US post-1991 penetration into Eurasia

The Soviet Union's collapse, in 1991, enabled Washington to proceed with its aim of extending US hegemony by penetrating into the heart of Eurasia. In doing so, the Americans hoped their strategic policies would negate Russian and Iranian influence. Yet Russia, Iran and the Central Asian states combined contain 15% or more of global oil reserves and as much as 50% of all known gas sources. 

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In 1994 the United States Department of Energy (DOE) calculated that there are major oil and natural gas reserves in the Caspian region. The Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water, is bordered by Russia and Iran along with the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

It was expected in Washington that the Caspian’s fossil fuel sources would reduce US dependence on the Middle East, an area which Western elites have traditionally paid much attention to, because of its unparalleled oil and gas deposits; but a region that had become volatile and unstable this century, largely because of the US-led wars.

Read more: China’s Eurasian power and world dominance

Understanding the actual matter

Ensuring control of the Caspian area would further assist Washington, by allowing the US government to diversify sources of import and to give it more options and control. Such goals guided Washington in expanding its influence and domain over Central Asia, which is situated not far from the Caspian Sea. Central Asia spans about 1.5 million square miles and comprises of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These countries contain significant natural resources and are surrounded by Russia, China, South Asia and the Middle East.

The Soviet Union’s collapse, in 1991, enabled Washington to proceed with its aim of extending US hegemony by penetrating into the heart of Eurasia. In doing so, the Americans hoped their strategic policies would negate Russian and Iranian influence. Yet Russia, Iran and the Central Asian states combined contain 15% or more of global oil reserves, and as much as 50% of all known gas sources.

In the 1990s especially, the Americans under president Bill Clinton were acting internationally as the single hegemonic superpower, the center of world influence; dictating the neoliberal brand of capitalism as the path to “economic development”. A chief geopolitical priority of the US in the post-Soviet era, was to absorb the Central Asia/Caucasus space under NATO’s umbrella, through military involvement and regime change; installing or supporting governments that would acquiesce to the free-market economy; open trade to American and European investment.

The US through military and economic persuasion paid particular attention to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, countries which had seceded from the Soviet Union. These states had yet to be integrated into the American-led globalist system and were once among the least affluent of the Soviet republics. Regardless, they boast impressive quantities of crude oil and together hold an equal or greater amount of petroleum than Saudi Arabia, which contains the world’s 2nd largest oil reserves.

Read more: Prospects of Iran nuclear talks grim, says Eurasia group

The Central Asia conundrum

With Azerbaijan, 3 out of the 5 Central Asian countries combined (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) possess among the richest natural gas reserves found anywhere. Kazakhstan has the 2nd largest oil reserves among the countries of the former Soviet Union, and the 12th biggest on earth. Kazakhstan further contains considerable quantities of gas and its hydrocarbon reserves (oil and gas) are valued at $8.7 trillion.

The Energy Task Force headed by Dick Cheney, George W. Bush’s vice-president from 2001 to 2009, calculated that the proven oil sources in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, along with sectors of the Caspian Sea, amounts to 20 billion barrels. This equates to more petroleum than is present in the North Sea.

The entire oil reserves of the Central Asian/Caspian regions could total more than 60 billion barrels, and even reach as high as 200 billion barrels of oil, according to John J. Maresca, an ex-US government official. Western energy corporations were lining up. They had the means to increase petroleum production in the center of Eurasia by over 500% – from a modest 870,000 barrels in 1995 to 4.5 million by 2010, the equivalent of 5% of global crude oil manufacturing.

The Clinton administration estimated in 1999, through its National Security Strategy, that in the Caspian Sea basin there are oil deposits totaling 160 billion barrels, a greater amount of oil than is present in Iraq. These reserves would perform a central role in satisfying the growing demand for energy. It was not surprising therefore that Cheney said, “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian”.

Read more: US defeat in Afghanistan: Ending west’s dream of hegemony over Eurasian land mass?

Securing oil and gas transportation routes

To increase its control and secure the oil and gas transportation routes, Washington started militarizing a land area from the eastern Mediterranean to the fringes of China’s western frontiers. They stationed around 100,000 American troops across these expanses.

In December 1999 the White House expounded, “A stable and prosperous Caucasus and Central Asia will facilitate rapid development and transport to international markets of large Caspian oil and gas resources, with substantial US commercial participations. Resolution of regional conflicts such as Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia [both in the south Caucasus] is important for creating the stability necessary for development and transport of Caspian resources”.

The US Congress approved the Silk Road Strategy in 1999: measures to promote Washington’s influence in the southern Caucasus and Central Asia, while opposing the political clout of China, Russia and Iran. This was easier said than done. Russia, for example, has been steadily re-emerging as a global power this century under president Vladimir Putin, who assumed office on 7 May 2000.

In 1998 more than 35% of the Russian population had been living below the poverty line, but by 2013 Putin’s government reduced that percentage to 11%, a remarkable achievement. In comparison, 15.1% of Americans were living below the poverty line in 2010. Brazilian historian Moniz Bandeira praised president Putin for being “a patriot with a strong personality” who “reformed and modernized” Russia, while “raising the morale and pride as well as the spirits and sense of grandeur of his people”.

Washington was advancing its aims in Caucasus countries through its freedom agenda and war on terror. The strategists in Washington demonstrated dubious respect to the territorial concerns of Russia regarding Eurasia. The Americans clearly wanted to thwart Russia’s return as a great power, by preventing Moscow from restoring its influence in the Eurasian sphere.

Read more: Eurasian railway revolution is the future

Bandeira wrote, “At the heart of the problem, therefore, lay the United States’ blatant ambition to build a bridge from Ukraine for its strategic expansion through Eurasia, a pivotal area of global equilibrium, and prevent Russia from regaining its dominant position in the Black Sea, where Odessa served as its main trading port with the Mediterranean and other regions around the Atlantic”.

The way forward

Washington had established NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program (PfP), in order to draw in the ex-Soviet republics to the American realm. The US Armed Forces conducted military exercises in areas like Central Asia since 1997. The Central Asian countries joined NATO’s North Atlantic Co-operation Council. As an initial step on the path to potentially joining NATO, in 1999 the US integrated into a military structure (GUAM) Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

Some estimations in America, suggested that Central Asia could supply over 80% of the oil imported to the US by around 2050. Bill Richardson, formerly the US Secretary of Energy, said candidly that the one-time Soviet republics “are all about America’s energy security. We would like to see them reliant on western commercial and political investment in the Caspian, and it’s very important to us that the pipeline map and the politics come out right”.

This explains the desire to control the region’s natural resources, and to safeguard pipelines passing through Afghanistan and Turkey. The Americans made consistent efforts to divert infrastructure away from Russia, such as relating to the Nabucco pipeline that was to supply gas to Europe, a plan which later collapsed.

George W. Bush was granted the presidency in somewhat controversial circumstances in January 2001. He was the favored choice of the neoconservative elements in the Republican Party, who had taken it upon themselves to guide American foreign policy. Among their objectives was to bolster military spending and to challenge by force if necessary those “regimes hostile to the interests and values” of America while promoting “political freedom”.

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

The Bush administration wanted to increase the flow of natural resources from abroad. President Bush and vice-president Cheney had ties to the US fossil fuel industry stretching back years. America’s oil and gas reserves by the start of this century had decreased considerably.

Americans had become dependent on imports for 50% or more of the country’s oil

With the bombing of Afghanistan underway in October 2001 the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, promised that Washington would furnish “tens of millions of dollars” to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two nations which share extensive frontiers with Afghanistan. US military advisers were stationed in Tajikistan during the summer of 2001, weeks before 9/11, where they were planning a military intervention in Afghanistan from American-controlled bases in Tajikistan.

The American presence in Afghanistan was partly concerned with protecting pipeline corridors. Moreover, there is Afghanistan’s strategic importance. The Bush administration was initiating its campaign to secure the energy deposits and supply routes of the Hindu Kush mountains, ranging from Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan to the Bosphorus. The significance of such land areas was previously outlined by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US National Security Adviser.

Eliminating Taliban rule in Afghanistan would enable Washington, in conjunction with UNOCAL (Union Oil Company of California), to construct two oil pipelines – one through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean; and the other, the Central Asia Oil Pipeline Project (CAOPP), stretching for 1,050 miles from Chardzhou in Turkmenistan.

The latter pipeline would prevent Azerbaijani oil from passing through Russia. Almost immediately following 9/11, the American military presence in Central Asia was growing. US troops were engaged primarily in making an environment sustainable for UNOCAL to build pipelines, including another one funneling oil from Uzbekistan to the Indian Ocean without crossing Russian land.

Read more: Op-ed: CPEC can play important role to further Russian interest in Eurasian connectivity

To safeguard the passage of US troops en route to Afghanistan, Washington was given authorization to use bases across Central Asia at the beginning of this century. By 2014, however, the American armed presence in the region had been greatly reduced. In June 2014, the US military was evicted from its sole remaining Central Asian base at Manas, northern Kyrgyzstan. The airbase was returned to the control of the Kyrgyz government, which had chosen to align itself to Russia.



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.