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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Rivalries of the major powers in Eurasia

The writer talks about the look at the struggle for control over such regions as the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. These areas continue to hold importance and are contested by the major powers. He has also looked too at some of the activities of US-based organizations in Kyrgyzstan.

Most useful in supporting the color revolutions, occurring in such states as Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005), were American-based organizations like USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Freedom House. The above nations either share a border with Russia or are former Soviet republics.

For example, in February 2005 the Wall Street Journal reported that, in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, organizations such as USAID, the NED and George Soros’ Open Society were funding the anti-government opposition there, a key instigator of Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution. In the preceding years, USAID alone had dispensed with very considerable sums of money towards such activities.

Read more: A heyday for the geopolitics of Eurasian transport

Understanding the matter better

In December 2001 the Americans started arriving in Kyrgyzstan, using the capital Bishkek as a logistics center to support their military operations in Afghanistan. Washington was also trying to increase its presence in the highly-desired Caspian Sea and Black Sea regions, along with the surrounding areas further contested between Russia and the Western powers.

Despite Washington’s growing influence in states like Georgia and Ukraine, the George W. Bush administration desired no great changes in the South Caucasus nation of Azerbaijan, another former Soviet republic that borders Georgia to the north. In Azerbaijan, the Americans needed a stable environment because they had interests in oil infrastructure connecting the production fields of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, into the deep water Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, in southern Turkey, which could receive tankers each carrying over 300,000 tons of oil.

Baku had furnished the USSR with about 80% of its entire oil during World War II, without which the heavily mechanized Red Army could probably not have won the war against Nazi Germany. Azerbaijan today still contains sizable quantities of oil, and its strategic importance remains clear. Azerbaijan shares an extensive shoreline with the Caspian Sea, while it is an important energy route linking the Caucasus and Central Asia, as Zbigniew Brzezinski had highlighted when he was the US National Security Advisor (1977-81).

Rather than dispatching American soldiers to safeguard Washington’s goals in Azerbaijan, the Pentagon sent personnel from private military companies like Blackwater. One of the aims was to protect the Caspian Sea’s oil and gas deposits, controlled historically by Russia to the largest extent.

The Caspian Sea, the earth’s biggest lake, is extremely rich in natural resources and “is one of the oldest oil-producing areas in the world” and “an increasingly important source of global energy production” according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA estimated in 2012 that the Caspian Sea and its environs contain proven oil quantities of 48 billion barrels, more than is present in either America or China. The US Geological Survey has calculated that the Caspian’s real oil reserves are greater than the proven quantities, containing perhaps another 20 billion barrels of undiscovered oil.

In 2012 the Caspian region produced, on average, 2.6 million barrels of crude oil per day, amounting to about 3.4% of the global supply. Much of the oil is extracted near the Caspian shorelines, but further out into its waters are also large amounts of oil deposits. Altogether, the Caspian’s oil output is believed to have surpassed that of the North Sea, and exploratory drilling in the latter body of water dropped from 44 wells in 2008 to only 12 in 2014. Yet there are still 16 billion recoverable barrels of oil off the coast of the Scottish city of Aberdeen and west of the Shetland Islands further north.

Read more: How drones and transport could reshape Eurasian geopolitics?

The US Energy Information Administration estimated that the Caspian Sea contains “probable reserves” of 292 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The US Geological Survey believes, on top of that, there is another 243 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas in the Caspian, most of which is located in the South Caspian Basin. Russia and its neighbor Kazakhstan have controlled the biggest part of the Caspian, but the competition has been fierce.

At the Fourth Caspian Summit convened in Astrakhan, Russia, on 29 September 2014, the five nations that share a coast with the Caspian Sea – Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – decided unanimously they would uphold the security of the region, and prevent it from being penetrated by outside powers. This agreement sought to protect the heart of Eurasia from the Western states, whose military presence in recent years has been reduced in Central Asia.

The settlement reached, at the Fourth Caspian Summit, closed off the Caspian Sea to President Barack Obama’s designs. The US would find it difficult to advance in an area where it previously maintained close relations with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan since the 2001 military campaign in Afghanistan, which was supported by NATO members Germany, Britain, Italy and Canada. The US had changed the role of NATO to become an offensive military instrument with vast reach. Among Washington’s ambitions was to secure a permanent presence astride the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, along with the Caucasus.

In May 2005 president Bush visited the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and he said that Georgia had become a “beacon of liberty”. Bush’s White House had secured US military bases in Central Asia, such as in southern Uzbekistan, not far from Tajikistan, and Manas Air Base in northern Kyrgyzstan. The strategic objective was not merely to support the war against terrorism, but to ensure US control over the region’s natural resources.

Washington attempted to position its military power in the heart of Eurasia, particularly in Georgia and Azerbaijan, where NATO troops could be sent on to Afghanistan and Iraq. US military bases in Georgia would serve as a backup for the Pentagon’s bases in Turkey, a short distance from Georgia; while a US military presence in Azerbaijan would give the Bush administration the option of launching an attack on Iran. Most American politicians have since realized that a military offensive against Iran would be highly risky and unlikely to succeed. The US Armed Forces failed to achieve its objectives in Iraq, a smaller country than Iran.

The 2008 Russian military intervention in Georgia, which was brief and successful, reminded the West that the Caucasus, like the surroundings of the Black Sea and Caspian, is in Russia’s sphere of influence. The Kremlin did not wish to allow greater expansion by the Western powers. Of all the ex-Soviet republics, Georgia had aligned itself most closely with the US after the Rose Revolution of late 2003.

Read more: US post-1991 penetration into Eurasia

The unsuccessful 2008 Georgian military offensive in South Ossetia was planned by the Western-backed government of Mikheil Saakashvili, after the Bush administration had sanctioned military action, according to Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who provided this testimony to the Georgian parliament. US vice-president Dick Cheney also informed the Georgian leader Saakashvili that “We have your back”, in the event of a Russo-Georgian conflict. As it turned out, there was little the Americans could do to prevent a Georgian defeat.

It can be recalled that the Soviet Union had not been beaten militarily by the US, though the latter was undoubtedly the much wealthier and stronger nation. Early this century Russia had 1.2 million troops in its armed forces and possessed 14,000 nuclear warheads of which 5,192 were operational. The US, on the other hand, possessed 9,962 nuclear warheads in 2006, of which 5,736 were operational, and the US military had 1.3 million active service members. There is not much disparity between these figures.

Russia still possessed enough weaponry to compete with America

Political scientist Moniz Bandeira wrote, “Washington had not heeded the fact that Russia had inherited the huge military firepower of the Soviet Union, and that strategic parity had not come to an end, despite the disintegration of the socialist bloc”. President Bush needlessly provoked Russia. Shortly after taking office in 2001, he withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) which had been signed in 1972 with the Soviet Union, in order to implement the anti-missile defense system and thereby reduce the threat of nuclear war.

Bush established missile infrastructure in NATO states Poland and the Czech Republic and then led NATO to the frontiers of Russia by incorporating the Baltic states into the military organization in 2004. Bush chose not to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1996) along with modifications to the SALT 2 agreement on the reduction of strategic armaments.

However, Russia could not be subdued as Germany has been, because the soil of Russia was never conquered by foreign powers, as German terrain had been from 1945. Unlike Germany too, Russia is a resource-rich state positioned in a pivotal area of Eurasia. Russia has the ability to use its influence, furthermore, to dictate business deals with the European Union relating to important deliveries of oil and gas. The Europeans are more dependent on the Russians than the other way around.

Russia was growing stronger internally after the upheaval of the 1990s.

Read more: Eurasian century is here: How should Pakistan respond?

In 1998 almost 40% of Russians were living below the poverty line; but the number of Russians living in poverty had been reduced to 11% by 2013, a lower figure than in the US where 15% or more of Americans were suffering from poverty in 2014.

Russia has benefited from the high oil and gas prices in the international market, and its industrial growth has risen sharply. Increasing too was Russia’s domestic and foreign investment, especially in the automobile industry, which rose by 125%, while the country’s GDP grew by 70% placing Russia among the world’s 10 largest economies.

 

 

Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years and has had articles published with American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain, and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.