – at least because even in European press, it is referred to as "American"; at least because gas exporters have found new and more reliable markets for themselves; at least because the propagandists of "alternative" routes have left so many dirty traces on the face of exactly those countries whom they promised excessive benefits from transit partnership; at least because energy cooperation suggests reliability Ц a commodity which today's America is unable to sell even to its own voters.

Mr. Bryza, who arouses irony with his juvenile vigor and equally juvenile incompetence across the whole Transcaucasia, should rather chew than speak. Sooner or later, an American voter will ask his own state leadership to tell him how much of the taxpayers' money was spend not only for the ugly war in Iraq but also for innumerous diplomatic voyages for pushing the perfectly anti-Russian but also perfectly unviable projects. Only the expenses for the trips of Ambassador Steven Mann would comprise a huge sum.

Today's agreements of gas exporting countries emerge not only from economic interests, not just from a whim of a "rogue" spirit, but from a long-term experience of humiliation by the major and most profligate energy consumer, the United States of America. In case all the countries which once had been an object of the US energy transit bluff, establish a political alliance, its power and passion would exceed the "oil OPEC" and the "gas OPEC" taken together.


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